Western North Carolina is a beautiful area of the southeastern portion of the United States which includes part of the Appalachian Mountain chain, the highest mountains in the eastern part of the country. The northern counties are usually referred to as the “High Country” because of their mountainous terrain centered around towns like Boone and popular ski resorts such as Sugar and Beech Mountain. The weather in North Carolina is typically very moderate in the western portions at higher elevations during the summer months, but it is not immune to southern heat.
The region is also famous for its numerous water falls nestled off hiking trails such as the Appalachian Trial which runs from northern Georgia through western North Carolina up into Maine in New England.
The following attractions are some of the best the state has to offer so if you are passing through the area, you might want to set up an itinerary to visit as many of these unforgettable places as possible.
Chimney Rock NC
Chimney Rock State Park is a 1,000-acre area located 25 miles southeast of Asheville near Lake Lure in the western foothills of Blue Ridge mountains. Chimney Rock was acquired by the state
in 2007 to become part of the greater Chimney Rock State Park.
The park feature a 535 million year old giant granite rock in the shape of a chimney (hence the name) and is considered one of the most recognizable areas in western NC. From the perch, you can see 75 miles in all directions, including Lake Lure down below. There is also a trail around the mountain to a beautiful waterfall that is a must see.
For lodging, in the area, the Chimney Rock Inn is an affordable option.
Currently, the Chimney Rock area of the state park is one of only two areas that are open to the public.
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Lake Lure offers dining and shopping activities on the main street of the city as well as boating activities, both motorized and non-motorized. Lake Lure beach is also near the town of Lake Lure.
The lake provides many other water activities from canoeing and fishing to water skiing. However, if you want to put your own boat on the lake, you will need to obtain a permit first.
Dubbed America’s largest home, it is located near Asheville North Carolina in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The estate features gardens, a winery, shopping and dining, along with of course, tours of the actual house.
The Biltmore House and surrounding gardens were built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt as a “retreat”. It contains 250 rooms, 65 fire places, 43 bathrooms, 34 bedrooms and 3 kitchens most of which are still in their original condition and still furnished in its 19th century décor.
In fact, the Biltmore mansion is really a museum because it contains many of the collectibles and artifacts that the Vanderbilts collected through their world travels.
The cost of Biltmore estate tickets vary depending on whether you purchase online or walk up, but expect to pay around $50 per person.
City of Boone, NC - Blue Ridge Mountains
Boone is one of the small cities in North Carolina that you should visit if you ever go skiing in the area. Located in the high country of western North Carolina in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is filled with tourists and students from nearby Appalachian State University.
The small town feel provides access to shopping in a resort style town and is located near the popular skiing areas such as Sugar Mountain and Ski Beech.
In fact, a popular day trip is to ski during the day and dine and shop in the evening hours in the city.
Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain Ski Resorts
Sugar Mountain NC is located in the village of Sugar Mountain and lays claim to the largest vertical drop in the state at 1200 feet with about 20 acres of ski terrain and plenty of snow skiing. The lodge at the base of the mountain offers ski and snowboard rentals, a place to grab a bite to eat, a sports shop to buy ski gear and of course a locker room to get changed since many of the skiers are day tripers. The resort also has a snowboarding park and a 700 foot long tubing park that are closed to skiers.
Beech Mountain NC, or Ski Beech, offers 15 slopes on 98 acres of skiable area and plenty of different courses for every level of skier.
Both resorts are considered family type resorts and offers ski packages with lodging in the area. Each has the capacity to make snow if the natural snowfall is not adequate and both provide ski lessons for beginners, even kids as young as 3 years old.
In addition to these two ski resorts, there are several others in the general area.
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Pisgah National Forest
The National Forest consists of over half a million acres of forest surrounding Mount Pisgah just west of the Biltmore Estate. The area was once the source of timber, but was sold to the United States government in 1914 and would eventually become known as the Pisgah National Forest that we know it as today, in the southern part of the Appalachian Mountain chain.
The area is known for scenic mountain forest views as well as numerous hiking trails and camp sites within the park. A good way to see this area is to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The parkway connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. Spanning over 469 miles, with elevations ranging from 650 feet to over 6000 feet above sea level, the Blue Ridge parkway consists of numerous stunning views from the roadway as well as stops along the way to take in the view, grab a bite to eat or gas up.
Some of the most spectacular views are during the Fall season when the leaves are turning.
How long is the Appalachian Trail?
About 2100 miles traversing through the major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains from central Maine to north Georgia.
The trail passes through 14 states in all, and is a favorite among hikers and backpackers. Experienced hikers challenge themselves to hike the entire trail beginning in Georgia in the early spring and walking the entire length to Maine which typically takes 6 months.
While hiking the Appalachian Trail, you will pass through western North Carolina following the border with Tennessee, then winding through the Pisgah National Forest.
Located in the Nantahala National Forest, Turtleback takes its name from the shape of the rocks which are said to look like the back of a turtle. The mountain stream drops down a sloping falls into a deep pool of water. One of the favorite activities is to slide down the smoothed rocks into the pool below.
However, it is not appropriate for small children as the current can be strong and the water can be stagnant and dirty at times in the pool below. For this one, you might want to simply take in the views and the sounds of the water.
Just downstream from Turtleback Falls about 2/10ths of a mile is Rainbow Falls, a natural water fall featuring a 150 foot drop. The falls gets its name from the propensity for rainbows to form within the spray of the water while standing directly in front of the falls when the sun is low in the morning.
The area consists of multiple campsites and numerous hiking trails to access the falls. The trail to reach both of these falls is about 1.5 miles long, so be prepared for a bit of a hike.
Whitewater falls actually consists of several drops along a short span. The upper drop is a short run of rapids and cascades followed by a free-fall. The lower section is another free-fall section and ends in some cascades into pools with lots of rocks jutting from the water. This is not an area you want to practice diving off the rocks.
The current is usually strong which produces a loud roar of water and lots of mist at the bottom.
One of the best NC waterfalls is Catawba Falls located on an isolated tract of Pisgah National Forest and divided into 2 sections along the Catawba River dropping about 600 feet along a half mile stretch.
The upper falls is an impressive 50 foot free fall while the lower section is over 100 feet high across multiple landings of rocks and cascades.
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Big Laurel Falls
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The trails to access the falls is just over 1/2 mile long to get to the upper section which is a must see as it is the largest free-fall. The trail is mostly downhill and is rough in some areas, so while the journey there will be relatively easy, the hike back is going to be mostly uphill.
The next time you are in western North Carolina, or are planning on visiting the area in the winter or Fall to see the leaves change, do some skiing, or hiking in North Carolina plan your itinerary and spend some time at some of the other attractions mentioned.
There is easily a week’s worth of activities to occupy your time and you will enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States.