Although Asheville gets most of the attention in Western North Carolina, there are so many sweet little towns nearby that we think you would enjoy visiting just as much. Here is a sampling of our adventures in the areas surrounding Asheville that we truly loved and would go back and visit again.
East of Asheville
We stayed in Swannanoa, which is just east of Asheville, and the town next door is called Black Mountain. This community has a walkable town center and a lot of interesting shops. We had dinner at the Trailhead Restaurant and Bar, which has both indoor and patio seating. I had their trout filet and Matt had their tuna filet. Though I loved the flavors of my dish, the plate it was served on was way too small, so it was messy. Matt had a larger plate for a much smaller portion of food and he thought the flavors were just okay, so it was a bit of a mixed bag. However, they do have a decent tap list.
East of Black Mountain is the town of Montreat, which is home to the private, Christian Montreat College and also has an extensive trail system. We did an ambitious hike up Lookout and Brushy Mountains, that included summits at Lookout Mountain, Boggs Bunion, Brushy Mountain, and Rocky Head. 🥵 It was really steep in sections to the point that I was using tree trunks to pull myself up. 😂 The views were breathtaking, spring blooms abounded, and we had the trail mostly to ourselves. We could not have asked for a more perfect day weather-wise and really enjoyed this hike overall despite how strenuous it was. There are other less strenuous hikes nearby, so come and enjoy!
One of the towns we had been wanting to check out while in the area is called Boone. Michelle, whom we met earlier in our stay, had also recommended we check out Roan Mountain. It seemed to be an ambitious day to both hike Roan Mountain and travel to Boone, but we made it happen! 😜 The long, steep, and winding drive to Roan Mountain and Carvers Gap takes you all the way to the North Carolina/Tennessee border. And just an FYI that there is a bathroom at the trailhead, but it is really disgusting, with poo and pee all over the seat and floor and no toilet paper. 🤢 As such, plan accordingly.
That being said, the hike was awesome. We hiked Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge Bald, which is heavily trafficked, but for good reason. The 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains are unparalleled. 😍 The elevation gain is around 1000 feet, which doesn’t seem so bad; however, you start your hike at over 5500 feet and climb to just over 6150 feet, and the winds are unrelenting for most of the way up. Make sure you bring plenty of layers and a decent wind breaker, but be prepared to be wowed by the scenery as well. 👍
After making it back down the mountain, we drove from there to Boone, which takes you into Tennessee briefly and back over the border to North Carolina through more beautiful mountain towns. Boone is home to Appalachian State University, is situated at an elevation of 3333 feet, and has a population of just under 20,000. It is a cute place to visit, but parking and driving through the heart of town is challenging! We managed to find a place for our big galoot of a truck, and ate a late lunch at the nearest establishment, because we were ravenous!
That establishment happened to be Lost Province Brewing Company. We each asked for an 8 oz beer, but they were doing happy hour prices, so they gave us 16 oz pours for the same price. 🤷🏻♀️ We decided to try one of their wood fired pizzas called the Rosti. The flavors were nice, but the speck (pork) pieces were too large. We had to break them up to make it easier to eat. With the sun streaming in and our bellies now full, we were in a good place. 🙂
To walk off our meal and check out the main drag through town, we strolled along East King Street and picked up some coffee for the drive back. Along our walk we saw a farmer selling fresh strawberries, and they smelled so good that I couldn’t resist picking up a quart. 🍓That turned out to be a GREAT decision! 😋 With strawberries and coffee in hand, we headed down the mountain and collapsed in a puddle of exhaustion when we got home. It was a long day, but well worth the effort.
South of Asheville
South of Asheville is the town of Hendersonville, which is known for its annual apple festival. Near the town is a natural area that was Carl Sandburg’s home and is now a National historic site. We parked, and walked up the road to hike Big Glassy, Little Glassy and Memminger trails before exploring the grounds where Sandburg’s home and farmland are preserved. Goats are still raised here, which are ever popular with the kiddos.
The views from the top of Big Glassy are amazing, so we stopped there to eat lunch before checking out the other trails. Eventually we walked around the property’s pond, which was chock-full of fish and circled back up to the farmland. Afterward, we headed into Hendersonville and stopped at the 2nd Act Coffee and Bar for a coffee and an afternoon snack. This venue has a nice atmosphere and hosts events frequently. You can also get wine, beer or a cocktail, so you could spend all day and night there if you wanted to! ☕️ 🍻 🍷
West of Asheville
It turns out that my brother knows a few folks that moved from Minnesota to North Carolina several years ago: Mike and Carrie. My brother used to play in a band with Mike, and his partner Carrie now works for Western Carolina University (WCU), located near Sylva. Coincidentally, I just so happened to be planning a visit to WCU during our stay to interview the head of their Environmental Health Department. Mike and Carrie offered to meet up and show us around Sylva, Cullowhee, and Dillsboro and share their impressions.
On our way, we stopped in Waynesville for lunch at the Birchwood Hall Southern Kitchen. Their menu piqued my interest, and the food ended up being some of the best we had in the Asheville area. We ate so much we were busting at the seams! Matt got their salmon dish and I had the shrimp perloo, which is similar to jambalaya, but with a sweeter and less spicy taste. They also served up coffee from the local Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters. All in all, it was a satisfying meal and I HIGHLY recommend going here if you are near Waynesville. 👍 😋
Because it takes about an hour to get from Swannanoa to Sylva, Carrie and Mike offered to put us up for the night and take us out to a show that evening. And, they are some of the most incredible hosts. 😍 Carrie drove us over to the campus for a quick tour, then back to Sylva and we walked around the main part of this little town. After popping into a curio shop called Snake Song, we paid $1 to become members of the Wine Bar and Cellar and have a cocktail. 😜 If your food sales don’t meet certain legal requirements, apparently an establishment can become a private club with membership and still serve liquor.
Afterward, we all headed over to one of the local breweries called the Lazy Hiker for one of Mike and Carrie’s friend’s 50th birthday party. Their Sylva taproom also has food, but they operate separately under the same roof, so you order beer from the bartender and food from the kitchen and pay separately. Both the beers and food hit the spot, and Mike and Carrie’s friends were so nice and welcoming.
Finally, we walked across the street to Nantahala Brewing to see some more of their friends play music in a cover band called the Shrubberies. Nantahala is right on the Scott Creek with a large outdoor deck. It also looks like they have an outdoor bar opening soon. They have good beer and the band was awesome! Many of Mike and Carrie’s friends moseyed over from the Lazy Hiker and many were dancing and whooping it up. I haven’t danced and stayed out that late in a while! Needless to say, we had a great time. 🍺 💃🏻
Mike and Carrie even made us breakfast the next morning and we had fun playing with their cute pups Freddie and Frida, some of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met. We also found out that Mike was playing at an after party the following weekend, so we decided to come back.
Two days later, I came back on a rainy day to meet up with the associate professor at WCU, but got my appointment time mixed up. I thought it was at 10am and instead it was at 1pm. Oops. 😳 So, we drove to Sylva and had brunch at Lucy in the Rye. Carrie told me they are the ONLY brunch option in Sylva, but regardless the food was flavorful and the service was excellent. I would go back there again, for sure.
The following weekend, with strawberry shortcake in hand as my thank you to Mike and Carrie for going above and beyond to host us, we headed back to Sylva. There is an annual heritage arts festival there called Greening up the Mountain, and the locals had an after party that was being hosted in the town right next door, called Dillsboro.
We relaxed with Carrie for a little while, then headed into Dillsboro to Quirky Birds Treehouse and Bistro to see the first band perform, called Panthertown, which has a southern rock vibe. Next, we went across the street to Innovation Brewing’s Dillsboro taproom to see the second act play, a blue grass band called Ol’ Dirty Bathtub, and enjoy the afternoon sun. 🌞. Finally, we walked back to Quirky Birds to see Mike’s band called Prophets of Time. The place filled up quickly and everyone was having such a good time. 😀 There was one more band, but we were knackered and headed back for the night.
After another incredible breakfast we said our goodbyes and headed back to our rig. We can’t thank Mike and Carrie enough for their hospitality and kindness. They are truly wonderful people, introduced us to even more wonderful people that live there and have given us a little taste of what life would be like if we were to move out that way. 💞
I hope sharing our adventures gives you a small slice of what there is to see in Western North Carolina. If visiting small little mountains towns is a favorite pastime of yours, there is an endless supply out here that could keep you busy for years to come. It is a beautiful part of the country, and regardless of whether we end up living here, we will be back to visit. Come see for yourself what all the fuss is about. ⛰