Franklin, North Carolina, is known as the "Gem Capital of the World." The area is rich in gems and minerals and is a favorite spot for rockhounds of all ages. The famous Cowee Valley north of Franklin lures thousands each year to its mines which yield valuable stones to lucky miners annually. You’ll also find other gem mines located throughout the area. Among the native stones found are ruby, sapphire and garnets just to name a few. Most mines are open from spring through autumn. See our Gem Mining Guide. Download a PDF map of the Gem Mines near Franklin.
Downtown Franklin is home to an active Gem & Mineral Society, which operates the charming and unique Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum in a 19th Century jailhouse in downtown Franklin. The museum’s incredible displays include local and state specimens, Indian artifacts, fossils and more. The interest in gems & minerals has also spawned one of the country’s best known gem shows, the Macon County Gemboree.
There are two additional museums located in downtown Franklin; the , Macon County Historical Museum and the Scottish Tartans Museum, the only American extension of the Scottish Tartans Museum in Keith, Scotland. A visit to the Scottish Tartans Museum and Gift Shop in the Smoky Mountains is a stroll through the history and culture of Scotland. Visitors are invited to view their family tartan, connect with their clan, and learn about the history of Highland Dress.
There are many shops, galleries and quaint hometown shops to browse downtown. Along with some good places for food and drink.
Nearly half of Macon County, of which Franklin is the county seat, lies within the Nantahala National Forest. Comprised of over a half-million acres of unspoiled beauty, the rolling mountains rise to a series of peaks over 5,000 feet high from the valley of the Little Tennessee River, creating spectacular vistas and a richness of natural beauty that have entranced visitors since the 18th Century. See amazing views from Wayah Bald Lookout Tower.
Spectacular waterfalls, fantastic hiking trails, pristine fishing streams and abundant wildlife are among the area’s many natural treasures. Franklin is situated between two popular scenic gorges, the Cullasaja and the Nantahala. In its rush downhill the Cullasaja takes some spectacular spills, creating lower Cullasaja Falls with a drop of 250 feet. Read more about nearby waterfalls near Highlands and Cashiers. Walk behind Dry Falls, just 16 miles from Franklin. For a great hike about 23 miles east, check out Whiteside Mountain.
The mountainscape is lined with many wonderful hiking trails including the famous Appalachian Trail which meanders for 60 miles along the crest of the Nantahala Mountains. Some 40 miles of side trails interlace with the AT. A nearby hike on the Appalachian Trail takes you to Wesser Bald Lookout Tower.
Another, lesser known trail also makes its way through Macon County. Bartram Trail, named for American Botanist William Bartram, who documented the native flora and fauna of the area in 1775. Bartram Trail climbs into the hills, inviting hikers to follow the explorer’s footsteps and discover for themselves the exuberant natural world in which he took such delight.
The forests also shelters hundreds of species of wildlife and wildflowers, creating a virtual paradise for photographers. West of Franklin, the Nantahala River has carved its own deep gorge. The Cherokee called this place “Noonday Sun.” because at one point, the perpendicular cliffs obscured the sun except during the middle of the day. Today, the region is famous for trout fishing and white water sports. Rafting and kayaking on the river offer exciting recreation. See our Whitewater Rafting Guide.
Visit the Cowee West's Mill Historic District, located off Route 28 North to discover man-made structures dating back more than 1,400 years and many other great finds. Cowee-West's Mill National Register Historic District is among the richest in the nation. In the mid-18th century Cowee and the Little Tennessee River Valley was the central stage on which would determine the future of two nations. Cherokee and American. The 370 acres in this historic district contain thousands of years of history and continues to resonate in the spiritual life of the Cherokees. Cowee mound, built in 600 B.C., before the Cherokee period, is one of the few remaining earthen mounds.
Franklin is situated along major highways US 23/441 and Highway 64 (Mountain Waters Scenic Byway), with easy access to major interstates I-40, I-26 and I-85. The resort town of Highlands is 19 miles east on US 64.
Download a map of Mountain Waters Scenic Byway.
Franklin Directions from Asheville: Take I-40 West to route 23/74 W towards Waynesville. Take 23/74W to 23/441 towards Dillsboro, Sylva and Franklin. 67 miles, 1 hour drive.