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Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com

While Fall doesn't arrive in earnest here in the South until late October or early November (I've sweated in my Halloween costume on more than one occasion!), it's never too early to think about heading to the mountains. One of my favorite things to do in the cooler months is head to the adorable towns that dot the North Carolina mountains.

They're an hour and a half from Charlotte, and just under 4 hours from Raleigh. From Charleston, South Carolina, most of these are only about a 3 hour drive, all of which are completely doable for a weekend getaway.

I went to school at Clemson University, which is situated in the top corner of South Carolina, and perfectly located for quick Saturday trips to the NC mountains. I also lived just a few miles from the SC/NC border in that same corner for several years when I was in elementary school. Between my time living in those areas, and my desire to explore as much of the surrounding states as I can, I've had the chance to ramble many of the areas of the North Carolina mountains.

Check these out, and start planning your fall getaway immediately.

Landon and I had the pleasure of visiting tiny Balsam when we stayed at the Balsam Mountain Inn a few years back. The Inn is the only thing really in Balsam, but it's worth a side trip to see the completely restored 1908 inn and its 100 foot porches. We loved this place so much that we gave my parents a weekend away there for their anniversary this year!

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
The porches at the Balsam Mountain Inn
If you're in the mood for tubing (and you're willing to brave the chilly mountain water!), nearby Sylva offers tubes for rent along the Tuckasegee River.

About 15 minutes from Balsam is Waynesville, a small town with a walkable main street. On our most recent trip, we loved the coffee and sandwiches at the City Bakery at 18 North Main. Check the calendar before you go because Waynesville has many different festivals and street parties during the fall months.

Asheville has made a million must-see lists lately--and for good reason. Not only is it super quirky and artsy, the main street area is filled with craft breweries, small bakeries, and unique shops. Wandering downtown can easily last a day, so make sure to allot plenty of time to soak in the ambiance. Book lovers shouldn't miss a tour of Thomas Wolfe's house, where you can see just how much of his novel Look Homeward, Angel came from his real-life experiences.

While you're there, don't forget to stop by America's largest private home, the Biltmore House. I've been several times, and I never fail to be amazed at the sheer size and opulence of the place. The Grove Park Inn is great for a dinner with a view of Asheville and the surrounding mountains. Don't forget to curl up by the 14-foot fireplaces in the lobby!

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
The view from the Grove Park Inn's back porch


With just over 1600 residents, Tryon is a classic North Carolina mountain town. Browse the gift shops, linger over your lunch at one of the main cafes, and then spend all afternoon browsing through the four seriously good bookstores. Landon and my parents had to pull me out of The Village Book Shoppe during our last visit.

In what has become a family tradition, we head to Saluda once each fall for the crisp air, gorgeous views, and a little bit of relaxation. Although I use the term "downtown" loosely to describe the main area of Saluda, the handful of shops and restaurants are precious. Antique lovers will love the handful of shops that are just begging to be explored. Stop by the Green River Barbeque for lunch, and then take your special someone for live music and creative dishes at the Purple Onion.

A visit to Flat Rock is a must-stop on any tour through the North Carolina mountains. The Flat Rock Playhouse consistently puts on productions that draw viewers from Asheville, Hendersonville, and the surrounding areas. Browse through the clothes and housewares at The Wrinkled Egg, then order some of the super thin crust pizza at the Flat Rock Village Bakery in the back.

Another fall favorite in the Flat Rock area is the Sky Top Orchard. Take a spin on the hayride, get an apple cider (frozen or hot), and select a few bags of fresh apples to take home (the Pink Lady variety is my favorite). Whatever you do, you must try the cinnamon apple cider doughnuts.

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com

Fourteen miles out of Flat Rock is the Carl Sandburg House, another book lover's paradise. Check out his floor-to-ceiling bookcases, purchase some of his poetry collections in the gift shop, and say hello to the on-site goats. (Just be careful, as they will try to eat the books that you just bought. True story.)

Head over to Lake Lure for the Dirty Dancing Festival (usually held in mid- to late August) and gorgeous mountain views. There's plenty of hiking in the area, a zip line, and boating rentals. Just up the road is the not-to-be-missed Chimney Rock State Park and Chimney Rock Village.

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
Lake Lure from the top of Chimney Rock


Many Carolinians (both North and South) consider the start of Fall to be when Hendersonville hosts its annual North Carolina Apple Festival. You can load up on caramel apples, shop at the arts and crafts tents, and listen to local bands. If you can't make the festival, the town's charm is still evident every other day. There are lots of antique shops: make sure to explore all three floors of the Village Green Antique Mall--there are some incredible stained glass pieces and home decor fixtures (salvaged from local homes) in the basement. Stop for a snack at the McFarlan Bakery, whose expansive offerings will keep your sweet tooth happy.

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
Downtown Hendersonville
If you're looking for somewhere that combines a historic railroad, black diamond skiing, and stunning back road drives, Boone is your spot. I can remember visiting Grandfather Mountain as a very small child and loving it. There are also places to cut your own Christmas trees during the winter. Take in a football game at Appalachian State or go antiquing.

On one of my first ever school field trips, I went to Cherokee. I remember touring the Cherokee Museum and really loving all of the history. (I was totally that kid.) The Museum is still there, as is the Oconaluftee Indian Village for those who are interested in learning more about the Native Americans who call this gorgeous part of the world home. Take a picnic to Mingo Falls before hiking through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Highlands was a favorite little getaway of mine and my sister's when we were at Clemson. Snack on some fudge from Kilwin's as you browse the gift and antique shops in downtown. You can find your own gems at the Jackson Hole Gem Mine, or see the mountains from a different perspective on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Nearby Cashiers is also worth a stop.

All of these locations are easily accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which cannot be missed on any trip to the North Carolina Mountains. Drive a short stretch, or organize your entire trip around the 469-mile route.

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
The Blue Ridge Parkway near Balsam, North Carolina


It goes without saying that all of these places are gorgeous year-round, so if you can't make it during the autumn, keep a few on the calendar for next year's travels!

Have you visited the North Carolina mountains? What were your favorite spots?
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