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10 Underrated Cities to Visit in North Carolina

North Carolina is a state in the southeastern United States, bordered by Virginia to the north, Tennessee to the west, Georgia and South Carolina to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The state has a varied geography, including the Appalachians in the west, the Piedmont region in the center, and the coastal plains in the east. North Carolina is known for its robust banking, pharmaceutical and technology industries, with Research Triangle Park being a key site for research and development. The state is known for its historic sites, universities, and contributions to American music and culture.

North Carolina is also home to underrated cities that many miss when planning a trip to the state. These ten cities offer visitors a slower pace of life away from the state’s larger cities.

Blowing rock

Main street, blowing rocks.
Main street, blowing rocks. Image credits Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock

Blowing Rock, North Carolina, is a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was founded in the late 19th century and became a destination for visitors seeking cool mountain air and scenic beauty. The town is named after the famous rock formation overlooking it and has a legend of Native American origins.

The Blowing Rock is a natural rock formation with a view. The place is known for the legend of an Indian lover who jumped from the rock and was blown back by the strong wind. Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is a historic estate with over 25 miles of carriage trails. The park includes a country house and a craft center with local artisans. Price Lake is an ideal place for canoeing and fishing. Hiking trails around the lake offer the opportunity to enjoy the surrounding nature.

Brevard

Main Street in Brevard, North Carolina.
Main Street in Brevard, North Carolina. Image credits Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock.com

Brevard, North Carolina, is located in Transylvania County and is known as the “Land of Waterfalls.” Founded in the mid-1800s, the town developed as a logging hub and later became a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Its proximity to the Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway has made it a gateway for exploring the region’s landscapes.

Looking Glass Falls is one of North Carolina’s most popular waterfalls. It is easily accessible from the city and offers year-round views. Sliding Rock is a natural rock slide that ends in a plunge pool. It is a place for a refreshing summer activity. DuPont State Recreational Forest has several waterfalls, including Triple Falls and High Falls. The forest also has numerous hiking trails that showcase the natural beauty of the area.

Hillsborough

King Street in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
King Street in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Image credits Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock.com

Hillsborough, North Carolina, founded in 1754, is located in Orange County. It served as a crucial political and military site during the American Revolution and later as the state capital for a brief period. The city’s history is reflected in its well-preserved colonial and pre-war architecture. Its location along the Eno River made it a strategic settlement in the early days.

Ayr Mount is a Federal-era plantation house that offers guided tours. The grounds include landscapes and hiking trails. Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is a nature park with hiking trails. It offers views and opportunities to observe various wildlife. Nearby Bennett Place is a historic site where the largest Confederate surrender of the Civil War took place. Visitors can tour the restored farmhouse and learn about the events that took place there.

Elkin

A summer street festival in Elkin, North Carolina.
A summer street festival in Elkin, North Carolina. Image credits Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock

Elkin, North Carolina, is located in Surry County on the Yadkin River. Founded in the late 19th century, Elkin’s history is closely tied to the textile and railroad industries. The city developed as a commercial destination due to its location at the confluence of the Yadkin River and Big Elkin Creek, facilitating trade and transportation.

Stone Mountain State Park has a huge granite dome and numerous hiking trails. Visitors can explore waterfalls and rock climb on the granite wall. Cedarbrook Country Club is a historic golf course known for its views. The course has a classic design that challenges golfers of all levels. East of town is Horne Creek Farm, a living history farm that provides a glimpse into early 20th century farm life. The site includes restored buildings, gardens and interactive demonstrations.

Morganton

North Carolina farm with hay rolls in the Piedmont town of Morganton.
North Carolina farm with hay rolls in the Piedmont town of Morganton.

Morganton, North Carolina, is located in Burke County on the Catawba River. Founded in the late 1700s, the city has a history tied to its position as the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The city’s history includes significant events such as the founding of the North Carolina School for the Deaf in the late 1800s.

South Mountains State Park has waterfalls and numerous hiking trails. The park is home to a variety of North Carolina wildlife. The historic Burke County Courthouse is an architecturally significant building with historical exhibits. Visitors can learn about the history of Burke County and its role in the development of North Carolina. Catawba River Greenway is a trail that runs along the Catawba River. The Greenway has hiking and biking trails.

South Gate

Aerial view of the river town of Southport, North Carolina.
Overlooking the riverside town of Southport, North Carolina.

Southport, North Carolina, is a coastal town at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Founded in the mid-18th century, it was originally called Smithville and was a military and shipping destination. The city’s location made it an important site during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and both World Wars.

Fort Johnston is a historic site with a visitor center and museum. The museum describes the military history of the fort and its role in various conflicts. North Carolina Maritime Museum in Southport has exhibits on the maritime history of the Lower Cape Fear region. Visitors can learn about shipwrecks, piracy and the fishing industry. Southport Pier and Riverwalk is a walkway along the waterfront. The area is popular for fishing and offers views of the Cape Fear River and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Black Mountain

Close-up of Town Hardware and General Store in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
Hardware and store in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Image credits Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock.com

Black Mountain, North Carolina, is a small town in Buncombe County, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Founded in the late 1800s, the town grew around the railroad and became a summer resort due to its cool mountain climate.

Near town is Lookout Mountain, with a hiking trail that offers views of Black Mountain and the surrounding landscape. The trail is a favorite among locals and visitors for its relatively easy ascent and rewarding vistas. Another popular spot in the region, Catawba Falls consists of a series of waterfalls accessible via a moderate hiking trail. The trail takes hikers through a wooded area and leads to the picturesque waterfalls. Not far from the falls is Andrews Geyser, a historic man-made geyser in an area with picnic areas. It is a unique attraction, where the geyser shoots water high into the air, in the middle of nature.

Washington

Downtown, Washington, North Carolina.
Downtown, Washington, North Carolina. Image credits Kyle J Little via Shutterstock

Washington, North Carolina, often called “Little Washington,” is located on the north bank of the Pamlico River in Beaufort County. Founded in 1776, it was the first city in the United States to be named after George Washington. The city played a role during the Civil War and its history is reflected in the well-preserved historic district and waterfront.

Riverwalk Gallery and Arts Center showcases local art. It also gives visitors views of the Pamlico River, which enhances the cultural experience. St Peter’s Episcopal Church is one of the oldest churches in North Carolina. It has historic architecture and a cemetery. Washington Waterfront Docks offer water views and fishing opportunities. The docks provide access to the scenic Pamlico River.

Sylva

Sylva, North Carolina: View from the historic courthouse stairs.
View from the courthouse in Sylva, North Carolina. Image credits EWY Media via Shutterstock.com

Sylva, North Carolina, is located in Jackson County and is the county seat. Founded in the late 19th century, the town grew into a center for logging and trading. Sylva’s development was significantly affected by the arrival of the railway, which facilitated the transport of timber and other goods.

Waterrock Knob is a scenic overlook and hiking trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It offers views of the surrounding mountains and is a sunrise and sunset spot. Tuckasegee River is suitable for fishing, kayaking and tubing. The gentle flow of the river makes it suitable for both beginners and experienced water enthusiasts. Jackson County Green Energy Park is a facility that uses landfill gas for glassblowing and metalworking. Visitors can take guided tours to learn about the innovative use of renewable energy and see artists at work.

Mount Airy

Main Street Mount Airy, North Carolina.
Main Street Mount Airy, North Carolina. Image credits LisaCarter via Shutterstock

Mount Airy, North Carolina, is located in Surry County, near the Virginia border. Founded in the mid-19th century, it became a center for granite mining, earning the nickname ‘Granite City’. The town rose to fame as the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’.

About 30 miles outside of town is Standing Rock State Park, with waterfalls and hiking trails. The park is known for its rock formations and offers numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation. Mount Airy Museum of Regional History has exhibits on the cultural and natural history of the region. Visitors can explore artifacts and displays that highlight the area’s heritage. Nearby Pilot Mountain State Park is excellent for hiking and rock climbing.

North Carolina is home to many underrated cities with experiences that no major city can match. Blowing Rock has natural rock formations and historic parks. Brevard attracts outdoor enthusiasts with its numerous waterfalls and forest trails. Hillsborough offers a historical perspective with its colonial architecture and major landmarks. These ten towns reveal the hidden gems waiting to be discovered in North Carolina.

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