Madison County, NC Vacation Guide

Madison County, NC Outdoors Vacation

Madison County is located just 20 minutes north of Asheville. With the scenic French Broad River running through this rural county, there are countless ways to enjoy the Blue Ridge Mountains and its charming small towns (see guides for Hot Springs, Mars Hill and Marshall). Whether your interest is in the outdoors, visual or performing arts, traditional music, history, architecture, or agri-tourism, they have fun things to do for all.

Max Patch, Madison County NC
Max Patch

Madison County includes 55,000 acres of Pisgah National Forest, providing a majestic backdrop to the world’s third oldest river. Enjoy outdoor sports for all enthusiasts, including whitewater rafting, hiking along the Appalachian Trail, fishing in a river or mountain stream, bicycling along their country roads, or going horseback riding. Then relax in the natural hot springs, one of only two east of the Mississippi.

For those looking for unique experiences, play a round of disc golf at Mars Hill College. Or mine for garnets. For hunting enthusiasts, a former tobacco and cattle farm has been converted into a sporting clays and game preserve for quail hunting. Madison County is a hotbed for traditional mountain music, and some of the folks who come to play are Grammy award-winners.

Madison County Barn

Drive the scenic roads of Madison County, from Mars Hill to Marshall to Hot Springs, stopping along the way for so much to do:

  • See historic barns on scenic farmland throughout the county.
  • Take short hike and picnic at Max Patch, a bald mountain with spectacular mountain views.
  • Go whitewater rafting on the French Broad River.
  • See a play at the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre in Mars Hill.​
  • Take a driving tour on one of the NC Scenic Byways, including I-26 to the Tennessee state line.
  • Browse the galleries and shops in downtown Marshall, along with the studios on Blannahassett Island.
  • Soak in the hot springs.
  • Hike the Appalachian Trail from downtown Hot Springs to Lovers Leap.
  • Hike and climb the Rich Mountain Fire Tower.
  • Ski at Wolf Ridge.
  • Eat at one of many local restaurants.
  • Take a Barn Quilt driving tour and find pattern squares painted on wood, and attached to barns, homes, and businesses.
  • Stay the night in a bed and breakfast inn, cabin rental, hostel or campground.​

See 100 things to do in Madison County.

Madison County Things To Do

Max Patch on Appalachian Trail
Max Patch on Appalachian Trail
(1.4 or 2.4 miles, moderate) Hike a section of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail (or AT) near Hot Springs. What a picnic spot, with 360-degree mountain views! The 1.4-mile short loop crosses the summit. The 2.4-mile loop circles the mountain for outstanding views from all the sides. Or extend your hike in either direction of the AT.
French Broad Zipline
French Broad Ziplines
Explore the great outdoors from the treetops near Hot Springs, just 30 minutes from downtown Asheville. The 10-line, 2-rappel zip line canopy tour traverses a mile of cable, with stunning, long-range mountain views. Create memories of a lifetime, led by expert guides with state-of-the-art gear.
French Broad Adventures Asheville
French Broad Adventures
Asheville’s closest adventure experience, offering whitewater rafting, ziplines, and canyoneering expeditions just 30 minutes from Downtown Asheville. Experience a fun-filled rafting adventure with knowledgeable guides or choose a milder calmwater trip in the heart of the scenic valley near Hot Springs. Enjoy both indoor and outdoor experiences. Half and full-day trips. 
Hot Springs Soak NC
Hot Springs Mineral Soak
Soak in the natural hot mineral springs by the river, used by visitors for centuries seeking the legendary healing powers. Located about an hour's drive north of Asheville on the Appalachian Trail.
Appalachian Medley
Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway
The 45-mile North Carolina Scenic Byway is named for the rich history of local music. It follows NC 209 from Lake Junaluska to Hot Springs, through farmland and Pisgah National Forest. Stop at the Trust General Store and the tiny St. Jude's Chapel of Hope.
Barns of Madison County
Barns of Madison County
Drive the country roads of Madison County to see many historic barns preserved by the Appalachian Barn Alliance - five scenic routes take you by farms and mountain views.
Lover's Leap
Lover's Leap
(3.2-mile loop, moderate) Hike from downtown Hot Springs via the Appalachian Trail.  You will climb to a rock outcropping for beautiful views of the river and town. It's a romantic spot, but don't leap!
Marshall, NC
This historic town in Madison County is nestled between rocky cliffs and French Broad River. This "one street wide and a mile long" town of 889 residents has a Main Street with artists’ studios, galleries, music venues,  restaurants, Zuma Coffee and shops. Walk across the river to Blannahassett Island and the Marshall High Studios with many events.
Mars Hill
Mars Hill
Located in Madison County, this college town has a quaint downtown of historic buildings and homes. Enjoy many educational and cultural opportunities at the university, including stage plays, art exhibits, the national clogging champions.
Laurel River Trail
Laurel River Trail
(7 miles roundtrip, easy) This scenic creekside trail follows Big Laurel Creek as it flows to the French Broad River in Pisgah National Forest near Hot Springs.
Hot Springs NC
Hot Springs
This tiny town of 567 residents is perhaps best known for its hot mineral springs. Located north of Asheville at the junction of the Appalachian Trail (goes right through downtown) and the French Broad River. Hike from town up to Lover's Leap for a great view of the town.
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Marshall NC

For Madison County lodging and attractions, go to the Madison County Web site.


See the historic barns of Madison County as you drive across the rolling hills and through beautiful mountain valleys. These barns tell the story of this rural county, located just north of Asheville... read more
The mighty French Broad River starts as a small stream high in the North Carolina mountains and flows 200+ miles to Knoxville to help form the Tennessee River. It's the third oldest river in the... read more
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) is a 2,174-mile footpath along the ridgecrests and across the major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains. Featured in the movie A... read more