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A wonderland for those who love the offbeat and the off-the-beaten path, Asheville has unique experiences in every direction just waiting to be discovered. From the weird to the wonderful, we’ve compiled a list of must-try adventures that are within a 2-hour drive of the city: 

Waterfalls and White Squirrels in Brevard 

Affectionately known as the “Land of Waterfalls,” this small-town gem approximately 34 miles south of Asheville is chock full of charm and activities. Among its sterling outdoor attractions are Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Rock + Falls, Rainbow Falls, Whitewater Falls, and DuPont State Recreational Forest with even more, you guessed it– waterfalls. The most well-known trek in the forest is the 3-mile roundtrip hike to three waterfalls (Hooker, Triple, and High Falls), but we also love Bridal Veil Falls (120 ft) and Wintergreen Falls (20 ft) which are usually a bit quieter and less traversed. DuPont is also an active spot for mountain biking and horseback riding, as well as its sought-after waterfalls. 

Located within the heart of Transylvania County, Brevard’s historic downtown hosts numerous events throughout the year, including the iconic White Squirrel Festival in May, honoring the mystifying white variant of the eastern gray squirrels gracing the area, the Plein Air Festival in September that concludes with a wet paint show and art sale, and Halloweenfest, a fang-tastic event in October that pays homage to the Dracula of the other Transylvania. 

During the winter season, don’t miss the Aluminum Christmas Tree Pop-Up at the Transylvania Heritage Museum (aka the world's only museum dedicated to vintage aluminum Christmas trees). Quirky and delightful, you’ll see dozens of trees decked out in vintage, kitschy, and whimsical ornaments that will make even the Grinch of your group instantly embrace the holiday spirit. If you’re visiting between major events, you can still enjoy the Sculpture Walk downtown which has  20 works of art depicting animals native to the area along with all the outdoor adventure your heart desires! 

Two of our vacation rentals that offer convenient access to Brevard are Falling Waters and River Retreat Cabin

Apples and Wolfe’s Angel in Hendersonville 

Hendersonville, only 25 miles south of Asheville, is an ideal spot for a day trip. Henderson County is perhaps most well-known for growing more apples than any other in North Carolina (and placing as one of the top 20 apple-growing counties in the U.S.). However, the Hendersonville area is also home to the State Theater of North Carolina (Flat Rock Playhouse established in 1952), the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site, and Thomas Wolfe’s Angel Statue.  

Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg is widely recognized for his social activism and contribution to contemporary literature, and in Hendersonville, you can tour his antebellum home (built in 1838) and Connemara grounds. Another literary landmark that can be found in Hendersonville is Wolfe’s Angel Statue. Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe’s fictionalized autobiographical novel set in Altamont (aka Asheville), references an Italian marble angel statue in the story. The exact angel statue can be found in Hendersonville's Oakdale Cemetery.  

After viewing these historic spots, take a 15-minute drive from Hendersonville’s Main Street to Jump Off Rock, an overlook that offers panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains. On a clear day, you can see four states — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee! Impeccably maintained, this free public park has 3 hiking trails to choose from. The name “Jump Off Rock” comes from an Indian legend that tells of a Cherokee maiden who received word that the Chief she loved had been killed in battle, so she climbed to the edge of the rock and jumped off. Considered a haunted spot, it’s said you can see the ghost maiden on moonlit nights. 

Another ghost that calls this area home is the Blue Ghost Firefly. Unique to the Appalachian mountains, they appear once a year between late May and early June around Hendersonville in mature dark forest floors (often where undergrowth of large rhododendrons and mountain laurels reside). DuPont State Recreational Forest and Pisgah National Forest are two popular viewing points for these elusive beauties.

Emitting a steady glow of an eerie bluish color, the folklore is that they’re named after the ghosts of Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in this region. While it takes some planning to spot them, it is well worth the effort. You can also opt for a guided hike for a guaranteed sighting!   

Two of our vacation rentals that offer convenient access to Hendersonville are Songbird Sanctuary and Misty Mountain Hideaway

Horsing Around with the High Priestess of Soul and Wine in Tryon 

For over 125 years, Tryon has proudly embraced the moniker of “The Friendliest Town in the South.” Its legacy as a railroad town and resort for artists and travelers can still be felt today along with its penchant for all things horses. 

Proudly displayed by the railroad tracks downtown since 1928, Morris the Horse, a life-size replica of a child’s pull toy clad in red, black, and white, is merely one of many nods to horses and those who love them throughout the town.

The Tryon International Equestrian Center & Resort, a world-class equestrian competition campus, hosted the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2018 and has various competitions running throughout the calendar year. Saturday Night Lights is a fan favorite that runs from May through October. Most weeks will feature Grand Prix horse jumping competitions along with live music, Venetian Carousel rides, kids activities, and themed family fun nights. 

TIEC also hosts Winterfest from mid-November through December. The holiday wonderland features a 2-mile drive-thru light show synchronized to holiday tunes, ice skating, and a Christmas Village with Santa’s North Pole Experience, a Whoville Character Zone with the Grinch, Mrs. Claus’ Cookie Kitchen, and more. 

Aside from its equine reputation, Tryon has also been praised for the quality of its wine and table grapes. The Tryon foothills is a zone called the "isothermal belt," a weather phenomenon that protects the area from harsh weather extremes and typically keeps the area cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, leading to the longest growing season in WNC. Mountain Brook and Overmountain are two vineyards operating in Tryon, but there are also two more close by (Parker-Binns in Mill Spring and Russian Chapel Hills in Columbus). If you want to spend the day visiting them all, opt for Tryon Wine Tours which travels to all four. 

Tryon is also known as the birthplace and childhood home location of the “High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone. Born Eunice Wayman, she is a legacy in the world of music and civil rights activism. Her power and passion could be felt in her earth-trembling voice which seamlessly blended classical, jazz, blues, and gospel. Two of her most famous songs are the cult classics, “Feeling Good” and “I Put A Spell on You.” Paying homage to this incredibly talented artist, Nina Simone Plaza in downtown Tryon was dedicated in 2010. 

Featuring a bronze sculpture of Nina by renowned artist, Zenos Frudakis, the inside of the statue holds a bronze heart which includes some of her ashes. With leadership and guidance from the four artists who purchased Nina’s childhood home, the National Trust for Historic Preservation's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (along with the Tryon community, Nina Simone Project, World Monuments Fund, and North Carolina African American Heritage Commission) are preserving Nina Simone’s Tryon home with the dream to turn it into a retreat for writers, dancers, musicians, and visual artists. 

If you’re looking for a beautiful hike near Tryon, check out Pearson’s Falls & Glen. Designated as a Blue Ridge National Heritage Area site and a North Carolina Birding Trail Site, this treasured botanical preserve boasts 300+ wildflower and plant species. The moderate 1/4-mile trail to the 90-ft waterfall is a gorgeous stop worth making. Since the waterfall is privately owned, visitors are required to visit during operating hours. There is also an admission fee ($5 for adults, $1 for kids ages 6-12, and free for kids under 6). All proceeds go toward the preservation and protection of this beautiful waterfall area.

Two of our vacation rentals that offer convenient access to Tryon are Deer Meadow Acres and Sacred Way

Dazzling Opal Deposits and Diamondback Loop in Spruce Pine

Giving new meaning to a town that “rocks,” Spruce Pine is the place for gem history and mining and is home to the Museum Of North Carolina Minerals (along the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 331), Gem Mountain, and Emerald Village. The latter is a complex within Little Switzerland dedicated to local gem and mining history where you can pan for gold (the first documented gold discovery in the U.S. was actually in NC) and various gems (including Red Jasper, Sapphire, Emerald, Ruby, Amethyst, and more). 

Emerald Village is also home to the Underground Mining Museum. Offering insight into the mining industry and displaying artifacts from the early 1900s, you’ll have the chance to journey into the underground Bon Ami Mine with smoky quartz and sparkling mica overhead. There is also a Black Light tunnel with special ultraviolet lamps. Only offered 12 nights a year, their special nighttime Black Light Mine Tour illuminates the village with vibrant colors only seen with ultraviolet light. 

Some of the fluorescent minerals you’ll see during the tour include Feldspar (which glows in shades of pink and red), Manganapatite (which glows in shades of cream and orange), and a phosphorescent blue mineral that has not yet been identified. There are also large deposits of Hyalite Opal that glow neon green and are spectacular to behold. Not only are these some of the world’s largest deposits of Hyalite Opal, but this mine has the only known underground Hyalite Opal deposits open to the public. Unsurprisingly, these nights can sell out quickly, so get your tickets ahead of time!

While in Little Switzerland, you can’t miss lunch at the Switzerland Cafe, home to one of the largest wood-fired smokehouses in the state. Their Applewood smoked trout and Hickory smoked Pork BBQ are so good they earned them a spot on the North Carolina Barbeque Trail. For souvenirs, check out the General Store which has been operating in the heart of Little Switzerland since 1927. 

Digging deeper into Spruce Pine’s offerings, it’s also home to the Orchard at Altapass, an heirloom apple orchard, heritage music venue, and education center along the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 328.3). Oh, and did we mention the outdoor adventure nearby? Spruce Pine is within a 15-minute drive of the beautiful Crabtree Falls, a 20-minute drive of the Linville Falls Trail, and a 25-minute drive of the NC Outdoor Adventures Outpost where you can enjoy river tubing, whitewater rafting, and flatwater kayaking/canoeing.

For thrill-seekers, there is the winding NC Highway 226A–Diamondback. Motorcyclists flock to this loop that snakes through Pisgah National Forest for its 190 steep curves in just 12 miles and switchbacks that loop almost 360 degrees. Adrenaline will rise as you traverse this challenging route and behold its breathtaking scenery!

If you find yourself in the area on the last Saturday in April, don’t miss the annual Fire on the Mountain Festival (formerly known as “Hammerin’ on the Toe”). A collaboration between Spruce Pine Main Street, Penland School of Craft, and the Toe River Arts, the festival offers blacksmith demonstrations, vendor booths, hands-on tents, kids’ activities, food, and more. If traveling to the area in early June, don’t miss the annual Alien Festival (previously called the SPACE festival) in downtown on Oak Ave. Holding the title of the largest UFO/Alien Festival in North Carolina, join other avid Alien and UFO lovers to enjoy galactic-themed merchandise and food menus and prove the existence of alien life forms. The truth is out there… and it’s in Spruce Pine, North Carolina!

Two of our vacation rentals that offer convenient access to Spruce Pine are Forget Me Not and Blue Ridge View

Alpine Coaster and Clairvoyant Woolly Worms in Banner Elk

Located 40 minutes north of Spruce Pine (and 1.5 hours from Asheville) you’ll find the town of Banner Elk. Characterized by a single stoplight, this tiny town is just 15 minutes from popular attractions like Grandfather Mountain State Park and the two largest ski resorts in the Southeast: Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain.

Grandfather Mountain offers hiking, an interactive nature center, and mountaintop walks across the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge. Since 1952, visitors have flocked to the 228-ft suspension bridge that spans an 80-foot chasm at more than 1 mile in elevation. Offering spectacular 360-degree panoramic views atop Grandfather Mountain’s Linville Peak (5,305 ft), it’s America’s highest suspension footbridge. Other photo-worthy attractions within the park include Split Rock & Sphinx Rock, Half Moon Overlook, and the Forrest Gump Curve.

You and your kiddos will love the up-close look at the animal habitats of resident black bears, river otters, elk, cougars, and bald eagles. You can even “Adopt an Animal” through the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. Their website lists the current animals up for adoption–from Fanny May the Black Bear to Merle the Elk to Trinity the Cougar, you can help enrich the animals’ lives and get a certificate of adoption, a plush toy, or park passes for your contribution.

Have you ever dreamed of riding a coaster in nature instead of an amusement park? Well, Banner Elk has you covered. The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is North Carolina’s first (and only) alpine coaster. With a track length of 3,160 ft comprised of 3 circular loops and several twists and turns that reach 27 mph, you’re in for plenty of excitement. After your ride, check out the Wilderness Run Adventure Course on site where you can climb, swing, and dangle in the treetops. 

For even more adventure, check out Hawksnest Zipline in nearby Seven Devils for a canopy treetop tour in the summer or a snowbird tour in the winter and High Mountain Expeditions’ Banner Elk Outpost for rafting, caving, and hiking. Another family-friendly adventure awaits at Apple Hill Farm, a working alpaca and llama farm that offers tours year-round to visitors. The farm also hosts numerous events throughout the year, including Alpaca Shearing Days, Baby Goat Yoga, Barn Quilt Painting Class, Spookley's Trick-or-Treat Tours, and Christmas Celebration. Stop in their store to shop 15 types of alpaca yarns, cozy accessories for the whole family, and local goodies like jams and teas. 

Continue shopping at the Original Mast General Store just 15 minutes away in Valle Crucis. Opened in 1883 and purchased by W.W. Mast in 1913, this historic and popular tourist spot offers a taste of local flavor. Play checkers by the pot-bellied stove, pick up country kitchen staples like cast iron skillets and stone-ground grits, and indulge in vintage sweet treats like Moon Pies and RC Colas. 

One of our favorite time-honored traditions in Banner Elk is the incomparable Woolly Worm Festival. Established in October 1977, this offbeat celebration of the Woolly Bear caterpillar is held annually on the third weekend in October. Local folklore claims that the woolly worm’s 13 brown and black segments correspond to the 13 weeks of winter. Lighter brown segments predict milder weeks of winter while black predicts colder/snowier conditions. 

The festival welcomes 160+ food and craft vendors and the much-anticipated wooly worm races–in which the winning worm predicts the imminent winter forecast based on their stripes. After the race, celebrate your woolly worm’s victory (or humbling defeat in my case with the venerable Patsy Climb) by sampling beer and wine at Blind Elk Tap Room, Grandfather Vineyard, Banner Elk Winery, and Kettel Beerworks!

Two of our vacation rentals that offer convenient access to Banner Elk are Stairway to Heaven and Wilderness Retreat

Land of Oz and Mountaintop Skiing + Sky Bar in Beech Mountain

Click your ruby slippers and repeat “There’s no place like Beech Mountain” three times (aka take a 15-minute drive north from Banner Elk) to reach the “Coolest Town in North Carolina,” home of the magical Land of Oz. This one-of-a-kind immersive experience has been celebrating the 1939 MGM classic since the 1970s. During their annual Autumn at Oz Festival, visitors will follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City. 

Along the way, stop to meet all your favorite characters for photo opportunities, watch live performances, and shop for your favorite Wizard of Oz memorabilia. While the Emerald City and balloon ride no longer exist, the Land of Oz builds a temporary Emerald City area where the big stage show takes place. Visitors can also add on experiences like the Over the Rainbow Observation Deck and Scenic Lift Ride

Speaking of lift rides, Beech Mountain is also known for its ski scene. From early December to mid-March, visitors can enjoy skiing and snow tubing at Beech Mountain Resort. Opened in 1967, it’s the highest ski area in Eastern America and features 17 trails and 9 lifts. Oh, and did we mention it’s home to North Carolina’s only mountaintop skybar? At Beech Mountain Resort’s 5,506 peak, you’ll find the Skybar named after the mountain’s signature elevation. The picturesque glass roundhouse will make you feel like you’re in a snow globe. Its heated restrooms and large observation deck with Adirondack chairs overlooking the slopes are the perfect place to enjoy a bite or drink between runs. 

If you visit the area outside of the snowy ski season, you’ll still have the opportunity to enjoy the terrain and have plenty of fun. From early June until October, the ski resort is transformed into the Beech Mountain Bike Park, with the slopes converted to downhill mountain biking trails. Riders can bring their bike or rent one in the resort village, but all riders are required to purchase chairlift passes to ride to the top. For those who have always wanted to try mountain biking but want a guide to help you feel more comfortable, there are lessons available! Visitors can also enjoy Mile High Yoga at the 5506' Skybar on weekends from June to September, Summer Disc Golf, and their Summer Concert Series from June to August. 

The anglers in your group will fall hook, line, and sinker for Beech Mountain’s pristine waters. Beech Mountain has two lakes (Lake Coffey and Buckeye Lake), as well as a handful of mountain streams–two of which (Buckeye Creek and Pond Creek) are part of the High Country Mountain Heritage Trout Waters Trail. Buckeye Creek is a hatchery-supported stream stocked annually with brown, rainbow, and brook trout (open from April through the end of February), while Pond Creek is a catch-and-release managed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, inhabited by native brook trout. The two lakes are stocked annually by the Wildlife Resources Commission with brown, rainbow, and brook trout.

Two of our vacation rentals that offer convenient access to Beech Mountain are Alpine Outlook and Hadleigh House

Legendary Judaculla Rock and American Museum of the House Cat in Sylva 

Located 47 miles east of Asheville at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll find the “All-American” town of Sylva. Home to the "Most Photographed Courthouse" in North Carolina (aka Jackson County Courthouse), this small town is big on charm. For a postcard-worthy view of the buildings downtown framed by mountains, climb the 107 courthouse steps from Main Street. 

A 20-minute drive south of downtown will bring you to a baffling historic site called Judaculla Rock in nearby Cullowhee. The rock is a soapstone boulder covered with strange drawings that some archaeologists believe could be 2,000-3,000 years old. The ancient rock has been studied extensively, but no one has conclusively deciphered the bizarre petroglyphs on the stone or figured out who made them. 

According to Cherokee legend, the markings on the rock were created by the rock’s namesake, Judaculla, a legendary slant-eyed giant who ruled the mountains and was known as the "Great Lord of the Hunt." 

This powerful mythological being was said to be capable of leaping from one mountain to another and controlling animals. Some legends also say Judaculla held court in a cave near the top of a mountain which is now called Devil's Courthouse–an overlook with stunning views approximately 29 miles from Judaculla Rock on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some Cherokee tribe members believed the rock not only marked his territory but bore his 7-fingered handprint (as he once used the rock to steady himself from a fall). 

Others believe the rock serves as a portal or “stepping stone” from the spiritual into the mortal world and that the petroglyphs instruct others how to enter the spiritual world. Archeologists have theorized that Judaculla Rock was simply a remnant of a pre-historic tribe from the Ice Age. No matter the origin and meaning behind Judaculla Rock, the place is widely known as a paranormal hot spot due to its enigmatic reputation and remains a sacred landmark to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who live in the area. 

Sylva is also home to another peculiar site–remnants of the iconic train crash from “The Fugitive” film. Those who have seen the 1993 action movie starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones will recall the nail-biting escape sequence where a freight train crashes into fugitive Richard Kimble’s transport bus. This cataclysmic wreck was not CGI, and the leftover carnage can be spotted along the Great Smoky Railroad. 

To see it easily (and without trespassing), we recommend taking the Tuckasegee River Excursion on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Scenic Train since it’s a tourist highlight along the route. This obscure attraction is perfect for cinema and cinematography buffs, and those who undergo the pilgrimage will instantly recognize the “Illinois Southern” logo symbolizing Corrections Transport, so have your camera ready to capture this scene memorializing a time in movie-making before special effects became all the rage.  

Looking for an activity that is just the cat’s meow? The kitschy American Museum of the House Cat is as quirky and whimsical as it sounds. A paradise for cat lovers, this curated collection by “Cat Man,” Dr. Harold Sims, is the purr-fect spot to get lost for an afternoon. Full of whimsy, color, and 5,000+ cat-related curiosities and antiques (including a medieval petrified cat), this feline museum is one of two in the entire U.S. that pays homage to cats and those who love them. General admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, $7.50 for teens ages 13-17, and free for kids under 6. You can also opt for a guided tour with exclusive tidbits for $25.   All proceeds from the museum go to the nearby Catman2 Shelter, a cage-free and no-kill cat adoption center. 

If you need a side of outdoor adventure with your oddities, Sylva has you covered. The most well-known hike in the area is the Pinnacle Trail in Pinnacle Park just 10 minutes from downtown Sylva. This 7-mile round-trip trek follows the West Fork Trail to a 5,000 ft. peak with breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains and town below. Along the way, pose for a picture with the split rock, also known as the "heart" rock. 

Another popular hike in the area is Waterrock Knob, the 16th highest mountain in the Eastern U.S. at 6,292 ft, which is located at Milepost 451.2 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Before embarking on the summit hike, enjoy a prime picnic spot with panoramic views from the overlook area at 5,719 ft and use the restrooms open from April to October. 

The summit hike is on the steep side and totals 1.2 miles roundtrip. The first quarter of a mile is paved and ends at an overlook (perfect for a quick rest). While the view from the top is not 360 degrees, it reveals an expansive 50-mile view of peaks within the Great Smoky Mountains. Waterrock Knob is part of the Plott Balsam Mountain Range, so you’ll see and smell towering evergreens on your trek. For a refreshing waterfall hike of epic proportions, take a 30-minute drive south of Sylva to reach High Falls (aka Cullowhee Falls).

This epic spot is just below the dam for Lake Glenville on the West Fork Tuckasegee River. On a handful of days each year, extra water is released from the dam for whitewater kayakers, and the falls become extra powerful. A majority of the time, the 150-ft waterfall gently cascades over the Tuckasegee Gorge cliffs, and visitors wade and rock hop where the water is low. The trail is not for the faint of heart and is on the difficult side–descending numerous flights of stone stairs you’ll go up on the way back, but it is undoubtedly worth it!

After your hike, reward yourself with some cold beer from one of Sylva’s craft breweries–Innovation Brewing, Lazy Hiker Brewing, and Balsam Falls Brewing. All three breweries are within 1 mile of each other, making it a breeze to sample them all in a day. Overlooking Scott Creek on Main Street, Innovation’s original taproom has 25+ brews on tap along with cider, wine, and NA options. There’s also an on-site food truck and pizza shop next door, and their patio is dog-friendly.  

Lazy Hiker’s Sylva Taproom is home to a wide variety of brew styles, and they share a building with Mad Batter Kitchen which serves up pizza, burgers, rice bowls, wings, and veggie/vegan bites. They host events throughout the year, including trivia, live jams, paint & sip, music bingo, and more. 

Opened by a husband and wife duo in 2017, Balsam Falls Brewing serves up beers, ciders, and seltzers made in-house along with mimosas, wine, mead, diamond seltzer cocktails, and NA options. They also have a kitchen that offers smash burgers, sandwiches/wraps, salads, flatbreads, and pub specialties. Their weekend brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11 AM- 2 PM has burritos, mouthwatering skillets, and “dessert for breakfast “ options. 

The town of Sylva hosts a handful of annual events throughout the year including, Greening Up the Mountains Festival welcoming spring in April, Concerts on the Creek every Friday evening from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day Weekend, and Christmas in Sylva weekend chocked full of holiday festivities that include a tree lighting, Winter Market, concert, fireworks, and Christmas Parade. Decked out in Christmas trees, garland, and sparkling luminaries, this small town looks straight out of Whoville or a Hallmark movie special. 

Two of our vacation rentals that offer convenient access to Sylva are Endless View and Chestnut House

Find Your Next Vacation Home in Asheville, NC

Whether you’re vacationing in the Asheville area for the first time or consider yourself an Asheville aficionado, there are so many underrated and unknown corners of Western North Carolina to explore. 

Our number of  Asheville vacation rentals is always growing which means our guests have access to new vacation rentals to try. And for those who love hunting for a deal as much as they love hunting for under-the-radar attractions, we offer specials and discounts throughout the year along with our ever-expanding inventory!


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