Downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Image credit Dee Browning via Shutterstock

North Carolina's 11 Most Underrated Towns to visit in 2024

Some argue that the origins of the United States can be traced back to the modest beginnings of North Carolina. Apart from the state's historical connections to the earliest colonies of the British Empire, North Carolina is the birthplace of global phenomena like Krispy Kreme, Mt. Olive Pickles, and Pepsi. However, many can agree that the greatest things you can find in North Carolina are the many underrated towns to visit in 2024. Beyond Roanoke Island, where the mysterious "lost colony" vanished in 1587, you can venture into a land that the longstanding indigenous Cherokee community still preserves. From the living histories of Bryson City to the elevated majesties of Highlands and Sylva, the Tar Heel State has a plethora of towns that have barely changed since their inception. See for yourself why North Carolina’s most underrated towns ought to be visited in 2024.

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

Bryson City is a low-key mountain town an hour away from Asheville. With its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visitors can brave the enticing routes through the Smoky Mountains or catch a steamy ride at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Nature lovers can soak in the sprays of Juneywhank Falls, Tom Branch Falls, and Indian Creek Falls at Deep Creek. For more watery delights, the Upper Nantahala Cascades and Fontana Lake shelters the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains called the Fontana Dam. At Cherokee, home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Native Americans, you can explore the vast Blue Ridge Parkway, which preserves the Oconaluftee Indian Village, Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama, and Harrah's Cherokee Casino. Because Bryson City is a serene town in the Smoky Mountains, it has a number of lodgings for you to warm yourself up in the cool evenings, such as the Nantahala Village Resort, Fryemont Inn, and Fontana Village Resort.


Broad Street in Edenton, North Carolina
Broad Street in Edenton, North Carolina. Image credit Kyle J Little via

Edenton is an Eden on Earth with its 18th-century architecture and its location on the shores of the Albemarle Sound and Edenton Bay. Travelers can take a vintage trolley tour through 300 years of history, starting from when Edenton was the first colonial capital of North Carolina to when the first political action by women in US history took place. You can tour the Colonial Courthouse, the oldest operating courthouse in America. Then, the Chowan County Courthouse, and finally the Maritime Underground Railroad, where slaves and fugitives such as abolitionist writer Harriet Jacobs found freedom.

In addition, you can tour the estates of the Cupola House, the Roanoke River Lighthouse, and Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church. And if you require accommodations, the Couch House and Hampton Inn are one of many locations for you to relax and enjoy your stay in Edenton.

Blowing Rock

Downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
Downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Image credit Cvandyke via Shutterstock

The townsfolk of Blowing Rock called the place as such due to the bellowing cliffs at the Blue Ridge Parkway. The town also got its name from a love story called “The Blowing Rocks,” whereupon two lovers from the opposing Catawba and Cherokee tribes wanted to break away from the shackles of social norms for each other—a Native American Romeo and Juliet story. For travelers far and wide, they can fall in love with the rapturing views of the Grandfather, Table Rock, and Hawksbill Mountains.

The Bass Lake Trail is flanked by many panoramic sceneries of woodlands and mountains, and from atop Thunder Hill Overlook, you can gaze out at the sheer vastness of Blowing Rock. The town’s past is in full detail at the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, while the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park houses many conservationist attractions for you to peruse. Only around two hours from Charlotte and 18 miles from Banner Elk, savor your experiences in Blowing Rock at the Chetola Resort, an establishment that also hosts an annual symphony performance.


Downtown Manteo.
Downtown Manteo. Image credit Wileydoc via

Manteo is a good place to commence your adventure through Roanoke Island, the first English settlement in America. The early settlement lifestyle in the Outer Banks can be appreciated at the Roanoke Island Festival Park, the Island Farm, and the Elizabethan Gardens. The Elizabethan Gardens, specifically, is situated in the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and quite near to the site of the mysterious Lost Colony.

Elsewhere, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in the Shallowbag Bay attracts many history enthusiasts in addition to the Manteo Weather Tower. This same tower, under weatherman Alpheus W. Drinkwater's stewardship, sent news of the Wright brothers’ aerial experiments to news agencies across the US. The Roanoke Island Maritime Museum has more mementos and relics of Manteo's maritime heritage, while fine lodgings like the Hotel Manteo, Scarborough Inn, and the Tranquil House Inn have many amenities for you to cherish you stay in the town.


Sylva, North Carolina: View from historic Courthouse stairs
Sylva, North Carolina: View from historic Courthouse stairs, via EWY Media /

Sylva is one of the highest towns in North Carolina, rising well over 5,000 feet in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Only an hour away from Asheville and 20 minutes from Cherokee and Balsam, Sylva was named after a wandering Dane based on John Parris’ Roaming the Mountains series. These days, Sylva is a gateway to the 1,400-acre Pinnacle Park, home to the most challenging hiking trails in Western North Carolina. At Freedom Park, you can admire life-sized replicas of the United States’ foundational documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Close by, the Jackson County Courthouse is the oldest courthouse in the region, while the Judaculla Rock is a soapstone rock with ancestral ties to the Cherokee legends of Tsukalu or Judaculla, the indigenous god of the hunt. If the high-altitude wind chills you, warm yourself up in either the Comfort Inn of Sylva or Clarion Pointe of Sylva.


The historic Osbunn Theater in Hillsborough, North Carolina
The historic Osbunn Theater in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /

Hillsborough has over a hundred 18th and 19th-century houses, churches, and other edifices with historical ties to many of America’s greatest individuals. William Hooper’s house, for example, was the home to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Then there is the Alexander Dickson house, a former headquarters of General Joseph E. Johnston when he surrendered the largest of the Confederate armies to General William T. Sherman at the end of the American Civil War. American jazz composer Billy Strayhorn was lived in Hillsborough, and a freed slave by the name of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley—who was also a close confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s wife—once went to school at Burwell School. Only ten minutes from Raleigh, do stay a while at the Inn at Teardrops, Historic Colonial Inn, or Holiday Inn Express.


Downtown, Washington, North Carolina
Downtown, Washington, North Carolina. Image credit Kyle J Little via Shutterstock.

The town of Washington on the Pamlico River in North Carolina’s Inner Banks was the first place named after the first president of the United States. Though not as historically vital compared to Washington D.C., the town was once the home of the Secotan and Pamlico Native Americans, members of the Tuscarora people. Washington was also the former dwelling place of the fabled pirate Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. These days, Washington is home to Goose Creek State Park, where over 1,600 acres of wilderness can be explored. There is also the North Carolina Estuarium, measuring 12,500 square feet, is the second largest estuary in the US. If you are interested in seeing more of Washington, then remember to book a room at either the Red Roof Inn Washington or the Little Inn at Washington.


The Old Edwards Inn Spa in Highlands, North Carolina.
The Old Edwards Inn Spa in Highlands, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Cheri Alguire /

Highlands is only 1000 feet lower than Sylva, with an approximate elevation of 4000 feet in the Nantahala National Forest. Moreover, the town happens to be the bejeweled headpiece of the “biological crown of the southern Appalachian Mountains,” the Highlands Plateau. Amidst the elevated forests and mountains are lush and crystalline rivers, lakes, and waterfalls—vivacious habitats for many of North Carolina’s flora and fauna, all maintained and balanced by the Nantahala National Forest’s temperate atmosphere. To appreciate the Highlands’ contribution to the preservation and conservation of the Appalachian Mountains, tour the Highlands Historical Museum and Archives or visit the Hudson Library, one of the oldest libraries in the state. Then, when the night lulls you to blissful dreaming, retire at the Highlands Inn or the Old Edwards Inn.

Banner Elk

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

Praised as the ski capital of the south, Banner Elk leads to several tourist-appealing destinations like Boone in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Grandfather Mountain, a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve. Among the many attractions in these locations are the Linville Caverns in Humpback Mountain and Wildcat Lake. You can take a ride across the historic Tweetsie Railroad, a route found between Boone and Blowing Rock, where one can marvel at the local elk and bear in the mountainous landscape. Oddly enough, at Apple Hill Farm, you can find yourself meeting alpacas and llamas in the company of pigs, chickens, and ponies. For lodgings, look to the Best Western Mountain Lodge or Little Main Street Inn & Suites for your daily needs.

Mount Airy

Main Street, Mount Airy, North Carolina
Main Street, Mount Airy, North Carolina

As a “Friendly City” 40 minutes away from Winston-Salem, Mount Airy is a living embodiment of the town of Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show. Indeed, visitors and fans of the show might recognize iconic locations such as Floyd’s City Barber Shop, Snappy Lunch, the Old Mayberry Courthouse and Jail, and the titular character’s home. Memorabilia and articles from the series can be perused in the Andy Griffith Museum. Elsewhere, Flat Rock serves as Mount Airy’s historic granite quarry and the largest open-face granite quarry in the world since 1889. Westwood Park and Veterans Memorial Park are arboreal regions worthy of trekking, and should you ever get weary from all the touring, you can rest up and recharge at the Hampton Inn Mount Airy, Comfort Inn Mount Airy, or the Andy Griffith Parkway Inn.


Main Street in Hendersonville, North Carolina on an early spring day
Main Street in Hendersonville, North Carolina, on an early spring day. Image credit Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock

Hendersonville is part of a large neighborhood alongside Apple Country (Edneyville), Etowah/Horse Shoe, Flat Rock, Fletcher, Laurel Park, Mills River and Tuxedo/Zirconia/Green River. Hendersonville, specifically, is called the “City of the Four Seasons,” thanks to its proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains from Jump Off Rock. From spring, summer, autumn, and winter, you can traverse the Cheers! Trail, which got its name from the hit TV show as it is the only route in North Carolina replete with five unique types of craft beverages for you to sample. The Henderson County Heritage Museum is an excellent place to learn more about the town and its tight-knit neighbors, with exhibits from the American Civil War. Most of all, you can gawk at Wolfe’s Angel Statue, a masterpiece depicting a character in Thomas Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Do not forget to book a room at the Charleston Inn and the Henderson.

In Conclusion

If North Carolina was a perfect place for the Wright brothers to conduct their first prototypes in aviation, then the Tar Heel State is a perfect place to get you soaring into new heights. Specifically, you will be soaring from TV-sensational locations such as Mount Airy and Hendersonville to the summits of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains in towns like Highlands and Sylva. These towns contain their own magic and mystery, just like the “lost colony” in Roanoke Island, and you will certainly get yourself lost in the impeccable attractions and features each town upholds. So much like the early immigrants from the Old World to the New World, discover new things from old towns in North Carolina’s most underrated locations to visit in 2024.

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