The Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina are brimming with adventures of all kinds, and you’re invited to come to explore. From crashing waterfalls and sweeping vistas to small-town main streets and locally crafted flavors, there are countless ways to experience this amazing place. Here are 25 of the top things to see, do, and explore in the Blue Ridge.
1. Choose Your Basecamp for Adventure
However you choose to set up camp — pitching a tent, booking a room, or renting a mountain cabin — the welcoming towns of the Blue Ridge Mountains are the perfect place to call home during your mountain adventures. Convenient to Interstates 40 and 26, as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway, your basecamp will have the best of both worlds — great food, culture, and hospitality in town, plus easy access to the great outdoors.
- Explore the historic downtown Marion where you’ll find excellent local restaurants and boutique shops. Learn about local history at the Historic Carson House, and stroll along the Catawba River on the Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway. Enjoy a pint of locally brewed beer at Mica Town Brewing, or introduce the family to retro arcade games at The Feisty Goldfish.
- The town of Old Fort, once the western frontier of European settlement in North Carolina, is now leading the pack as a mountain biking destination. Start the day with breakfast at the Old Fort Ride House before exploring the new Old Fort Gateway Trails. Get a glimpse of settler life at the Mountain Gateway Museum, and kick back in the evening at Hillman Beer or Whaley Farm Brewery.
4.Lake James State Park and the nearby town of Nebo offer laid-back lake vibes for your getaway, whether you prefer water activities such as boating, swimming, and fishing, or prefer to enjoy the beauty of this mountain waterway with your feet on dry trails.
- Embrace the alpine charm and breathtaking views in Little Switzerland, a historic resort town with Old World style, award-winning barbecue, and beautiful handicrafts.
- The Linville Falls Community is home to some of the most amazing natural wonders in the Blue Ridge. Explore the trails around popular Linville Falls to see this stunning three-tiered waterfall from every angle. Take a hike amid the technical terrain of Linville Gorge, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” And dive deep into a subterranean adventure at Linville Caverns.
7. Outdoor Exploration in the Pisgah National Forest
Did you know that the Blue Ridge is home to the oldest national forest in the Eastern U.S.? Pisgah National Forest stretches for more than half a million acres of hardwood forests and pristine rivers and serves as a habitat for a unique array of plants and animals. With hundreds of miles of trails, there’s plenty to explore.
- Hunt for awe-inspiring waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. From the 60-foot vertical plunge of Crabtree Falls to the four-tiered spectacle of Setrock Creek Falls, many of the most popular waterfall hikes are family-friendly — with excellent photo ops at the end!
- For mountain biking enthusiasts, the local Blue Ridge trails offer a great combination of challenging rides and incomparable forest scenery. Experienced cyclists will love the switchbacked climb and thrilling descent of Kitsuma Peak. Another favorite is the paved Point Lookout Trail.
- Enjoy an adventure under the stars when you camp at a Blue Ridge campground. From family campgrounds with playgrounds to luxurious RV parks to tiny “glamping” cabins along the river, there’s a Blue Ridge camping experience for just about everyone.
- Visitors who love to meet new feathered friends will love birding in the Blue Ridge. This biodiverse region is home to many year-round resident birds, and it’s a favorite flyover area for many more migrating species.
- Floating gently down a mountain river on an innertube is one of the most relaxing ways to keep cool in the summer. Catawba River Outdoors offers rental tubes and shuttle rides, or bring your own tube to Greenlee Park where you’ll find parking, picnic tables, and river access.
- Hit the trail to choose your own hiking adventure in any season. Check out our Blue Ridge hiking guide for a list of favorite trails and to download a hiking map.
- Go fish! The region’s sparkling mountain streams are teeming with wild brook, rainbow, and brown trout — an ideal place for fly fishers of all skill levels. Be sure to read up on local regulations before heading out to the river.
- Book a tee time and enjoy 18 holes of mountain leisure on the golf course. Those who prefer traditional golf will love the views at Marion Lake Club Golf Course. Or try your hand at something new with a round of disc golf at North Cove Leisure Club.
- Search for buried treasure as you dig into local history. Explore North Carolina’s gem mining past at Emerald Village where you can tour an underground mine and also mine for your own gems on the mining sluice. The Blue Ridge is also the historic heart of N.C.’s gold mining days.
17. Blue Ridge Parkway
The 469-mile scenic byway known as “America’s Favorite Drive” weaves through the peaks and valleys of the Blue Ridge, offering not only stunning views of the surrounding landscape but also access to some of best mountain adventures. Plan your Blue Ridge Parkway visit with our guide.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway leads to some of the highest peaks in the Eastern United States. Drive or hike to the top of Mount Mitchell (milepost 355.4) — the highest point east of the Mississippi River — for 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the surrounding alpine forest. Drive south along the parkway to visit Craggy Gardens (milepost 364.1), known for its rhododendron thickets and stunning sunsets. Or head north to Grandfather Mountain (milepost 305) — home of the famous Mile-High Swinging Bridge.
- Tap your toes to the sounds of old-time music as you enjoy a fresh plate of apple pie a la mode at the historic Orchard at Altapass (milepost 328.3), a 100-year-old apple orchard that’s preserving the local heritage of the Blue Ridge. Pick your own apples, enjoy a “hayride,” and stay for the live mountain music.
20. Travel south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to take a day trip to the Pisgah Mountain area, home to the Cradle of Forestry where the study of forestry took root in America. Cool off with a chilly slide down Sliding Rock, pull over to snap a selfie at Looking Glass Falls, and enjoy the trails and waterfalls of the popular Graveyard Fields hiking area (milepost 418.8).
21. Local Culture
Of course, it’s not just the beauty of the mountains that makes the Blue Ridge shine. The people, celebrations, and artisan craftsmanship also illuminate the traditions and stories of this region. One of the best ways to get a taste of the local culture is to pull up a chair at an area eatery and order a delicious meal. Check out our guide to local food in the Blue Ridge.
22. Celebrate in the Blue Ridge at one of several annual festivals. In May, mystery moves into Marion for the WNC Bigfoot Festival. The N.C. Bluegrass Festival rolls through Tom Johnson’s Camping Center in August, and music and crafts line Main Street at October’s Morning Glory Festival. Celebrate days gone by in Old Fort at the Mountain Gateway Museum’s Pioneer Day in April. Check the event calendar for more information.
23. Embrace the creative spirit of the Blue Ridge and appreciate the craftsmanship of the local arts. Find unique handmade items by many local artists at the McDowell Arts Council Association gallery in Marion. Sign up for a class to learn stained glass or painting techniques at the Arrowhead Gallery and Studios in Old Fort. Find local creations and crafts inside The Davis Country Store, another Old Fort stop. Or take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Folk Art Center (milepost 382) to browse beautiful items from arts across the region.
24. Sip your way along the High Spirits Trail — a collection of nearly a dozen wineries, breweries, distilleries, and meaderies. Taste unique flavors inspired by the Blue Ridge, and look for stops along the way that offer snacks, live music, or unique scenery.
25. The Best Across the Blue Ridge
From your base camp on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge, you can explore so much of what these mountains have to offer. Take a day trip to see the grandeur of Biltmore, the breathtaking vistas of Chimney Rock State Park, the cinematic beauty of DuPont State Park, or the natural diversity at the North Carolina Arboretum.