bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

Two nights in Franklin, NC–Spring in the NC Mountains trip

We visited Franklin in early May 2024 as part of our short Spring in the NC Mountains trip.

The first destination of our six-day let’s-take-the-Airstream-somewhere-fun trip was Franklin, NC, a small town in the mountains southwest of Asheville. We hadn’t been to Franklin before, but we enjoyed a stay in nearby Sylva several years ago, so we had high hopes for a sweet little town with abundant hiking opportunities (two long-distance hiking trails come within a few miles of town), a gem-mining history (I am a geology nerd), and two breweries. We weren’t disappointed!


Bugsy admiring our campsite at Franklin Downtown RV Park
Bugsy admiring our campsite

We parked the Airstream at the aptly-named Downtown RV Park. It’s a very small (we think it’s only ten campsites), adults-only, summertime-only park just a short walk from the main downtown drag. Everyone was super friendly, the location was awesome, and we’d absolutely stay there again.


Bugsy admiring the AT thru-hikers board
the 2024 thru-hikers had recently come through Franklin

We spent most of our non-hiking time exploring Franklin, but when one of our hikes took us in the direction of Highlands, we spent an hour wandering around that little mountain town as well. When we have more time in the area, we’d also like to check out Cashiers, another cute hamlet east of Highlands. Maybe next visit when we spend a night in Highlands!


Bugsy walking through downtown Franklin
downtown Franklin

Franklin is adorable! Its short downtown strip is packed with gift shops (our favorite was Doodlebugs), antiques stores, and restaurants. Everywhere we popped into was dog-friendly (the one place we tried to enter that didn’t allow Bugsy was Crabtree General Store, but I guess it’s more of a cafe than a store).

Bugsy shopping at the Macon Co farmers market
Franklin’s Saturday farmers market

Downtown is dotted with parks, including a large festival square in the middle of the action where the Macon County Farmers Market is held May through November on Saturdays, and live music at Pickin’ on the Square happens on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays mid-May through mid-October.

the crowd at Pickin on the Square
the crowd at Pickin’ on the Square

The farmers market has a quaint, neighborly feel to it, with live music and local craft vendors, and on our Saturday the homey feeling was enhanced by the local garden club’s plant sale. That evening we were back again to see what Pickin’ on the Square was all about. It seemed like everyone in town was there on folding chairs, enjoying the band with bbq from a food truck. It was pure small-town magic.

fluorescent minerals at the gem museum in Franklin
fluorescent minerals at the Gem and Mineral Museum

Franklin has a couple museums downtown: the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum housed in the old jail, and the Scottish Tartans Museum. We ended up doing more hiking than we expected (and spent unplanned time in Highlands) so were limited to a quick zip through the Gem and Mineral Museum. Or rather, I zipped while J and Bugsy had a beer at the beer garden across the street. I’ll get to that later. The museum is lovely, exhibiting collections from all fifty states and countries around the world in the really neat old-timey jail. My favorite room was the fluorescent minerals–when you turn off the light the minerals fluoresce with surprising colors under a blacklight.

NC-28 between Franklin and Highlands

The drive from Franklin to Highlands is a curvy and scenic half hour or so along NC-28. Note to RVers: do NOT try driving anything larger than the smallest trailer or RV on this section of NC-28! Otherwise, DO make the drive, and DO stop at the waterfalls along the way.

me scrambling down to the base of Cullasaja Falls
me scrambling down to the base of Cullasaja Falls

Cullasaja Falls is 20 minutes from Franklin. There’s only room for a few cars on the side of the road, so try to go early or on a weekday. Holy moly, this waterfall is incredible! It’s huge–250′ tall–and viewable from the top near the road, but I recommend scrambling down close to the river (very carefully! it’s steep and the rocks are slick!) to really feel its thundering power.

Dry Falls from the viewing platform
Dry Falls from the viewing platform

Dry Falls is another five miles beyond Cullasaja, and is a much more user-friendly experience. There’s a parking lot, a viewing platform, and a paved walkway that takes you down close to the falls and even behind them. It’s named Dry Falls because you can walk under the cliff behind the falls and theoretically not get wet. Parking fills up quickly and costs a few dollars; it was so crowded when we stopped by that J idled the truck in the lot and I ran over to the platform to take a quick photo. The falls are gorgeous and well worth a stop, especially if you have time to walk behind them!

A third waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls, sits alongside the road; the small pull-off area was full and people were waiting in line for photos when we drove by, so we skipped it. As the name implies, it’s a tall, gossamer waterfall misting over a cliff, viewable from the highway.


J and I had been to Highlands probably 25 years ago and we vaguely remembered it as a quaint, artsy town. Either it’s changed or we have (likely both); now it reminds us of a busier and posher Blowing Rock. The setting is gorgeous: pretty architecture surrounded by mountains and with a lovely lake on the outskirts of town (with a waterfront wine bar we want to check out next time). We wandered around downtown, in and out of dog-friendly shops (our favorite was Bardo), and then drove to a brewery, of course.

Bugsy at Satulah Mountain Brewing in Highlands
Bugsy enjoying Satulah Mountain Brewing

Satulah Mountain Brewing is a dog-friendly brewery a short drive from downtown. They were still ramping up production for the season and only had two of their own beers on tap, and J tried the brown ale. The beertender recommended a short hike to Sunset Rock (next time!) and the annual Bear Shadow Music Festival in town.

Our last stop before heading back to Franklin was to peek at the super tiny, super cute Highlands Hidden Creek RV Resort. The five-site, RV-only campground is a nine-minute walk to the main downtown drag and we are totally planning a night there our next trip to the area!


Bugsy by a waterfall on the way up to William's Pulpit
a waterfall on the Bartram Trail

Franklin is surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest, the largest in North Carolina, and two long-distance trails run by Franklin: the Appalachian Trail is ten miles away from town and 110 miles north of the trail’s starting point in Georgia, and the 112-mile Bartram Trail passes within only a few miles from downtown.

Bugsy at the overlook at William's Pulpit
the view from Willam’s Pulpit

We chose to do a Bugsy-sized hike each morning, and for proximity and bang for our buck we picked two hikes on the Bartram Trail. Our first hike was wonderful: this four-miler from Wallace Branch to William’s Pulpit. It’s a gradual two-mile climb through the forest past waterfalls to an overlook and all three of us loved it.

Bugsy at an overlook near The Pinnacle
an overlook close to The Pinnacle

Hike #2 was along a different section of Bartram: a 4.2-miler to The Pinnacle. It was still a nice walk in the woods, but tougher than the previous hike with less vista payoff. The comments imply there’s a hidden sweeping overlook somewhere beyond the end of the trail, but we couldn’t find it, and this section of the trail was not as well maintained and full of poison ivy.


the Airstream in a vacant lot near downtown Asheville
our parking spot while I ran up to Chai Pani

Is it cheating to include an Asheville restaurant here? We made a stop in the city on our way through to pick up our favorite salads from Chai Pani. We’ve worked out a system where J and B wait with the truck (I don’t like city driving!) while I run the several blocks to the restaurant, but Chai Pani is moving to the South Slope soon so our work identifying trailer-friendly vacant lots downtown is moot. (There’s one on Patton near French Broad Ave if you need it.)

veggies at dinner at Gracious Plates
lots of veggies at Gracious Plates

As far as restaurants actually located in Franklin, we dined at one from our planning post research, and two not on that list. Gracious Plates is the dinner destination we’d identified in advance; it’s a popular downtown bistro with a small outdoor seating area and shareable small plates. Service was quick even though they were busy and we enjoyed everything we tried, especially the fries!

lunch by the gas station at Caffe Rel
lunch by the gas station at Caffe Rel

Caffe Rel was not on our radar, but two locals told us it was the best food in town, it so we headed there for lunch. It’s a sweet little French cafe attached to a gas station convenience store, but the dog-friendly patio is tucked away to the side away from the hubbub. Our server was charming, and J was thrilled with his filet mignon sandwich. My salad was yummy and the freebie bruschetta was fab. It was a great recommendation.

dinner burrito and burger at Lazy Hiker
yummy food truck dinner at Lazy Hiker

Our second dinner in Franklin was from the food truck at Lazy Hiker Brewing. J had a mushroom swiss burger (made with local, grass-fed beef, we were told) and I had a veggie burrito and they were both fantastic.


my sour on the patio at Lazy Hiker
patio sour at Lazy Hiker

Tiny Franklin has two breweries, a beer garden, a pub with live music, and a vineyard tasting room, and neighboring Highlands also has a brewery (among a bunch of other drinking establishments we didn’t investigate this visit), so we had lots of places to wet our whistles! Oh, and we had some coffee too.


Franklin has two breweries, Currahee Brewing and Lazy Hiker Brewing. We loved Currahee’s huge outdoor space on the Little Tennessee River, but we (especially hazy IPA guy J) preferred the beers at Lazy Hiker.

Bugsy having a beer by the river at Currahee
riverfront beers at Currahee

Currahee has three locations, but Franklin’s is the main production facility. They host live music in the beer garden, allow kayaking put-in/take-out at their riverfront, and serve bbq next door. The name Currahee is in honor of both the region’s Cherokee people and members of the US military.

Bugsy checking out Lazy Hiker Brewing from the disc golf area
looking down at Lazy Hiker from the disc golf area

Lazy Hiker became our hangout in Franklin (meaning we went there twice) as it’s just a short walk from Downtown RV Park and it’s a fun scene. In addition to the yummy food truck, they have space for events and a small disc golf course. My plum rosemary sour was interesting and J was a fan of their IPA. Lazy Hiker also has a location in downtown Sylva.

The third brewery we patronized was Satulah Mountain Brewing Company in Highlands. I wrote about it in the Highlands section above.

Bugsy having a beer at Rock House Lodge
Bugsy and beer at Rock House Lodge

While I was zipping through the gem museum, J and Bugsy had a beer at Rock House Lodge, the little craft beer bar in the back of Outdoor 76 outfitters. They have a bunch of taps, and soon patrons will be able to browse the retail store, beer in hand, or take a beer out onto the street, with a coming law change to create a downtown “social district.”


live music and dogs at Rathskeller
live music and dogs at Rathskeller

We mostly drank our booze in beer form in Franklin, but we did pop into Rathskeller both evenings for the happening live music scene. It felt like all the cool locals (and their dogs) hang out there. They have a good wine and beer selection, craft cocktails, espresso drinks (but they don’t open until 11:00…), snacks, music, and an overall cool vibe.

And last but not least, we grabbed coffee at Main Street Coffee and Yogurt. Our lattes tasted a little burned, but we’d give the place another shot.

To do

We will definitely return to Franklin, probably for one night and then swing down to Highlands for a night.

From Franklin, it was just an hour’s drive to Asheville, our next stop.


2 responses to “Two nights in Franklin, NC–Spring in the NC Mountains trip”

  1. […] Franklin, in the mountains of far western North Carolina, it was only a hour’s drive to Asheville. […]

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