Often used as a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains and other Appalachian attractions, Asheville is a key tourist city in North Carolina.
The local community has gained a reputation in the state for their artsy nature, and this is exemplified by the sheer number of art galleries, museums, and workshops available across the city. The city also hosts a number of festivals across the year that are well worth visiting.
If you are in town for an extended stay, it can be a good idea to take a day trip out to some of the other sites in North Carolina and the surrounding states. There are plenty of options available from Asheville – from the world famous mountains nearby to bustling and vibrant cities, there is sure to be something for everyone.
Here are the 15 best day trips you can make within reasonable travel time from Asheville, North Carolina.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
One of the most visited national parks in the United States, the Great Smoky Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main attraction is, of course, the mountains – they are named after their majestic, smoky appearance from a distance.
The closest visitor center to Asheville is the Sugarlands Visitors Centre, which features a museum, theatre, and a sizeable gift shop. There are a number of hiking trails throughout the park, as well as wildlife areas where you can spot local woodland animals such as deer.
For families with young children, the Laurel Falls hike is very accessible and gives a great view over waterfalls.
Located just across the border into Tennessee, Knoxville is the third-largest city in the state and full of unique surprises.
The city previously had a reputation as being ‘scruffy,’ however, has recently become a hipster hub with trendy cafés, revamped apartment blocks and cool shopping districts. You can also visit the sunsphere, a relic from the World’s Fair that took place in the city in the 80’s.
Aside from shopping and 80’s memorabilia, the city is also home to quaint Victorian architecture, modern museums, and stylish high streets – with Gay Street being the main shopping and dining strip in town.
3. Cherokee Area
Cherokee is a small town in North Carolina that is surrounded by attractions related to the Cherokee Indian community that inhabit the area.
The Oconaluftee Indian Village provides an insight into Native American traditions – particularly those of the Cherokee tribes. Within walking distance, there is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, with artifacts – both real and synthetic – from the history of the native Americans within the area.
There are plenty of real Cherokee Native Americans around town that will happily talk to you about the history. Some of them even perform native dances in the streets; however, this is usually to attract tips from tourists.
The largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte is a city of rapid growth with exciting modern attractions to excite any visitors. A compact city, all of the main attractions are within easy walking distance, making it a great day trip if you are looking for a city with a relaxed atmosphere.
There are plenty of museums and theatres for the more artistically inclined, and, of course, there are also plenty of excellent shopping boutiques across the city.
Charlotte is a great destination for golfers, thanks to the many golf courses and country clubs across the area.
As the capital of Georgia, Atlanta is one of the most important cities in the South and is fast becoming an important player on the world stage.
The city has a world-famous collection of museums, including the World of Coca Cola, where you can learn more about the popular beverage.
There is a rising arts scene in the city, with the Atlanta Ballet and Atlanta Opera reaching much critical acclaim. It is also fast becoming a favored location for Hollywood movies, so be sure to keep an eye out for famous actors; you can also check out some of the film sets while you are there.
Like many cities in the region, Chattanooga has undergone some major redevelopments recently that have helped to completely rejuvenate the city center and the riverside areas.
The city is historically important due to the role it played in the Civil War; this can easily be seen in the main attractions across the city, including the railway bridge and station. Ruby Falls is a fantastic natural attraction; the waterfall runs inside a mountain, giving an intense ruby appearance to the water.
Rock City is another great nature-based attraction where you can gaze in awe at natural rock formations, waterfalls, and landscapes from the many viewpoints.
As the capital of North Carolina, Raleigh is the center of politics in the state and can initially seem a bit dry to tourists. There are, however, plenty of hidden attractions lurking in the streets.
The state art, history, and natural science museums are all located in Raleigh and are great attractions for families with young children. The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame is worth a visit for any sports fans to see if they can recognize some of the most famous faces from the state.
The atmosphere is also very lively, yet welcoming, at Carolina Hurricanes games, making it one of the best places to check out a hockey game.
8. Lake Lure
Surrounded by lush, forested mountains, Lake Lure is a great spot to unwind and enjoy the scenery. Lake Lure hosts a number of activities, including – most famously – zip lining, which you can enjoy along the forested areas of the mountainsides.
A recent surge in tourism has resulted in fantastic infrastructure improvements and there is now a good range of more relaxed boat tours available for visitors to enjoy during a day trip to the lake.
There are also golf courses, hiking trails and kayak hire facilities to delight many different visitors.
Located a little further along the Great Smoky Mountains area, Cataloochee is an attraction in itself that is well worth seeing as part of a day trip. The whole area is a large valley, teeming with native wildlife such as elk, bears and wild turkey. Arrive at the park early in the morning to see the elk, but be careful and consider taking a guide if you are worried about bears.
There are preserved buildings from the early 1900’s in the valley that give an interesting insight into the history of the area, and many of the hiking trails in the area wind around these.
10. Cedar Creek
The Cedar Creek Stables are a great attraction for families with young children, and for people who have always enjoyed or want to experience horse riding. There are three different horse riding trails and a special trail for kids under eight who want to have a go.
The estate has picnic tables and refreshment facilities across the whole area and is a great piece of parkland for you to enjoy.
You can try your hand at gem mining while there, or head out onto the lake for some fishing. The area is peaceful and low on tourism, so an excellent option if you are looking to stay away from the hustle and bustle of the cities.
11. Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock State Park is one of the newest parks in North Carolina; however, it is still packed with adventures and high-quality facilities.
The views from the top of the ‘chimney rocks’ (rocks with a flat top, shaped like a chimney) are spectacular; you can even see as far as all of North Carolina’s neighboring states on a clear day.
There are plenty of trails leading up to these views to keep hikers satisfied, and you can try your hand at either rock climbing or abseiling when visiting one of the chimney rocks.
The state organizes animal discovery activities for kids and there are occasional live music events, so check the calendar before you go.
12. Pisgah National Forest
Heading in the opposite direction of the Great Smoky Mountains, Pisgah offers another side of North Carolina nature, with vast arrays of natural forest life.
Like the other national parks in the state, there are some great walking trails throughout the forest that are clearly signposted to keep you on the right path.
Hidden within the forest are waterfalls and small lakes, which often feel quite secluded compared to similar attractions in the other parks. Bicycle paths are also available, and basic picnic and refreshment facilities are scattered around the park.
13. Linville Caverns
For a truly unique experience, Linville Caverns allows visitors to check out the inside of a mountain, and then later encourage them to stand on that same mountain and admire the outside view.
This attraction is designed with children in mind, so is perfect for families, but will also be enjoyed by adults who are traveling without children.
You can admire the stalagmites that hang from the ceiling of the cave, and check out the hidden underground stream that was uncovered when the area was first opened up by American pioneers. There are also some native bats within the caves, and if you go with a guide, you can check these out without risking any harm to yourself or your family.
14. Tweetsie Railroad
Tweetsie Railroad is another great family-friendly attraction as one of North Carolina’s leading theme parks. It is based on the Wild West and there are attractions for all ages – although it does tend to appeal more to younger kids.
Live performances keep visitors entertained with renditions of wild west songs and dances, as well as some more unique performances throughout the day.
Within the park, there is a small petting zoo with horses, donkeys and even emus that have been tamed so it is safe for kids to pet them and get up close to the animals.
15. Carl Sandburg Home
The Carl Sandburg Home is a large estate that pays homage to the much loved and inspirational American writer. The house itself is preserved to replicate the life of Sandburg when he lived in the house – even the furniture is said to mimic his personal tastes.
You are required to take a guided tour of the house to maintain this preservation. The surrounding parkland is relaxing and has facilities for enjoying a picnic, as well as connections to major hiking trails. There is an audiovisual exhibit of a Sandburg video and a gift shop available within the complex.