Nov 4, 2022 - Things to Do

5 must-visit mountain towns within 4 hours of Raleigh

downtown boone north carolina

Downtown Boone. Photo: Emma Way/Axios

Whether you're trying to soak up the last colors of fall or usher in the holiday spirit, it's a good time to make the trip from Raleigh up to the mountains.

Get oriented: The Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains cut through the western part of North Carolina. Many of our mountain towns are around two populations hubs: Asheville and Boone. But there's a lot more out there on the western front.

When to visit: Each season brings something new to do — from wildflower-spotting in spring, to festival-going in summer, to apple-picking in fall, to skiing and Polar Express-ing in winter.

  • 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 Raleigh. The city of almost 100,000 has supreme foodie spots, art galleries galore, dozens of breweries and a handful of nearby hikes.

Distance from Raleigh: 4 hours

Perfect for: Friends who like to party.

When to go: November-December to see the Biltmore decorated for the holidays.

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.

ben's tune up asheville nc
Don't skip Ben's Tune Up. Photo: Emma Way/Axios
2. 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 Raleigh: 2 hours, 15 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.

Stop for a flight of beer at Thirsty Souls. Photo: Emma Way/Axios
Stop for a flight of beer at Thirsty Souls. Photo: Emma Way/Axios
3. 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 Raleigh: 3 hours, 15 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.

Must-see: Visit The Blowing Rock for vista point views, or venture on to one of the most beautiful stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just outside of town you'll find the scenic Bass Lake and Moses H. Cone Memorial Park.

  • And consider staying at the historic Green Park Inn, a charming in that dates to 1891.
the blowing rock in blowing rock nc
THE Blowing Rock. Photo: Brianna Crane/Axios
4. 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 Raleigh: 3 hours, 30 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.

beech mountain slopes and beer
View and brews at Beech Mountain. Photo: Matt Hill/Axios
5. Boone

This quintessential college town in the mountains has nearby hikes to fill the days, and effortlessly fun bars to round out your nights.

Distance from Charlotte: 3 hours

Perfect for: College sweethearts.

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

  • If you want to chop down your own Christmas tree, go in late November/early December.

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

beer from booneshine brewing
Grab a drink or snack and sit by the fire at Booneshine Brewing. Photo: Brianna Crane/Axios
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