Hiking Black Balsam Knob in Western North Carolina

Western North Carolina is an outdoor lover’s paradise, complete with every type of recreational activity you could possibly imagine. The region is home to numerous notable attractions including the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 4 seasons of fun, from winter skiing, to scenic fall leaf peeping drives, to hiking in the spring and summer, will keep your itinerary packed no matter which time of year you decide to plan your getaway. Photography, wildlife viewing, rafting, scenic drives, hiking, biking…there are endless options in this beautiful region for everyone!

Whitewater rafting
Whitewater Rafting – challenging, fun, & a bit scary!
Beautiful Crabtree Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Crabtree Falls – one of many dazzling Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls
Scenic hike at the North Carolina Arboretum
Leaf peeping at the wonderful NC Arboretum
Mountain views at Lazy Bear Lodge in North Carolina
More beautiful mountain views from Lazy Bear! A beautiful crisp winter day!

There are benefits and cons of visiting during different times of the year. The summer season brings forth much cooler temperatures and less humidity than you would experience in other areas of the state. Surprisingly, cities like Boone and Blowing Rock only reach temps in the low 80’s or so during the summer, making these high altitude towns a perfect getaway for those coming from more humid Southeast cities.

Winter is cold and often snowy, however, this is great if you are into skiing. Fall is an ideal time to visit as you will be treated to refreshing, brisk temperatures, beautiful fall colors, and perfect hiking conditions. Spring is a great time for any type of outdoor activity as temperatures are comfortable and the leaves have begun to come back on the trees. Summer is a great time to go whitewater rafting, take a scenic drive, or hike high altitude trails.

Top areas to visit

Western North Carolina is home to many charming small towns. Not only do each of these towns offer their own attractions and natural beauty, but they are also located super close to the mountains. From each of these towns, you can easily access many wonderful waterfalls, hikes, and scenic drives of the breathtaking Blue Ridge area.


Downtown Boone
Downtown Boone

Boone offers access to so many wonderful outdoor attractions including hiking trails, rafting, and horseback riding. From here, you have easy access to many great attractions like Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This small mountain town is very pleasant to drive through with its’ attractive small town atmosphere, abundance of trees and creeks, and gorgeous mountain scenery. The charming downtown area is a great place to dine local and shop for souvenirs. An abundance of secluded cabin rentals and rustic lodges are available to get that “rustic out in the woods” vacation feeling (a must for anyone visiting from the city!).

Blowing Rock

Downtown Blowing Rock at Christmas
Downtown Blowing Rock at Christmas

Blowing Rock is a small town in the Blue Ridge mountains, just a short drive from Boone. It gets its’ name from the popular Blowing Rock tourist attraction (it opened in 1933 making it the state’s oldest tourist attraction), a cliff which stretches out 1500 feet above the Johns River Gorge. Due to the unusual shape of the rock the wind tends to blow up instead of downward. The upward flow of air led to the following Ripley’s Believe It Or Not slogan: “the only place in the world where snow falls upside down.”  A stroll around Blowing Rock’s charming downtown is a great way to begin your WNC trip.


Downtown Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville is home to the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned home in the country. Tours of both the inside and outside are available. In addition, carriage and horseback rides around the beautiful grounds can be arranged. Asheville offers a great mix of both natural and cultural attractions, so you can enjoy the benefits of both. This artsy town is home to many museums, art galleries, and cultural attractions including a top notch arboretum. The quiet small town ambiance combined with easy access to outdoor fun make Asheville a great choice for those seeking a relaxing & fun vacation. Asheville is also a foodie destination with lots of fantastic local restaurants and coffeeshops to choose amongst.


Pretty Christmas tree in downtown Hendersonville, NC

This small city is located just south of Asheville. Here you can enjoy dining and shopping on historic Main Street– one of the most charming in the state. During the Christmas season, the street comes alives with holiday cheer, festive lights, parades, and old-fashioned events for the “Home for the Holidays” celebration. Also don’t miss out on the annual Aluminum Tree museum, Jump Off Rock (featuring wonderful views of the Blue Ridge mountains), and apple picking during the fall (Hendersonville is “The Apple Capital of North Carolina.”

Bryson City

Beautiful Juney Whank Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bryson City offers it all: a quiet escape from nearby cities, endless outdoor attractions, and convenient access to the Smoky Mountains. Many of Western North Carolina’s and Eastern Tennessee’s best attractions can be accessed via a short road trip from Bryson City. It is close enough to all the tourist attractions, but far enough away that you can still enjoy the peacefulness of nature and mountain surroundings. The best attraction here is the Three Waterfalls trail, a moderate trek in the Smokies to 3 stunning waterfalls. For the more adventurous, a guided whitewater rafting trip on the Nantahala River is a must!

Top attractions to check out

There is so much to explore in this region that it would be impossible to cover it all in just a single visit. From the Blue Ridge Parkway scenic drive, to historic museums, to art galleries, to mesmerizing waterfalls, there is a bit of something for everyone!

Grandfather Mountain

The top sight in the area is Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak in the Blue Ridge mountains. There are lots of things to do here including walking across a mile high swinging bridge (the largest suspension bridge in America). The views really are incredible. In addition, you will find 11 hiking trails, an animal habitat, and a nature museum. Bring with your camera – there is no shortage of amazing photo opportunities!

The 5278 foot elevation, mile high bridge
The 5278 foot elevation mile high bridge
A view of the bridge on a foggy day
A view of the bridge on a foggy day
The views from the top are amazing! Well worth the scary climb!
The views from the top are amazing! Well worth the scary climb!

The Blue Ridge Parkway

More than 200 miles of this gorgeous 469 mile drive lies within the state of North Carolina. Gorgeous all year-round, especially during peak fall foliage season. Highlights along the route include: views of beautiful Grandfather Mountain, access to Linville Falls Recreation area (a 1.5 mile trail leads you to a 3 tiered waterfall), and Mount Mitchell State Park (at 6684 feet tall, the summit comes in as the highest point east of the Mississippi).

Gorgeous overlook at Craggy Pinnacle along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Uninterrupted greenery as far as the eye can see!
Fall foliage at Rough Ridge along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Vivid colors during leaf peeping season!
Graveyard Fields - The Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Graveyard Fields – the most popular and easily accessible waterfall
The Parkway is beautiful even during the barren winter season
The Parkway is beautiful even during the barren winter season


The region is jam packed with incredible waterfalls. You could spend years here and never get tired of waterfall hunting on the weekends. Transylvania County alone is home to over 200 waterfalls and has been nicknamed “The Land of Waterfalls.” Many dazzling waterfalls are located on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and others are conveniently located roadside so you don’t even have to work up a sweat. Check out my favorite waterfalls on the Blue Ridge Parkway and my favorite moderate waterfall hikes in North Carolina.

Looking Glass Falls in Western North Carolina
Looking Glass – a dazzling 60 foot roadside beauty
Beautiful Linville Falls in Western North Carolina
The jaw dropping Linville Falls, a 150 ft stunner in the gorgeous Linville Gorge Wilderness
Fall colors surrounding the beautiful Catawba falls waterfall in North Carolina
100 foot Catawba Falls during the colorful autumn season


There are endless hikes to choose amongst, whether you feel like working up a sweat hiking to a summit or enjoying a tranquil stroll to a beautiful waterfall. One of my favorite short, yet very steep hikes on the Parkway is Devil’s Courthouse. The trek is just half a mile (but extremely steep), however, you will get in an amazing workout and enjoy breathtaking views at the 5720 foot summit. Another great hike is Black Balsam Knob – one of the best hikes on the Parkway. The hike is just a mile long and loaded with incredible mountain scenery. This one is perfect for the summer season due to the high altitude (6000+ feet), making it a great escape from the surrounding heat & humidity.

Gorgeous mountain views from Devil's Courthouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Devil’s Courthouse – the best sunset on the Parkway!
Summer hike on the Black Balsam Knob trail in Western North Carolina
Black Balsam Knob

Foggy Mountain Gem Mine

Search for precious gems in this adventurous, fun, family-friendly activity. As you sort through your bucket on the flume line, you will find all sorts of valuables including rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. You have the options of turning your finds into beautiful jewelry! What a great souvenir!

A sample of the gems you may find and an example of the type of jewelry they can be cut into
A sample of the gems you may find and an example of the type of jewelry they can be cut into

The Blowing Rock

Known to be the oldest North Carolina tourist attraction, The Blowing Rock is a great place for photographers and nature lovers. The cliff, which is 4000 feet above sea level, provides tremendous views of the area. From here you can view both Grandfather Mountain and Mt. Mitchell.

The Smoky Mountains

The North Carolina entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is in Cherokee. The Smokies are one of America’s most beautiful parks, and at no surprise, the most visited. Admission is also free, which is very rare.  Here you will find many beautiful waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and plenty of miles of hiking trails. Don’t miss out on gorgeous Mingo Falls, a 200+ foot beauty easily accessible via a quarter of a mile trail.

Mingo Falls on the Cherokee Indian Reservation of North Carolina
The Smokies are beautiful year round, even during the winter season!

Appalachian Ski Mountain

One of the best skiing options in the region, Appalachian offers great lessons for first timers, in addition to the area’s only night skiing. Ice skating is also a fun winter alternative for the non-skiers out there.

A foggy night at Appalachian Ice Arena
A foggy night at Appalachian Ice Arena

The Biltmore Estate

Guests are able to tour both the inside and the outside of America’s largest house, built by the Vanderbilts in the late 1800’s. Whether you choose a self guided audio tour of the inside, or a carriage ride of the beautiful grounds, you are sure to be amazed by the lavish surroundings. During the holiday season, the mansion is elaborately decorated both inside and out.

The Appalachian Trail

North Carolina is home to 96 miles of the famous 2000 mile Appalachian Trail. It’s hard to imagine that hikers actually have attempted to and completed this journey in a single trip (hikers who complete the journey in a single year without stopping are known as thru-hikers). To date, more than 14,000 people have completed the entire trail! Wow, what an accomplishment!

Appalachian Trail sign on a hike

If you are not up to a lengthy expedition, you can still get a little taste of the trail by completing one of the many hikes found throughout the Western North Carolina region. Visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website for information on the variety of options available. Hiking just a portion of this amazing trail allows you to take a break from ordinary life, enjoying the solitude, breathing fresh air, and taking in all the magnificent scenery. One of the highlights in North Carolina is the short, yet very scenic climb to Clingman’s Dome – the highest point in the Smokies at 6643 feet! This is the highest point on the trail’s journey from Georgia to Maine, so a mut-do if you are in the vicinity!

Clingman's Dome mountain views -the highest point of the Appalachian Trail
Gorgeous mountain scenery from Clingman’s Dome

Chimney Rock State Park

This popular state park is located just 25 miles from Asheville and is worth the drive regardless of the high admission fee. The highlight here is a 499 step climb to a mesmerizing overlook of the Blue Ridge mountains and Lake Lure region. For all your effort, you are treated to one of the most picture-perfect scenes in Western North Carolina. Another highlight here is a moderate trail to Hickory Nut Falls, the 2nd largest waterfall in the state (also featured in The Last of the Mohicans).

Gorgeous scenery at Chimney Rock State Park in Western North Carolina
Hickory Nut Falls at Chimney Rock State Park
Hickory Nut, a 404 foot tall wonder

Lake Lure

Gorgeous lake which was used to film several scenes in the 80’s classic Dirty Dancing. Today, you can take a beautiful narrated tour on what National Geographic deemed “one of the 10 most beautiful lakes in the world.”

The Million Dollar View on Lake Lure in Western North Carolina

Nearby attractions that are worthy of a Day Trip

The entire region is home to so many incredible natural wonders. Here’s a few more that are worthy of the drive!

Brasstown Bald

From the highest point in Georgia (elevation 4784 ft.), you will experience amazing panoramic views of the Georgia and North Carolina mountains. If you are traveling anywhere near this area, it is definitely worth a stop! The views are among some of the best you will ever encounter. Each season offers a new experience and strikingly different views. The steep 1/2 mile climb to the summit is well worth it in the end for the breathtaking vistas.

Check out these views from Georgia's highest mountain!
A simply stunning place to visit!

Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge

Be sure to plan a visit to the entertainment capital of the Southeast/Smoky Mountain region. You will find more than enough activities to load up your itinerary including live shows (Smoky Mountain Opry), Dollywood, Tennessee’s only ski resort (Ober Gatlinburg), the Aquarium of the Smokies, Skybridge, outdoor activities (rafting, hiking in the Smoky Mountains), hundreds of dining and shopping options (be sure to check out the largest Christmas Store in the Southeast, The Inn at Christmas Place) and much more!

Skybridge - the world's longest pedestrian swinging bridge in Gatlinburg, TN
SkyBridge – the world’s longest pedestrian bridge

Where to stay

There are numerous cabins, lodges, and inns in the area. The High Country (home to Boone, Blowing Rock, and many other small towns) is a great choice as you get that rustic feeling, but are still close enough to make longer road trips to the Smokies and Appalachian Trail.

The Lazy Bear Lodge in Vilas is surrounded by beautiful natural scenery
The Lazy Bear Lodge in Vilas is surrounded by beautiful natural scenery

The Lazy Bear Lodge in Valle Crucis is a great option for those seeking a relaxing getaway with the added bonus of a few luxury amenities. The lodge is built on a hill, providing wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. Amenities include a full breakfast each morning, coffee and tea, private patios facing the mountains, wonderful panoramic views from the lobby, and in room fireplaces. The views truly are amazing and wildlife is abundant. The lodge is conveniently located within driving distance from all of the activities listed above.

Incredible landscapes surround Lazy Bear Lodge
Incredible landscapes surround Lazy Bear Lodge

For those seeking something a bit more luxury, you cannot beat the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville. This enchanting property is located in the Blue Ridge foothills and offers a spectacular setting for dining, golf, relaxing, and soaking in the amazing hot tub. The amenities are great too. The lobby is gorgeous with 2 massive fireplaces and cozy rocking chairs. It is decorated beautifully for the holidays – don’t miss out on the annual Gingerbread Competition (viewing open to the public). The Blue Ridge Artisanal Dining Room looks out upon the mountains and is one of my favorite buffets anywhere. The breakfast buffet is amazing and the views are even better.

The gorgeous Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina
Massive fireplace at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC
Gorgeous setting at the Blue Ridge Dining Room at the Omni Grove Park Inn

Have you ever visited any of the Western North Carolina attractions listed above? What are some of your favorite places to visit?