Let’s be real—if you’re visiting the mountains in Western North Carolina, you’d be hard-pressed to find a drive that isn’t spectacular. Wherever you go, you’ll wind your way through breathtaking sights like deep valleys, roaring waterfalls, and sheer rock faces dropping away into gorges.
That said, there are a few drives that everyone should experience at least once. Here’s our roundup of four scenic routes to jot down on your bucket list!
The Blueridge Parkway is probably the most well-known mountain drive, and for good reason. The entire parkway is a whopping 469 miles long, but don’t feel the need to tackle it all at once—you can enjoy segments at a time! Stop by one of the scenic overlooks, picnic areas, hiking trails, and tourist attractions along the way for the full experience. Access to the Blue Ridge Parkway is just over a half-hour from Franklin.
Mountain Waters Scenic Byway
The Nantahala National Forest is right on Franklin’s doorstep, so the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway is a beautifully accessible drive. Not nearly as long as the Blueridge, the Mountain Waters Byway still checks in at 61 miles and winds through some of the most spectacular country in the Nantahala National Forest, including multiple waterfalls, a roaring whitewater river, and tremendous mountaintop views.
While the previous route covers a lot of ground, the Nantahala Byway twists and turns through the Nantahala Gorge, where there’s plenty to see: The gorge is a world-class whitewater rafting spot, so make sure to pull off and watch some of the adventurers below! The byway passes through 20 miles of the gorge and passes by the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, Fontana Lake, and the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
Now, let’s say you’re in Franklin and you’d rather shoot for the road less traveled by—and much shorter. If that’s the case, the views from Onion Mountain are exactly what you need. Onion Mountain is a mere 25 minute drive from Main Street, and the overlook and trail are perched above a stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You’ll pass through residential area, and the road itself is pretty windy, so traffic is low and you’ll have a high chance of some sweet solitude up there.
Do you have any other favorite scenic drives? Curious about the Franklin area? Let us know on social media and explore our website for more information!
When you bring the family to our gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, you want to soak up every bit of trail magic, outdoor adventure, and good fun you can muster. For a great time in Franklin, North Carolina, here are our suggestions for families of all ages!
This is one destination that shouldn’t be mist! Get it? Okay, okay—but truly, you can’t just go on a vacation to the mountains without checking out a waterfall, and Dry Falls is perfect for a small family excursion.
You can park right beside the falls and follow the steps down to the water, complete with guardrails for younger kids, and even walk behind the roaring falls themselves! If the rain has been particularly heavy, the falls are truly spectacular. Just make sure to bring an extra shirt in case you get soaked!
There’s nothing quite like throwing on an old tee, ratty shoes, and last year’s jeans to go get muddy at a gem mine. You’ll get a bucket of soil and a sieve to run under a pure mountain spring, with plenty of opportunity to get dirty in the meantime!
Finding gemstones in all that mud is an added bonus, of course—and that bonus could make a great piece of jewelry for you to save forever! There are usually artisans on call to set your stones there at the mines themselves.
Playground? Check. Dog park? Check. Paved walking trail? Check. Oh, and throw in a miniature splash park, a pavilion for the adults to kick back in, and the picturesque Little Tennessee River rolling by, and you’ll have everything that makes an fun-filled afternoon at Wesley’s Park.
Wesley’s is a perfect stop for a hot day or an afternoon picnic with the whole family. Whatever your speed—a stroll by the river, a race up the slides, or a sprint through the water—check out this destination for a great time!
Wayah Bald Lookout Tower
You know, there’s just something about an old stone watchtower on top of a mountain that brings out the adventurer in people of all ages. The view is a breathtaking 180 panorama, too—not bad for your next Christmas family photos!
The Wayah Bald tower is at the top of a short walk from the parking lot, so families can access the area quickly and easily. For the more daring, though, the tower stands at an intersection of the Appalachian and Bartram Trails, so you could hop on to one of those at the bottom of the mountain and hike your way up.
The Factory Arcade
No family vacation to Franklin, North Carolina would be complete without an afternoon of fun at the Factory! This massive arcade has all the classic games you know and love with so much more—there’s laser tag, go carts, bumper cars, and mini golf to keep you busy for hours on end.
Plus, there’s also the Pizza Factory and Grill, located right inside the arcade, where you can grab a bite with the whole family without having to load up the car and drive somewhere else. Who wants to pause the fun for that long, anyway?
No matter what you end up doing in Franklin during your vacation, there are plenty of good times ahead for you and your family!
Where there are mountains, there are waterfalls—and ours near Franklin, North Carolina are truly spectacular! You don’t want to miss these breathtaking natural phenomena on your next visit up to the Blue Ridge, so we’re here to tell you a little bit about some of our most popular spots.
This one’s for the sweethearts. The waterfall drops in an elegant, 60-foot spray from a mountain stream high above US-64, looking like a blushing bride’s headpiece on her big day. Bridal Veil Falls is the perfect place to stop if you’re passing through; you can actually drive behind the falls and see the world from the bride’s eyes. Not bad for a date night, if we do say so ourselves!
Hoping to hop out of the car for your waterfall experience with the safety of guard rails? Dry Falls is your place, and it’s also on US-64. The name may make you chuckle, but the falls themselves will take your breath away as you walk behind the roaring 80-foot wonder. You’ll even realize where the moniker comes from if the water flow is low—you won’t have to worry about mist from the fall! If the level is higher, get ready for a light, refreshing spray as you walk. You can park at the top of the short hike, and there are even visitor facilities for your convenience. Dry Falls is a great destination for family photos and light adventuring!
Cullasaja Falls is the big brother of the falls, and you can even see him from US-64 as you drive through! The cascade is a whopping 250 feet of rushing thunder that is truly a marvel to experience. Cullasaja Falls is not for the faint of heart, though—to park, there is simply a well-used pull off where you can access the steep trail down to the falls themselves. It’s a bit more of a challenge, but if you’re up to it, you absolutely won’t be disappointed!
But don’t stop there!
Franklin is also near the Nantahala National Forest, and there are plenty more waterfalls to see if you’re willing to venture in, like Rufus Morgan Falls, Mooney Falls, Big Laurel Falls, and Upper Buck Creek Falls.
Be sure to work some waterfall-chasing into your next big Smoky Mountain adventure in Franklin, North Carolina!
Perhaps second only to Christmas (if it’s second at all), the Fourth of July is the best family holiday of the year—so of course, you want to go somewhere to have fun for the whole family, the whole day!
Franklin, North Carolina is the place to be for Independence Day, because we don’t miss an opportunity for everyone, from kids to great-grandparents, to have a great time. Let’s go through the schedule of events!
The Parade, Starring You!
Yep, you read that right! While you go most places to see a parade, we actually invite you to participate, no matter where you’re from! There’s no registration required; just deck out in red, white and blue and join up with the rest of the parade around 9:30. You’ll get to march with patriotic pride through Main Street and on to Entegra Bank—and then you’re ready to explore our downtown area once you’re finished around 10:30!
Little Mr. & Miss Firecracker Contest
If you have a little firecracker in your family, this is their time to shine (even more than usual, that is). The Little Mr. & Miss Firecracker Contest is for kids ages 3 to 6, and the winners will be selected based on how patriotic their costume is and how wittily they answer one question. No registration is required! Just meet us at the gazebo on Main Street at 10:30.
The Patriotic Pet Contest
We can’t leave out the pets! If your fur baby is sporting some red, white, and WOOF, we’d love to see them strut their stuff in our Patriotic Pet contest. We’ll start directly after the Little Mr. & Miss Firecracker Contest at the gazebo, so if you think you’re up to the cuteness of sassy kids and decked out pups, stick around for both! Again, no registration is required.
And don’t forget—we have plenty of other entertainment while the contests are in full swing! Check out the FREE Kids Zone with inflatables until noon and enjoy Free Watermelon & Popcorn (as long as it lasts, of course).
Lunch and Shopping Downtown
Once the main festivities are wrapped up at noon, the fun goes on! Our downtown merchants and restaurants will be open, so if all the festivities work up your appetite, there are plenty of options to choose from for lunch. After you’ve filled up, be sure to do some window shopping and stop in for a cozy small business experience no matter where you stop.
Pre-fireworks Party at Veteran’s Memorial Park
Following your Main Street excursions, hop back in the car and head over to the Macon County Veteran’s Memorial Park at 3:00 for some pre-fireworks fun! There will be food, games, a Kid’s Fun Land, entertainment, and a cornhole tournament to pass away the time until dark. Donations are accepted and appreciated at the gate!
This is it—the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Once the sun settles behind our beautiful blue-ridge mountains, the light show skyrockets into a breathtaking display over the baseball field in the Macon County Rec Park, fully visible from the Veteran’s Memorial Park. Break out your picnic blankets and lay back as the glittering explosions take your breath away.
Oh, and don’t forget: We provide free shuttle services from Franklin High School beginning at 5 pm until after the fireworks display, so if you can’t park near the rec center, you don’t have to miss out on the fun!
For more information on the day’s activities, feel free to contact our Chamber of Commerce at 828-524-3161. We can’t wait to see you and your family in Franklin for the Fourth of July!
Picture this: You’re in the beautiful Smoky Mountains for a long weekend, looking for something to do. The sun is out but not too warm, and you’d love to spend a couple hours outside, but you already have plans to go hiking and swimming over the next two or three days.
You see a brochure for gem mining, and maybe a part of you chuckles. Gem mining? Really? People still do that?
Here are five reasons we believe you’ll love it if you try it, too.
That’s right—whether you find tiny tumbling gemstones or a rare star ruby, your haul is yours to keep. Many of our mines have both native buckets (straight from the mines) or enriched ones (with gemstones added) as options, so you can choose between finding the gems they’ve hidden or trying your luck with untouched soil. It’s an all-natural treasure hunt!
A one-of-a-kind souvenir
As if the gemstones themselves weren’t cool enough, you can also have them mounted into necklace pendants, rings, and bracelets to wear your memories wherever you go. Some mines have a jeweler on site, but if yours doesn’t, we have several gem museums and jewelers in town for you to choose from.
A peaceful, relaxing atmosphere
Each mine around Franklin is nestled into the mountainside, just far enough from the road that you can easily drive to the site while still feeling wrapped up in the forest. Listen to the water as it rushes through the flume and over your sieve, pulling away dirt and rubble and unveiling the glittering gemstones beneath.
There’s nothing like taking time to really enjoy the moment, and gem mining is a perfect way to slow down and breathe in that fresh mountain air.
A taste of mountain history
Not only is gem mining relaxing—you’ll also have the opportunity to dip into Franklin’s history as a town. Franklin’s gem and mineral heritage can be traced back to 1870 when companies began mining corundum (which is second only to diamonds in hardness) in Macon County.
In 1895, the American Prospecting and Mining Company intended to find the source of the rubies and sapphires by digging experimental shafts and test holes while gem mining in NC. Other mining interests joined in, but the source for the gemstones was never located—and that’s why locals and visitors alike are still searching for the motherload of ruby and sapphire today!
And of course: Getting muddy!
Everyone needs to get muddy every once in a while! There’s a certain nostalgia to putting on an old set of clothes and beat-up tennis shoes, rolling up your sleeves, and digging into rich earth and red clay. Finding gems is just an added bonus!
If you’ve never gone gem mining before, give it a try! It sounds old-fashioned, but we guess that’s sort of the way we do things in Franklin, North Carolina—and you’ll never have so much fun! Check out the mines below to plan your gem mining adventure.
List of Mines near Franklin, NC
Museums and jewelers