Riverwalk at Wilmington, North Carolina. Image credit PatGallery via Shutterstock

6 Most Charming River Towns in North Carolina

The natural beauty in North Carolina is already stunning enough, but when you add a riverside view to the equation, the landscape becomes surreal. The backroads of North Carolina are home to some of the most charming and enchanting towns in the US. Each of these towns makes for a great destination if you are looking to experience something off the beaten path.

1. Dillsboro

The Tuckasegee River near Bryson City
Tuckasegee River between Bryson City and Dillsboro. Image credit PhotoZeal via Shutterstock

With a population of only 252 residents, there are lifelong North Carolinians who have never heard of this peaceful and quaint town. Located in western North Carolina along the Tuckasegee River, Dillsboro is best known for being the start of the famous Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. The train ride takes passengers through the countless mountains and hills in the area and finally ends in Bryson City Depot.

Dillsboro relies heavily on the steady flow of tourists using the railway to keep the local economy steady. Despite its small size, the town has many bars, restaurants, and other accommodations to keep visitors happy and satisfied.

2. Wilmington

Wilmington North Carolina
An aerial view of Wilmington. Image credit Real Window Creative via Shutterstock

The small city of Wilmington sits at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean as well, water activities are both common and plentiful. Renting kayaks, paddle boats, and jet skis are all viable options depending on the time of the year. The downtown core of the city has impeccably preserved its historical buildings and well-maintained the trolly service that still operates to this day.

Wilmington is also home to a branch campus of the University of North Carolina. Due to the large concentration of young people in the area, Wilmington's nightlife is surprisingly large considering the size of the town.

3. New Bern

New Bern North Carolina
The town of New Bern with the Neuse River in the background. Image credit Real Window Creative via Shutterstock

Built along the estuary of the Neuse River, New Bern is a charming small town that appears sealed in a time capsule since the turn of the century. Steamboat rides up and down the rivers and coast often make stops in New Bern along their journey. Visitors can peruse a plethora of unique and versatile shops that sell an impressive catalog of specialty items.

New Bern was also the place where the legendary soft drink Pepsi-Cola was first conceived way back in 1889. The original Pepsi-Cola store still stands today and makes for an exciting visit. Their first location contains many relics and artifacts of the company, as well as the same vintage, feel that it had over 100 years ago.

4. Hot Springs

Hot Springs North Carolina
Aerial view of Hot Springs, North Carolina from the Appalachian Trail. Image credit Jennifer Stanford via Shutterstock 

Way up in the Appalachian Mountains lies the small town of Hot Springs. Found along the picturesque French Broad River, Hot Springs embodies a typical mountain town in North Carolina.

There is an abundance of natural mineral springs in the surrounding area. Some of these are within resorts while others are in the wilderness. The French Broad River is a hotspot for rafting and other river activities which you can try with a guide or a group of friends if you are daring enough.

5. Bath

Bonner's Point Bath North Carolina
Bonner's Point Bath North Carolina. Image credit David Byron Keener via Shutterstock

The sleepy town of Bath was the first area settled by European colonists in what is today North Carolina. The early colonial buildings are still on display and remain a popular attraction. The colonial village is often occupied by actors and tour guides adorned in era-appropriate clothing. Tricorne hats and powdered wigs replace bat caps and blue jeans.

First settled in the late 1600s, the town of Bath remained an important town until the end of British rule in America. Today the town is still small with only a population of a few hundred people. Bath sits at the end of Bath Creek which flows into the larger Pamlico River. The area just outside of the town limits is host to countless streams and creeks to explore.

6. Bryson City

Tuckasegee River from the bridge in Bryson City
Tuckasegee River from the bridge in Bryson City. Image credit Jill Lang via Shutterstock

Bryson City is a small but important town that lies on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Significantly larger than its counterpart in Dillsboro, Bryson City is much more than just a railway town.

Many whitewater rafting journeys begin in Bryson City. The fast current and rough water of the Tuckasegee River make it an ideal candidate for the sport. Rafting expeditions are great ways to explore and visit the other towns that lay downstream from Bryson City. If railways and river rapids are not to your taste there are plenty of guided excursions that lead to a number of amazing waterfalls in the nearby area.


The small river towns of North Carolina are something special; rustic, quaint, and well-preserved. Regardless of the time of year, rural North Carolina is a great place to visit. Taking this journey during the Holiday season might be the best time of the year to do so. Many of these towns host robust Christmas festivals that you will not be able to find in big cities.

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