12 must-visit mountain towns within four hours of Charlotte

Many of these great travel recommendations came from Axios Charlotte readers.

Boone is one of North Carolina's most-visited mountain towns, home to App State.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QC Life) - When the temperature rises, do what any good Charlottean would do and head up to the mountains for fresh air.

Get oriented: Both the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains cut through the western part of North Carolina. Many of our mountain towns are scattered around two main hubs: Asheville and Boone.

When to visit: There are sights to see in all seasons — from wildflower-spotting in spring and festival-going in summer to apple-picking in fall and skiing in winter.

» Related: Celebrating National Trails Day with Carolina Thread Trail

  • Use this guide to pick a destination and a season for you.

(1) Asheville

The king of cool and crowd favorite mountain town, Asheville is a rite of passage for weekend travel from Charlotte. The city of almost 100,000 has supreme foodie spots, art galleries galore, dozens of breweries and a handful of nearby hikes.

Distance from Charlotte: 2 hours

Perfect for: Friends who like to party.

When to go: Fall for leaf spotting and pumpkin ales.

Must-see: Tour the stunning Biltmore Estate, go for a brewery crawl, and end a day with dancing and drinks at the open-air bar, Ben’s Tune Up.

Full guide: 35 things to do in Asheville, N.C.’s coolest mountain city

Do a self-guided walking tour in Asheville through Grove Arcade.

(2) Sylva

This surprising food-centric town located less than three hours west of Charlotte is one to watch. Pop into local boutiques or relax with a beer or dinner by Scott Creek in downtown.

Distance from Charlotte: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Perfect for: The foodie couple.

When to go: Spring for the lush landscapes and wildflowers.

Must-see: Don’t leave Sylva without dining at ILDA, a rustic Italian-Appalachian restaurant. While you’re on Main Street, admire the regal Jackson County Public Library and the view from the top of the steps.

(3) Mount Airy

If you shrunk Asheville, you’d get something like Mount Airy, a tiny town of 10,000 surrounded by state parks and home to a growing beer and wine scene.

Distance from Charlotte: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Perfect for: A vacation on a budget.

When to go: Fall for prime vineyard hopping.

Must-see: Explore the downtown area that inspired the “Andy Griffith Show” and stop at Thirsty Souls Brewing for pizza and craft beer.

Full guide: Plan a weekend getaway to Mount Airy, NC’s “mini Asheville”

Stop for a flight of beer at Thirsty Souls.

(4) Brevard

Waterfalls, crisp mountain air, fresh trout, local boutiques and chocolate. In Brevard, you get all that.

Distance from Charlotte: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Perfect for: An outdoorsy getaway.

When to go: Summer to swim in nearby waterfalls.

Must-see: In town, dine at The Square Root and have a beer at Oskar Blues Brewery. Just outside Brevard, see a marathon of waterfalls like Rainbow and Turtleback Falls.

Full guide: Stay off-the-grid in Brevard and explore North Carolina’s “land of waterfalls”

(5) Highlands

As its name suggests, Highlands is up high within the Appalachian Mountains (elevation 4,100 feet). The scenery is beautiful. Downtown is like a postcard, too, with a vibrant arts community through the Mountain Theatre Company @ The Highlands Playhouse. Just outside of town, stay at the Skyline Lodge with its pristine mid-century modern design.

Distance from Charlotte: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Perfect for: Artsy couples.

When to go: Summer. It’s altitude means it’s about 10-plus degrees cooler than Charlotte.

Must-see: Visit the Bascom Center for Visual Arts and have a steak dinner at Oak Steakhouse, owned by the same restaurant group that runs Charlotte’s Oak Steakhouse, O-Ku and Mizu.

Related guide: Charlotte restaurant group opens mid-century modern mountain lodge

(6) Blowing Rock

Blowing Rock is an upscale resort town with lots of mountain charm. It’s ideal for a laid-back weekend filled with hiking and window shopping.

Distance from Charlotte: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Perfect for: Relaxation — whether that’s with family, your partner or on your own is up to you.

When to go: Fall, especially if you’re a hiker, for peak foliage.

Must-see: Visit The Blowing Rock for vista point views, or venture onto one of the most beautiful stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside of town which includes the scenic Bass Lake and Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. Grab a coffee at Camp Coffee Roasters and shop downtown. And consider staying at the historic Green Park Inn, which dates to 1891 and is filled with charm.

Full guide: 20 things to see, do and eat in Blowing Rock, 2 hours from Charlotte

(7) Hendersonville

A happy medium between boisterous Asheville and quiet Saluda, Hendersonville is a hotspot of good food and drink.

Distance from Charlotte: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Perfect for: Wine, beer and cider [aficionados] who’ve already done Asheville.

When to go: Summer. Don’t miss the local street festivals and white water rafting in nearby Saluda.

Must-see: Flat Rock Cider, Oklawaha Brewing, Dry Falls Brewing, Triskelion Brewing, Southern Appalachian Brewery, Burntshirt Vineyards, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards and more.

Full guide: 11 things to see, do and eat in Hendersonville, less than 2 hours from Charlotte

Flat Rock Cider. Photo via Axios Charlotte archive

(8) West Jefferson

Ashley here. I discovered West Jefferson by accident on the way to the Creeper Trail in Virginia, and it became my favorite North Carolina mountain town. I loved it so much I stopped by on our way back from Virginia, too. It’s charming and full of personality. Plus the food is excellent.

Distance from Charlotte: 2 hours

Perfect for: Trip with your best friend.

When to go: Fall for the leaves.

Must-see: All the murals lining main street. You can spend hours just walking around town.

Related guide: 11 best hikes for fall foliage this year, all within 3 hours of Charlotte

(9) Banner Elk

Banner Elk is North Carolina’s ski town, right between Beech and Sugar mountains. But in the warmer months, you can start your day with a hike or an alpine roller coaster, and end it with a glass of wine from Banner Elk Winery.

Distance from Charlotte: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Perfect for: Skiers and snowboarders.

When to go: Winter a.k.a. ski season.

Must-see: Hit the slopes at Beech Mountain or Sugar Mountain.

Fun fact: The “Wizard of Oz” theme park is just a few minutes away. It’s a little weird but also a magical must-see if you’re in the area while it’s happening.

The view from Beech Mountain.

(10) Boone

Quintessential college town in the mountains with nearby hikes to fill the days and effortlessly fun bars to round out your nights.

Distance from Charlotte: 2 hours

Perfect for: College sweethearts.

When to go: Fall. Prime time for leaf peeping and college football.

Must-see: Take a road trip to the Mile High Swinging Bridge just outside of Boone on Grandfather Mountain. It’s worth it even if you’re a little scared of heights (it me).

(11) Waynesville

Under the radar mountain town in the shadows of nearby Asheville, but with plenty to see. Shop the boutiques and antique shops of downtown, then go for a long drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Distance from Charlotte: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Perfect for: People who want to travel slow and love every minute.

When to go: Fall to see elk and for scenic Blue Ridge Parkway drives.

Must-see: Go on a tour of the Cataloochee Valley to see wild elk, and do dinner at Chef’s Table in downtown where you can view the kitchen prepare seasonal meals.

(12) Bryson City

Drive an hour past Asheville for this adorable town in the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether you’re looking for adventures on the water — like kayaking on Fontana Lake or whitewater and rafting through the Nantahala Outdoor Center — or you want to head up there during the winter for the Polar Express, it’s a great escape.

Distance from Charlotte: 3 hours

Perfect for: Trip with friends.

When to go: Late summer once kids are back in school, but before it gets cold.

Must-see: Deep Creek is three miles outside of town, and it puts you in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There isn’t a fee to enter, and you can hike, go tubing, bike, fish or go for a horseback ride. The best part is the three waterfalls: Tom Branch Falls, Juney Whank Falls and Indian Creek Falls.

Brianna Crane, Ashley Mahoney and Danielle Chemtob contributed reporting to this guide.

One of three waterfalls you can see from the trail at Deep Creek.

A note of gratitude [from Axios]: Many of these travel recommendations came from you — Axios Charlotte readers! I appreciate you reading and sharing feedback along the way. Tell us what you think of this guide at charlotte@axios.com.

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