Located outside of Asheville’s city center, just under 40 minutes away, is the charming and historic small town gem, Waynesville. Boasting the title of largest North Carolina town west of Asheville, this growing town with rural roots offers a surprising number of activities, special events, and popular landmarks to enjoy in addition to delicious restaurants, shops, and breweries inspired by its history spanning as far back as the early 1800s.
While visiting, you’re sure to pick up on the unique nickname attached to many local businesses within the historic district, “Frog Level.” This name came about because of Waynesville’s low-lying location along Richland Creek that made it “frog level” when the area flooded. In addition to its rich history, Waynesville is situated at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains with quick access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, offering an endless supply of outdoor adventures to enjoy.
Waynesville is also just 20 minutes from Maggie Valley, an “old-fashioned” town that boasts vintage motels, motorcycle and automobile rallies, and plenty of shops with handmade crafts, gifts, and antiques to help you remember your time in the mountains. If you carve out time to visit, be sure to embrace your country roots by enjoying the bluegrass music, moonshine, and clogging that characterize this glorious valley. Maggie Valley’s annual Hillbilly Jam event that takes place each summer is the perfect opportunity to celebrate country living.
A majority of the shops and businesses within Maggie Valley are located along Soco Road, a five-mile long stretch of highway, including the must-see Wheels Through Time museum (open April-November). Housing 300+ of America's rarest and most classic motorcycles and cars, this unique museum has been featured in a number of popular magazines and television shows including A&E’s flagship History Channel.
Outdoor Adventure + Activities
Haywood County (where Waynesville and Maggie Valley are located) is home to the recreational retreat center of Lake Junaluska, the notorious Cold Mountain peak (title of the Charles Frazier novel & subsequent motion picture and beloved winter warmer beer released annually by Highland every November), and 45+ miles of the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway (mileposts 408 to 454), including its highest point at 6,410 ft.—Richland Balsam. Some additional hikes along the parkway include Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower, a short 1.5 round trip hike near Mount Pisgah that offers close-up views of Cold Mountain mentioned above and panoramic views of Looking Glass Rock to the south.
Another 20 minutes driving on the parkway will lead you through the Shining Rock Wilderness area and sections of the famous Art Loeb Trail including Graveyard Fields, Sam Knob, and Black Balsam Knob. With vast open landscapes dotted with dark green pines, vibrant foliage, and rocky outcroppings, these are great spots to visit during the late summer months in order to pick fresh blueberries and cool off in the upper or lower waterfalls.
Other popular waterfalls within 30-35 minutes of Waynesville include Soco Falls, an epic 120 ft. double waterfall located between Maggie Valley and Cherokee, Sunburst Falls, a waterfall cascading beneath a historic arched stone bridge built in 1937, Little Bird Falls, a 20-30 ft. tall waterfall cascading over epic and vibrant moss covered boulders, and Wildcat Falls, a 50 ft. waterfall flowing under an old logging bridge that’s best viewed after heavy rains.
If you’re seeking more water-based adventure, be sure to enjoy activities on Pigeon River, named after the passenger pigeon that was once the most abundant bird in North America but went extinct around 1914. Consisting of an upper and lower section, the upper section of the river features challenging class 3 and 4 rapids with big waves and drops while the lower section offers a steady and scenic float with class 1 and 2 rapids. In addition to whitewater rafting, the river is a great spot for tubing, swimming, fishing, and kayaking which you can enjoy through tour guides like Big Creek Expeditions (45 minutes away) or Nantahala Outdoor Center (50 minutes away). If you want to experience the best of water and sky, try ziplining with NOC where you can glide along the treetops above the Nantahala River with spectacular 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains and Nantahala Gorge.
Closer to Waynesville about 10 minutes away is Lake Junaluska, where you purchase a day pass or summer activity membership to access boat rentals (including kayaks, canoes, paddleboard), playgrounds, golf courses, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and various walking trails.
There’s also Lake Logan just 15 minutes away where you can reserve a day pass for swimming, boating, hiking, and fishing. In Canton just 20 minutes away there’s also the Champion Credit Union Aquatics Center where you can spend the day soaking up the sun or sliding into the cool and refreshing pool. Bring your own snacks to enjoy, or grab something from the rotating food truck.
If you’re interested in taking in the scenic sights and sounds from a distance, try the Cataloochee Valley Tour where you can see the majestic and highly sought after elk in the early mornings and evenings, go on a firefly night walk, or stroll through the forest to spot regional wildflowers. During the snowy winter months, be sure to visit the Cataloochee Ski Area that covers 18 slopes and trails. You can also visit Tube World just 5 miles away in Maggie Valley to spend time zooming down the snow covered hills without having to master the art of balance that skiing requires. Afterwards, stick around to warm up in the cozy lodge that has a restaurant and bar.
Unbeknownst to most, the Blue Ridge Parkway is not the only scenic highway to highlight the gorgeous landscapes of Western North Carolina. The Appalachian Medley Byway follows NC Highway 209 from Lake Junaluska to Hot Springs. Winding through the Pisgah National Forest and rural countryside sprinkled with historic buildings and charming communities, you’ll get the chance to drive alongside part of the Appalachian Trail and experience Appalachian charm at its finest.
From the ham biscuits and liar’s bench primed for gossip at Ferguson Supply General Store & Cafe established in 1919, to the tiny and magnificent St. Jude’s Chapel of Hope constructed of cedar and colorful stained glass, there’s plenty to see and experience. Find a detailed mile-by-mile guide of the byway here.
Arts + Crafts
Located just a few blocks from downtown Waynesville, The Shelton House, a Charleston-style farmhouse constructed in 1875, memorializes the rural origins of the town and promotes Western North Carolina heritage and crafts. Today, it houses The Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts, a beautiful Pennsylvania-Dutch-style barn, and 4+ acres of grounds and gardens. While in the museum, be sure to check out the textile room to see dressmaking and quilt patterns dating back to the late 1800s, and browse the Seagrove pottery and Brasstown wood carvings.
The Shelton House is the first stop of 50+ along the Haywood County Quilt Trail which highlights the patterns, styles, and techniques behind the vibrant quilt patterns painted onto pre-built wooden squares ranging from 2-8 ft. in size. Locate all of the barn quilts along the trail to learn the interesting stories behind them. The Shelton House’s custom pattern incorporates the traditional Star, Milk Maid, and Arrow patterns.
Adjacent to the historic Shelton House is the acclaimed HART Theatre (Haywood Arts Regional Theatre), an active community theatre with a calendar chocked full of Broadway shows, plays, and concerts year-round. Waynesville is also home to several art galleries. On Main Street, you’ll find Green Hill Gallery which offers a wide selection of pottery, jewelry, and artwork from local artisans, Twigs and Leaves Gallery which offers a variety of little treasures including exotic teas, candles, and photography, and Earthworks Gallery which offers hand-built furniture, Native American pottery, and handmade clothing and scarves.
Food + Drink
Nestled in the heart of downtown Waynesville, The Sweet Onion offers regional dishes with contemporary flair in a family-style restaurant. From traditional favorites like Southern Fried Chicken and Sweet Tomato Glazed Meatloaf to freshwater seafood like Pecan Encrusted Mountain Trout and Lump Crab Cake, there’s a great mix of fine dining cuisine and down home classics to enjoy. Bogart's Restaurant and Tavern, a family-owned and operated business, earned the Reader's Choice award for best steak, best wait staff, and best dinner by Haywood County’s Community paper, The Mountaineer.
Be sure to try their hearty Porterhouse Steak or tender Filet Mignon and share their Potato Skins or Prolific Sweet Potato stuffed with pulled pork bbq, bacon, jack and cheddar cheese, bbq sauce, and creamy chipotle sauce as an appetizer with the rest of the table. Birchwood Hall Southern Kitchen offers farm-to-table dishes deeply rooted in Southern tradition. Start with Dad’s Tomato Pie that blends garden chow chow and ripened tomatoes and is topped with asiago cheese and biscuit crumble for the table before indulging in the Apple Cider Brined Pork Chop or Venison Stew for your main dish.
For fine dining, look no further than The Chef’s Table, which was appointed the Restaurant Award of Unique Distinction by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Specializing in wine country cuisine, their Bourbon Pecan Chicken, Roasted Duck, and Filet Mignon are divine pairings for their extensive list of wine and scotch. For a true Farm to Fork experience, visit Frog’s Leap Public House which earned Open Table Diner’s Choice Award from 2013-2019. Serving up a sustainable and innovative menu with a “local backbone and home grown libations,” must tries at this spot include the vegan Parmesan-Truffle Fries and Sweet Potato, Chickpea Moroccan Ravioli & Sweet Harissa Roasted Red Pepper Cream or the Wood Grilled Colorado Leg of Lamb & Rosemary Caper Gremolada. Don’t forget to sip on a frog-inspired cocktail like the Blue Poison Dart or Mountain Chorus from their cocktail bar, “The Pond.”
For a more casual dining experience, try Church Street Depot which features hand-pattied burgers, 100% Angus beef hot dogs, and hand-cut french fries. Go classic and pair your meal with a delicious milkshake or float made from local favorite Mooresville Ice Cream. For a quick bite, head to 828 Market on Main which houses a delicious pop-up restaurant inside called Rootless Kitchen. From the Stepp Dog Bratwurst topped with sauerkraut and stone-ground mustard to the Queen Vic Falafel stuffed with shredded cabbage and mango habanero hot sauce to the BFTC Bánh Mì filled with traditional Vietnamese pork roll and hoisin-chili sauce, you’ll be rooted to the table savoring every bite.
No matter the dining experience, don’t forget to finish strong with dessert! Grab decadent truffles and shooters at Dillsboro Chocolate Factory, ice cream in a warm waffle cone at Jack the Dipper Ice Cream Parlor, or frozen yogurt with your choice of toppings at Log Cabin Frozen Treats.
Coffee + Soda Shops
Whenever you need an early morning or late afternoon pick-me-up, there’s plenty of coffee shops and soda shops to choose from. Waynesville’s Panacea Coffeehouse Cafe & Roastery serves up delicious espresso, lattés, and cups of coffee along with breakfast specialties and savory wraps that can be enjoyed on a couch in their spacious interior or on their back deck overlooking Richland Creek. The deck is a particularly great spot to visit in fall with the crisp air, colorful foliage, and warm drink in hand.
Waynesville’s Orchard Coffee is an adorable, insta-worthy spot whose aesthetic is just as incredible as the coffee and treats they serve. The bright, airy, and sleek interior is enhanced with sweet vintage touches, lush plants, and gorgeous art pieces. Settle in to sip your latte from a colorful teal mug and munch on their life-changing avocado toast. Finish strong with a homemade eclair or donut paired with their drip coffee. Papertown Coffee, located within a restored historic building in downtown Canton, offers up a cozy atmosphere along with its Carolina-roasted coffee, homemade syrups, and delicious bites from a rotating selection of sweet and savory from local restaurants and bakeries including Down South To Go Cafe, Four Sisters Bakery in Black Mountain and Waves of Grain Bakery in Asheville.
For those looking for an energy boost without the coffee bean as the source, Waynesville Soda Jerks is a must. This family-owned and operated business specializes in handcrafted artisan sodas using locally-sourced ingredients. With flavor blends like Strawberry Rhubarb, Lavender Lemon, Plum Lime, Blackberry Serrano, and Apple Rosemary, you’ll find yourself craving these delicious and unique natural sodas at all hours of the day. Luckily, they have an online store so you can get your fix even after you’ve left the adorable streets of Waynesville behind.
Breweries + Distilleries
One of the most well-known breweries in the Waynesville area is Boojum Brewing Company. This gem of a microbrewery features seasonal pub fare like burgers, sandwiches, and daily specials that pair perfectly with their delicious beer. Enjoy your choice of 16 fresh and ever-rotating taps plus wine and craft cocktails inside their cozy taproom or on their open back deck. With flagships like the crisp and dry-hopped Reward American Pale Ale and special releases like the tangy and refreshing Passionfruit Guava Gose, these beers are best enjoyed in the fresh mountain air while hanging in a hammock or as a reward after a rigorous hike.
Nestled between Main Street and the Richardson River in Waynesville’s Historic Frog Level neighborhood is where you’ll find Frog Level Brewing Company. Boasting a unique outdoor beer garden that doubles as a music venue, this local favorite microbrewery is situated on the water and is the perfect spot for family, friends, and pets to hang out, have a quick bite, and enjoy the sunshine. Try the light and refreshing Lily’s Cream Boy Ale or the tart and fizzy Ultraviolet Blueberry Sour alongside their Boiled Peanuts, Soft Pretzel with mustard or queso, or Nashville Hot Chicken, and don’t forget to stop by the Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery on the way to pick up a tasty treat for your pup to enjoy while you enjoy your own!
BearWaters Brewing Company is another very well-known microbrewery in the area that features award-winning favorites like the gold appointed Fruited American Sour Ale (Pink Passionfruit Sour), the silver appointed English Mild Ale (Sliding Rock), and the bronze appointed Belgian-style Strong Specialty Ale (Smells Like Money) that pair perfectly with their delicious Southern-Style Grille fare.
While the original flagship taproom in Waynesville is no longer open, there’s now two nearby locations to choose from: one along the Pigeon River in Canton and the other in Maggie Valley above a rushing creek. With 40+ hand-crafted beer varieties to choose from and opportunities to tube and kayak with their outdoor adventure partners using their private river access, you can easily spend the whole day enjoying all that this brewery has to offer.
Carrying “all of the four major food groups: beer, wine, cider, and mead,” Blue Ridge Beer Hub is a locally-owned business and a center for all things craft beer and beverage. Talk with the owners to learn more and discuss brewing techniques, styles, and flavors while settling in to enjoy a pint in their taproom (for educational or recreational purposes). Before leaving, pick up a gift for the beer geek in your life or shop for homebrew supplies and equipment if you are the beer geek in your life. This is a great spot to enjoy your favorite brews or find out what they are by sampling, and you can always take some bottles or cans home to enjoy (and continue the research).
Based in Maggie Valley, Elevated Mountain Distillery is a craft distiller serving up top-shelf whiskeys and spirits. Taking advantage of the high elevation (Maggie Valley is the most elevated incorporated valley in the U.S. at 3,020 ft.) and natural water that originates within Haywood County, this modern distillery honors the Scot-Irish settlers’ heritage and incorporates Smoky Mountain traditions to create premium whiskeys, vodka, and small batch moonshines that can be enjoyed on their own or used to create smooth, mind blowing cocktails.
Events + Festivals
Church Street Art & Craft Show: This annual event transforms Main Street in downtown Waynesville into an impressive juried art show each October. In addition to the arts and crafts market, you’ll also get the chance to enjoy live mountain music, clogging, entertainment, and food.
Apple Harvest Festival: Hailed as one of the “10 Best Fall Harvest Festivals in the Nation,” this charming annual street festival celebrates apples and all things autumn. Treat yourself to crisp apple pies, caramel and candy apples, and fresh-pressed cider before trying your hand at hand-cranking ice cream or playing old-fashioned games. This is the perfect welcome to the fall season and eventual arrival of color-changing foliage.
A Night Before Christmas: Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year at this annual holiday tradition held in downtown Waynesville. Stroll amidst the hundreds of luminaries lining the brick sidewalks, trees, shop windows, and lamp posts wrapped in red velvet ribbon and garland, join the carolers in a winter’s song, say hello to Santa and Mrs. Claus, and sip a hot chocolate while riding in the old-fashioned horse-drawn wagon ride to embrace the magic of the Christmas season.
Folkmoot International Dance & Music Festival: This epic 10-day celebration of world dance and music that takes place every July allows you to put the word Folkmoot (translated from Old English to mean “Meeting of the People”) into action. Audiences are invited to meet the performers between performances and during other Festival events. In Folkmoot’s decades of history, the organization has hosted close to 8,000 international performers from 200+ countries! In addition to music and dance, you’ll have the chance to browse hundreds of handmade crafts and savor delicious international cuisine.
Even if you’re not lodging in the Waynesville area, the gorgeous natural setting, exciting outdoor adventures, delicious cuisine and locally-made libations, and unique Appalachian experiences it offers makes it a small town gem worth visiting!