People enjoying their food on the outdoor dining area of shops at one of the best towns in Western North Carolina

17 Best Towns in Western North Carolina (in 2022)

I grew up in Western North Carolina and in this guide I’ll share my picks for the best towns in Western North Carolina.

In this guide, you’ll discover unique things to do and places to stay in each charming mountain destination. I go over popular spots as well as off-the-beaten-path towns in Western North Carolina that you won’t want to miss.

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17 Best Towns in Western North Carolina

Black Mountain

A quaint mountain town with great local shopping and dining, just outside Asheville

View of the Lake Tomahawk Park in Black Mountain
Lake Tomahawk Park in Black Mountain

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Black Mountain is one of Asheville’s best day trips, located just 20 minutes away from the city. Even with this proximity and popularity, it still maintains its quaint and relaxed atmosphere. Downtown feels like a classic small, mountain town with brick buildings and some historic charm. Throughout the town square and beyond, you’ll find fantastic restaurants, shops, and galleries full of local arts and crafts. 

Just like nearby Asheville, Black Mountain is situated in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains so scenery and nature are in no short supply. A couple of popular outdoor spots here are Lake Tomahawk and Catawba Falls. 

📚 Related Reading: Before visiting the area, check out my guide to the best things to do in Asheville!

Saluda

A historic small town gem that packs a punch with outdoor river recreation

Clear blue sky over a street in Downtown Saluda
Downtown Saluda

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Saluda is a small-town gem with a hidden side for adventure. The town itself is historic and nostalgic with old-timey general stores and railroad tracks that run through downtown. Local institutions like The Purple Onion restaurant and Heartwood Gallery demonstrate Saluda’s hospitality. 

Despite this seemingly sleepy downtown, Saluda offers visitors endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Activities like fishing, swimming, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and tubing are all popular at the Green River. The Gorge Zip Line is even nearby! So, if you’re looking to enjoy small-town charm and get your adventure on, head to Saluda.

Mount Airy

Step inside The Andy Griffith Show and into the real “Mayberry”

People walking at the Main Street Mount Airy
Main Street Mount Airy (photo: LisaCarter / Shutterstock)

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Get ready for a blast from the past. If you’re at all familiar with The Andy Griffith Show, then visiting Mount Airy might seem oddly familiar. That’s because it’s Andy Griffith’s actual hometown—Mount Airy served as the main inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry! 

Today, locals still lovingly refer to Mount Airy as “Mayberry” and the town even celebrates an annual Mayberry Days Parade. It’s not all talk though, as the historic downtown strip really does have the friendly, old-school charm that you’d expect. 

It’s a great Western NC town for visitors of all ages. And if you’re looking to get out and enjoy nature, Pilot Mountain State Park is only 30 minutes away.

Brevard

A picturesque town known for its mountain biking, waterfalls, and white squirrels

A metal wire elk sculpture outside the Brevard Courthouse
Brevard Courthouse downtown

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Brevard is frequently ranked as one of the best small towns in WNC, and it’s for good reason. This classic mountain town is only 45 minutes from Asheville and is located right along Pisgah National Forest. 

It’s a hot spot for mountain biking, mountain climbing, hiking, and waterfall chasing. The Davidson River also runs through here, so river activities like fly fishing, tubing, and swimming are all popular. Brevard’s entrance to Pisgah Forest also leads up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so really, there’s no shortage of outdoor recreation.

Downtown Brevard shouldn’t be overlooked either. It has great restaurants, antique shops, microbreweries, and even white squirrels!

👉 Fun Fact: Brevard is home to over 250 waterfalls! See a few of them on this highly-rated Carolina Waterfalls tour.

Hendersonville

Not too big, not too small, Hendersonville is just right, and has one of the best, most vibrant downtown scenes

The Henderson County Courthouse from the outside under the clear blue sky
Hendersonville’s iconic courthouse on Main Street

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If staying in Asheville is too much for you, but some other small towns seem too sleepy, head on over to Hendersonville. This vibrant town offers the best of both worlds. You’ll find tons of things to do downtown with top-notch restaurants, bakeries and sweet shops, and lots of local stores. Tons of events take place throughout the year here as well. 

Outside of town, you can easily visit places like the village of Flat Rock or Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Mills River. Asheville, Brevard, and Chimney Rock are only a short drive away, too, so there’s always somewhere new to explore!

👉 Fun Fact: Hendersonville has tons of apple orchards and local vineyards outside of town, and they’re definitely worth checking out. 

Cherokee

Visit the land of North Carolina’s native Cherokee people, and experience their history, culture, and tradition

View of the Mingo Falls in Cherokee
Mingo Falls

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The town of Cherokee is located along the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the Tennessee border. This town, as well as the westernmost corner of North Carolina is indigenous Cherokee land. Cherokee people have a long history of rich culture and traditions, and all of this can be experienced in the town of Cherokee itself. 

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Oconaluftee Indian Village, and Qualla Arts & Crafts are all wonderful places to learn more about the Cherokee and their story. The outdoor performance “Unto These Hills” is also worth seeing if you can. Lastly, visit Mingo Falls to see a beautiful waterfall!

Lake Lure & Chimney Rock Village

An area of scenic beauty, iconic outdoor attractions, and family fun 

People enjoying the view in Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock’s famous “chimney” overlooking Lake Lure (photo: Stuart Monk / Shutterstock)

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Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park are some of the most popular places to visit in North Carolina. They are technically separate spots, however, they are within minutes of each other. 

Both places have a long history of tourism, so a central “downtown” isn’t really what you should expect. Instead, you should visit for the natural beauty and history of Lake Lure, plus the outdoor attractions within Chimney Rock State Park. But still, Lake Lure and Chimney Rock Village have shops, restaurants, and attractions for the whole family to enjoy. 

👉 Fun Fact: Lake Lure is where the 1987 film, Dirty Dancing was filmed!

Sylva

A classic Blue Ridge Mountain town with a charming main street and distinct landmark

View from the courthouse in downtown Sylva
View into downtown Sylva from the courthouse (photo: EWY Media / Shutterstock)

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Sylva is a quintessential Carolina mountain town with charm, beauty, and a truly local feel. The town itself is located in Jackson County, right at the foot of the Smoky Mountains. Sylva’s Main Street has everything you could ask for in a small town. Here, you’ll find tons of local shops, galleries, bookstores, restaurants, and breweries. 

Towering above downtown sits Jackson County Courthouse, which is the town’s most distinct landmark. This set up really sets Sylva apart from other towns, and gives it a unique look. Outside of town, there are tons of waterfalls, hiking trails, lakes, and places to enjoy scenic views.

Dillsboro

A cute, charming town with some unique attractions and an old country feel

View from the Tuckasegee River
Tuckasegee River runs adjacent to downtown Dillsboro

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Barely 10 minutes away from Sylva is the town of Dillsboro. This small town is cute, quaint, and charming. Downtown feels trapped in time, and is full of specialty shops, local galleries, restaurants, and country inns. Dillsboro is also home to the Appalachian Women’s Museum, as well as the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory. Both are great places to visit for a little something different.

Dillsboro sits right along the Tuckasegee River, so it’s a wonderful place to go kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Additionally, the Smoky Mountains and Nantahala River are nearby, and can be reached within an hour’s drive. 

West Jefferson

Country living meets a vibrant downtown scene in this classic Appalachian town

Scenic view of a flower field in West Jefferson
Blue Ridge Mountain views in West Jefferson

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West Jefferson is a quaint, old railroad town that sits way up in the high country of Western North Carolina. Though off the beaten path, this town has grown in recent years. Its vibrant Appalachian arts scene and beautiful countryside make it a worthwhile destination. 

West Jefferson has a real local vibe to it. Local farmers markets are quite popular here, and there are countless art galleries to explore.

Another highlight of West Jefferson is its untouched rural landscape. The great outdoors are plentiful, and there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. Take a scenic hike, kayak the New River, and horseback ride through the countryside.

Waynesville

A nostalgic, peaceful mountain town nestled in the countryside outside of Asheville

Aerial view of the Downtown Waynesville in North Carolina
Downtown Waynesville

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Waynesville is a small town that offers the best of both worlds. It has a vibrant downtown with lots of shops, art galleries, and great restaurants. But it also has a very peaceful, laid-back vibe to it. Main Street is lined with trees, and the brick buildings give it a classic feel. Downtown is also fairly sized, with businesses spreading out from Main Street down to Richland Creek. 

Waynesville sits at an ideal place for enjoying the great outdoors. The town is located at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, and isn’t too far from the Blue Ridge Parkway either. Lake Junaluska is also nearby. 

Highlands-Cashiers

An upscale mountain retreat tucked away in the breathtaking natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Water flowing from the Dry Falls in Nantahala National Forest
Dry Falls in Nantahala National Forest near Highlands

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Found off the beaten path, Highlands-Cashiers offers some of the best scenery in Western North Carolina. This area is known for its seasonal tourism. Outside of the town of Highlands and accommodations in Cashiers, the area is largely undeveloped. Local boutiques, restaurants, and spas can all be found here, but nature takes center stage. 

The Blue Ridge Mountains and Nantahala National Forest surround the Highlands-Cashiers area. There are endless places to hike and waterfalls and rivers to enjoy. Lake Glenville is outside of Cashiers, and places like Lake Toxaway and Sapphire Valley Resort are not too far away.

A family-friendly town with endless opportunities for outdoor recreation and adventure-filled attractions

View from a street in Downtown Banner Elk
Downtown Banner Elk (photo: Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock)

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If you’re looking for a town filled to the brim with family fun and adventure, look no further than Banner Elk. Located in North Carolina’s High Country, this town is sandwiched between Beech Mountain Resort and Sugar Mountain Resort. Both of these mountains are famous for skiing, but winter sports are just the tipping point of all that can be experienced here. 

The iconic Grandfather Mountain State Park is only 30 minutes away. Here, you can enjoy breathtaking views from a mile-high swinging bridge! The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, Tweetsie Railroad, Linville Caverns, and activities like zip lining, hiking, and biking can be found in Banner Elk, too.

📚 Related Reading: Planning on a lot of outdoor recreation? Read our North Carolina packing list to help you prepare!  

Bryson City

A gateway town to the Great Smokies known for its iconic Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

The Bryson City Railroad Depot from the outside
Bryson City Railroad Depot (photo: elvisvaughn / Shutterstock)

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Bryson City is a fantastic town for experiencing some of the best of the Smoky Mountains. Known as a gateway town, its location makes it easy to reach the national park itself, as well as Clingmans Dome, Fontana Lake, and even the Nantahala River. The town itself is filled with specialty shops, restaurants, bookstores, antique stores, and more. 

What Bryson City is especially famous for, though, is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This is one of the best family-friendly attractions in the region. A train ride takes visitors all throughout the scenic countryside—it’s a fantastic activity for kids and adults alike. 

Hot Springs

A small town with one of Western North Carolina’s best wellness attractions

Clear blue sky over the French Broad River
French Broad River runs through Hot Springs

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Hot Springs is a small town that sits right along the banks of the French Broad River by the Tennessee border. It’s a quaint, but romantic town known for, you guessed it… hot springs. At Hot Springs Resort & Spa, visitors can indulge in natural mineral baths and enjoy the surrounding scenery. 

The town of Hot Springs itself is quite small, but there are shops, restaurants, and breweries to enjoy. Big Pillow Brewing is known as the go-to spot for live music and craft beer. If you want to venture out into nature, there are tons of nearby trails and river activities. If you’re a hiking enthusiast, know that you can actually hit the Appalachian Trail from Hot Springs!

Burnsville

Close to Mount Mitchell State Park and Craggy Gardens, Burnsville is a fantastic gateway town to the Blue Ridge Parkway and beyond

Overlooking view from the Mount Mitchell’s observation deck
View from Mount Mitchell’s observation deck (photo: Cvandyke / Shutterstock)

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Burnsville is located 45 minutes northeast of Asheville and is best known for its proximity to Mount Mitchell State Park. If you didn’t know, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. This park offers incredible mountain views and is an activity the whole family can enjoy. Other popular spots like Crabtree Falls and Craggy Gardens are nearby.

The town of Burnsville is small, but it has unique attractions like an observatory and planetarium for stargazing! Burnsville also has the Parkway Playhouse, which puts on wonderful community theater presentations. As for downtown, you can expect specialty shops, local arts and crafts, restaurants, and more. 

Morganton

A vibrant town with tons of amenities located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains

View from Lake James in Morganton
Nearby Lake James

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Morganton is located about halfway between Asheville and Charlotte at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a larger town than some others mentioned in this article, but its countless amenities make it a destination worth exploring. 

Downtown has lots of local restaurants, specialty shops, arts and crafts galleries, breweries, and more. Food trucks have even become popular around the main square. There are also a ton of museums and places to experience music and the performing arts.

Lastly, Morganton is only 30 minutes from Lake James which is a beautiful family-friendly lake. The Catawba River Greenway is also nearby, which is a peaceful paved walking trail.

FAQs about Western North Carolina Towns

Where is the best place to live in Western North Carolina?

The best place to live in Western North Carolina is the city of Asheville, in my opinion. Surrounding towns like Black Mountain, Hendersonville, Waynesville, and Brevard are also ideal choices.

What is the prettiest mountain town in North Carolina?

The prettiest town in North Carolina is Saluda, in my opinion. Sylva, Brevard, and Hendersonville also have picturesque downtown scenes. 

What is the best small town to live in North Carolina?

The best small town to live in North Carolina is Hendersonville, in my opinion. Its proximity to Asheville and other small towns makes it an ideal location, and it’s not too small or too big. 

What towns can you visit via the Blue Ridge Parkway?

Towns you can visit via the Blue Ridge Parkway include Asheville, Brevard, Waynesville, Banner Elk, Bryson City, Cherokee, and Burnsville, among others.

***

I hope you enjoyed this article on the best towns in Western North Carolina! These small towns are a huge part of what makes this region so special, and there’s just so much to explore. Safe travels! 

(Featured Image Credit: Dee Browning / Shutterstock)

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