Carolina Mountains Travel Guide 2021

2021 North Carolina Mountains Visitors Guide

The Carolina Mountains are a part of America rich in nature’s beauty. It is miles of ancient mountain ranges & rushing waterfalls. It’s trees, alive when Columbus landed 500 years ago. Its peaks reaching 6,000 feet with breathtaking valleys to divide them. It’s acres of lakes & miles of rivers & streams. It’s America, the way it used to be.

When you begin to travel the scenic, winding roads leading through the quaint towns & villages, you will likely be drawn to a particular place which seems to offer a special feeling of “Homeyness.” perhaps you’ve already found it. Each area has so much to offer. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the most popular destinations. We’ll begin with the southernmost mountain region, which offers the most rugged & beautiful terrain in the eastern United States. It’s in this area that you’ll find many of the most famous & interesting attractions.

The western North Carolina mountains are among the most beautiful in the entire country.  Consisting of three mountain ranges, Great Smoky Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, and the Blue Ridge Mountains, they converge in North Carolina, giving the area an unsurpassed charm not found anywhere else. These three mountain ranges provide the perfect backdrop for family fun and adventurous North Carolina mountain vacations.

North Carolina mountain vacations are an excellent idea for the entire family, or as a romantic getaway to just unwind. The lush scenery and fascinating attractions offer loads of fun for all sorts of interests.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most popular national park, with over 520,000 acres for sight-seeing, camping, hiking or fishing. Qualla boundary, the 56,000-acre Cherokee Indian reservation, is home for the eastern band of Cherokee Indians. Most of the highest peaks in the park, including 6,643 foot high Clingman’s Done, the park’s highest mountain, can be found inside the boundaries of Swain County.

Map of the North Carolina Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains Area Map

Nearby you’ll find the 480-foot-high Fontana Dam & the Nantahala National Forest, famous for its white water river rafting adventures. Fontana Dam, among the highest dams in the country, is on the boundary of Swain and Graham counties. The 10,000-acre lake created by the dam is a popular visitor destination.

The town of Murphy has been described as the place to go if you are looking for rest, peace of mind, & a renewed spirit. At the Cherokee County Historical Museum, there are over 2,000 exhibits describing the mountain Indian’s lifestyle.

Swain County

The people who live in Swain County, North Carolina could make a good argument that their county has just about everything people come to the mountains for. Interestingly, more than 85 percent of the county is either owned or some way controlled by some department of the federal government. Perhaps that is the reason “Outside Magazine” said a few years ago that Swain County was among the top 100 counties in the Nation in which to live. The people who live in the county say that’s wrong. They say it’s the number one place to live.

Bryson City

Bryson City, just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, may rise to the top of your list if you’re looking for lots of outdoor adventure & excitement, with white water rafting, canoeing, & kayaking right at hand. It is a lively, attractive town on the banks of the Tuckasegee River & center for such recreational activities such as boating, fishing, skiing, rafting, hiking & camping. Bryson City is also headquarters for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad which offers scenic train excursions throughout the area.

Situated in the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, Bryson City is a small community defined by its mountain setting. Bordered on the north by Great Smoky Mountains National Park and on the south by Nantahala National Forest, the town and its surrounding area are home to a wealth of scenic vistas and outdoor recreational activities. The Deep Creek area boasts striking waterfalls, natural swimming holes and a stretch of water that is especially popular for summer tubing trips. The Nantahala Gorge’s white water make it a destination for kayaking and—just west of Bryson City—Fontana Lake is an angler’s and boater’s paradise. In Bryson City itself, the train depot is of particular interest as visitors can take scenic rail tours on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad or, enjoy Music in the Mountains, a free summer concert series held from June through October at the depot. Even those who haven’t set foot in Bryson City can enjoy its mountain setting from afar—the area was used as the setting for the popular film, “The Fugitive”.

Cherokee Indian Reservation

Then there is the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The largest part of the reservation, including the town of Cherokee itself, is in Swain County. The Nantahala Gorge, the deep, steep-walled valley the Cherokee called “The Valley of the Noonday Sun,” can mostly be found in Swain County. The Nantahala River which flows through the gorge is among the most popular whitewater rafting streams in the country.

Cashiers & the nearby community of Lake Glenville, are located in a quiet corner of the blue ridge mountains, which rise to heights of 5,000 feet. There are plenty of rivers, lakes & streams for boating & fishing.

Dillsboro has earned a shining reputation for its local artisans, handmade crafts, homemade treats & down-home hospitality. It’s also home for the great smoky mountain railway, which offers daily excursions through the nearby mountain terrain. Just a “stone’s throw” away is the easy-going mountain community of sylva & the scenic campus of Western Carolina University.

Franklin has as its slogan, “A place where you can do it all or get away from it all.” franklin has the reputation as the “gem capital of the world,” & they’re there for the taking by townsfolk & visitors alike.


The Highlands Chamber of Commerce invites you to “Come up to heavenly highlands.” this upscale resort community has long been a favorite mountain destination. Since the early 1900s, Highlands has had a reputation for offering elegant shops, fine dining, luxury country club living & some of the mountain’s most outstanding views from its lofty location.

Highlands, NC
Highlands, NC view

The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain town of Highlands, with its rich history, wonderful climate & enviable quality of life, is unique among small towns in the Southeast. Perched on a flat mountaintop with an average altitude of 4,118′, it is one of the highest incorporated towns east of the Mississippi River. It covers an area of about 3,000 acres & has a year-round population of approximately 1,200. The summer population soars up to approximately 20,000.

Summers are cool here atop the Highlands Plateau, usually in the 70s. No other town in the Southeast can offer this brisk summer coolness. Seasonal residents – & tourists by the thousands – come here to “cool down” & escape the hot, fast pace of city life. Summertime in Highlands is magical!

The beginning of the town’s widespread popularity as a summer resort was launched when Highlands Country Club and Golf Course was established in 1929. America’s greatest golfer, Bobby Jones, maintained a summer home near the club, referred to as “Atlanta’s Playground.” Its fame spread abroad as both a health & summer resort. People came from nearly every state in the union seeking homes for health, pleasure & profit. Highlands has continued to grow in popularity as a summer resort & in recent years has become a sight for executive retreats & off-site board meetings.

Much of the land in the Highlands region is within the Nantahala National Forest. In addition, sections of other National Forests are nearby – Pisgah, Sumter & Chattahoochee. Both the Great Smoky Mountains National Park & the Blue Ridge Parkway are within easy driving distance. In addition, the area is blessed with some of the most beautiful & spectacular waterfalls in North Carolina & the Southeast. Downtown Highlands is filled with quaint shops, galleries, restaurants & picturesque walkways – enough to keep the visitor quite entertained.

Haywood County

Haywood County, North Carolina is the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. Today, Haywood County is a thriving mountain community with quaint towns like Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Canton & Clyde.

Although civilization has left is mark here, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, two national forests, several wilderness areas & wildlife preserves occupy almost half of Haywood County. Our visitors can experience the same pristine settings & natural beauty the ancient Cherokee witnessed thousands of years earlier. Here, in the oldest mountains known to mankind, there are more kinds of plants & animals than anywhere else on earth, four fabulous seasons, friendly mountains towns, & a gentle climate that makes us the perfect year-round vacationland.

Maggie Valley

Maggie Valley, North Carolina Just five minutes off the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 455.7) is Maggie Valley. Surrounded by over a million acres of national forest, it borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here, four gentle seasons nurture the richness & beauty of the mountains, & Maggie Valley offers a ringside seat to watch these glorious changes occur.

Maggie Valley North Carolina
Maggie Valley NC

Maggie Valley often called the Playland of the Great Smokies, is a town where the streets are full of laughter, music & excitement. Try “Ghost town in the Sky,” a wild-west theme park packed with over 30 rides, shows, arcades, games & good old fashioned fun. Ride the chair lift or the incline railway to the top. There’s also miniature golf, real mountain golf, horseshoes & horseback riding, & Maggie Valley even has its own “Soco Gardens Zoo.” Experience Maggie Valley’s world champion clogging competition & some of the greatest Bluegrass country music you’ve ever heard.

For the traveler, Maggie Valley has plenty of restaurants & a huge variety of accommodations – from popular national chains to mountain cottages, cabins & local resorts, as well as independent motels, the largest number of rooms in the valley. Once you’re in Maggie Valley, all of the attractions in western North Carolina are just a country drive away.

You can visit the Biltmore House & Gardens in Asheville, travel through mountain gorges aboard the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad or experience the Cherokee Indian Reservation & its rich cultural attractions.


Once you arrive in Waynesville, NC & stroll down its brick sidewalks, your pace will slow & you will find yourself smiling & chatting with strangers just as though you’ve been here all your life. It’s like you’ve returned to the way Main Street used to be.

Waynesville NC
view of Waynesville NC

Waynesville is a town where parking is free, the people are filled with old-time mountain hospitality & the tallest structure is still the church steeple. Main Street Waynesville is a source of civic pride where shopkeepers still display goods on the sidewalks & treat customers like guests. Benches line the streets so you can relax between visits to the galleries, craft & antique shops, old-time general stores & the Shelton House, home of the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts.

Nearby are numerous Great Smoky Mountain golf courses, opportunities for horseback riding, fishing in swift mountain creeks & a gem mine where the world’s largest blue sapphires were discovered. Waynesville offers a variety of places to stay, such as country inns, country clubs, cozy cabins, B&B’s & motels. You’ll also find plenty of places to eat – be sure to try Waynesville’s famous home-grown mountain trout & gourmet dishes from around the world.

Central Mountains of NC

Our mini-journey has now moved to the central mountains of NC. This area abounds with interesting attractions of all sorts; Linville Caverns & Linville Falls, which cascade hundreds of feet into the gorge below; Mount Mitchel & Mount Mitchel State Park, at 6,684 feet, the highest peak in eastern United States; the mountain gateway museum in Old Fort, where you can learn about the early development of the mountain region; & Chimney Rock Park, which provides one of the most breathtaking views in the mountains from the top of its giant monolithic “chimney.”


Lest you are of the impression that quaint towns & villages are your only choices, we’ve now arrived at a real mountain city! Asheville would be your selection if you can’t part with a life of hustle-bustle & you still crave activities to fill almost every hour. Or you may use the city as a central base, with the option of running off to the serenity of the blue ridge mountains which are minutes away. Asheville’s main attraction is America’s largest privately-owned home, the Biltmore Estate, a 255-room french renaissance chateau created by George Vanderbilt in 1895.

asheville north carolina
downtown Asheville North Carolina

Brevard is called the land of waterfalls with good reason. There are more than 250 falls, nestled in the mountains around Brevard. The town is also known for its cultural benefits, as the Brevard music center offers a summer season in which guest artists perform more than 50 concerts.

Historic Hendersonville has been a popular summer resort for well over a hundred years. But today’s Hendersonville is a well-balanced mix & the town has attracted people of all ages with interests ranging from career advancement & business opportunity to congenial surroundings for retirement. Nearby flat rock is the home of NC’s state theater, the flat rock playhouse, rated one of the best summer stock theater companies in the country. The Carl Sandburg home national historic site is also located here.

Lake Lure/Chimney Rock

In all, the Gorge is about 14 miles long, & the road that twists & turns with the river extends from Gerton through Bat Cave & Chimney Rock to the crystal waters of Lake Lure. All along the way are countless opportunities for relaxation & enjoyment. First, of course, it the boundless beauty of Nature — & there’s so much else! Fishing, hiking, water sports, music, dancing, good food, golf, tennis, mountain crafts, quaint shops filled with antiques & gifts, cider stands, fresh fruits & vegetables & homemade jams.

Chimney Rock NC

Lake Lure is considered by many as the “Gem of the Carolinas” & offers 1500 acres of sparkling water & 27 miles of shoreline including marinas, a protected sandy beach area for public use, & a nearby municipal golf course. In the early stagecoach days, this area was a favorite of politicians, entertainers & writers. Today it is still a popular resort area, with fine restaurants, lodging & golf courses. Once called the most beautiful natural canyon in the eastern United States, the Lake Lure/Hickory Nut Gorge area offers unforgettable & spectacular mountain scenery. Along the floor of the gorge flows the Rocky Broad River — credited with having patiently carved the granite of the Blue Ridge Mountains to form the deep cut. On either side, rocky cliffs rise steeply dwarfing the little villages below. Lake Lure was formed in the 1920s by building a dam across the Rocky Broad River, & was part of a planned resort community that also featured a grand hotel. Recently renovated, the hotel is again serving guests as in the “good old days.”

Chimney Rock Park provides one of the most breathtaking views in the mountains from the top of its giant monolithic “chimney.” Access to this vantage point is by a scenic drive & then an elevator ride through 26 stories of solid rock! Also within the park are nature trails that lead to wondrous rock formations & the incredibly beautiful 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls.

The nearby  Lake Toxaway/Sapphire Valley offers elegant country club living, extraordinary golf courses, & lots of amenities. In addition, Sapphire Valley provides winter skiing.

Mitchell County

Bordered by Mount Mitchell, Roan Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mitchell County covers 222 square miles of North Carolina countryside. Our average elevation is 2,550 ft. Our mountains are the highest east of the Mississippi River. The winding roads or Mitchell County will take you through picturesque little communities such as Loafer’s Glory, Kona, Penland, Altapass, Little Switzerland and Pigeon Roost, just to name a few. Our county seat is Bakersville; our largest town, Spruce Pine.

NC Highlands of Roan map
Highlands of Roan map

Residents of Mitchell County have settled here because they prefer our rustic seclusion, but want to be near the amenities of a larger town. Asheville and Boone are within easy driving distance. The mining of quartz, feldspar, and mica are among our major industries. Our Spruce Pine Mining District is recognized worldwide for its ultrapure quartz – a vital component in the computer industry. Mitchell County is especially proud of our Christmas tree industry and is providing the Christmas tree for the White House for the years 1997 and 1998. We also produce apples, corn, and tobacco.

Mitchell County is home to the Penland School of Crafts, an internationally acclaimed school of the arts. Talented craftspeople and artists from all over the world are drawn to its picturesque location atop a scenic mountain ridge.

For vacationing & living on the peaceful side, there are no loftier peaks east of the Rockies than the majestic Black Mountains & Mt. Mitchell, & no better base for exploration than Burnsville & Spruce Pine. Near spruce pine is the NC Museum of Minerals. Also in the vicinity is the world-famous Penland school of crafts, the oldest & largest school for high-quality mixed media arts & crafts in North America.

Wolf Laurel, near Mars Hill, offers a variety of accommodations & amenities such as rafting, horseback riding, fishing & golf. The wolf laurel ski area provides a vertical drop of 650 ft., 14 slopes, 2 chair lifts, & one surface lift.

The perfect way to discover the northern mountains of NC is on the scenic blue ridge parkway. This extraordinary mountain drive has an average elevation of 3,000 ft; it is designed for leisure travel only. Within an easy drive from the parkway, you can reach dozens of small towns & interesting attractions.

One section of the parkway itself is a prime attraction. Linn Cove Viaduct, a feat of modern highway engineering, winds around grandfather mountain without appearing to touch anything, creating the illusion of a “Floating” highway. At the top of the 5,964 ft. Grandfather Mountain is a mile-high swinging bridge that connects 2 peaks.

Banner Elk is the perfect location for easy day trips to see the attractions along the blue ridge parkway. Located in a charming little valley, it offers everything from the luxurious lifestyle to quaint, informal fare. Here you’ll find golf, tennis, hiking, fishing, shopping & restaurants to fit all budgets. Some of NC’s finest skiing is located here as well. Sugar mountain & Hawks Nest ski areas both have lots of activities for all seasons. luxuriously appointed, private chalets & condominiums to quaint inns & charming bed & breakfasts to rustic lodges or Mom & Pop motels…the Banner Elk area has it all. A varied array of international cuisine is available for a special evening out or a rollicking pub with contemporary entertainment might be more to your taste. Family-type restaurants offer choices for all ages & budgets.

The magic of this area is discovering what is hidden around the next curve or over the next ridge ….. golf, tennis, skiing, hiking, horseback riding, picnics in the park, canoeing on the lake, whitewater outfitters, fishing, antiques, general store, fabulous clothes, elegant jewelry, art, flower & garden shops, crafts, photography, rock shop, ski shops, Christmas tree growers, blueberry farms, apple orchards, fruit stands, wine shop, warm-hearted people, wide-eyed cows, an occasional black bear, busy beavers, athletic woolly worms, fine art shows & festivals, not to mention a 4-year college with wonderful cultural events. Whew! (Now you know why we are definitely worth visiting!)

Situated in mountains Avery County, North Carolina, the Banner Elk area is the perfect location for easy day trips on the Blue Ridge Parkway, or for visiting some of western North Carolina’s most famous attractions. Grandfather Mountain is just a few minutes away, as are Linville Falls & Caverns. You can spend a day in the village of Blowing Rock or drive south to Asheville where you can visit the Biltmore House & Thomas Wolfe Memorial. You can mine for gemstones in the Spruce Pine area or follow the backroads to old country stores.

Nearby Beech Mountain is not only eastern America’s highest ski area but, at 5,506 ft., it’s also the highest town. It also offers great accommodations, dining & lots of year-round sports & activities.

Blowing Rock

The historic village of Blowing Rock sits astride the eastern continental divide at a cool 4,000-foot elevation. It’s chock full of cultural opportunities & recreational activities. It’s become well known for its beautiful inns & restaurants. It also offers the shopper a wide range of delights. This resort town was named after the blowing rock formation which uses air currents to return objects tossed from a high cliff. Also located here is Appalachian ski mountain.

Blowing Rock NC
South Fork New River, Blowing Rock NC

Cultural events include performances of the Blowing Rock Stage Company (a professional summer stock theater), Sunday Concerts in the Park on selected Sunday evenings, Art in the Park (a series of juried art & craft shows), the outdoor drama “Horn in the West,” & an evening performance with the North Carolina Symphony at Chetola Resort. Other special events include 4th of July activities, an annual tour of Blowing Rock’s premier homes, Christmas in the Park & an annual charity horse show which attracts nationally ranked horses.

Nearby recreational activities include abundant streams & lakes for canoeing & fishing, tennis, golf, horseback riding, camping, hiking, picnic areas, four nearby ski resorts & much more. The area offers lovely inns, bed & breakfasts, motels, hotels & resorts. Dining ranges from hearty country cooking to five-star restaurants. Blowing Rock is renowned for its shopping. Antiques, designer boutiques, local crafts, elegant accessories, regional books & art, & more offer the shopper a wide range of delights.


The community of Boone is nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northwest corner of North Carolina. Our delightful climate, scenic beauty & friendly mountain people bring visitors from around the world. We invite you to come to Boone & experience the best in southern hospitality — mountain style.

Home to Appalachian State University & “Horn in the West” — the nation’s third oldest outdoor drama — Boone offers travelers something different. In the Boone area, you’ll find an unlimited variety of activities — every season of the year. In winter, our four area ski resorts provide some of the best skiing in the southeast & in the spring wildflowers bloom while outdoor adventures abound. In summer, the fun continues with moderate temperatures & plenty of entertainment from ‘An Appalachian Summer” to free concerts on the lawn at the Jones House, & autumn brings the splendor of fall foliage & numerous festivals related to harvest time.

While you are in Boone, pay respects to the man for whom the town was named. In fact, Boone has a summer drama depicting the life of the famous “Daniel.” it also has the distinction of being the “Coolest spot in the south” with average summer temperatures of 68 degrees. Boone is a nice sized town with lots of activities & Appalachian state university.

If you’d rather just take it easy, you can make yourself at home in an elegant bed & breakfast or a comfortable hotel or motel room. There are over 1,000 rooms & a variety of lodging choices in Boone.

Unique shopping opportunities also abound in the Boone area. Artists of all disciplines offer their works in local galleries. Antiques can be found in many locations & our general stores will take you back to a more nostalgic era. When it’s time to eat, you will be pleasantly surprised by a wide assortment of foods to please any taste or pocketbook. From family-style to fine fare, Boone has what you are looking for.

Near Boone is the picturesque mountain community of Valle Crucis, established in 1842 as an episcopal mission. In 1883, the well-known mast general store was established here & is now on the national register of historic places.

Alleghany County

There’s an old saying here in the High Country, Getting Here’s Easy … Leaving’s Not. Alleghany County, “The Unspoiled Province,” is no exception. In the past, it was known for its isolation. Today, it’s still uncrowded, but now it’s easily accessible to folks of the mountain which makes it a preferred destination. Conveniently located at the midpoint of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s the ideal place to begin or end your excursion on America’ s most scenic roadway.

Located on the Eastern Continental Divide in northwestern North Carolina, Alleghany County is nestled between ancient rivers & age-old mountains that reach splendid heights of 3,000 to 4,000 feet. We are surrounded by 20,000 acres of National & State Parks. The area’s charm & pleasant atmosphere is matched by a very comfortable & gentle climate. Even on the hottest days of summer, a cool refreshing breeze is guaranteed by the lofty elevation.

You’re welcome in Alleghany County at any time. There’s plenty of wonderful accommodations that are seasoned with that special country hospitality. You can choose from charming Bed & Breakfast Inns, vacation farmhouses, naturally beautiful campgrounds & economical motels. So consider it a standing invitation, because we’d love to have you visit. But don’t expect to find tourist traps, theme parks, or alpine villages. You’ll be at your own pace here.

Carolina Mountains Map

map of carolina mountains map
Set your sights high – Head for the Carolina mountains.