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The Explorer’s Guide to Franklin, NC

Sunset in the Smoky Mountains of NC

Well known for its neighborly ways and charming historic downtown, Franklin, NC is a destination of its own. With a population of about 4,000 people and surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains, it is by definition a small town with its own unique heritage. Serving as the seat of Macon County in Western North Carolina, Franklin has a history deeply rooted in both the native Eastern Band of Cherokee and a unique Highland Scottish heritage.

Things to Do in Franklin

Recently named as one of the top 10 places to retire by Retirement Lifestyle Magazine, the city of Franklin offers a rich mosaic of things to do. The historic downtown with its museums, shops, festivals, entertainment venues and hometown eateries coupled with one-of-a-kind outdoor activities are enough to fill a whole week of adventure and then some.

Buck Creek in Franklin NC

Outdoor Adventures

Surrounded by the beauty of the Smoky Mountains, Franklin is the perfect basecamp for outdoor exploration. There are miles upon miles of hiking and biking trails dotting the mountain landscape. Some lead to breathtaking views and others to thunderous waterfalls. Here’s a list of some of the best trails in the region including Whiteside Mountain, Bartram Trail, and Yellow Mountain Trail.

Continue to explore the beautiful Franklin outdoors on a trail with the Friends Of the Greenway (FROG) along the Little Tennessee River. You can hike, bike, or walk your dog along this almost 5-mile trail, or one of its segments. You’ll traverse over bridges and through meadows, wetlands, and forest with outstanding opportunities for bird-watching and butterfly viewing at the Greenway’s Butterfly Garden.

In Otto, NC, about 8 miles south of Franklin, sign up for an off-the-beaten-path adventure with the Primitive Outback Kayaking and Gem Mining “Kayaking Adventure.” This adventure is a 2.5 – to 3-hour, self-guided kayaking trip on the picturesque Little Tennessee River. You’ll get a life jacket, dry box and return shuttle for one all-inclusive price. There are experts on hand to teach you about your precious discoveries as you unearth them from a covered outdoor flume that overlooks the river.

Main Street in Franklin NC

Where to Shop

When exploring historic downtown Franklin, you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time, especially at the T.M. Rickman’s General Store. Serving as the town’s general store and nerve center since 1925, the store was closed when the owner died but was purchased in 2007 by the Mainspring Conservation Trust to protect its heritage.

Rickman’s General Store also serves as a community gathering place. Every Saturday between May and December, volunteers host an open house and old-time jam session from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the storefront. Peruse the vintage items and furniture on display from the store’s heyday and purchase the wares of local artisans, quilters, writers, and photographers to help support the preservation effort.

Hoping to add an exceptional antique find to your home décor? Look no further than the 3 floors of treasures at Nestfeathers Antiques, recognizable for their picturesque building and known for their great prices. Also stop by NC Mountain Made for rare “primitives” and antiques, along with the works of more than 100 artists and craftspeople.

You cannot miss the Whistle Stop Depot, a one-of-a-kind antiques mall specializing in furniture, clothing, jewelry, and country accessories. Here you will find items you didn’t even know you wanted. but you surely will.

Franklin NC Gem Mining Museum

Mountain Museums

The town’s most remarkable historical objects are found in Franklin’s fascinating museums. The Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center is the only museum of the Scots in the entire country.

Located in Franklin, NC since 1994, this museum was established to be a source of “reliable information” on traditional Highlands dress and heritage. The second floor of the museum houses a tartan gift shop where you can research your family’s own traditional pattern and have it transferred onto everything from shirts, ties and kilts to coffee mugs.

A World of Gems

Franklin, NC is rich in gems and minerals and known internationally as the “Gem Capital of the World.” The Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum, established in 1974 and open from May through October, is a mesmerizing study of thousands of gems and minerals from across the globe.

Here you will see a ruby that weighs more than 2 pounds. How about a 385-pound sapphire? Ruby City Gems and Minerals is not only a rock and jewelry store, its free museum hosts this remarkable gem along with a shrunken head (!) and ivory carvings. Another interesting feature of this museum is it’s location. It was once home to the local jail!

Open year-round, the Macon County Historical Museum also merits a visit. Situated in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the free museum takes a close look at the mountain heritage distinctive to the Southern Appalachians.

When inspired by so many magnificent gems, you will no doubt want to dig for your own precious souvenir. There are several splendid gem-mining places to try in Franklin, including Artisan Gemstone and Mineral Gallery and Rose Creek Mine.

Cloggers in Dillsboro

Performing Arts

Franklin is home to world-class shows, events and festivals. The Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts is a premiere venue for superlative artists and performances. With stunning architecture and impeccable acoustics, this site offers a variety of shows, including concerts, comedies, gospel, folk and dance to name a few.

Every year in June, Franklin’s 3-day Taste of Scotland Festival celebrates its Scottish heritage with highland games, bagpipe music, the crowning of Little Miss Tartan, Border Collie trials, crafter exhibitions, and Cherokee and re‑enactor demonstrations.

Kids on ice slide in Franklin

Holiday Traditions

The holidays in Franklin are simply magical. Historic Downtown Franklin is transformedinto  “Winter Wonderland” with live music in the downtown gazebo, enchanting holiday decorations, and storefronts pulling out all the stops to make sure holiday shopping memorable. The schedule for Winter Wonderland is available here.

Where To Dine and Drink

You can always find a delicious and interesting cold beer in Franklin, NC. At the Currahee Brewing Company, named for the Cherokee word for “stands alone,” just off Main Street, you can try their European-inspired ales and lagers such as “Lucky Scars Wild IPA” or “Frankenstark.” Enjoy your brew in their large tap room or at the bier garden overlooking the Little Tennessee River while eating your fair share of BBQ from Smokejack next door.

For a taste of the Appalachian Trail, you must visit the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company. Because of its proximity to the world-famous trail, Lazy Hikers tips its hat to those who traveled as far as they could go with surrendered hiking boots dangling from the rafters and brews with names like “Slack Pack IPA” and “Trail Mate Golden Ale.” No visit is complete without homemade fries from the Hiker’s Kitchen Food Truck and live music on their backyard stage.

lazy hiker brewery in the nc smoky mountains

Franklin brings the comfort to “comfort food.” Martha’s Kitchen in downtown Franklin is only open from 11 am to 2 pm, so plan ahead. Enjoy a hot buffet with meatloaf and chicken and dumplings or order from the menu. You don’t want to miss their Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad on a croissant or a Veggie Wrap on wheatberry bread. Enjoy your meal at a cozy private booth inside or dine al fresco in the fresh mountain air.

Relish some southern cooking and homemade pie at Sunset Restaurant, where you’ll have a nearly impossible time choosing from amongst Chocolate, Coconut, Lemon, Butterscotch, Pecan or Egg Custard plus their seasonal pies. Or why not skip a meal and sample them all? You won’t be sorry.

Where To Stay

For true southern hospitality, plan your stay at the Franklin Terrace B&B, an old schoolhouse with wide porches and large guestrooms. Browse the antiques and crafts for sale on the main floor or take a short walk to downtown for your shopping.

Want to be closer to outdoors? Rent a cabin, pitch a tent or hook up your RV at Pines RV Park and Cabins, featuring campfire rings, a playground, basketball, planned activities and a pet-friendly park.

Choose a vacation rental from Franklin Home Store, where you can select a cabin with fishing from your deck, an adorable, cozy tiny house, or a home with a wrap-around porch, perfect for a trio of couples.