Quaint, picturesque, Norman Rockwell-like is how Burnsville can be described. Burnsville is the quintessential American small town renowned for its charming, rural-artistic vibe. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s a place where “city folk” can truly relax.
Centered around its Town Square, the walkable downtown is filled with eclectic shops, galleries, wall murals, eateries, and pubs. Surrounded by mountains and rivers, there is no shortage of outdoor adventure. Burnsville is a picture-perfect small town with an amazing backyard.
It’s conveniently located on I-26 between Asheville, (35 miles) and Johnson City, Tennessee, (50 miles), while Charlotte and Knoxville are both within 126 miles. Visitors will want to plan to stay for a weekend or even longer to see and do everything that this quaint town has to offer. Here are just some of the fantastic reasons you’ll love Burnsville.
Note: Our trip was sponsored in part by ExploreBurnville. But all opinions are my own.
1. Its Vibrant Downtown
At Burnsville’s center is the Town Square, a grassy park complete with tall shade trees — a place where people love to gather. The square is surrounded by rows of charming shops and galleries nestled in among various eateries. You’ll find everything from antiques, vintage shops, and shoes, to gems, jewelry, and outdoor furniture.
Visitors are sure to find themselves wanting to peruse several shops, as we did. I bought gifts and goodies at Ye Olde Country Store (the Amish store) and trinket boxes and games for the grandkids at The Colorful Gypsy and Monkey Business Toy Shop. We also enjoyed time in Mountain Time on Main Street, The Book Cellar, Toe River Arts Gallery, and Yancey History Museum.
The Yancey County Farmers Market is held every Saturday. For over 25 years local farmers, artisans, craftsmen, and musicians have gathered near the Town Square to deliver the finest produce, crafts, and other goods.
2. The Outdoor Adventure
Burnsville is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. There is camping, biking, fishing, kayaking, rafting, swimming, horseback riding, and for the more leisure-minded folks, golfing (and dining) at the Mount Mitchell Golf Course. I don’t think life gets any better than this.
Hiking is endless in and around Burnsville. Trails range from easy, leisurely walking trails to the more strenuous. Mt. Mitchell and surrounding high peaks are a favorite, as are the river valleys, lakes, and waterfalls (see below). Try a guided hike/walk at Snakeroot EcoTours.
Before heading outdoors, stop in at Southern Drifters Outfitters, located on the Town Square. The owners are Yancey County natives and know all about the area’s rivers, trails, and mountains. They offer outdoor gear and casual wear, plus a full-service fly shop. They also offer guided fly-fishing trips.
3. The Scenic Drives
Hop in your car, take off in any direction and you will see amazing sights. There are almost a dozen different Quilt Block Trails (also known as Barn Quilt Trails), Civil War Trail, and Highway 80 is designated a North Carolina Scenic Highway.
And of course, Burnsville is just a few miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Frequent pull-offs, rest areas, and scenic overlooks line both sides of the road. Several hiking trailheads and campgrounds dot the parkway. Linville Falls and Grandfather Mountain are two favorite stops.
The Orchard at Altapass (20 miles from Burnsville) is a fun stop. It is more than just an apple orchard. It offers activities for kids and adults, live music, butterfly and honeybee habitat, and the railroad. Inside the big red barn is a General Store filled with local products including hot apple pie and ice cream.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that the parkway is not maintained in the winter. Be sure to always check weather and road conditions before starting on a scenic drive.
4. The Arts
Did you know that Yancey county is home to more artists, per capita, than any other county in the entire United States? It’s true! Artists of every genre — painting, sculpting, pottery, glassblowing, theater, and dance to name just a few.
Toe River Arts (TRAC) on West Main Street offers rotating exhibits, programs, and activities throughout the year as well as a gift shop. A favorite event of visitors and locals alike is the Studio Tour (held twice a year) featuring over one hundred local artists’ studios and galleries. TRAC is also host to the annual Music In The Mountains Folk Festival.
The renowned Penland School of Crafts is nearby and visitors are welcome at the Gallery and Visitor Center. Toe River Crafts is a cooperative of craftspeople in and around Burnsville and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its gallery and gift shop showcase handmade objects by local artists. The Mount Mitchell Crafts Fair draws over 200 vendors and performers, plus hundreds more visitors, to Burnsville every August.
Established in 1947, Parkway Playhouse is one of North Carolina’s oldest and longest-running community theater companies and is a true gem for theatergoers.
5. Mount Mitchell State Park
Burnsville is home to Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain (6,684 feet) east of the Mississippi River, and was the first State Park in North Carolina. Within the park, there is picnicking, camping, and numerous hiking trails including the entrance to and a portion of the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
For breathtaking 360-degree views, drive up to the summit parking lot and observation deck. On a clear day, you can see west into Tennessee. To the east, Charlotte’s city center is visible. The 10-minute walk to the observation deck is paved, but can still be somewhat strenuous. It is accessible and there are resting benches along the way.
Pro Tip: Stop in at the ranger station (lower parking lot) for information, maps, and restrooms. Whether you are an experienced hiker or a beginner, NC High Peaks Association offers public hikes and strolls with experienced guides. Also, be sure to check the weather and webcams before heading up to higher elevations.
6. Chasing Waterfalls
I love chasing waterfalls and there are several near Burnsville. One of the most picturesque falls in North Carolina is the 70-foot tall Crabtree Falls. The hike is a moderate 2.7-mile loop trail. Or you can choose to go in and back out the same way. The trail to the falls is picturesque as well. It offers nice shade, runs along a river, over a few wooden bridges, through forests of trees and ferns.
Pro Tip: Take your time and enjoy the hike at Crabtree Falls. Pack some snacks or lunch and sit by the falls awhile. The shorter trail has several steep rock staircases. Easy going down but could be very difficult ascending if one has bad knees or other impairments. The slightly longer (meadow) trail has fewer, shorter rock stairs (easier to climb up) and has longer, flatter parts of the trail. There are several benches to rest placed along the trail. Restrooms are in the campground at trailhead.
7. Bare Dark Sky Observatory
Astro-tourism is simply described as “traveling somewhere with the express purpose of stargazing.” Do you love to gaze up at the stars at night? Have you ever looked up and wondered about the universe? If so, the Bare Dark Sky Observatory, located at the Mayland Earth to Sky Park, is a must-visit. Sitting at an elevation of 2,736 feet, it is an International Dark Sky Association certified location.
Along with a 360-degree view of the night sky, visitors can view the stars, moon, planets, and other celestial objects through “Sam Scope” — the largest telescope (34 inches in diameter) in the Southeast for research and public use — and a smaller 14-inch planetary telescope. There are also eight viewing terraces for those that want to bring their own equipment (no ticket required).
Pro Tip: Viewings are scheduled depending on the moon cycle and sunset times. Reservations are required and spaces are limited to 20 guests a night. Tickets sell out quickly and are often sold out months in advance. They do offer a waiting list.
8. Its Restaurants And Pubs
There are dozens of fantastic eateries in Burnsville. Many of the independent restaurants buy local and shop for their produce at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. A few of our favorites are Pig and Grits (I’d make the drive just for the brisket and hush puppies!).
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Appalachian Java Cafe serves great salads, sandwiches, and scrumptious homemade desserts. The Garden Deli with its wisteria-covered outdoor patio is relaxing (and I hear it has great sandwiches). Next door, SnapDragon is a fun, cozy eatery with a nautical theme.
Whether hungry or just thirsty, Homeplace Beer Company is a must if you are anywhere near Burnsville. Craft beer is brewed onsite while Hog Hollow Wood-Fired Pizza serves up excellent pizza, burgers, wings, and more.
Pro Tip: Burnsville Wine and… (that’s its name) is worth the stop. A fantastic little wine and beer shop — we had a great time wine tasting (free on Friday evenings) while listening to music and relaxing on the cozy outdoor patio.
Where To Stay In Burnsville
Although there are no major hotels, there are several very nice inns and B&Bs, all close to or on The Square. Conveniently located on Town Square is the historic Nu Wray Inn. Just down a couple of blocks on West Main is Carolina Country Inn. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Terrell House Bed and Breakfast Inn on a quiet side street just off West Main St. There are also over 150 Airbnb’s and
North Carolina has many interesting small towns to explore: