Saluda, NC is a small town in Western North Carolina with a lot to do. From some of the best outdoor adventures around to a cute downtown with historic shops, it’s the perfect weekend trip.
Nearby Hendersonville and Flat Rock expand your options, although the three towns run together and you may find yourself crossing borders without realizing it.
If towns could be soul mates, then Saluda would be mine. I love a town that puts its foot down and tells it like it is. Everywhere you go in Saluda there’s a sign noting that the trail isn’t maintained, please stay on it, and if you happen to do your own thing despite the warning you’re on your own and no one else is responsible for your misadventures. I can get behind that.
Whether you hike, bike, walk, or shop, check out Saluda the next time you’re in the area.
The Best Things to Do in Saluda, NC
Downtown Saluda may be small, but it packs a punch with tons of attractions. Included in Main Street’s one to two blocks are modern restaurants, charming shops, and margaritas.
Saluda Historic Depot and Museum
Almost at the edge of town sits the yellow building housing the Historic Depot & Museum and Saluda Sweet Shoppe.
Like many towns in this area, Saluda was a big railroad town and the Historic Depot is the original train depot. Back in its day, it was the steepest rail grade in the United States.
Inside are exhibits including information on the construction of the Old Fort and Clinchfield Loops as well as how dangerous it was to build the steepest mainline railroad grade in America.
The museum is open March through December, Thursday through Sunday and the Sweet Shoppe is open Wednesday through Saturday. There is free parking in the lot out front and along the street. If you really want to visit, call ahead to verify their hours.
Historic Thompson’s Store
Thompson’s is the oldest grocery store in North Carolina, but you wouldn’t know that when you walk in. They offer gourmet foods and snacks including local jams, cold soda in glass bottles, frozen lunch foods, and hand-cut meats. They also had a decent wine selection.
After a long day of hiking, drop in for after-trail favorites like pop-tarts and fresh fruit.
What they’re really known for is their sausage. Charlie’s sage Sausage is an old family recipe made in-house.
You may miss this if you’re not looking. Saluda Outfitters is just outside the main area of Main Street. It’s a wooden building on a hill and the driveway comes up fast.
While you can get last-minute items for your outdoor adventure here, it’s probably better known for its food and beer selection. Green River Eddy’s Grill offers a variety of food like burgers and Cowboy Chili along with several beers on tap. There’s also live music.
This really is the perfect way to end a day of hiking or biking.
Originally owned by Rober Pace, after his passing things were up in the air a bit. Luckily Judy and Leon Morgan purchased the business and kept its character intact.
You’ll find baskets of fresh fruit on the sidewalk to grab your attention, and inside is something between a general store, hardware store, and museum. If you need something, anything, it’s probably in there, you just have to look or ask.
I mean where else can you get a soda, coil of hose, and coffee mug?
Nearby Flat Rock
It’s difficult to stay within the confines of Saluda as you drive around. I kept finding myself accidentally in Hendersonville or Flat Rock.
Both areas have a lot to offer, and the three towns enhance each other rather than detract.
Flat Rock has Sharewell Coffee, which makes a mean oat milk latte, and the Carl Sagan House with its farm. Hendersonville is a larger town with a free aviation museum and the annual NC Apple Festival.
If you want to discuss outdoor adventures like hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and climbing, then adding the three towns together triples the fun.
Outdoor Adventures Near Saluda
I was shocked at how much there is to do outdoors in Saluda. You could spend an entire week having fun. If you don’t have that much time, a weekend will suffice.
Fly fishing is a big sport in the area, as well as whitewater rafting. While hiking is popular, most trails here are rugged and you’ll need to be an experienced hiker. In the summer, visitors can go tubing down the Green River which is a great way to beat the heat.
Pearson’s Falls and Glen
Pearson’s Falls and Glen is a 300-acre botanical preserve. The quarter-mile trail from the parking lot to the 90-foot waterfall hugs the stream. It’s well-maintained and easy to hike for most people.
Along the way are multiple spots for photos, places to sit and relax, and more views than you’ll know what to do with.
Pearson’s Falls and Glen is owned and maintained by the Tryon Garden Club. There is a per-person entrance fee, but it helps the club maintain the property.
Check their website for hours. While they’re open 7 days a week from 10 am to 5 pm, they do close the month of January and on certain holidays. Inclement weather may also close the gates.
You’ll want at least 30 minutes for your visit so be sure to arrive before 4:30 pm when they close the entrance gate.
Geez was this an adventure. First of all, GPS is going to say “You’ve arrived” in the middle of the road with nowhere to pull over. It took me a while to find the trailhead, and I only found it because another car was parked there.
The best way to locate the lot is to search for “Old Saluda Grade.” When you arrive, it’s on your right (heading away from downtown) and looks like a private gravel driveway with a gate. There’s room for 2 or 3 cars depending on how well people parked. On the gate is a sign indicating this is the trailhead and you’re on your own.
I highly recommend backing in if you can. The lot is on a sharp curve and people fly down the road.
Once you arrive, follow the trail. There are two places where it seems to split. Stay to the right the first time and the left the second time. You will notice if you go the wrong way pretty quickly.
There’s a rock scramble to reach a small overlook where you can see the falls, but you need to be careful and watch your footing.
This is a decent hike until you reach the rock scramble. Be careful, especially if you’re not sure-footed or have children with you.
It’s less than a mile to the falls.
Little Bradley Falls and Big Bradley Falls
Little Bradley Falls is a pretty waterfall but check the NC Wildlife page before you head out. There was an accident with an oil tanker in July 2023 and the gas fumes are still causing issues. As of September 2023, the falls were still closed.
I’m all about beginners, and while I do mention some advanced hikes, I have a hard time with Big Bradley Falls. So, here’s my word of caution: if you are not an experienced hiker with solid hiking shoes that have good tread and know what you’re doing, do not attempt Big Bradley Falls.
Even reaching the viewing platform requires descending down a steep hill. If you go all the way, you’ll need to use a rope to climb down to the falls. Anyone wanting to attempt this needs to fill out an “I can die doing this and hold everyone else blameless form.” This is due to multiple deaths at the falls.
Honestly, just enjoy Little Bradley Falls.
The Gorge Zipline
The Gorge Zipline has 11 ziplines that span 1.25 miles, 3 rappelling locations, and a sky bridge. If you’re not afraid of heights or want to conquer your fear, this is your destination.
Schedule a Gorge zipline canopy tour and get ready to have a fun-filled 3.5 hours.
There are weight, age, and other restrictions. Their website is helpful in determining if this is a good option for your family.
If you’ve always wanted to zipline, give it a try. This is one of the best in Western North Carolina.
Green River Adventures
Green River Adventures is a company that provides outings nearby. You can rappel down a waterfall, visit great swimming holes, or go white water rafting on the Green River. They also rent kayaks if you want to head out on your own.
They’re great about noting the activity level and experience necessary for each activity.
Located right on Main Street in downtown Saluda you can stop by to ask questions if you’re not sure.
Most activities are pre-scheduled making it easy to plan your trip ahead of time.
Green River Gamelands
The Green River Gamelands is 10,000 acres of land set aside for hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, and other sports.
The Green River Gorge is located inside the gamelands.
The area is rugged, to say the least, and it’s recommended for experienced hikers. On top of that, it’s highly recommended to hike with a buddy. You’ll also want to be careful during hunting season mid-September to mid-May.
Getting to the Gamelands requires a white-knuckle drive down a steep road with hairpin switchbacks. Of course, this means you have to get your car back up that road. Mine wasn’t happy and I could smell the oil.
It’s a pretty place with nice trails, but if you want something easier, I’d stick with Pearson’s Glen, Melrose Falls, or other areas nearby.
Where to Eat and Drink Near Saluda
I was pleasantly surprised at the caliber of restaurants in Saluda. It was shocking to find a James Beard-nominated chef in this tiny town.
The Purple Onion
The Purple Onion may be the most popular restaurant in Saluda. Owner, Susan, designed it to be a gathering place where friends and family could enjoy good food, conversation, and live music.
In good weather, you can ask for a table in their small outdoor seating area and enjoy gourmet pizza, pasta, seafood, and other dishes.
As an appetizer junkie, I had to appreciate the grilled peach and burrata avocado toast.
Their signature cocktails are also interesting. I’m not exactly sure how bourbon, blackberry, and lemon make a “Smoky Mountain”, but it’s best not to question it. Just order and enjoy.
Back Alley Barn
You’ll find Back Alley Barn tucked back in an alley behind Thompson’s Store, which makes sense because the same family owns both.
Known as Saluda’s Tavern, you’ll find signature cocktails, an impressive alcohol list, beer, wine, and simple bar fare. Think along the lines of wings, cheese curds, flatbread pizza, and Mac & Cheese.
The large porch can seat quite a few people. Order a drink, grab some food, and listen to live music.
You can’t miss the distinctive blue storefront of Azalea Bistro. James Beard nominated chef Garrett Tallent fuses Low Country Cuisine and French Bistro fare Thursday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.
While I didn’t eat there, I was intrigued by the menu, especially the Chocolate Chip cookie and milk. No, it’s not really a cookie you dip in milk. It’s foie gras with Burgundy truffle, honey foie gras butter and brandy mascarpone, truffle puree, and Albufera cremeux. OMG.
Their dinner menu is a prix-fix style rather than a la carte.
The menu is out front so you can look before heading in. I would recommend a reservation. There is limited seating and it’s a popular place.
Green River BBQ
I’m putting down Green River BBQ with a caveat, the restaurant was sold in July and reopens in October 2023.
In the past, they were known for their brisket and Mac and Cheese. Although, just about anything on the menu was good.
It will be interesting to see if the new owners keep the menu or make changes.
S.P.O.T is an acronym for Saluda Purple Onion Taqueria. It stemmed from Purple Onion owners, Chambli and Emily, who used to invite friends over for tacos and margaritas. They turned this friendly event into a new restaurant.
Right on Main Street, there’s a small lot and plenty of street parking. The sign outside the red building proudly boasts Tacos and Margaritas. If that doesn’t describe a fun evening, I don’t know what does.
Open Thursday through Sunday, be sure to stop in after a hard day of hiking.
Ward’s is a small grill inside of Thompson’s Store. Open Tuesday through Friday for breakfast and lunch, it’s the perfect place for a southern meal.
Start your day off with biscuits and gravy or treat yourself to a milkshake. You’ll also find burgers, sandwiches, and Charlie’s Sage Sausage on the menu.
Where to Stay in Saluda
Nestled near Flat Rock and Hendersonville, and just 30 minutes from Brevard, there are plenty of options for staying in and near Saluda.
Plenty of campgrounds dot the area including Wilderness Cove Campground and Orchard Lake.
Both offer RV and tent spots with all the amenities. Wilderness Cove has a food truck, bath-house, and direct access to the river. Orchard Lake offers events like Family movie night with a bonfire.
There are plenty of glamping options if you want to take the tent experience up a notch. Both Airbnb and VRBO have plenty of places to choose from.
You can also rent cabins at both Wilderness Cove and Orchard Lake.
The Orchard Inn is a popular Bed and Breakfast. They provide a full English breakfast to start your day off right. There’s a garden and shared lounge area to relax in the evenings.
Nearby Flat Rock has the Lodge at Flat Rock. With an indoor pool and complimentary hot breakfast, you’ll have everything you need.
There are tons of options from Airbnb and VRBO. From downtown apartments to glamping sites to tent sites, you’ll find something to fit your traveling needs and budget.
Festivals in Saluda
Nearby Hendersonville hosts the annual NC Apple Festival. This is a good time to visit. But Saluda has its own charming festivals too, including the Arts Festival.
Saluda Arts Festival
Celebrating Saluda’s heritage and art culture for 18 years, the Saluda Arts Festival is hosted in mid-May in historic downtown Saluda. You’ll see a variety of art mediums including painting, jewelry, sculptures, metalwork, and more.
Top of the Grade Concert Series
In the summer, every third Friday, there are free concerts at McCreery Park in downtown Saluda. This is on the other side of the railroad tracks from Main Street.
Bring a blanket or chair and get ready for good music as soon as the sun sets around 9 pm.
Wrap-Up: Saluda, NC
Look, you have to love a town where the Mayor’s office, right next to the police department says, “Mayor’s Office Mon-Fri, City Jail as Needed,” right on the door. I think this sums up Saluda.
A cute downtown with everything you need and nothing you don’t, some of the prettiest waterfalls in the area, good restaurants, and rugged hiking are all in this picturesque town.