Road Trip to Burnsville: Discover Close Encounters With Creative Characters and Starry Nights

WNC Magazine  Sep/Oct 2017
Writer: Melissa Readon
Photographer: Hannah Brown

One great reason to head to Burnsville is to visit Mount Mitchell, the East’s tallest peak: The Yancey County town sits in its shadow, just north. But there are plenty of other reasons to go, including a robust artist community, a quaint and thriving downtown, and the starriest night skies around. You could make a day trip, but to take it all in, spend several days and plan to go during one of the town’s myriad celebrations, such as the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival (September 7-9).

One attraction not to miss is the new Bare Dark Sky Observatory, which opened in June at Mayland Community College’s Earth to Sky Park. Community nights are held once a week, when the public can sign up and pay $10 for the chance to peer through the largest optical telescope for public use in North Carolina. The 34-inch custom-built Newtonian scope can make visible galaxies that are around 30 million light years away. In 2014, Burnsville became the first International Dark Sky Park in the southeastern United States, a designation that recognizes and protects places with distinguished starry nights. There are currently only 52 such parks worldwide.

For as many stars as there are in the sky, the number of artists in the Burnsville area might come close. The Toe River Arts Council is the nexus for this talented community of creators, so a stop at TRAC’s gallery downtown is a must (there’s a second location in nearby Spruce Pine). You can check out the work of some 100 artists. Or better yet, plan to visit during one of the biannual studio strolls, when you can go straight to the source. The next one is December 1-3.

A quick jaunt away (four miles down NC 80) is One of a Kind Art Gallery in Micaville. Grab a coffee or gelato next door at Maples and then browse the huge collection of exquisitely crafted pottery, jewelry, garden art, and more, all made by area artists. On Thursday evenings from 7-9 p.m., the gallery hosts $5 concerts in the loft above the store. Featuring local musicians, these gatherings are great opportunities to mix and mingle with the community.

You could also cheers with local characters over a pint at one of two new-ish breweries in town: Homeplace offers a varied selection of beers made with locally sourced ingredients, and Blind Squirrel Brewery serves beer, wine, and food that can be enjoyed inside or out on the street-side patio—perfect for people-watching.

Don’t leave town without stopping into Rad Dawgz Hotdog Joint. This hip eatery serves up the chill surfer vibe in spades, with surfboards and colorful tiki-themed paraphernalia tastefully hung about. The counter-service joint offers 57-plus (a nod to Heinz 57) toppings, and recently added tacos to the menu. Upstairs, there’s a game room, retro lounge area, and I-spy tables full of vintage toys and trinkets. Conveniently, you can satisfy dessert cravings next door at the rockabilly-esque Cool Catz Candy & Cream—a sweet finale to a sweet excursion.

If You Go


Mount Mitchell
The East’s highest peak is surprisingly accessible and offers hikes and unrivaled views. See for details.

Bare Dark Sky Observatory
Open by reservation. Also offers a weekly community night. For details and to sign up, call (828) 766-1233 or visit

Parkway Playhouse
Showing The Fox on the Fairway, September 2-16, and The Mousetrap, September 30-October 14.


Galaxy Arts
105 W. Main St., Burnsville
(828) 536-5266

Menagerie Mercantile
6 Town Square, Burnsville
(828) 284-3918
Facebook: Menagerie Mercantile

Toe River Arts Council
102 W. Main St. Burnsville
(828) 682-7215
269 Oak Ave., Spruce Pine
(828) 765-0520

One of a Kind (Ooak) Art Gallery
573 Micaville Loop, Micaville
(828) 675-0690


Blind Squirrel Brewery
Burnsville Outpost

109 W. Main St., Burnsville
(828) 536-9491


Cool Catz Candy & Cream
110 W. Main St., Burnsville
(828) 284-3918
Facebook: Cool Catz Candy & Cream

Garden Deli and Snap Dragon Bar & Grill
107 Town Square, Burnsville
(828) 682-3946

Homeplace Beer Co.
6 S. Main St., Area C, Burnsville
(828) 467-1856

Rad Dawgz Hotdog Joint
112 W. Main St., Burnsville
(828) 536-5180
Facebook: Rad Dawgz Hotdog Joint


Albert’s Lodge at Mt. Mitchell
Located at the base of Mt. Mitchell, Albert’s offers cozy lodge rooms, cottages, and a full-service cycle shop on site.

The Buck House Inn
A historic residence-turned-bed and breakfast tucked away on the banks of Bald Mountain Creek.

Nu Wray Inn
An historic stay in the center of town that’s accommodated the likes of Thomas Wolfe, Elvis Presley, and Christopher Reeves.

Robertson House
Burnsville’s oldest private residence offers modern amenities and old-time charm. Located one block off Main Street. (828) 467-9184

Terrell House
A restored early 1900s colonial bed and breakfast that’s located a short walk to downtown.

For more on things to see and do, visit


Carolina Mountains Literary Festival
September 7-9, 2017
More than 25 authors will read over the weekend, including keynotes James Reston, Jr. and Ronni Lundy.

Yancey County Dream Home Tour
October 6 & 7
Tour homes in the gated community of Mountain Air on Friday, and Saturday offers a self-drive tour throughout the county.

Art Hop
October 14 & 15
A self-drive tour of open studios and galleries along NC 80 South, following the scenic South Toe River.