North Carolina contains multitudes. From coastal plains to the Piedmont Plateau to the lofty Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina has vast and varied geography which makes exploring it a treat. Equally worth seeing are places that exist between this natural beauty, however. A trip to the Tarheel State would not be complete without a visit to the wraparound porches and narrow streets of North Carolina’s small towns. Walk beneath the Black Willows and visit the beaches of the Outer Banks. You will not be disappointed.
The popular tourist destination and cultural hub of Brevard is known for its waterfalls, its many festivals, and the lush forest that surrounds it. The town is easily accessible and the weather is mild year-round, making Brevard an excellent choice regardless of season. Brevard has a vibrant cultural scene as well. There are fly fishing festivals, fiddler’s conventions, and bike races to keep you occupied. The town abuts the Pisgah National Forest which has 500,000 acres of trails and rivers to its credit. The forest also has 250 waterfalls within its confines. Some of the best hiking in the state is found right here in Brevard.
This Blue Ridge Mountain town is known for being thickly wooded and getting plenty of rain. Cashiers sit at roughly 3,500 feet above sea level in the middle of the Nantahala Forest. Here, the air is clean and the nights are peaceful. To get a taste of what Cashiers is about, visit the Cashiers Farmers Market and have a picnic lunch of farm-to-table produce. Another popular hangout is Whitesite Brewing which features Bavarian-style beers and delicious paninis. Locals often stroll through Village Green, a park with 12 acres of wetlands, gardens, and boardwalks. Lake Glenville is found only eight miles from town and is popular with anglers, swimmers, and boaters.
Charming and quaint, the inviting atmosphere of Davidson makes it one of the best small towns in the entire state. It truly seems straight out of a Hallmark movie. As one of the safest towns in North Carolina, Davidson is perfect for families, and having Lake Norman nearby means there is always plenty to do. Catfish and bass are especially plentiful at the lake, and the Lake Norman Nature Preserve is replete with gorgeous green spaces and playgrounds. Davidson has worked hard to become as bike and pedestrian-friendly as possible. Twelve miles of greenways and bike lanes wind throughout town to places like the National Arboretum and Davidson College where NBA star Stephen Curry once played.
Full of impressive studios, boutiques, and restaurants, Saluda is a little-known and massively underrated North Carolina gem. With Pearson’s Falls and the Green River Gorge located nearby, there are endless opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty North Carolina has to offer. Saluda’s downtown may only be one street wide, but it has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. There, Thompson’s Store and Ward’s Grill have stood serving picnic lunches since 1892. Perfect for bringing to Pearson’s Falls. There are many worthwhile galleries to peruse here such as Heartwood Gallery. The Saluda Arts Festival held each May is a testament to Saluda’s commitment to remaining an artist's haven.
The town of Franklin has plenty of history for visitors to chew on. The town sits amidst some of the oldest mountains on Earth, an area called Nikwasi, a word meaning the “center of activity” by the Cherokee. Today, the town is one of the best weekend getaways in southwestern North Carolina. Franklin was voted the 25th Best City To Live in North Carolina by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The nearby Nantahala National Forest is the largest national forest in the state and is the perfect place to explore. Downtown Franklin has a lovely Main Street which offers amazing views of the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. If you like music, there are also bi-weekly free concerts in Franklin at the Gazebo on the Square from May to mid-October.
The beauty of Morganton is truly awe-inspiring at times. Found within the Catawba River valley in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Morganton must be seen to be believed. South Mountains and Lake James state parks are two of the best in the country, and Pisgah National Forest is not too far away either. The town is the oldest European inland settlement in the country, with the first arrivals showing up from Spain in 1567. Learn about this settlement by visiting its site which opens to the public in June. Morganton is home to several breweries, with Belgian and English-inspired brews on tap.
Twenty-two miles south of Asheville at the center of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hendersonville is a vibrant town beer connoisseurs are sure to love. There are 16 craft beer makes, wineries, and cideries in Hendersonville. The fertile mountain soil around Hendersonville is great for growing, and the nearby orchards are open for exploration. The Apple Blossom and Apple Harvest Trails are definitely worth checking out, while the Fall Color Trail shows off the brightly colored foliage each fall. The town has plenty to do as well such as the Appalachian Pinball Museum which has tons of vintage arcade games. Perfect for the kid in us all.
Found where the Piedmont region of North Carolina meets the coast, New Bern has the best of both worlds. The town has plenty of historical buildings, some of which survived the Revolutionary War. The town even has the state’s first printing press. Ghent, downtown, and Riverside are three easily walkable and scenic neighborhoods that feature lovely architecture and views of the water. Feeling parched? Swing by the Birthplace of Pepsi-Cola on Middle Street for a sweet bubbly beverage. There are garden tours, historic house tours, and there is even a ghost town tour. In New Bern, there is no shortage of attractions. The shrimp and grits at The Chelsea are absolutely spectacular as well.
In North Carolina, the Outer Banks are the premier beachfront destination for surf, sand, and sun. What Calabash provides is a genuine alternative to Outer Banks supremacy. The town is perfect for an oceanside getaway. Sunset Beach and Holden Beach are absolutely delightful and are as good as anything the Outer Banks has to offer. The seafood in Calabash is one of its selling points as well. With over 30 seafood restaurants in town, it is no surprise why Calabash calls itself “The Seafood Capital of the World.” The town has miles and miles of white sand dunes and golf courses to explore after you tire of the beach. Calabash is waiting to be discovered.
With an idyllic location along the Albemarle Sound and gorgeous 18th-century architecture, Edenton is everything a scenic North Carolina town should be. Edenton can be explored by a trolley, perfect for resting your legs in between visits to the town’s numerous historic homes and the Edenton Cotton Mill Historic District. Edenton was the state's first colonial capital and as such there is plenty to see. Sitting on stilts, the 19th-century Roanoke River Lighthouse is a true survivor and one of the last screw-pile lighthouses left in the country. A visit to the Inner Banks would not be complete without a quick paddle across the Sound.
The criminally underappreciated town of Southport is absolutely bursting with Southern hospitality. Here, locals plant themselves in chairs on waterfront porches at sunset and walk amongst the tranquil salt marshes. The Southport Pier and Riverwalk offers amazing views of the waterfront scenery and is eminently photogenic. The town is also a hotbed for antiquers. Moore Street has plenty of shops to explore for books, jewelry, and furniture. Plenty of motion pictures have been filmed in Southport, and you can tour these locations on a guided expedition throughout town.
The beating heart of North Carolina can be found in its small towns. The Tarheel State is a geographical marvel, and wonderful Southern hospitality can be found all the way from up in the mountains to down in the Outer Banks. Experience Appalachia as never before, and trek across white sand beaches. There is so much to see, and though we could not cover it all, we feel these towns are a great place to start. North Carolina is waiting.