8 Best Small Towns In Western North Carolina

Western North Carolina is known as the nostalgia-inducing part of the state with vineyards and historic downtowns near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Offering vibrant hearts and a range of activities to suit any taste, it is no wonder that many of these towns start with the letter "B" for being the best big getaway into a small-town atmosphere.

Banner Elk

A couple sitting on cliff edge enjoying scenic view in Banner Elk, North Carolina
A couple is sitting on a cliff edge enjoying the scenic view in Grandfather Mountain State Park, Banner Elk, North Carolina. 

Flanked by the Blue Ridge Range's Beech and Sugar peaks, Banner Elk features a perfect combination of a small-town vibe and big-city sparkle. Upon setting base at one of the cozy cabins, there's much to see and do here, including many modern museums, nice restaurants, craft breweries, and local vineyards. Comprising one of the state's northernmost climates, the town is popularly visited during winter for its two major ski resorts, the Sugar Mountain Resort to the south and Beech Mountain Resort to the north. During autumn, there's the huge October Woolly Worm Festival attended by hordes of tourists to see the town's traditional worm races that allegedly predict the upcoming winter's weather. With most breathing room during the warmer months, many come to explore the beautiful countryside via a summer's day stroll with a picnic. The Lees-McRae College features stone structures as historical sights on campus, as well as the recently-revived summer theater series, popular among tourists. The varied restaurant scene includes traditional BBQ and Cajun, as well as international cuisine, while the walk-able assortment of shops highlights Banner Elk's motto to "Just BE." Water fans will be happy to find a beach and a pier at Wildcat Lake in the vicinity, while the nearby High Swinging Bridge landmark leads one to the Grandfather Mountain State Park for the greatest outdoor escape, only 15 minutes away.

Blowing Rock

Autumn view of Broyhill Park and Mayview Lake in downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Autumn view of Broyhill Park and Mayview Lake in downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina. 

The popular small town brims with charm at every corner, from the idyllic town hall to the Kilwin's ice cream and fudge shop perfuming the air. Home to 1,300 residents, many come for the quaint town atmosphere, as well as to dine on the renowned food scene at elevations of over 3,500 feet. "Naturally," the town's most famous attraction is the rock face dominating the scape over the Johns River from 4,000 feet above the sea level. The cliff protrusion invites cool air to appear as if it is being lifted upwards. Upon climbing the formation, one gets scenic views of the peaks, sprawling forests, and the Johns River Gorge below. One can also stroll up the hilly streets of the town to get a fill of daily exercise, with many interesting stops on the way. For a morning coffee, there's the quirky Bald Guy Brew Blowing Rock or the Village Café for a champagne brunch set in a colonial-style building with a quaint courtyard that was utilized for basket-weaving and woodworking in the 1900s. A few minutes from downtown, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Moses Cone Memorial Park is a massive manor and former home to an entrepreneurial philanthropist. Now a sprawling estate dotted with walking trails and horse stables, it is a perfect place to picnic and reminisce on its impressive size and history. 

Brevard

High Falls of Dupont Forest in Brevard, North Carolina
An early morning misty photo of the High Falls of Dupont Forest in Brevard, Western North Carolina, taken during the summer season. 

Brevard is renowned as a retro-hip small town, set just above the South Carolina border near Asheville, and the ultimate getaway into the Pisgah National Forest and Dupont State Forest. The atmospheric main thoroughfare is filled with old-school cafes, shops, and micro-breweries, while the outskirts feature­ a state-of-the-art music center. Best for an imminent visit, there's a whole array of summer arts, music, and other festivals in full swing. Set in the area known as the "Land of Waterfalls," one can spend days strolling on the trails in search of over 200 cascades in the vicinity, with a rewarding cool-off after the hike. The slow incline and easy trail of Art Loeb are renowned for the open bald eagle views. Following the outdoor adventures, one can recharge on the Italian cuisine at the atmospherically rustic Marco Trattoria, housed in a cozy mountain lodge and inclusive with a dining al fresco courtyard. Whole families rejoice in visiting the flagship O.P. Taylor's toy shop to gawk at the impressive collection of old-fashioned wooden toys among the more contemporary sets. For more family-friendly fun, the Franklin Park comes with an all-wooded playground where kids have fun searching for white squirrels that are unique to this town. 

Bryson City

Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City, North Carolina
Spectators observe Olympic hopefuls practice kayaking on the Nantahala River at the Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City, North Carolina. Editorial credit: elvisvaughn / Shutterstock.com

Set an hour away from Asheville, this small town was named one of the nation's twenty best towns. Bryson City serves as the ultimate getaway into the great outdoors, including easy access to the Deep Creek besides bordering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The highly walkable downtown is home to an array of delightful restaurants, bakeries, cafés, and art galleries. Known for an active nightlife, there is a string of restaurants and bars along Depot Street, including the Nantahala Brewing for local beer and live music and Derailed for posh cocktails. The Nantahala River, the Fontana Lake, and the nearby Nantahala Outdoor Center offer endless adventures for white-water rafters, kayakers, and mountain bikers. There's zip-lining for extreme, while those seeking a respite should head to the shaded Island Park tucked on the shores of the Tuckasegee River. Bryson City is also the hub of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad with the famed Smoky Mountain Trains Museum, along with regular rides. The Swain County Heritage Museum is a treasure cove on the geography and history of the mountains.

Hendersonville

Aerial view of downtown Hendersonville, North Carolina
Aerial view of downtown Hendersonville, North Carolina. 

Hendersonville is set near the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, in the area known as "the land of orchards." Surrounded by natural beauty and vineyards, one can spend endless days in the outdoors strolling or sipping on the apple cider. Close to becoming a bona fide suburb, the downtown still retains an old-school feel with a quaint main thoroughfare full of wonderful shops and restaurants. There are several apple farms in the vicinity for picking a basket full of crunchy fruit, along with other farm produce. There are many interesting attractions for a wholesome family vacation, including a shark nursery, geodes museum, and vintage airplanes, while the Henderson County Heritage Museum exhibits Civil War artifacts, including a 1900s general store replica. One can also head to the sunny countryside on a summer's day for a leisurely stroll with a picnic or to the Jump Off Rock panoramic viewpoint for the second-to-none vistas from above. 

Mount Airy

Andy Griffith's Homeplace in Mount Airy, North Carolina
Andy Griffith's Homeplace in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Dee Browning / Shutterstock.com

Lovingly known as Mayberry, the town emanates pleasure as the home to the late star Andy Griffith and The Andy Griffith Show. The annual Mayberry Days parade celebrates his memory, work, and life. One will see Sheriff Taylor’s police cars from the show cruising around, now used for tours, while inducing nostalgia in the visiting fans. One can stop by the landmark and have lunch at the Snappy’s Lunch to reminisce how Andy Griffith did so on the show as a young kid. There’s also the Andy Griffith monument set near the show’s museum, and clay sculptures of lesser-known historical figures, like musicians, mill workers, and teachers, line the West Oak Street. While out and about, the eclectically-decorated Miss Angels sell a wide selection of sweets and baked goods. Set right outside of town, the Pilot Mountain State Park comes with a unique Big Pinnacle rounded mountain top known for unmatched views. Formerly used as a navigation point, people enjoy the trek-up and the panoramic vistas of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge mountains. 

Saluda

Waterfalls at Pearsons Waterfall and Glen off NC Hwy 176 between Tryon and Saluda in North Carolina
Waterfalls at Pearsons Waterfall and Glen off NC Hwy 176 between Tryon and Saluda in North Carolina. 

Set along the beautiful Green River, Saluda is a former railroad outpost turned into a lively township with many recreational opportunities. One can revisit the past by strolling through the historic downtown strip, while the active will find their thrill kayaking, fishing, and swimming in the river. After white-water-rafting their hearts out, the extreme-seekers can head to the Gorge Zip Line to drop from 1,100 vertical feet through 125 acres of old-growth forests. Abound with natural beauty, there’s the 90-foot Pearson Falls, easily accessed via a short, scenic hike. The old-timey downtown is full of antique shops, specialty stores, and galleries, such as the Heartwood Gallery, with a spread of intricate locally-made creations. For breakfast, there’s the popular Ward’s Grill with exceptional flapjacks made from scratch to go with sage sausage, while the Purple Onion is widely known for live music accompanying one of the region’s more diverse menus. For a special and delicious souvenir, one must visit the atmospheric M.A. Pace General Store on the Main Street, which has been lovingly selling jars of locally-pickled and preserved goods since 1899. Having begun as a fund-raiser for the four-legged friends, the unusual Coon Dog Day event in July now attracts 10,000 people annually for the live music, crafts, a parade, 5K race, and a barking contest.

Tryon

Set proximate to Raleigh, in the wine heart of the region, Tryon's prestigious reputation and motto is the "friendliest town in the south." Known as the vibrant arts enclave and North Carolina's horse country, the small town boasts an un-proportionately wide array of activities to satisfy any taste. Tryon is host to the state's longest-running Tryon Block House Steeplechase, dating back to 1929, as well as home to the state-of-the-art Tryon International Equestrian Center with restaurants, lodging, and a spa. The charming town has been attracting many artists and writers into the area, reflected in the artsy vibe throughout the scape. One will find art exhibitions at the Tryon Fine Arts Center, along with community theater presentations, TEDx talks, classic films, and the Tryon Little Theater for kids. The historical downtown comes with an impressive amount of galleries and booksellers, in-between many antique stores, unique shops, and restaurants. While there, one must stop by the Lavender Bistro to dine on classic global cuisine, as well as the La Bouteille for the wide variety of craft libations.

Set within horses’ country, mountains, orchards, and vineyards, these small towns offer the best next getaway into the western corner of North Carolina. The vibrant streets brim with arts and modern attractions, while the nostalgic sights and historic buildings take one back to the by-gone days for the truly quaint respite, the heart desires.

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