Asheville itself is firmly in the small-city status, especially during the summer when its population of 94,000 swells to much more due to the presence of many tourist visitors (it’s even in the name of our baseball team!). The nice thing, though, is that within an hour’s drive, there are more than a dozen charming small towns giving you a lot of options.
While the cities close to Asheville are more the metropolises like Charlotte, Greenville, and Knoxville, there are more than enough small mountain towns close to Asheville, NC, to give you a taste of the country life without being too far from the amenities of the city.
The small towns around Asheville offer the benefit of often being physically closer to particular natural settings, like how Lake Lure features both the lake and is right next to Chimney Rock State Park. They also offer a slower pace and calmer downtown while still offering tourist amenities like vacation rentals.
Being so close, you can still spend a day or two in the city of Asheville proper while making your main home base one of the towns close to Asheville. Here are some great options!
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17 Small Towns Near Asheville, NC
1. Head Just Out of Town to Woodfin
This town shouldn’t fool you – it’s so close to Asheville that houses on the same street may be in Asheville or Woodfin, depending on a few feet of difference. While more of the next outer ring of Asheville and less of a small town, Woodfin is independently governed.
It has some very cute town parks, its own elementary school, and a variety of businesses, but it is also a good source for centrally located, comfortable, but also affordable vacation rentals and long-term housing.
When in Woodfin, stop by Gallivant Coffee for vegan treats and a tasty cold brew, or take a class at Asheville Community Yoga, a pay-what-you-can yoga studio with a wonderful and tight-knit community atmosphere.
2. Enjoy a History of the Arts in Weaverville
Before Asheville was as big and exciting as it currently is, Weaverville stood as a quiet farming community north of the city by a few miles, incorporated in 1909. In the past couple of decades, though, they’ve become a wonderful in-between for people who want the charm and comfort of a small town with easy access to the big city nearby.
Downtown Weaverville is small and mighty, boasting multiple restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries, as well as a wine shop, boutiques, and art galleries. Their arts community holds wonderful experiences like the September festival Art in Autumn and the April Art Safari, which turn Main Street into a cornucopia of local handicrafts and fine art.
With an area to play, work out, or go for a walk around Lake Louise, having a centrally located town park is also a nice advantage to staying in Weaverville.
3. Enjoy the History of Marshall
A little further north, you’ll get to Marshall, a lovely little historic town with a cute downtown, restaurants, and a Sunday afternoon farmers market. The courthouse gives the downtown a feeling of going back in time a bit.
As Asheville becomes harder to afford, many artists have moved out of town, and some have settled in Marshall, offering galleries, art classes, and concerts that make the town a vibrant hub. The nearby French Broad River offers opportunities for exploring in nature, and you never know what you’ll find when you take a trek in the Marshall area.
4. Camp and Relax in Hot Springs
A little further away than Marshall is the beautiful valley community of Hot Springs. Named for natural hot springs near the French Broad River, the centerpiece of this little town is the Hot Springs Campground and Spa, where you can soak in natural mineral spring water and camp on the banks of the river with some of the prettiest views you can imagine.
The main drag through Hot Springs features a couple of restaurants and supplies stores to get you ready for your stay or outfit you to take a trek on the Appalachian Trail, which runs right through town.
5. Experience a Cute College Town in Mars Hill
The small town of Mars Hill is probably best known for Mars Hill University, a small liberal arts school with a strong reputation. The town is primarily a rural community that reflects the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and if you choose this as a place to visit, you’ll see that the pace of life is far calmer than the hustle and bustle of Asheville proper.
The Heritage Festival here celebrates the forms of music, dance, art, and crafts that have come out of the Western NC mountains. If you’re in the area at the right time of year, you can be part of the community gathering!
6. Find Fun and Apple Cider in Hendersonville
Probably the biggest town on this list at 15,000 people, Hendersonville has really made a name for itself as a little destination in the mountains. As far as cities close to Asheville, you’d need to go to Greenville or Charlotte to find somewhere bigger.
With a lovely downtown restaurant scene and the draw of the Hands On! Children’s Museum to keep a steady stream of local parents bringing their kiddos in, Hendersonville has become a great place to find all the conveniences of travel without the crowds of Asheville.
The neighboring farms draw a specific crowd, though, during apple season. This area, known as Apple Alley, features you-pick apples, farm stands, and fall festivals that are so fun and apple-tastic that people come from all around to walk the corn mazes and eat the apple cider donuts!
7. Set Out on Your Rafting Adventure in Bryson City
One of the main locations for the Nantahala Outdoor Center is in Bryson City, making it a destination for rafting and whitewater kayaking enthusiasts and newbies alike. The downtown is a charming combination of restaurants and shops, and nearby hiking is also great, so any group that is specifically on the hunt for a good outdoorsy long weekend is likely to find something great here.
Don’t miss the NOC’s zipline tours – there’s something truly impressive about flying over the trees themselves and getting that panoramic mountain view! In addition to the outdoor adventures, you can take a slow and steady trip on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad to see even more of the countryside from a comfortable seat.
8. Explore the Land of Waterfalls in Brevard
For a small community, Brevard has a lot of claims to fame, including being one of only a dozen places or so that has a substantial population of all-white squirrels. Brevard is also known as the Land of Waterfalls, due to there being so many beautiful hike-accessible waterfalls nearby that you can visit while staying in Brevard.
There are restaurants for every taste available, so if you’re looking for your next foodie destination, this might be the town for it! While you’re downtown, explore the many fun shops and find a little white squirrel souvenir to take home with you after your sightings.
9. Stay Close to the National Parks in Waynesville
If you’re planning a trip to Pisgah National Forest or Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Waynesville is a good spot to consider for actual lodgings and as your home base. It’s the third-largest town in our area, after Asheville and Hendersonville, and due to a strong tourism influx because of the beautiful mountains nearby, Waynesville has a great set of options for shopping, dining, and vacation rentals.
They also hold festivals like the Apple Harvest Festival and the Blue Ridge Heritage Weekend, meaning that there is often something exciting going on in downtown proper. Fun fact: it’s got a historic district known as Frog Level, named because of frequent flooding from a nearby creek that put everything at frog level (if you go, check out Frog Level Brewing). Being on I-40 makes this a convenient stop on a wider trip around the Western North Carolina mountains.
10. Relax or Hike at Lake Lure/Chimney Rock
Lake Lure and Chimney Rock are two nearby communities that draw a crowd due to Lake Lure’s beautiful beach and the incredible rockface known as Chimney Rock at the top of Chimney Rock State Park.
The beach itself features a water park as well as sandy shores, allowing you to skip the oceanfront experience and instead view amazing mountains all around during your fun beach day.
The downtowns feature restaurants and shops and plenty of nearby vacation rentals make this a good option for compromising when half the family wants mountains and hiking and half the family wants water and beach.
11. Go Antiquing and Sip Craft Beverages in Black Mountain
Black Mountain is a small town near both Montreat and Ridgecrest, two major religious retreat centers that draw crowds for events. Montreat includes a small college as well. The downtown of Black Mountain features a variety of specialty shops and fun antique stores, making it a perfect spot for those who are always looking for a truly unique home decor item.
It’s also home to Black Mountain Cider + Mead and Oak and Grist Distillery, spots for craft beverages that you’re sure to enjoy. For family-friendly relaxation, consider the Foothills Grange, a combination outdoor hangout space, restaurant, and bar, or head just out of town to Whistle Hop Brewing in nearby Fairview, where you can drink in an actual train car or play a round of mini golf!
12. Find Friendly Hospitality in the Maggie Valley
Maggie Valley, NC, is a small town but they pack a lot of recreational fun into a small space. There’s, of course, lodging, restaurants, and unique shopping, but you’re also convenient to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Getting out in nature might look like an early morning fishing trip, going for a midday hike in the autumn leaves, or catching a round of golf at Maggie Valley Club and Resort. For motorcycle buffs, there’s even a private collection in a museum called Wheels Through Time and a trail through Haywood County that helps you find all the unique quilt squares that dot the barns around this area, a mountain tradition.
13. See the Arts in Action at Highlands
Highlands is a small town, with about 1,000 people as permanent residents, but draws like antique dealers, restaurants that have received awards, and a thriving performing arts scene have distinguished it.
If you’re looking to get away from it all but still want to see great music and plays, the acts that come to the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center are truly impressive for a town of this size, and other small community playhouses are also showcasing their talents here.
With plenty of good hiking trails that lead to waterfalls in the area, you’ll have no trouble filling your time between performances with lots of natural beauty in this area.
14. Seek Out Natural and Historic Wonders at Old Fort
For a small town, Old Fort carries a lot of history. If you’ve never seen the Mountain Gateway Museum and Heritage Center, it’s a great way to introduce yourself and your family to the ways of life that have been common in this part of the state for the past few centuries.
There’s also the reconstructed Davidson Fort, from which the town gets its name, and it features some reenactments and education programs that talk about its role in the Revolutionary War. Come to Old Fort in April for Pioneer Day, in June to celebrate our gold mining history at the North Carolina Gold Festival, and a fun Oktoberfest celebration in October!
15. Experience a Classic Mill Town in Canton
Canton, NC’s main street is so iconic it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Only 20 minutes west of Asheville, it’s a beautiful spot on the Pigeon River that has become a go-to bedroom community for people who want to live near the city but not in the city itself.
The river provides many of the fun activity options in Canton, including fishing, canoeing, and tubing the river. If you’re looking for calmer water, Lake Logan is nearby, and for performing arts fans, the Colonial Theater offers a suite of exciting entertainment each year. Recommendations for nearby hikes include hiking to Shining Rock or Graveyard Fields, which are both close by.
16. Check out the Wonderful Parks of Arden
Arden is one of the best-known areas south of Asheville, with lots of great resources for families. It’s popular with people who have children partially because so many amenities for them are available.
From the multiple playgrounds at Lake Julian to Jake Rusher Park to the exciting indoor fun of Mountain Play Lodge, an indoor playground, families can always find something exciting to get into here. There’s good shopping and plenty of both chain and non-chain restaurants, making it just a really convenient place to either move to and live or a good hub for a family-centric vacation.
17. Sip at Sierra Nevada and See the Rest of Mills River
Mills River was already a charming, outdoorsy town south of Asheville, but when Sierra Nevada chose to open their huge complex here in 2014, it became a bit more of a destination, drawing new residents and vibrant tourism activity.
There are still lots of creeking, watersports, and hiking opportunities, but there are also fun restaurants, a growing beer scene with places like Bold Rock Hard Cider and Mills River Brewing, and antique stores. Mills River Parks is also a highlight, with a walking trail, dog park, and truly fun playground. While you should absolutely eat, drink, and tour Sierra Nevada, consider all the other fun to be had in this town as well.