Visit these North Carolina mountain towns for leaf-peeping, hiking and more.
by Addie Ladner
Just a few hours west of the Triangle, you’ll find yourself near the Blue Ridge Parkway embarking on leaf-crunching hikes, sipping mountain apple cider and breathing in crisp cool air. October and November are some of our favorite months to visit North Carolina mountain towns, when we can soak up amber and golden views and slow down a bit. Blowing Rock, Mount Airy, Boone, Little Switzerland and Brevard each offer a different perspective on western North Carolina. From nostalgic tourist attractions to European-inspired architecture, consider exploring one of these five N.C. mountain towns for a fall escape.
For the History Buff: Blowing Rock, N.C.
Three hours from Raleigh, Blowing Rock is one of the more popular small towns in western North Carolina, and for good reason. Even the community library, town hall and gas station brim with charm in this idyllic small town. The scent of Kilwin’s ice cream and fudge perfume the hilly streets and the town square is often full of kids playing and families catching up over a Bald Guy Brewing Pumpkin Spice Latte. Don’t miss champagne brunch at colonial-style Village Cafe, a building with a quaint courtyard that was used for basket-weaving and woodworking in the 1900s. See where the town’s name comes from, the actual Blowing Rock—a rock face sitting 4,000 feet above sea level on a cliff that invites a cool breeze flowing upward. It’s said to be one of the state’s oldest tourist attractions. Moses Cone Memorial Park, once the sprawling estate of entrepreneur and philanthropist Moses Cone, is just a few minutes from downtown off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The perfect spot for a picnic, the massive manor, walking trails and horse stables will take you back in time.
For the Child of the 60s: Mount Airy
Just over two hours from Raleigh, Mount Airy is best known as the town that Mayberry, the setting for the Andy Griffith Show, is based on. It’s very common to see one of Sheriff Taylor’s police cars from the show cruising around down or parked in front of a shop (they’re used for town tours and to add a bit of nostalgia to the small town), and you can grab a hot dog from town landmark Snappy’s Lunch (the diner Andy Griffith ate lunch at on the show as a young child). Get an extreme sugar fix at the eclectically decorated sweets shop and bakery Miss Angels, known for its pies and moonshine pastries. Be sure to stop at Pilot Mountain State Park on your way in or out of town for views of The Big Pinnacle, a unique, rounded mountain top once used for navigation is a spectacular sight any time of year. Views from here offer panoramic looks of the Piedmont and and Blue Ridge mountains. Don’t forget to pose for a photo with the Andy Griffith monument near the show’s museum or detour down West Oak Street to see clay sculptures of lesser-known historical figures celebrated in the small town, from musicians to mill workers to teachers.
For the Free Spirit: Boone
Boone is just over three hours from Raleigh, and the home of Appalachian State University has a unique draw even if you aren’t in college. Grab a hearty sandwich and warm bowl of soup at Our Daily Bread, then browse several antiques stores, consignment shops, and book shops, many with hippie vibes of tie-dye shirts, dream catchers, and peace sign art. Hike Grandfather Mountain State Park’s profile trail, which is nearly four miles long and gives a glimpse of where the mountain gets its name from, a side that strongly resembles a face. Then give your feet a break at Grandfather Mountain Vineyard, a small vineyard along a creek off of Highway 105 with a tasting room that offers cheese and crackers and plenty of patio and green space to bring kids, dogs, friends and more.
For the Wannabe Traveler: Little Switzerland
With Dutch-inspired buildings and gorgeous vantage points, Little Switzerland offers a taste of Europe just three and a half hours from Raleigh. Consider a stay at the Switzerland Inn to relax in their cottages, spa or over a delicious meal at the terrace of their Chalet Restaurant. Make a trip to the Little Switzerland Cafe and General Store for hearty soups and sandwiches. Eight miles northwest is the The Historic Orchard at Altapass, which dishes up hot apple pie, vanilla ice cream and coffee, perfect for a cold fall day. Take a scenic drive to Linville Falls Winery, where you’ll find Tuscan vibes—known for Riesling but also offers Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and wines made here in North Carolina from their own historic vines.
For the Kid At Heart: Brevard
Just outside of Asheville and about four and a half hours from Raleigh, this little town is known for its impressive number of waterfalls. There’s more than 200 technically! It has something to offer everyone with nearby hikes (Art Loeb is a must for it’s open bald views and slow incline making it an easy trail for beginners and young kids) and a fun downtown. Eat at rustic Italian restaurant Marco Trattoria, set in a cozy mountain house with dining al fresco in its courtyard. Visitors of all ages will enjoy a trip to O.P. Taylor’s flagship toy shop which boasts an impressive inventory of old fashioned wooden toys along with beloved Lego sets and action figures. Young travelers will enjoy searching for the town’s unique species of white squirrels and the city’s all-wood playground at Franklin Park, a short walk from the action downtown.
P.S. Don’t forget one of these stops on your way over and for quaint Eastern North Carolina towns to explore, right this way. Don’t want to travel all the way West? Fear not, there are plenty of great, remote views here in town.