A train rolls across the Shenandoah River in an aerial view of the town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

The Best Small Towns in The Appalachian Mountains

The Appalachian Mountains are a wide-spanning mountain range covering a variety of states including parts of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania – even spanning into Canada. Made up of a series of picturesque valleys, densely forested areas, and jaw-dropping ridgelines, the Appalachian region is beloved for its vastness and natural beauty. Those hoping to experience some of that beauty can pay a visit to any of these small Appalachian towns to get their fill.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Amazing architecture of the tourist city of Gatlinburg in Tennessee. Image credits: Kosoff via Shutterstock

Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a nature lovers' paradise. Home to beautiful mountain scenery, various outdoor attractions, and the most visited national park in the US – travelers will have no trouble finding interesting things to see and do in town. Start your visit off on a beautiful note by spending a day in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Each year between 12 and 14 million locals and tourists flock to this park to enjoy the ancient mountain scenery and diverse selection of flora and fauna.

Once in the park, there are plenty of activities on offer including hiking to multiple waterfalls, camping under the stars, discovering historic buildings and Appalachian culture, fishing, and ranger-led events. While the views in Great Smoky Mountain National Park are hard to beat, the Gatlinburg Space Needle gives the park a run for its money. The 407-foot observation tower gives riders a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and downtown core. Those who can’t get enough of a good view can also check out the Aerial Tramway at Ober Mountain and the Gatlinburg SkyBridge at Gatlinburg Sky Park.

Bryson City, North Carolina

Bryson City, North Carolina. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Scenic Train. Image credits: Bob Pool via Shutterstock

Less than 50 miles from Gatlinburg and only about 15 miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park lies the charming town of Bryson City, North Carolina. Ideal for nature lovers, Bryson City is home to several scenic areas including the Nantahala National Forest. This vast and beautiful forest features an abundance of day-use hiking trails, backpacking trails, camping sites, rock climbing, picnic areas, and scenic drives.

After a full day of traipsing through the forest, gear up for a relaxing ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The railroad offers both steam and diesel-powered train rides that take passengers past beautiful areas including Fontana Lake, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Nantahala National Forest – just to name a few. After the scenic train ride, head back into town to explore the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians.

Then, head to Darnell Farms where family-friendly events and festivals are nearly always on offer. Finally, for the Dolly Parton fans in the group – take an easy 54-mile drive to nearby Dollywood for a day filled with rides, music, and good times.

Blue Ridge, Georgia

Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia.

Boasted as one of the ‘Best Mountain Towns’ by Southern Living Magazine, Blue Ridge, Georgia is a scenic small town offering a perfect mix of historic sites and outdoor activities. Those who want to sit back and enjoy the scenery can hop aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The historic train takes passengers on a 26-mile round trip through the picturesque Appalachian foothills. During the ride, there is also a 2-hour layover to allow passengers the chance to explore the small towns they’re driving through.

Next, take a quick stroll through Fannin County Veterans Memorial Park before heading to Fannin County Heritage Foundation where history buffs can dive deeper into Blue Ridge’s past. Then, for an afternoon of zip lining and other aerial adventures check out Blue Ridge Aerial Adventure Park. Finally, don’t forget to stop by Blue Ridge Lake where camping, boating, and swimming are available in select areas. 

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

View of historic buildings and shops on High Street in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.

Nearly 600 miles from the popular mountain town of Blue Ridge, Georgia, travelers will find Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Beloved for its lively cultural heritage and natural beauty, Harpers Ferry appeals to history buffs, hiking enthusiasts, and general travel lovers alike. Upon arrival, visitors will want to spend a few hours exploring Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Here, you will find an array of significant sites including the ruins of St. John's Episcopal Church and Jefferson Rock. Also in the park, guests can enjoy hiking, rock climbing, picnicking, and fishing. And if hiking through the park isn’t enough, Harpers Ferry also features sections of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail  –perfect for those hikers looking for something more ambitious.

To slow things down, head to the Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum & Joy Line Railroad where multiple model train sets are on display and tiny train rides are available for kids. Finally, plan to visit the John Brown Wax Museum to learn more about his historic raid and plan to free enslaved people in Harpers Ferry. 

Davis, Virginia

Young woman on wooden boardwalk deck overlook railing at Blackwater Falls waterfall state park in West Virginia.

Like most towns in the Appalachian Mountain region, Davis, Virginia is a haven for outdoor adventure and natural beauty. During the winter months, visitors flock to the ski resort in Canaan Valley Resort State Park. Here, the list of available activities is bountiful with skiing, snow tubing, ice skating, snowshoeing, and ski-biking all available.

In the summer, a visit to Blackwater Falls State Park is a must. The park features 20 miles worth of hiking trails and breathtaking views of the amber-colored waterfalls that the park is named after. Those who prefer a little wildlife viewing with their hike can check out Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge – a place that migratory birds and threatened and endangered species call home. 

Mentone, Alabama

Sunrise over DeSoto Falls.

From art galleries to historic dams, Mentone, Alabama boasts plenty of natural and man-made beauty. Spend some time in town wandering in and out of local shops like the Mentone Arts Center. Here, visitors can admire local artwork, shop for gifts, and even participate in random art classes.

Next, pack a picnic lunch and head to Lookout Mountain at Mentone Brow Park where you can sit back and soak up the beautiful views below. After lunch, it’s time to explore the nearby DeSoto State Park. The park is home to the stunning DeSoto Falls as well as the historic A.A. Miller Dam. While in the park guests can partake in a range of activities including kayaking, swimming, hiking, rappelling, bouldering, picnicking, and admiring the local wildflowers.

Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

Historic old buildings and the scenic landscape of Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania.

Ideal for railfans, museum lovers, and nature enthusiasts, Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania is a friendly mountain town filled with fun things to see and do. Dive into local history and artifacts by visiting places like The Asa Packer Mansion Museum, the Old Jail Museum, and the Mauch Chunk Museum. For an undeniably beautiful experience, don’t forget to visit the local Bear Mountain Butterfly Sanctuary where visitors can hand-feed butterflies and admire turtles, exotic frogs, and lizards. Finally, take a ride on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway which takes passengers past several beautiful sites on the way to Lehigh Gorge State Park.

In Conclusion

From scenic train rides and mountain views to famous hiking trails and historic sites, the Appalachian Mountain region has plenty to offer adventurous visitors. And with such a wide-spanning region, enjoying Appalachian culture and beauty is easy to do in many states.


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