Nestled in the heart of The Applachian Mountains, just off The Blue Ridge Parkway, the beautiful hideaway of Little Switzerland, NC is a treasure worth discovering.
I’ve been blessed to have visited Little Switzerland many times during my Blue Ridge Parkway adventures. It is a must-stop right for Parkway Explorers, conveniently located and hour north of Asheville and an hour south of Boone and Blowing Rock.
You can also easily access Little Switzerland via I-40 and Marion, and Highway 226.
On my most recently trip to Little Switzerland in July, I started my journey in Asheville and headed along the widing, beautiful expanses of The Blue Ridge Parkway high country to Little Switzerland. This stretch of road features tons of amazing turnouts and off-road hiking trails.
A few favorite highlights (Asheville to Little Switzerland)
- The Craggy Gardens: the jagged crags of this mile high ‘garden’ invite you to discover nature’s spectacular display of color, as the rhodhederons and wildflowers bloom in the summer months. To plan your visit at Craggy Gardens – click here.
- Mt. Mitchell State Park: Right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, drive to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. At 6,684 feet, Mt. Mitchell is the highest mountain east of The Mississippi. From the summit you can witness jaw-dropping views of the surrounding area and explore exhibits in the Mountaintop store.
- And if you want a restaurant with an amazing view and delicious home cooking – look no further than The Mt. Mitchell State Park Restaurant. It is one of my favorite lunch stops on the parkway.
- Waterfall Country: If are a regular reader of American Nomad, you are aware I love waterfalls and often plan excursions to hidden cascades. NC is home to hundreds of waterfalls, mostly in the Blue Ridge mountains…The stretch of parkway between Asheville and Little Switzerland delights waterfall wanderers plenty of waterfall trails.
- Glassmine Falls: one of my favorites – this waterfall is closer to Asheville and reminds me of a scene from Narnia. The waterfall pummels 800 feet down the mountains in the distance – almost like a ghost against the rocks.
- Crabtree Falls This 2.5 mile loop provides views of a 60 foot cascade…
- Linville Falls – one of my favorite parkway hikes, offering stunning views of a powerful cascade cutting through the heart of The Linville Gorge. Two main hiking trails lead to views of Linville falls. Both begin at the Linville Falls Visitor Center and pass through remnants of a virgin hemlock forest mixed with other familiar tree species such as white pine, oaks, hickory, and birch. The trail is around 2 miles, but given moderate-strenuous scale of the hike it can take two hours. You can picnic and camp in the area as well.
A few miles north of the falls, you’ll find Linville Falls – a hamlet with several shops, restaurant and the famed Linville Caverns.
I remember my dad taking me to Linville Caverns when I was around four years old. They turned off the lights during one part of the tour to show how dark the cave was. I will never forget how hard I clutched his hand – it was pitch black!
Linville Caverns is the only cavern in NC open to the public and the perfect spot for families and a mini ‘spelunk’ adventure. You can check out touring info on their website.
After all the hiking and spelunking – I know I’ve worked up an appetite. I definitely recommend eating lunch at Famous Louise’s.
You’ll probably have to wait for a table, but the southern mountain cooking is worth the wait…not to mention this hole in the wall has tons of character.
Due to the weird way that county lines were divided, the town of Linville Falls is in the confines of three different counties…and Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant is right in the middle of each of the three counties: Burke, Avery, McDowell.
The restaurant dates to the 1930s and is known for it rustic rockhouse revivial style. Diners may sit in Avery county but wait for a table in Burke County – it’s a cool experience.
I recommend the BBQ or Trout.
I tried to tackle the rugged up mountain drive to Wiseman’s View of The Linville Gorge but mud from recent rain literally had me praying ‘God help me not get a flat tire.’ Sometimes taking the road less traveled doesn’t pan out – but by HIS grace I somehow got down the muddy mountain.
Little Switzerland: An alpine retreat
The town of Little Switzerland is named after the sweeping foothills of the Swiss Alps, which are similar to the area around this section of The Blue Ridge Mountains.
Little Switzerland has an official population of 46, but in the summer months that swells as travelers flock to the cooler temps of this mountain refuge.
Little Switzerland appears off the beaten path, but it is at the center of activity for mountain adventurers. Located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the village includes several lodging options, restaurants, shops, scenic drives and gem mines.
What to do:
Little Switzerland is helmed by the Switzerland Inn, an historic chalet style resort that dates back to 1910. At one point the parkway wanted to tear down Little Switzerland as they feared it would interfere with the view, but the inn refused to go quietly and now the inn offers some of the best views (and accommodations) for parkway travelers.
If you have a few days in the area, I would reserve a room at the Switzerland Inn. They have great restaurant on site, as well as several shops for tourists. You can relax and play board games in the lodge; swim in the cool waters of their mountainside pool, and warm up by the fire-pit
I love to relax with a good book enjoying the view for several hours…There is nothing more relaxing than staring into the heart of The Blue Ridge.
Speaking of books – find your perfect mountain read at Little Switzerland Books and Beans. This bookstore is an oasis for bibliophiles – with hundreds of books from best sellers to hard to find reads.
Kids and adults love The Emerald Village Gem Mine – Emerald Village is home to 12 historic REAL mines – prospect for gems from emeralds to amethyst.
Speaking of gems – No visit to The Little Switzerland area would be complete without a trip to the Museum of North Carolina Minerals.
This section of NC Mountains is home to a variety of minerals and precious stones. This museum shines light on the geological history of minerals in the NC Mountains and the history of the nearby Spruce Pine Mining District
Geological activity formed the wide variety of minerals that can now be found in the Southern Appalachians. 400 million years ago in a continental collision, molten rock was forced into cracks in a dark rock called gneiss. Because the rock cooled very slowly, huge deposits of minerals formed. Today, geologists find minerals like quartz, feldspar, mica, and gemstones. (reference)
For Motorcyclists and road warriors- you’ll enjoy the daredevil curves of The Diamondback 226 trail. With over 200 curves this is definitely for adventurers ready for a topsy turvy time.
Where to stay:
- The Historic Switzerland Inn is the perfect resort to check into for families, singles or a romantic weekend. I love the stone fireplace and the upscale Chalet Dining Room or the more rustic Fowl Play Pub. They also have a great coffee and ice-cream shop. This is semi-luxury resort, so it is an investment – but for the most part their rates are fairly affordable.
- The Alpine Inn offers a homey cabin feel and is good for those who want a good view at a great price.
When to visit:
I visit in the summer and fall most years, but you can also find solace in the area in the Spring.
This section of the parkway often closes in the winter due to heavy snow and most of the hotels close after Thanksgiving.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your escape to this mountain retreat today!