The North Carolina Mountains contain some of the most popular areas in the southeastern United States, including Asheville NC, Boone NC, Pisgah National Forest, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The North Carolina Mountains are very popular for many reasons, including natural beauty, scenic views, wildlife, outdoor activities, local cuisine and craft beverages, and for many other reasons.
We're Larry and Jenn, locals who live here in Western North Carolina.
In this travel guide for the North Carolina Mountains, we'll explore all there is to see and do and provide tips to help you enjoy your visit even more.
Our North Carolina Mountain Guides
Here are just a few of our most popular North Carolina Mountain Travel Guides:
North Carolina Mountains
Western North Carolina is in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and next to the popular Great Smoky Mountains. Some consider the North Carolina Mountains to be some of the most beautiful in the United States.
The North Carolina mountains are full of things to see and do.
This guide, along with our 100s of other Blue Ridge Mountain guides, will share our firsthand experience with you and provide information that no other travel guides can provide!
Let us share the magic of the North Carolina mountains with you!
Popular North Carolina Mountain Destinations
The number of destinations in Western North Carolina is almost unlimited, but there are a few that stand out and are the most popular with visitors.
We'll highlight them for you, along with some of our most favorite spots at these destinations.
We also include links to some of our other guides that provide even more options for you.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The most visited National Park in the United States, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a nature lover's paradise, full of diverse wildlife, incredible long distance views, and rich in history.
For those who crave outdoor adventure, there are more than 900s miles of hiking trails, access to the famous Appalachian Trail, 6,000+ foot mountains to summit, and plenty of backwoods and rustic camping.
There are many historic locations and structures to explore, and you can even go horseback riding.
Some of the locations in the park that we consider the best include:
- Cades Cove - Full of history, beautiful scenery and wildlife, including black bears.
- Cataloochee Valley - Historic structures, hiking trails, and home to the Elk
- Clingman's Dome - Highest point in the park
- Newfound Gap - Highest road elevation in the park, and access to the Appalachian Trail
- Elkmont - Historic buildings to explore and trails to hike
- Mingus Mill - Historic operating mill - Be sure to get some cornmeal
- Big Creek - Home to one of the largest logging operations, and now home to one of the most popular swimming holes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Midnight hole.
- Deep Creek - 3 waterfalls on a nice loop trail, and some of the best tubing these mountains have to offer.
Pisgah National Forests
Pisgah National Forest offers many cascading waterfalls, miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, and some of the best fly-fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountians. It is a nature enthusiasts playground.
Some notable places to visit include:
- Max Patch - A scenic bald on the Appalachian trail, offers 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains.
- Sliding Rock - A natural rock water slide.
- Looking Glass Falls - a Majestic roadside waterfall, that is one of the most beautiful in the North Carolina mountains.
- Looking Glass Rock - Hike to the top of Looking Glass Rock for incredible views
Blue Ridge Parkway
Hailed as one of the most scenic drives in the world, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the upper elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering visitors many scenic overlooks, hiking trails, waterfalls, and more.
Some of the most iconic and popular locations on the Blue Ridge Parkway are located in North Carolina, including:
- Waterrock Knob
- Highest Point on the Parkway
- Graveyard Fields
- Pisgah Inn
- Crabtree Falls
- Mount Mitchell
- Grandfather Mountain
- Linn Cove Viaduct
- Rough Ridge
- Moses Cone Memorial Park
>> See our Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Guide for lots more information.
Asheville is literally in the middle of the mountains, and surrounded by them. Offering beautiful mountain views from the heart of the city itself.
This town is also a haven for foodies and craft beer lovers, boasting an impressive array of breweries and restaurants.
Plus, its downtown art galleries and street performances add a unique flavor to city life.
Asheville is about 30 minutes from our home in Waynesville NC, and we enjoy visiting the "big city" on the weekends for shopping and restaurants. There is also a Sam's there, which we like to hit up once a month or so.
You can check out favorite Asheville restaurant picks in our Top Restaurants in Asheville Guide.
We enjoy walking downtown, visiting some of the unique shops, exploring the arcade, and playing some vintage arcade and pinball at the Asheville Pinball Museum. There is so much to do in Asheville.
>> See our Asheville NC Travel Guide for more information
Boone and Blowing Rock
These quaint towns offer a mix of Appalachian culture and leisure activities. Boone, with Appalachian State University, has a youthful vibe, while Blowing Rock, named after its famous rocky outcrop, offers picturesque streets lined with boutique shops and cafes.
Boone and Blowing Rock are both some of our favorite places to visit in the North Carolina mountains.
If you want a great place to eat, be sure to try Vidalia, one of our favorite restaurants in the entire Blue Ridge Mountains.
When visiting, be sure to eat at The Speckled Trout, our favorite!
>> See our Boone NC Travel Guide for more information
>> See our Blowing Rock NC Travel Guide for more information
Cherokee NC is a popular North Carolina Mountain destination for visitors because of its culture, history, proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and being home to Harrah's Casino.
Cherokee is full of historic attractions, outdoor adventure, restaurants, and more, including:
- Museum of the Cherokee Indian
- Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama - This is a powerful outdoor drama that tells the story of the Cherokee people from their earliest origins to the present day, performed in an outdoor amphitheater.
- Harrah's Cherokee Casino - For those interested in gaming and entertainment, Harrah's Cherokee Casino offers a wide variety of games, dining options, and shows.
- Fishing in the Oconaluftee River
- Shopping, Arts and Crafts
- Outdoor Activity in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Food and Restaurants
We really enjoy visiting Harrah's Cherokee Casino. We're not big gamblers, but we do enjoy playing on the slot machines a little.
The Casino makes for a fun weekend getaway, and can be part of a larger vacation when you factor in all the other great things to see and do!
>> See our Cherokee Travel Guide for more information
Things To Do in the North Carolina Mountains
Regardless of whether you enjoy outdoor adventure, or just a peaceful retreat from the stress of life and work, the North Carolina mountains deliver and offer a wide range of things to do regardless of your interest.
In this section, we'll explore just some of the most popular things to do in the North Carolina mountains, and highlight a few activities you just will not want to miss during your visit.
Check out all the cool things our home of Western North Carolina has to offer!
- Explore Waterfalls - The North Carolina mountains are home to over 500 waterfalls. You can learn more about these waterfalls in our complete Waterfalls Guide and find out top waterfall picks in North Carolina as well. If you have mobility issues, you can still enjoy many different waterfalls. See our Accessible Waterfalls list.
- Go Hiking - Western North Carolina is well known for its extensive network of hiking trails, particularly in areas like the Great Smoky Mountains and Pisgah National Forest. We estimate that Western North Carolina has more than 3,000 miles of hiking trails, from easy walks to strenuous multi-day hikes. Learn more about hiking options in our Hiking Guide.
- Watch Wildlife - Black Bear, elk, deer, coyotes, and more abound in the mountains of North Carolina. If you're lucky, or know where to go, you just might see them during your mountain adventures. When viewing wildlife, always maintain a safe distance, and never approach them.
- Enjoy a Sunset - There is just something extra special about wrapping up your day with a jaw-dropping North Carolina mountain sunset. The best places to see them are nearly endless, but if we had to pick a few spots to highlight, they would be Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Max Patch in Pisgah National Forest.
- Go back in time at Biltmore - Go back in time to the late 1800s at the largest privately owned home in the United States. Tour the home, explore the gardens, and discover the beauty of Biltmore. A visit during Christmas is pure Christmas magic.
- Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad - If you're looking for a fun way to explore the North Carolina mountains, take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City NC. They even have a steam engine excursion, and special events like the Polar Express!
- Walk across the Mile-high Swinging Bridge - Grandfather Mountain is one of the largest and most famous mountains in Western North Carolina.
Why Visit Western North Carolina?
The Blue Ridge Mountains are part of 7 different US states. The most popular and acclaimed by many to be the most beautiful mountains in the Blue Ridge Mountains are the North Carolina mountains.
A visit to the North Carolina Mountains is an experience of a lifetime that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, adventure, culture, and relaxation.
Here are just a few reasons you should visit for a North Carolina Mountain vacation:
- Breathtaking Scenery - The rolling hills, lush forests, and majestic peaks provide stunning long distance views that are a real treat for your eyes and your soul. Whether you're driving the Blue Ridge Parkway or on a hiking a trail, the views you'll find in the NC mountains are unforgettable.
- Outdoor Adventures Galore - For those that crave outdoor adventure, there's hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, climbing, skiing, fishing, and much much more.
- Cultural Experiences: Dive into Appalachian culture with its rich music, arts, food, and storytelling traditions. Visit historical sites, attend a mountain music concerts, or visit the local craft markets.
- Relaxation and Wellness: The peaceful atmosphere is perfect for those looking to relax and unwind. Visitors can enjoy the stillness of the mountains, indulge in a spa day, or cozy up in a cabin with a good book.
- Photographer's Wonderland: With its scenic landscapes and vibrant foliage, especially in fall, the region is a paradise for photographers.
- Seasonal Beauty: Each season here in the NC mountains offers something special - blooming wildflowers in spring, lush greenery and water activities in summer, spectacular fall colors, and snow sports in winter.
- Local Cuisine and Breweries: Be sure to enjoy local flavors at locally owned restaurants, including farm-to-table dining, and definitely explore the thriving craft beer and cider scene in towns like Asheville. You'll also find a number of outstanding local wineries as well.
- Festivals and Events: The North Carolina mountains host many different festivals, celebrating everything from local music and food to traditional crafts. These are always fun to attend, and allow you to experience a more genuine mountain visit.
In short, the North Carolina Mountains are a destination where you can actively explore, simply relax, or do a little of both. It's a place with a lot to offer, making it a must-visit for anyone looking for a memorable getaway.
How to get to the North Carolina Mountains
If you are traveling to the North Carolina Mountains for a visit or vacation, there are two main ways to reach the area, by air and by car.
Most elect to drive, but those traveling further, there are a number of airport options to fly into.
If you are flying in to visit the North Carolina Mountains, there are three main airports you can fly into. Which airport is best for you depends on your destination, budget, and how much you are willing to drive.
For all options you'll want to factor in renting a car, as you'll generally need to drive to your final destination. Even if you are staying in Asheville, you'll want a car in order to explore surrounding areas.
There are very few shuttles, and limited Uber services in the North Carolina mountains, with the exception of inside Asheville city limits.
Asheville Regional Airport
Asheville Regional Airport is the closest option for accessing Asheville and surrounding areas, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, flying into Asheville can be a little more expensive for the convenience of landing literally in the North Carolina mountains.
Asheville is also the least busy of the airports we highlight here, and the smallest. Asheville Regional is growing though and offers many larger airport conveniences now, including a large parking deck and more restaurant options.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport
Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the closest option if your destination is Boone and its surrounding areas. It's also the least expensive option for flying into the North Carolina Mountains in general.
The downside is that it's the most busy, and is the 10th busiest airport in the United States.
If your destination is the Asheville area, it's a longer drive from Charlotte, but can be worth the money savings. Asheville is about 2 hours from Charlotte Douglas International.
Piedmont Triad International Airport
A third option, and also a budget friendly option is Piedmont Triad International Airport near Greensboro NC. While generally less expensive than the other options, the cost is a longer drive.
The drive is 2 hours from Piedmont Triad International Airport to Boone NC, and 2.5 hours to Asheville NC.
If you don't mind driving or just enjoy road trips, driving is the easiest and least expensive option. There are a number of routes into the North Carolina mountains depending on your destination.
Major highways leading into the North Carolina mountains include I-40, I-26, and I-77.
If you prefer more scenic routes, try to catch the Blue Ridge Parkway and other numerous scenic byways, which offer breathtaking views and are popular routes for those driving into and visiting Western North Carolina.
Tips for Visiting the North Carolina Mountains
As North Carolina mountain locals, here are some tips we'll share to make your visit and experience to the North Carolina mountains more enjoyable!
- Plan According to the Season when your visiting
- Spring and Summer are ideal for hiking, water activities, and see the gorgeous wildflowers. You'll want to bring light clothing, but also bring rain gear and extra layers for cooler evenings.
- Fall is popular for its incredible fall foliage and colors. Bring layers as temperatures can vary greatly and book accommodations early as this is a peak season. Use our Fall Forecast & Guide to plan your trip.
- Winter is great for skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing. Be sure to bring warm clothing, dress in layers and check for winter road conditions.
- Best Time to Visit - Spring offers blooming wildflowers, while autumn provides spectacular leaf colors. Summer is perfect for outdoor activities, and winter has its own snowy charm.
- Accommodations - Book your reservations as soon as you can, especially during the summer and fall. Hotels and cabins book up quickly year round but especially during the summer and fall.
- Come Prepared for Changing Weather - Weather in the North Carolina is very unpredictable. It can be very warm one minute and cool the next. Not raining, then suddenly pouring. Always pack for the various conditions, and carry rain gear, extra layers, and suitable footwear, depending on your planned activities.
- Respect Wildlife and Nature - These mountains are full of wildlife, including coyotes, deer, elk and black bear. Keep a safe distance from wildlife, and follow Leave No Trace principles to preserve the natural beauty.
- Hiking Safety - If you plan to hike, inform someone about your route and expected return time. Carry a map, compass, and enough water and food. Always Leave No Trace and bring the hiking essentials.
- Expect Limited Cell Reception and cell-based GPS capability - In most towns and cities, you can expect good cell phone service. In other locations, your cell reception will be very spotty, and you may not have any reception at all. Plan for this and we encourage you to bring physical maps when travelling and on the trail.
- Be Courteous And Respect Locals - Remember, many people aren't just visiting, they live here. Always be respectful of people's personal property, pull fully out of the road when taking photos, and pull over to allow someone to pass you when driving slowly to enjoy the views.
North Carolina Mountain Facts
If love the North Carolina Mountains as much as we do, you'll love these fascinating facts.
Here are some interesting and helpful facts that make these mountains more than just beautiful scenery:
- The Blue Ridge Mountains are Ancient - Seriously old, guys! They're part of the larger Appalachian Mountain range, which is among the oldest mountain ranges in the world, dating back over a billion years.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park - This park, located between North Carolina and Tennessee, is the most visited national park in the U.S. It's a must-see with its mist-covered peaks, wildlife and incredible long distance views.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway - Dubbed "America's Favorite Drive," this scenic road runs for 469 miles, connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in NC to Shenandoah National Park in VA. It's a road-tripper's dream and offers some of the best views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains anywhere.
- Highest Peak Alert - Mount Mitchell in NC is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, standing tall at 6,684 feet. The views at the top from the observation deck? Unforgettable!
- Biodiversity Galore - The North Carolina Mountains are home to an incredible range of plants and animals. The Great Smoky Mountains alone have over 19,000 documented species.
- Christmas Tree Heaven - Did you know North Carolina is one of the top Christmas tree producers in the U.S.? The mountain region's Fraser firs are famous and Christmas tree farms are found all over.
- Cultural Richness - This area is steeped in Appalachian culture, known for its unique music, crafts, and storytelling traditions. Definitely check out local festivals and events and don't miss some mountain music.
- Waterfalls Everywhere - The North Carolina mountains are full of waterfalls, with Transylvania County in NC (the "Land of Waterfalls") having over 250 waterfalls alone. Bring your camera, folks!
- Weather Whiplash - The mountain weather can be a bit moody, changing rapidly. Always pack layers and rain gear, no matter the season. You just never know what the weather will be like in 30 minutes.
- The Biltmore Estate - Located in the heart of Asheville NC, Biltmore is America’s largest privately owned home and a key attraction. It’s like stepping into a real-life “Downton Abbey”.
- Appalachian Trail - Sections of this legendary hiking trail wind through the NC mountains. It's a bucket-list adventure for many hikers.
Final thoughts on the North Carolina Mountains
The North Carolina Mountains are a magical blend of stunning natural scenery, rich history, charming towns and culture.
Whether you're looking to explore outdoors, relax and enjoy the peaceful mountains, or explore the numerous attractions, you'll find what you're looking for in Western North Carolina.
So pack your bags, grab your camera, and visit the wonders of the North Carolina Mountains!