Main street in Brevard, North Carolina, via Dee Browning /

11 of the Most Overlooked Towns in North Carolina

The East Coast of the United States is home to exciting destinations, and North Carolina ranks among the very best. Between the Coastal Plain and the Appalachian Mountains, the Tar Heel State features diverse landscapes with a variety of habitats that have allowed almost 300 species of trees and wildlife to thrive. While top cities like Raleigh and Charlotte claim the lion's share of the tourists streaming into North Carolina annually, the state offers many more charming destinations that are often grossly overlooked.

Whatever they lack in urban buzz and electric nightlife, they make up for with stunning natural beauty and exotic cultural experiences. Their laid back personality with small-town appeal present the ideal atmosphere for a quick getaway, with a rare opportunity to discover captivating state history and partake in thrilling outdoor adventures. On your next vacation, try ditching the major metro areas for these underrated towns in North Carolina.


Main Street in Brevard, North Carolina
Main Street in Brevard, North Carolina. Image credit Nolichuckyjake via

Small-town charm and diverse tourist attractions make this Transylvania County community worthy of a relaxed weekend getaway. Brevard is known for hosting the Pisgah Stage Race, a popular mountain bike endurance race that attracts hundreds of competitors to brave rugged trails into the Pisgah National Forest. Besides the famous race, tourists come here for remarkable hikes into the wilderness, where they can explore natural wonders like the gorgeous Looking Glass Falls.

Brevard also hosts a fair share of historical markers that offer a feel for its storied heritage. A tour of the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas allows guests to pay their last respects to the brave soldiers from the Carolinas who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the country. Meanwhile, the Silvermont Mansion and Park takes you back to early 20th century Brevard, when the beautiful Colonial Revival-style mansion was built.

Black Mountain

Closeup of Town Hardware and General Store in Black Mountain, North Carolina
Closeup of Town Hardware and General Store in Black Mountain, North Carolina, via Nolichuckyjake /

Visiting Black Mountain replaces the chaotic scenery of nearby Asheville with a more easygoing community and thinner crowds to deal with. This quiet town in Buncombe County stands out for its stunning surroundings, punctuated with picturesque views of the mountain range it was named after. Lake Tomahawk Park is an excellent point of interest for the outdoorsy traveler. The waterfront nature area features a tranquil atmosphere with secluded lakeside trails, a fishing pier, sports facilities, and stunning mountain views.

Black Mountain has a history of hosting a thriving community of artists since the mid-1900s. You can tell this from the impressive collection of galleries across the town, including Seven Sisters Gallery and Red House Gallery and Studios. The craft brewery scene is also abuzz in Black Mountain, offering a chance to sample tasty local brews at establishments like Black Mountain Brewing and Lookout Brewing Company.


WKRK (1320 AM) radio station in Murphy, North Carolina
WKRK (1320 AM) radio station in Murphy, North Carolina, By Harrison Keely - Own work, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The small town of Murphy exposes travelers to the beauty of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. Its location at the confluence of the Valley and Hiwassee Rivers results in a delightful outdoor scenery worthy of exploration with a casual stroll along the Murphy River Walk. But there is more to Murphy than its irresistible outdoors. History enthusiasts will find interesting pioneer and Native American history to discover at the Cherokee Historical Museum. Housed inside is a captivating collection of artifacts featuring exhibits from the Cherokee Indian tribe.

Fans of the arts will prefer visiting Valley River Arts to examine a combination of traditional, contemporary, and fine art pieces by regional crafters and artists. While exploring the vibrant downtown district, be sure to stop by Marketplace Antiques for cute collectibles that will be the perfect reminder of your time in the town.


Street view in Southport, North Carolina
Street view in Southport, North Carolina, via /

This tiny port town is located close to the mouth of the Cape Fear River and boasts a rich heritage dating back to 1792, when it was established. Several historical sites offer a sense of this storied legacy, starting with the North Carolina Maritime Museum of Southport. This remarkable facility documents Southport's seafaring exploits through the years. At Old Brunswick County Jail, guests can peek into life in the city during the early 1900s through a cluster of period artifacts housed inside a 2-story brick jailhouse.

An impressive local art scene allows guests the chance to experience the work of regional artists across the different galleries in town. Connoisseurs can pop into the Franklin Square Gallery or Artshak Studio and Gallery for a look at awesome pieces. Elsewhere, outdoor lovers will embrace the tranquil environment of Southport Waterfront Park and take advantage of lovely fishing opportunities.

Bryson City

Great Smoky Mountains Train rides, Bryson City, North Carolina.
Great Smoky Mountains Train rides, Bryson City, North Carolina. Image credit digidreamgrafix via Shutterstock

This small town in western North Carolina is chock-full of touristy experiences, making it a choice destination for first-timers in the state. It is renowned for being the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which is the country's most visited national park. One of the best visitor experiences involves riding the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for a remarkable sightseeing tour on a vintage steam engine. There is plenty of fun for the outdoorsy tourists, and adventurers can grab their hiking gear to take on the rugged Deer Creek Trail Trailhead.

The many tourists passing through Bryson City en route to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have elevated the local culinary scene, with a rich mix of restaurants serving sumptuous flavors for all taste buds. If you have a soft spot for Italian cuisine, do not forget to pass by Pasqualino's Italian Restaurant and savor delicious traditional dishes.


King Street in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
King Street in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /

Hillsborough lures travelers with a wealth of exciting outdoor opportunities and a rare historical experience. It is home to the Occoneechee Mountain State Park, which harbors scenic alpine trails leading to the highest point in Orange County. Hikers who brave the climb are rewarded with unparalleled vistas of the surroundings. A more family-friendly alternative would involve going to Gold Park, home to kid-friendly amenities like a playground, ball fields, hiking trails, and a dog park.

Hillsborough also boasts a charming historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Strolling through the corridor reveals a cluster of over 100 18th and 19th-century structures, with notable stops like the Orange County Historical Museum and the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts.


Beaufort, North Carolina: Beautiful summer day on the waterfront boardwalk.
Beaufort, North Carolina: Beautiful summer day on the waterfront boardwalk.

One of the oldest towns in North Carolina, Beaufort was founded in 1713 and boasts a rich history documented at treasures like the Beaufort Historic Site. This is an excellent place to delve into the cultural and historical heritage of the town, with artifacts vividly chronicling 18th and 19th-century Beaufort. Its strategic coastal location has enabled the community to have a stellar nautical heritage through the years, which visitors can explore by touring the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

This also means exciting opportunities to get on the water courtesy of local outfitters like Lookout Cruises Sail Boats. In these laidback sailing excursions, you get the opportunity to discover the allure of Beaufort from the water. But if you are up for a more adrenaline-inducing experience offering a bird's eye perspective of the town, consider booking a session with Beaufort Parasail.


Saluda Main Street Historic District
Saluda Main Street Historic District, By Bigskybill - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, File:Saluda Historic District.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

A tiny population of about 700 residents results in a relaxed atmosphere ideal for a short weekend getaway in North Carolina. Despite this small-town feel, there is no shortage of experiences for visitors to Saluda. Adventures in the outdoors will lead hikers to discover gems like Pearson's Falls and Glen, which comprise a breathtaking cascade falling 90 feet down a staircase of rocks. Those who fancy aquatic excursions can sign up for a thrilling whitewater rafting experience with Green River Adventures.

When not immersing in the great outdoors, consider exploring local history at the Saluda Historic Depot and Museum. Constructed in 1903, the small museum showcases the important role played by the railroad in Saluda's history through a fine selection of artifacts.


Main Street Boone, North Carolina.
Main Street Boone, North Carolina. Image credit Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock.

This small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina combines beautiful outdoor scenery, rich historical experiences, and a vibrant art scene to guarantee tourists a remarkable vacation. Those with an affinity for the open spaces will find thrilling mountain biking opportunities at the Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park, which houses up to 8 miles of looping trails through its 185-acre expanse. For the artistically inclined, you can visit the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts to admire a world-class exhibit of art pieces.

The local craft brewery scene cannot be overlooked. The opportunity to sample locally crafted beer awaits at the many breweries across the town, including the Booneshine Brewing Company.

Lake Lure

The beautiful Lake Lure in North Carolina.
The beautiful Lake Lure in North Carolina.

This waterfront community in Rutherford County promises visitors a relaxed retreat in secluded nature spaces with a tranquil environment, tailored for rest and rejuvenation. There are numerous reasons to embrace the outdoors when visiting Lake Lure, led by Lake Lure Beach and Water Park. This delightful oasis welcomes adults and kids alike to enjoy different water games and relax on sandy shores while soaking in stunning water views. The relaxing atmosphere nicely complements a game of golf, which visitors can indulge in at the beautiful Bald Mountain Golf Course.

Meanwhile, Chimney Rock State Park invites explorers to wild adventures in the backcountry, featuring challenging hikes that reward the daring with stupendous views of the surrounding landscapes. After a tedious day getting lost in the great outdoors, you can restock with a wholesome meal at the nearby Burntshirt Vineyards Tasting Room and Bistro, to go with your favorite alcoholic beverage.

Banner Elk

Downtown Banner Elk in North Carolina.
Downtown Banner Elk in North Carolina. Editorial credit: Kristi Blokhin /

The "Ski Capital of the South," is a charming winter destination sandwiched between two ski resorts, drawing thousands to this side of the Blue Ridge Mountains annually. Snow sports enthusiasts visit Sugar Mountain Resort for some fun on the white powder. However, when there is no snowfall, Grandfather Mountain State Park becomes the ultimate playground for nature enthusiasts. Boasting a combo of scenic trails, campsites, picturesque cliffs, and unprecedented views, it is one of the town's best recreational hubs.

Besides the outdoors, the Art Cellar Gallery is an excellent spot for connoisseurs looking to explore the works of local creators and crafters. Finally, remember to always close the day with a tasty glass of wine at the Banner Elk Winery.

The Takeaway

A mix of captivating history, rich culture, wonderful natural scenery, and small-town appeal makes these overlooked towns in North Carolina worth experiencing firsthand. From coastal fishing villages to Piedmont towns surrounded by rolling pastures and mountain hamlets nestled in the Blue Ridge, they showcase the incredible diversity of North Carolina across different regions. Venturing off well-worn tourist routes to explore these underrated spots promises new insights into the Tar Heel state, with an opportunity to discover interesting history and partake in remarkable outdoor adventures.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 11 of the Most Overlooked Towns in North Carolina

More in Places