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Visit our neighbors in Western North Carolina and experience these fun day trips

Western North Carolina offers natural and historical attractions and adventures at every turn. National publications and travel articles highlight a multitude of spectacular sites that locals know well. But these day trips a little off the beaten path offer discovery and fun away from some of the more popular tourist destinations in the area.


Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI), tucked into an isolated part of Pisgah National Forest, was one of the first satellite tracking sites in the nation. Located near Rosman, North Carolina, this 200 acre-campus was built in 1962 by NASA. The Department of Defense continued to invest millions of dollars until it was relocated in 1995. Today, PARI is an innovative research institution that promotes STEM education and world class research for all ages. Boasting numerous telescopes, including massive radio telescopes, your family can take tours, attend summer camps and special events throughout the year and discover the wonder of this hidden gem located strategically away from human light pollution. 

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The Earl Scruggs Center

If your family has a musical inclination, especially for bluegrass, a daytrip to the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, North Carolina is a must. Internationally renowned for inventing the famous three-finger picking style on the banjo, Earl Scruggs is a bluegrass legend. The “Earl Scruggs Center: Music & Stories from the American South” celebrates his innovation and influence on music all around the world. With rotating and fixed exhibits, your family can enjoy viewing some of the unique artifacts and memorabilia from Scruggs’ life and learn more about the culture and history of Cleveland county. Don’t miss the one-of-a-kind interactive art table called “Common Thread,” which explores music styles, traditions, musicians and milestones and how they have shaped the American South. 

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Fontana Dam and Visitor’s Center

If your family wants to marvel at a true manmade wonder, consider a day trip to Fontana Dam and Visitor’s Center. Located near the Tennessee/North Carolina state line off Highway 28, Fontana Dam is the largest dam east of the Rocky Mountains, standing at 480 feet tall and 2,645 feet wide. Located on the southern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this hydroelectric dam was built speedily during World War II to supply power to area industry. Your family can learn more about the unique history of how this dam was constructed and supplanted entire towns. The Appalachian Trail also crosses the dam so you can hop on it for extra exercise. If your clan is hungry, consider a stop at the historic Fontana Village (Resort and Marina) for a snack or meal.

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Lake James State Park Beach and Fonta Flora Bike Trail

Often overlooked on the drive up to Asheville, Lake James State Park features a 700-foot beach in the Paddy’s Creek Area portion of the park. Complete with a bathhouse, concessions and kayak rental, this state park’s beach area is perfect for families with children of all ages. If your crew is up for some exercise before you dip and splash, don’t miss Lake James State Park’s mountain biking and hiking trails. Featuring over 15 miles of trail, these trails are great for mountain bikers of all skill levels or for hikers wishing to traverse the outskirts of the lake on foot. Not far away, your family can enjoy taking in the lush views of Lake James on Burke County’s Fonta Flora Bike Trail. This double-track, beginner trail covers 20 miles encompassing Lake James and includes a scenic covered bridge near the Linville Boat Access.

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