Asheville is pretty great. That’s coming from a guy who makes his bucks from writing about just how great it is. Could say I’m an expert. That said, I’d like to shed some light on the little-known joys of the small mountain towns beyond Asheville proper.
These are the kinds of places you’d drive through from A to B, unaware of their hidden delights. Maybe you’re off to a Blue Ridge hiking destination. Maybe you’re driving into Asheville and want to take a breather. Maybe you’re just hankering for a change of scenery; a day-trip to spice up your Asheville adventure.
As you can see, the reasons to visit these small towns near Asheville are many and varied. I hope you’ll find that my analysis assists in ascertaining which particular small towns are just up your alley.
Among us locals, Brevard is byword for “waterfall country,” sporting some two-hundred-and-fifty sparkling cascades. The town sits right on the edge of Pisgah National Forest, where you’ll find all manner of waterfall-trails, mountain hikes, and—deep in its depths—a pair of enormous radio-telescopes. More on that later.
In Brevard itself, you can stop by Main Street to find a plethora of local diners, cafes, and small-town restaurants, among them Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shoppe, which has been serving up authentic Americana since 1941. Come by on a Saturday morning, 9am to noon, to enjoy the Transylvania Farmer’s Market. Visit May 22nd to 24th for Brevard’s White Squirrel Festival, which celebrates the region’s famous tree-dwelling rodent.
Apparently, these white squirrels escaped from a traveling carnival. That sounds like something I’d make up but this time, its true.
On the Way To: Pisgah National Forest. Dupont State Forest. The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI), and its aforementioned telescopes.
Out beyond Asheville’s northern limit, this mountain town is known for its biannual Art Safari, usually held for two days in late April, and two more in early November. During this festival, Weaverville’s artists and craftsfolk throw open their doors to the public, inviting visitors to see the best of what Western North Carolina has to offer, from paintings to glassworks.
If you’d like to pick up some of this creative vibe outside of the festival’s narrow timeframe, focus your visit on southern Main Street, where lie a number of galleries, shops, and fine restaurants proud to show off the work of local artisans. Speaking of restaurants, I’d personally suggest the Yellow Mug Coffee Lounge or Soba Sushi & Noodles.
On the Way To: Hot Springs, still further north.
I think Hot Springs may be the archetype for small towns near Asheville. High up in the mountains, just miles away from the Tennessee border, Hot Springs lies encompassed by the Blue Ridge’s wild beauty. The Appalachian Trial—yes, the one that runs all the way to Maine—cuts straight through the center of town. Talk about a good place for a hike.
In the vein of outdoor adventure, Blue Heron Rafting offers trips down the French Broad ranging from languid to full on whitewater extravaganza. If you find your inclination more on the relaxation side of things, visit Hot Springs Resort and Spa for a soak in hot mineral water, drawn straight from the earth.
On the Way To: Rich Mountain Lookout Fire Tower. Lover’s Leap hiking trail.
I believe Black Mountain is tied with the last entry on this list for the small town near Asheville that I visit the most. Frankly, I can’t tell you what precisely takes me back to Black Mountain time and time again. All I know is I always enjoy myself.
I can’t help but see Black Mountain’s downtown as a miniaturized version of Asheville. They’ve got live music at the White Horse and Key City Antique’s towering twin stories rivals any antique shop on Swannanoa River Road.
If I’m in Black Mountain for dinner, I usually hit up Thai Basil for their pineapple rice and curry-buns. If I’m traveling back to Asheville from the east, I stop in at Dripolator Coffee House, to fuel up for the journey home.
In short, if you’re after an intermission from Asheville’s non-stop energy, Black Mountain is the place for you.
On the Way To: Montreat College. You’d be remiss to visit Black Mountain without talking a walk around this school’s placid campus, complete with a broad pond.
Just a half-hour south of downtown, this small town near Asheville lies in the thick of orchard country, making it a seasonal destination for local and visiting apple-pickers alike. If you can drive in on Labor Day Weekend, you’ll be so lucky as to experience the Apple Festival, chock full of fritters, cider, and all-in-all good fun. Its amazing what people can do with apples these days.
As far as year-round activities, I’m particularly fond of Hendersonville’s Mineral and Lapidary Museum, as well as their abundance of antique shops, lining Main Street. Round out your day with some ice-cream from Kilwin’s, strike up a conversation with one of this small town’s signature painted bears, and you’ll be well on your way to reliving some of the fondest days from my childhood.
On the Way To: Dupont. Brevard.