Sailboats sit quietly in calm waters in historic Beaufort, NC. 

11 Most Underrated Towns In North Carolina To Take A Trip To

North Carolina, the 28th largest state in America, is known for its extensive recreational activities around infamous geological wonders. The region contains many cities with urban appeal, such as the metropolises of Charlotte and Raleigh. While these bustling hubs are essential for the thriving economy, there is certainly something to be said about those towns just outside the borders. Slip into nature, where the mountain meets the sky along the Blue Ridge Parkway, hike along the permanently fogged hills of the Great Smoky Mountains, or mine for rubies and sapphires in many of these underrated small towns.


Downtown Franklin at dusk. A row of historic buildings with various small businesses.
Downtown Franklin at dusk. Image credit JNix via Shutterstock.

This small town of only 4,175 was recently named the 25th Best City to Live in North Carolina by the US Chamber of Commerce, and that is for good reason. There are a plethora of things to do for the curious traveler, whether an adventure junkie, foodie, or serenity seeker. Walk along the Blue Ridge Mountains at the Appalachian Trail and Bartram Trail, or search through one of many active mines, like Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine or Jackson Hole. Explore historic Downtown Franklin, which features three museums, all within walking distance of one another. Hear some live music played in the Downtown Franklin Gazebo on the Square from late May through late October. 


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

Hendersonville is a sweet, small town only a short day trip south of Asheville, surrounded by the sweeping sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Historic homes are available to rent via Brightwaters Vacation Rentals for an extended stay, along with nine other rental houses ranging from cabins to quaint cottages. Visitors can enjoy hiking for all fitness levels along Bearwallow Mountain and many other trails or cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway that weaves along the Northwestern border of Henderson County (a mere 15 miles north of downtown Hendersonville). Take a dip in Hooker Falls on Little River, dropping off a natural ledge into flowing Cascade Lake. There’s always time for learning at the Apple Valley Model Railroad Museum, the Mineral and Lapidary Museum of Henderson County, or some plentiful fresh grub picking at the Henderson County Curb Market.


Blue Ridges of the Appalachian Mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville and Waynesville, North Carolina
Appalachian Mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway near  Waynesville, North Carolina.

Take advantage of an opportunity to visit this underrated North Carolina town, dubbed a paradise for any outdoor enthusiast. Waynesville is located at the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, a sublime American landmark with perpetual fog sneaking around the ridges and overlooks. Walk along the restored historic buildings and brick sidewalks and visit one of the antique and art shops, such as Red Barn Mountain Museum and Garden Centre or Mud Dabbers Pottery and Crafts. Breathe in the fresh mountain air at Looking Glass Falls, a natural and charming cascade of a new waterfall, open and enchanting within the Pisgah National Forest. It is only a five-minute drive outside Waynesville, and the industry is gorgeously scenic. 


The Colonial Inn in Hillsborough. Established in circa 1759.
The Colonial Inn in Hillsborough. Image credit Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock.

Hillsborough is all about history and a visit to be noticed by those intrigued by tales of the past. The small town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It features more than 1000 homes, churches, and buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, such as the Visitors Centre, which once served as General Joesph E. Johnston’s headquarters. The rest of the town is a haven for writers and artists who explore the Hillsborough Arts Council and the Wooden Nickel Public House (a craft beer snob’s paradise)! Those seeking outdoor adventure can stroll through the Occoneechee Mountain State Area, where a high point can be observed in the beautiful environment. Other trails, such as the Cox Mountain Trail and the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, work for those seeking easy to moderately challenging treks with a stunning, rewarding finish. 


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

Boone, North Carolina, is known nationally for attractions like Grandfather Mountain (a privately owned International Biosphere Reserve), the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Tweetie Railroad (a theatrical event that takes place upon a historic stream locomotive along with amusement rides, and Deer Park Zoo). But there is so much more to learn and experience in this small town, like the Horn in the West outdoor drama that tells the tale of Daniel Boone’s adventures, internal mountain visits at Linville Caverns, as well as the legendary Blowing Rock (where it has been claimed due to the odd updrafts on the crag that snow has been seen falling upside down)!. Visitors can try their hand at skiing during the winter seasons along with tubing or partake in a luxurious Wine tour along the Grandfather Vineyard and Winery in Fosecoe, the Banner Elk Winery in Banner Elk, and Linville Falls Winery in Linville Falls Community. 


Sailboats sit quietly in calm waters in historic Beaufort, NC.
Sailboats sit quietly in calm waters in historic Beaufort, NC. 

This beautiful Fish-town was established in 1709, and is currently the third oldest town in North Carolina. Step into the old world-America, steeped in maritime history, where romance and whimsy abound at the Beaufort Hotel, and the waters along the Private Crystal Coast Sightseeing Tour are nothing short of magical. Learn to scuba dive with PADI Discover Scuba, or visit the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge on a Ferry ride, where wild horses and calves roam free. Indulge in the finest eatery in the South, like Blackstone’s Cafe for family dining, or take your beloved out on the town at Blacksheep, a polished establishment with a vintage, homey ambiance. 


Little shops and boutiques in downtown Brevard, North Carolina
Little shops and boutiques in downtown Brevard, North Carolina. Image credit Dee Browning via Shutterstock.

Natural beauty is the game's name at Brevard, known as North Carolina’s land of waterfalls. Visitors will surely never get bored with over 250 spectacular rippling torrents to observe amongst 100,000 acres of public land, including Pisgah National Forest, DuPont State Recreational Forest, Gorges State Park, and Headwaters. Explore one of the hundreds of hiking trails and trail tours, like White Dot Adventures,  or try Namaste In Nature, a unique outdoor hiking/yoga/meditation micro retreat. The town has plenty of activities, like listening to classical music at the Whittington-Pfol Auditorium or enjoying a milkshake at Rocky’s Soda shop. 

Bryson City

 The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train in Bryson City, North Carolina
 The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad passes through Bryson City, North Carolina—image credit Bob Pool via Shutterstock.

Bryson City is historically located in the land of the Cherokee, where Native Americans have been living and hunting for nearly 14,000 years. It is also known as the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The National Park is the country’s most visited, and 40% of the park is located in Swain County, where Bryson City is settled. Outside the GSMNP exists Deep Creek Recreational Area, known for its waterfalls, trust fishing, and whitewater tubing. Visitors can explore the downtown and encounter classic charm, Cardinal Coffee, indulge in desserts at Slow Joe’s Donut Bus, or visit River’s End, one of many pet-friendly craft breweries. 


Southern on Main, a restaurant in downtown Elkin, with customers entering.
Streetview in Elkin, North Carolina.

Elkin is an underrated North Carolina town tucked in the beautiful Yadkin Valley region of the northwestern portion of the state, at the heart of the wine-growing area. Teeming with a solid collection of historical buildings and railroad tracks past downtown, this small town gives the familiar visitors a list of things to do, from exploring live music at Reeves Theatre and Cafe to diving into wine-tasting life at Divine Llama Vineyard. Try mountain biking at Possum Shot, the Elkin Mountain Bike Trail, Iron Falls Mountain, or paddle along the Shoals Access or Donnaha Access in a canoe or kayak. Since Elkin is known as a trail town, make sure to take advantage of the opportunity to hike along the Overmountain Victory Trail, the Yadkin River Trail Blueway, and, eventually, the completion of the E and A Rail Trail.


Waterfalls at Pearsons Waterfall and Glen off NC Hwy. 176, between the towns of Tryon and Saluda
Waterfalls at Pearsons Waterfall and Glen off NC Hwy. 176, between the towns of Tryon and Saluda.

Yet another mountain oasis awaits in Saluda, with a pretty and historic downtown hub mixed with an accessible wilderness. Explore the 18,000 acres of the Green River Gamelands and the Greenville Watershed, including the rippling white waters of Pearson Falls, a part of a unique botanical preserve. Green River Adventures has been offering adrenaline junkies unique outdoor experiences, providing guided whitewater trips, Stand Up Paddleboarding, and even waterfall rappelling. For those with a pension for relaxation, lodge at one of many Bread and Breakfasts, such as the Orchard Inn, or lavish in luxury at the Early Blue Motel. Tequila lovers and foodies alike pick from a selection of 25 plus craft-made margaritas and tequilas. 


Located near Murphy, North Carolina a beautiful landscape photo showing a lake and mountains.
Lake and mountain view near Murphy, North Carolina. 

Murphy is a calming, mountainside town, full of action and rest depending on what visitors seek for a getaway. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is next to the city, so take advantage of this enchanting, biodiverse marvel. At The Wagonmaster Adventure Ranch and Gem Mine, travelers can try gem mining, sifting through the dirt like those in the old gold rush days to find amethysts, rubies, and emeralds. Try Appalachia Lake Tours and explore the undeveloped body of wonder on a pontoon boat, fishing, or cruising on a kayak. Stay at Cobb Creek Cabins for a charming rustic experience or the tried and true Hampton Inn. 

Excitement, calm, intrigue, and inspiration await in small-town North Carolina. Choose from various activities that satisfy any curious traveler seeking an experience outside the rush of big-city living. 


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