A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

In the foothills of western North Carolina, quiet mountain living flourishes. Here, in this area known as the First Peak of the Blue Ridge, peaceful sunrises usher in an easy

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

In the foothills of western North Carolina, quiet mountain living flourishes. Here, in this area known as the First Peak of the Blue Ridge, peaceful sunrises usher in an easy

7 Ways to Hit Reset in the Mountains

The outdoor fire pit and chairs at Mountain Brook Vineyards

In the foothills of western North Carolina, quiet mountain living flourishes. Here, in this area known as the First Peak of the Blue Ridge, peaceful sunrises usher in an easy pace, and restful moments aren’t scheduled; they’re a way of life.

From their Saluda home, Tim and Sara Bell witness that laid-back lifestyle first-hand. “We watch road bikers ride through and people with kayaks on top of their cars,” Tim says. “It’s a really authentic town with so much natural beauty — we have a revolving door in the summer of people visiting.”

To help you embrace the spirit of R&R in the foothills of western North Carolina, read on for a roundup of mountain activities that will leave you feeling refreshed and recharged.


The roar of the 90-foot Pearson’s Falls might capture your attention first, but keep your eyes open for quieter treasures along the Glen’s nature trail. Photography courtesy of First Peak Visitor Center

Hike Pearson’s Falls

This narrow valley, tucked deep within the Blue Ridge Mountains, serves as a haven for 35 known species of trees, eight salamander species, 13 different types of ferns, and nearly 40 bird species.

Located between Tryon and Saluda just off the Pacolet River Scenic Byway, Pearson’s Falls and Glen is easily accessible via a quarter-mile trail. This sizable preserve is dedicated to conservation, and you can experience this rich biodiversity in the short hour it takes to hike to and from the glen’s 90-foot falls.


Along the moderate hike to Drip Falls, visitors to the Norman Wilder Forest are rewarded with views of sheer cliffs, trickling mountain streams, and abundant species of birds. photograph by Courtland White

Go Birding

Continue along the Pacolet River Scenic Byway to Norman Wilder Forest’s 222-acre nature preserve, which has all the makings of a birder’s paradise: Delicate wildflowers lend a swaying perch for colorful warblers, and mountain streams create a peaceful, spa-like ambience — exactly the habitat you would hope to find on one of the state’s designated North Carolina Birding Trails.

With your binoculars in hand, set off along the two-mile, round-trip hike to Drip Falls. The moderate climb rewards you with a view of the 50-foot rock cliff. For a bonus adventure, tack on the .6-mile spur trail up to the rock cliffs. Keep your eyes open for wood warblers, thrushes, and tanagers — just a few of the birds regularly spotted.


All levels of kayakers can explore the gentle rapids along the Lower Green, and then pause for a quick swim or snack break on the riverbank. photograph by Karin Strickland / The McDowell Photography Project

Paddle the Green

“I’ve been running the Green River since I was a kid at camp,” Tim Bell says. When he and Sara started Green River Adventures in 2007, it was because, “We wanted to give people access to the outdoor recreation opportunities here that have been rewarding and fulfilling for us.”

When the couple is looking for leisure, they pack a picnic and make their way to the Lower Green. This section of the river is composed of Class I and II rapids that are fast enough to move kayakers along at a steady clip but meandering enough for them to take in the osprey, bald eagles, and herons soaring overhead.

Green River Adventures’ guides lead trips along the Lower Green, which can be kayaked in three- or six-mile segments, and the expert in the lead shepherds the group, helps navigate the path, and gives instructions as needed. Along the route, the guide identifies good places to pause to snap a photo, splash in the river, or soak up the beauty.


Explore Tryon International’s expansive resort at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains during an hour-long trail ride. Photography courtesy of Madison Ibach for Tryon International

Trot the Day Away at the Tryon International Equestrian Center

Where better to take a guided trail ride through the rolling greens and woods of Mill Spring than the First Peak’s destination dedicated to all things equestrian? The Tryon International Equestrian Center’s 1,600-acre campus has fun for every level of horse affection.

You don’t have to be an avid rider to marvel at all the center has to offer. Watch professional riders and horses compete with a blue mountain backdrop. Explore the boutiques in the center’s village and settle in for a bite to eat at the outdoor terrace at Legends Grille. Plan your visit around an event, like the three-day Earl Scruggs Music Festival, riding competitions, or summertime’s Saturday Night Lights. Check their calendar for upcoming happenings.


At the high-elevation tasting room and patio at Parker-Binns Vineyard, you can pair your glass of Petit Manseng with striking views of the rolling vineyards and mountain backdrop. Photography courtesy of Parker-Binns Vineyard

Explore Excellent Wineries

“Come for the wine. Stay for the view. Forget about everything else:” Parker-Binns Vineyard’s motto could apply to a number of the wineries in the area, where the favorable climate and terrain make it highly popular for grape growing.

As Parker-Binns’ general manager, Cory Lillberg is carrying on the family business that his grandparents started. “Polk County is mostly dominated by Bordeaux varieties, but within that, some other French grapes, like Petit Manseng, are done quite well. Other local vineyards are now growing Petit Manseng, which produces full-bodied, world-class wines. It’s our signature white here at Parker-Binns.”

Parker-Binns’ tasting room sits on one of the property’s highest elevations, so visitors can sip wine with panoramic vineyard and mountain views. “You can see as far as Mount Mitchell if you catch it on a clear day,” Lillberg says.

From garden to glass, Overmountain Vineyards’ French-style wines are made using grapes grown on the property. Photography courtesy of First Peak Visitor Center

At Overmountain Vineyards, about 10 minutes down the road, the Lilly family invites guests ages 18 and older to make an appointment for a wine tasting. Or, for a full-weekend experience, reserve a stay in one of the two luxury villas. The modern retreats are a dreamy overnight option after a day spent wandering the vineyards and sampling wines in the tasting room.

Mountain Brook Vineyards happens to have one of the largest outdoor tasting rooms in the Southeast, complete with a large fire pit (pictured above). If you want to coordinate your visit around an event, check out their activity-studded calendar, and get ready to pair live music, food truck visits, and themed wine tastings with your trip.


The Orchard Inn invites guests to customize their relaxation with spa services, gourmet meals, or simply settling into a quiet spot on the wrap-around porch with a book in hand. Photography courtesy of The Orchard Inn

Sleep In …

Visitors to this part of North Carolina trade the expected selection of chain hotels for a refreshing collection of charming inns and cabins. Find a cozy spot on the wrap-around porch at The Orchard Inn. Serenaded by chirping birds at home in the surrounding treetops, you’ll be fully relaxed in time for your on-site yoga class or spa treatment. End your day with dinner at Newman’s Restaurant, where Chef Stewart features specialties like seared branzino with spaghetti-like squash “noodles” tossed in a white wine sauce.

For an outdoor adventure complete with modern amenities (running water, electricity, and air conditioning), escape to the luxury yurt at Serenity Ridge. Photography courtesy of Serenity Ridge

At Mill Spring, the 25-acre Serenity Ridge presents three different rental types, from glamping to cabins to a full house. If you love the in-touch-with-nature aspects of camping but could skip the hassle of pitching a tent, reserve the spacious glamping yurt. End the evening with a bubble bath in the deep soaking tub before crawling into your king-size bed positioned under a skylight for optimal stargazing. Also on property, the Hilltop House, complete with four bedrooms, highlights optimal views from every window. And peppered throughout the property are six cabins, each with one bedroom and a loft, perfect for small families or couples’ getaways.


Fuel up for a day in the mountains with a hearty, classic breakfast at Ward’s Grill in downtown Saluda. Photography courtesy of Ward’s Grill

… But Don’t Skip Breakfast

French toast topped with powdered sugar and homemade strawberry butter. Country-fried benedict. Build-your-own omelets. Need we say more? After a night of peaceful slumber, Ward’s Grill, a ’50s-style diner in Saluda, serves the breakfast dreams are made of. Go for the buttermilk biscuits smothered in gravy prepared with sausage made next door at Thompson’s Store. If you happen to snooze through it, you’re in luck: Lunch is just as mouthwatering. Try a specialty burger or, if it’s Tuesday, the chicken and dumplings.

For top-notch coffee, swing by Openroad Coffee Roastery in Columbus. Pair your drink with a made-from-scratch bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit; cherry-lemon scone; or cinnamon roll. Looking to keep it light? Go for a refreshing smoothie.

Whether you’re up with the sun or prefer a slower start to the day, you can enjoy sweet and savory breakfast treats from morning through the afternoon at Trade Street Creamery. Photography courtesy of Trade Street Creamery

When Tryon’s Trade Street Creamery recently expanded from a locals-favorite sandwich and ice cream shop to a restaurant that serves breakfast until 3 p.m., they changed their name to Trade Street Diner and their motto to “from sunrise to sundae.” Starting at 7 a.m., guests can order everything from oatmeal to made-to-order omelets and waffles.

But the highlight revolves around the table with the built-in griddle, where guests are invited to make their own pancakes. “What’s cool about this experience is we have colored pancake batter bottles, so people can get creative,” owner Tania Shealey says. “We’re expecting more art in our dining room than in the local galleries. Who knew that the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains would also be home to the next great pancake Picasso?”

Ready to relax? Click here to start planning your escape to these peaceful towns, and discover the secret to quiet mountain living.

This story was published on Mar 28, 2024

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.