The mountains of Western North Carolina are full of fun experiences for visitors of all kinds. Are you an art lover? Nature enthusiast? Beer aficionado? Music geek? Fan of all things Appalachian? No matter your interests, the Blue Ridge Mountains have plenty of activities you’ll love. If you’re planning your first visit – or your twentieth – check out our recommendations for things to do in the North Carolina mountains all year round.
What is there to do in Western North Carolina?
Full of color, music, and life, downtown Asheville is a great place to start as you explore Western North Carolina. The city boasts some of the Southeast’s best restaurants and breweries, as well as many locally-owned shops and galleries.
- As you stroll downtown, swing by the Asheville Art Museum or take in a play at NC Stage Company.
- For a taste of the city’s best cuisine, check out our list of Asheville’s best food tours.
- Don’t miss the River Arts District, an area full of artists’ studios, coffeehouses, and local shops located slightly west of downtown.
- Take the Parkway up to the Folk Art Center, about ten minutes from downtown, to see the practical and beautiful creations of mountain artisans, from baskets and rocking chairs to quilts and pottery.
The Biltmore House
As the largest private home in America, the Biltmore is one of Asheville’s most iconic tourist destinations. Built for George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895, the mansion is over 175,000 square feet and sits on a rolling estate of 8,000 acres.
- Visitors can tour the house as well as the surrounding gardens, which were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of Central Park in New York City).
- The gardens are full of spectacular blooms during the spring and summer, and in the fall you can get a great view of fall foliage from the Biltmore veranda.
- During the Christmas season, enjoy festive evening tours complete with carolers and candlelight. To book a tour, click here.
The Biltmore is one of the most iconic NC mountain attractions. In addition to the 175,000-square-foot home and stunning gardens, the 8,000 acre estate offers mountain bike and hiking trails throughout the property.
Small Town Charm
The heart of Western North Carolina is in its small towns. To experience authentic mountain life, spend the day strolling the streets of Hendersonville, Brevard, or Waynesville. You’ll find art galleries, shops, local theater, bluegrass music, and comfort food galore. There are too many amazing small towns to list, but we also recommend Weaverville, Black Mountain, Franklin, Shelby, Hickory, and Boone (home of Appalachian State University).
For a truly immersive experience, check out some of the area’s festivals.
- The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games are a celebration of all things Scottish: traditional sports, fiddle tunes, sheep herding, whisky tasting, tartan parades, and more. These summer games are open to all and have been held for 64 years.
- The LEAF Festival is an Asheville tradition, now in its 25th year. This sprawling, joyful festival takes place twice a year and features artisans, world musicians, food, puppetry, kids’ activities, and interactive events.
- The NC Apple Festival is held each fall in Hendersonville, NC. It’s a celebration of everything to do with apples and the people that grow them locally. Along with tons of delicious apple treats, there’s also a street fair, family events, and live music.
- Folkmoot is an international dance showcase held in Waynesville, NC. This summer festival has featured over 8,000 traditional dancers and musicians from around the world since 1984.
- Brevard, NC is home to the White Squirrel Festival, an event honoring one of the area’s most unique animal residents. This street festival takes place over Memorial Day weekend and features music, food, arts and crafts, and lots of nutty fun.
The LEAF Festival happens twice a year near Asheville, and features world musicians, artisans, and lots of fun for kids.
In the winter, the mountains are a perfect getaway for skiers, snowboarders, and even just those who love sipping hot chocolate in the lodge.
- Visit Wolf Ridge Ski Resort or Cataloochee Ski Area (both an easy drive from Asheville) to hit the slopes.
- If you’re staying near Boone, take your gear up to Sugar Mountain or Beech Mountain.
Sugar Mountain, one of a number of ski areas in North Carolina, provides skiers and snowboarders with beautiful mountain terrain east of the Mississippi.
What is the most famous thing in North Carolina?
The historic, 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, what Western North Carolina is most famous for, weaves through the Appalachian mountains from Cherokee, NC to Virginia, passing through Asheville on the way. While the road is used for daily commutes by residents, it’s also a haven for nature lovers as many hiking trails, overlooks, and waterfalls are easily accessible from the road. If you’re short on time, just take a drive on the Parkway – it’s an essential part of any Asheville experience. You can also reach Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell via the Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is what North Carolina is most famous for — a national treasure that weaves through the North Carolina peaks.
What are the most popular things to do in the North Carolina mountains with kids?
Families with kids can have a blast visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here are some of the best activities to do with children:
- In Cherokee, NC, you can learn about the traditions of the native Cherokee people through dance, theater, hiking trips, and more family-friendly activities. The Oconaluftee Indian Village at Cherokee is a living history exhibit that will transport you to the 1760s. It’s a great way to experience history first-hand.
- Get outdoors and go tubing, rafting, and canoeing on the area’s many beautiful rivers. While some rapids are quite intense, there are plenty of calm currents to float on with kids. Check out our guide to rafting in the mountains.
- Spend the day gem mining at the Elijah Mountain Gem Mine in Hendersonville, NC (the #1 gem mine in the area on TripAdvisor). Kids can mine for real gemstones and gold, see fossils, pet goats, and feel just like prospectors in the Gold Rush.
- Visit the WNC Nature Center to learn about the plants and animals of the Blue Ridge. The center holds daily animal programs where kids can get up close to interesting creatures while hearing from nature experts. There are also scavenger hunts, outdoor play areas, and animal exhibits (with mostly local and some more exotic animals).
- In downtown Asheville, check out the Asheville Pinball Museum. Tickets are just $15 for adults, $12 for kids ten and under. Enjoy 45 vintage pinball machines and classic 1980s video games without the need for quarters or tokens.
- Take a ride on the railroad! Both the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City) and Tweetsie Railroad (between Boone and Blowing Rock) are great day trips for families.
The Tweetsie Railroad will leave your children talking about their experience for a long time — complete with an authentic steam engine, cowboys, rides, and a zoo!
What is there to do at the Tweetsie Railroad?
At Tweetsie Railroad, you can ride a real steam locomotive and learn about how railroads came to the NC mountains (from 1868 all the way to the Tweetsie Railroad that exists today). Beyond the train rides, however, there’s an entire Wild West adventure to be found at Tweetsie, including live entertainment; a carousel, Ferris wheel, and chairlift to Miner’s Mountain; dining and shopping; and the Deer Park Zoo, home of emus, llamas, goats, burros, and more. Buy tickets here.
What are the best outdoor activities in the North Carolina mountains?
The awe-inspiring mountain peaks, rushing rivers and dense forests of North Carolina offer an endless supply of adventures. Here are just a few of the ways you can get outside while you’re here.
- Spend the day tubing peacefully on the French Broad or battling rapids on the Nantahala River. Click here for our guide to whitewater rafting in the mountains.
- Climb the spire of Chimney Rock for one of the area’s most breathtaking views.
- Hike up to Craggy Gardens in the spring to be surrounded by gorgeous rhododendron and wildflower blooms.
- Go waterfall hunting and see some of the most powerful falls east of the Mississippi.
- If the wilderness isn’t for you, check out the Arboretum or the WNC Nature Center (both only a few minutes from downtown Asheville).
There’s always something fun to do in Western North Carolina. If you’re interested in relocating to the area, let us know! We’d love to help you find your perfect mountain home.