The Blue Ridge Craft Trails

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PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN WALDROUP

This fall, stray from the beaten path. Embark on a brand-new network of trails in the North Carolina mountains to experience the ultimate harvest time retreat—complete with vibrant foliage, small-town charm and 310 unique art destinations.

As golden leaves flutter through the crisp air, North Carolina’s winding back roads lead to a unique haven: a tapestry of paths known as the Blue Ridge Craft Trails. The area, designed to highlight the state’s mountains and foothills, is a hotspot for traditional and contemporary handiwork like glass blowing, basket weaving, woodcarving and pottery. Just a short distance from hubs like Charlotte, Cary and Raleigh, it’s a slice of autumnal heaven—for both locals and newcomers alike.

“Western North Carolina has some of the most distinctive cultures in the United States,” says Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Communications Manager Leslie Hartley. “From a living heritage of handmade craft dating back thousands of years with the Cherokee, to traditional music, amazing natural beauty and a diverse ecosystem.”

Hartley adds that fall, in particular, is a time of “celebration” for the region—when nature comes back to life with the beauty of North Carolina’s transforming hues. During autumn, the Blue Ridge Craft Trails offer a host of festive activities to enjoy—with a spiced apple cider in hand—alongside the state’s striking backdrop.

Here are some of the must-see highlights along the trail’s network of creativity.

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual – Cherokee
quallaartsandcrafts.org
Visit the nation’s oldest Native American artists cooperative and uncover the origins of craft in our western region. Here, travelers can examine low-fired pottery, wood and stone carvings, intricate beading, ceremonial masks and more.

Penland School of Craft – Penland
penland.org
At this internationally celebrated center for education and craft, learn how to design with media like paper, clay and iron, from world-renowned teachers. Or, enjoy a stroll through Penland Gallery—one of the Southeast’s premier craft showcases.

The Folk Art Center’s Southern Highland Craft Guild – Asheville
southernhighlandguild.org/folkartcenter
Meander through two floors of crafts and shop a wide selection of baskets, ceramics, jewelry, glassware, woven items and more. In the fall, watch themed demonstrations inside and outside the center.

Oconaluftee Indian Village – Cherokee
visitcherokeenc.com/play/attractions/oconaluftee-indian-village
Experience an authentic 1750s-inspired experience led by Cherokee guides through lodgings, ritual sites, work areas and more. During this interactive trail experience, guests can spot villagers hulling canoes, creating pottery, participating in traditional dances and conducting blow gun demonstrations.

Mountain Heritage Festival – Sparta
September 17, 2022
alleghanycountychamber.com/mountain-heritage-festival
A main-street festival is the ultimate way to kick off fall’s cooler months, with celebrations of craft and music. Sample homemade foods, shop locally made goods and view dance performances throughout the day at this annual festival.

Western North Carolina Pottery Festival – Sylva
November 5, 2022
wncpotteryfestival.com
This one-day event is perfect for pottery lovers. Enjoy demonstrations, conversations about techniques and plenty of shopping opportunities. Why not stay the weekend? The town of Sylva is walkable and offers breweries, restaurants and gorgeous autumnal vistas.

Toe River Arts Studio Tour – Yancey and Mitchell Counties
November 11–13
toeriverarts.org/artists/exhibitions/2022-studio-tour/
As one of the nation’s oldest, largest and longest-running studio tours, this is a must-see. Visitors are invited to take part in a self-guided experience with the help of roadside signs. Meet more than 100 artists and view their work in intimate home studios and galleries.

Where to Stay

From rustic to high-end, the Blue Ridge Craft Trail offers a variety of lodging options. Check in for a stay at one of these hidden gems.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort – Cherokee
caesars.com/harrahs-cherokee
This hotel juxtaposes an eclectic, mountain aesthetic with all the perks of a destination resort. Harrah’s is one of North Carolina’s four casinos, and its new food court features Guy Fieri’s Cherokee Kitchen + Bar.

Mount Mitchell Eco Retreat – Burnsville
mmecoretreat.com
Set on 25 acres—and bordered by Pisgah National Forest—this retreat offers unparalleled porch panoramas, picturesque in every season. The cabins are updated in a modern design and feature views of Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains.

River House Inn & Restaurant – Grassy Creek
riverhousenc.com
Set on the historic New River, this cozy bed and breakfast borders a mile of riverfront for outdoor tubing, wading, fishing and canoeing—plus 160 acres of walking trails and nearby golfing. Looking to kick back? Enjoy rocking chairs with a river overlook, punctuated by bright foliage and mountains.

STOP FOR CIDER

Western North Carolina is known for its world-famous apples, so while you’re on the trail, plan a pit stop at Bold Rock Mills River Cidery in Hendersonville along the way. Having won more than 100 awards, the Hendersonville cidery—one of two flagship facilities—displays its production floor and bottling line. Grab a glass or join a tasting, and learn about the cider-making process from seed to cider. You’ll also find food trucks and an expansive Cider Garden—a perfect place to hang out with the kids and dogs. Learn more at boldrock.com/visit/mills-river-cidery.

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