35 Best Sights in The North Carolina Mountains, North Carolina

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

Fodor's choice

Connemara Farm is where the famed poet and biographer Carl Sandburg moved with his wife, Lillian, in 1945; he lived there until his death in 1967. Guided tours of their 1830s house—beautifully reconstructed in 2017—are given by National Park Service rangers. Sandburg's papers still are scattered on his desk as if he had just stepped away for a moment, and there are 11,000 of his books on shelves. Kids enjoy cavorting around the 264-acre farm, which still maintains descendants of the Sandburg family goats. There are also miles of trails.

Cherohala Skyway

Fodor's choice

Many motorists swear that this 43-mile National Scenic Byway rivals the beauty of any comparable stretch on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You're unlikely to encounter traffic, and the solitude found on short hikes to peaks like Huckleberry Knob, a bald with 360-degree views, may be the highlight of your trip. 

Flat Rock Playhouse

Fodor's choice

This theater, the official state theater of North Carolina, is known for its high-quality productions, with sophisticated sets and professional actors. The productions are mostly well-known musicals and other classics. In a converted barn, Flat Rock holds summer and fall programs and classes for aspiring actors. The drama season, with about a dozen productions, typically runs from March to December. The theater ran an impressive fundraising campaign for its shows and arts education programs after having to postpone the 2020--21 season.

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Grandfather Mountain

Fodor's choice
Grandfather Mountain
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Soaring to almost 6,000 feet, Grandfather Mountain is famous for its Mile-High Swinging Bridge, a 228-foot-long footbridge that sways over a 1,000-foot drop into the Linville Valley. There are 13 miles of hiking trails and some 100 picnic tables. Part of the area is a state park with free admission, and part is private land—including the swinging bridge—with a $15 admission fee.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Fodor's choice
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
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Bryson City's historic train station is the departure point for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Diesel or steam locomotives take you on a 32-mile journey along the Tuckasegee River or a 44-mile trip passing through the Nantahala Gorge. Open-sided cars or standard coaches are ideal for picture-taking as the mountain scenery glides by. Trips are offered year-round, but with very limited schedules January to March. There's a café on board serving basic fare like pizza and hot dogs. Your ticket gives you free admission to the nearby Smoky Mountain Trains Museum and its room-size functional model train dioramas.   During the holiday season, the town booms as pajama-clad families arrive for Polar Express–themed rides. 

Mt. Mitchell State Park

Fodor's choice

This park—established in 1915 as North Carolina's first state park—includes the 6,684-foot Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain peak east of the Rockies. At the 1,946-acre park you can drive nearly to the summit, where an observation tower provides panoramic views to as far as Clingmans Dome in the Smokies if clouds and haze aren't obscuring the horizon. The summit was named after Elisha Mitchell, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who died from a fall while trying to prove the mountain's true height. 

Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Fodor's choice

Covering 12,000 years of history, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian is one of the country's best Native American museums. Computer-generated images, video projections, and sound effects help bring to life events in the history of the Cherokee. For example, you'll see children stop to play a butter-bean game while adults shiver along the snowy Trail of Tears. The museum has an art gallery, a gift shop, and an outdoor living exhibit of Cherokee life in the 15th century.

Black Mountain Cider + Mead

Most of the apples for the cider at this mill come from Hendersonville, and it's the only type of alcohol in the area that can proudly say it's made from all local produce. Mead, a historic recipe for wine fermented from fruit and honey, is also interesting to try. Sample all flavors of both while here, an altogether pleasant and family-friendly stop in Black Mountain.

Cold Mountain

About 15 miles from Waynesville in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area of the Pisgah National Forest, this 6,030-foot rise had long stood in relative anonymity. But with the success of Charles Frazier's bestselling novel Cold Mountain, people want to see the region that Inman and Ada, the book's Civil War–era protagonists, called home. For a view of the splendid mass, stop at any of a number of overlooks off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Try the Cold Mountain Overlook, just past mile marker 411.9, or the Wagon Road Gap parking area, at mile marker 412.2. You can climb the mountain, but be prepared—the 10-mile hike to the summit is strenuous as you ascend nearly 3,000 feet in elevation.

Cradle of Forestry in America

The home of the first forestry school in the United States is on 6,500 acres in the Pisgah National Forest. Started in 1898 by Carl Schenck, who came here to work for the Biltmore Estate, the school trained some 300 foresters. Today you can visit the school's original log buildings, a restored 1915 steam locomotive, three miles of interpretive trails, and a visitor center with many hands-on exhibits. It sits on a scenic byway that connects with the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Pisgah.

Craggy Gardens

At an elevation of 6,000 feet, Craggy Gardens has some of the Blue Ridge Parkway's most colorful displays of rhododendrons, usually blooming in June. You can also hike trails and picnic here. Craggy Pinnacle trail offers stunning 360-degree views.

Cullasaja Gorge

West of Highlands via U.S. Route 64 toward Franklin, the Cullasaja Gorge (cul-lah-SAY-jah) is a 7½-mile gorge passing the Cullasaja River, Lake Sequoyah, and several waterfalls, including Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls, Quarry Falls, and the 200-foot Cullasaja Falls. The gorge and falls are in the Nantahala National Forest.

Rocks around waterfalls are slippery, and it is dangerous to try to cross the top of the falls.

DuPont State Forest

Between Hendersonville and Brevard you'll find this 10,400-acre state forest with four major waterfalls, five lakes, and 80 miles of dirt roads to explore. It's ideal for biking, hiking, or horseback riding. Fishing and hunting are permitted in season.

Folk Art Center

As the headquarters of the prestigious Southern Highland Craft Guild, the Folk Art Center includes shops and daily craft demonstrations from March to December. It regularly hosts exceptional quilting, woodworking, and pottery shows.

Highlands Botanical Garden and Biological Station

In the center of Highlands, the Highlands Botanical Garden, run by Western Carolina University, is a 30-acre biological reserve of native plants. There's also a small nature center, open seasonally.

930 Horse Cove Rd., Highlands, North Carolina, 28741, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Daily, dawn to dusk

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

One of the last remaining sections of old-growth forests in Appalachia has incredible 400-year-old yellow poplars that measure as large as 20 feet in circumference, along with huge hemlocks, oaks, and sycamores. Don't expect sequoias, but you're still likely to turn a corner on the trail and gasp with amazement at the scale of these behemoths. If you haven't seen a true virgin forest, you can only imagine what America must have looked like in the early days of settlement. A two-mile trail, moderately strenuous, takes you through wildflower- and moss-carpeted areas. During June, the parking lot is an excellent spot to see the light shows of the synchronous fireflies, which blink off and on in unison.

Julian Price Park

Green spaces along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain include this park, which has hiking, canoeing on a mountain lake, trout fishing, and camping.

Linville Falls

A half-mile hike winds through evergreens and rhododendrons to overlooks with views of cascades tumbling into Linville Gorge. There's a visitor center, a campground, and a picnic area.

Linville Gorge Wilderness

Some of the most challenging hikes and climbs in the South are in Linville Gorge, often called "the Grand Canyon of the East." The gorge is part of a 12,000-acre federal wilderness area in the Pisgah National Forest, and there are about 39 miles of trails here. Free backcountry camping permits are available from the Grandfather Mountain ranger's office in Nebo, which also has maps of the gorge and its trails.

Looking Glass Falls

Looking Glass Falls
jo Crebbin / Shutterstock

Getting to this waterfall is easy, as it's right beside the road in Pisgah National Forest, though parking is limited. Water cascades 60 feet into a clear pool, where you can wade or take a swim. There's a parking area and a sometimes slippery walkway down to the falls.

Mt. Pisgah

The 5,721-foot Mt. Pisgah is one of the most easily recognized peaks around Asheville due to the television tower installed here in the 1950s. It has walking trails, a picnic area, and an amphitheater where nature programs are offered most evenings from June through October. There is an inn, a restaurant, and a small grocery a short distance away. Nearby Graveyard Fields is popular for blueberry picking in midsummer.

North Carolina Apple Festival

The North Carolina Apple Festival celebrates Henderson County's position as the leading apple producer in the state. Held Labor Day weekend, the Apple Festival occupies most of Main Street in downtown Hendersonville, with music, craft booths, and lots of apple products for sale.

Oconaluftee Indian Village

At the historically accurate Oconaluftee Indian Village, guides in traditional dress lead you through a 1760-era Cherokee village, while others demonstrate traditional skills such as weaving, pottery, canoe construction, and hunting techniques.

Pinnacle Park

In this 1,500-acre public park, you can tackle a grueling climb to the top of the namesake Pinnacle or take a short walk on the state's only certified Nature Forest Therapy Trail. Brochures at the parking area include a map and guided prompts to help you clear your mind as you experience the forest. 

Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education

This fish hatchery operated by the state's Department of Wildlife Resources produces more than 400,000 brown, rainbow, and native brook trout each year for release in local streams. You can see the fish up close in more than 50 large tanks called raceways. There's also a visitor center with information about the life cycle of trout and an educational nature trail. The Davidson River, which runs by the hatchery, is popular for fly-fishing.

1401 Fish Hatchery Rd., Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, 28768, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun. Apr.–Nov. Closed weekends Dec.–Mar.

Santeetlah Lake

Dammed in 1928, this lake's name means "blue waters" in the Cherokee language. Cheoah Point Beach, in a cove on the north shore, is an attractive popular place to swim. Santeetlah has 76 miles of shoreline, with good fishing for crappie, bream, and lake trout, and is part of the Nantahala National Forest.

Shelton House and the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts

The 1875 Shelton House is home to the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts, featuring pottery, carvings, textiles and tinwork from 19th-century settlers and modern artisans. Exhibits include Cherokee items and a medical display from the post–Civil War era. The grounds include a barn used for events, an impressive community theater, and a two-bedroom rental apartment. Each June, the museum hosts the Blue Ridge Heritage Weekend Arts & Crafts Fair, drawing 80+ artists to Waynesville. 

49 Shelton St., Waynesville, North Carolina, 28786, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $10, Closed Sun.–Wed. and Nov.–Mar.

Sliding Rock Recreation Area

This natural rock waterslide, fueled by 11,000 gallons of mountain water every minute, deposits you into a clear cold pool. Wear tennis shoes and bring a towel. Lifeguards are on duty daily 10 to 6 from Memorial Day to Labor Day (and usually on the weekends in September and October). On warm summer days the parking area is often very crowded. No picnicking is allowed, but there are grounds nearby.

Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center

Mountain crafts and artwork are displayed—and much of them are for sale—at this cultural hub that promotes and pays tribute to the people and traditions of Graham County, including the native Cherokee. During summer, the Appalachian Evening Concert Series brings the region's best folk and bluegrass musicians to perform in the center's restored historic theater.

Swain County Heritage Museum

Located in the gold-domed Swain County Courthouse dating from 1908, this charming museum has displays on the history of settlers of this mountain area, including a one-room schoolhouse and a log cabin. It also serves as a visitor information center for both Bryson City, Swain County, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.