Smoky Mountain Winter Adventures

Sure the temperatures might get a little cooler in the winter, but don’t let that stop you from getting outside to explore the North Carolina Smoky Mountains! Visitors will find plenty of fun activities all season long both outdoor and indoor. Here are our top choices for wintertime fun in the mountains.

Soco Falls in Maggie Valley
Soco Falls in Maggie Valley

Winter Hikes in the Smoky Mountains

For the outdoor enthusiasts, the good news is that the winters can be relatively mild and the main roads remain passable most all of the time. That means you can access trailheads and get stunning and unobstructed winter views. Here are some of our favorites.

Max Patch offers an elevated beautiful view from every angle along its 2.4-mile loop. Make sure to pack proper attire and have a four-wheel drive vehicle if there has been a snowfall.
Lake Junaluska offers fantastic views with a flatter trail. Choose from a 2.3 or 3.8-mile loop along the lake and enjoy the view from the many benches along the trail. This trail is friendly to strollers, wheelchairs, and scooters.
Whiteside Mountain offers panoramic views along a 2-mile loop in Nantahala Forest National Park near Cashiers.

Frozen Waterfall Adventures

Frozen Waterfall in the mountains
During the coldest months, waterfalls can become frozen works of art.

Hiking through a winter forest is a serene experience. There’s little noise except for the occasional wildlife scurrying about. Even the roar of the waterfalls can fall silent if it’s cold enough to freeze over. Quick PSA: Exercise extreme caution when exploring waterfalls, especially in the winter. The rocks are icy so stay at the foot of the falls. Never attempt to climb to the top. Here are some places you might catch a frozen falls.

• On the edge of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, you will find Soco Falls, a double waterfall that offers many views and is especially spectacular in the winter months.
Mingo Falls offers a challenging step hike (161 to be exact) to view the cascades down 200 ft. along a multitude of boulders.
• Immerse yourself in the full waterfall experience at Deep Creek nestled in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s a great low elevation hike with three different waterfalls. The full loop from Deep Creek to Indian Creek is 5 miles.

Skiing and Tubing

For the snowbirds out there, the Great Smoky Mountains offer skiing and tubing options for the whole family.

Scaly Mountain Outdoor Center offers 2-3 ski slops along with child friendly slops, ice-skating, tubing, and dry tubing.
Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley offers 18 slopes for a variety of levels, exceptional views, and fun for the whole family. With elevations of 5,400 and the temperature just right, this haven for ski lovers stays open longer than most regional ski resorts.

Cozy Indoors Retreats

The outdoors can be amazing during the winter months, but for those who want to stay warm and cozy the Great Smoky Mountains offers plenty of indoor options.

Test your Luck

Harrah's Cherokee Hotels & Casinos - playing craps
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, North Carolina’s very first casino, offers 1,200 slot machines, 30 plus gaming tables, restaurants, entertainment and a spa all in one spot.

Arts and Crafts Experiences

Handmade arts are part of the cultural footprint of the Smoky Mountains. Visitors should stop by one of these galleries while exploring the region.

Goldhagen Studios in Hayesville to watch live glass blowing demonstrations by David Goldhagen, and view his work in the gallery.
The Native American Craft Shop in Cherokee offers limited edition prints from Native American artists, pottery, and other crafts that would be a great addition to any art collection.
• The Macon County Art Association’s Uptown Gallery in downtown Franklin features exhibits by local artists and works to promote art in the area. The Uptown gallery also offers year round workshops and classes.

Museums and Culture

Tribe members standing outside of The Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian.

Learn about regional history, discover a traveling exhibit, or peruse the displays at some of the eclectic museums found in the mountains.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian takes you on a journey from the early days of Cherokee hunter-gatherers to the Trail of Tears and beyond. The museum offers a fascinating history lesson of the tribe.
The Wheels of Time Museum in Maggie Valley offers a collection of rare American vintage motorcycles, classic cars, and memorabilia .
The Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center offers an artesian gallery featuring over 125 artists and craftsmen. Visitors can also enjoy trying cultural foods from local sources, and both art and cooking classes.
• For the cat lovers, the American Museum of the House Cat in Sylva boasts vintage and modern cat art, cat art glass, and an archive of cat memorable.
• Located in Bryson City, the top 10 nationally ranked Smoky Mountain Train Museum has train displays for all ages and model train enthusiast alike.

Rest Your Head

With all the winter fun that the Great Smoky Mountains offer, visitors can rest and relax at a variety of cozy accommodations.

Cataloochee Ranch Resort offers accommodations for small and larger groups. Amenities include outdoor and indoor entertainment, a 20 foot heated spa, and fireplaces in most lodgings.
The Buckwood Log Lodge offers warm and rustic accommodations in the heart of Highlands, NC.
• For peace and luxury, Fontana Mountain Resort, located in the Nantahala Forest has a variety of accommodations from rooms in the lodge to private cabins. The property has trails and a pool and is open year round. Amenities also include the Mountain View Bistro and Wildwood grill and a massage center.

Here are some other places to consider when looking for Smoky Mountain accommodations.

 

Featured image courtesy of Adam Duff.

Maggie Valley Exploration Guide – Top Things to Do

Located on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Maggie Valley is a short drive to the gorgeous Cataloochee Valley section of the park and the quaint town of Waynesville, North Carolina. The area offers beautiful views, outdoor adventure, wildlife encounters, family activities, old time music, and small town charm. Pick a few experiences below to make your visit one to remember.

Things to do in Maggie Valley

Soco Falls in Maggie Valley
Soco Falls in Maggie Valley

The stretch of U.S. Route 19 that passes through the small town of Maggie Valley offers access to charming accommodations, live entertainment venues, skiing and tubing, a museum, and a brewery. Along this route you’ll also find access to the most photographed scenic lookout in the mountains as well as access to the beautiful Soco Falls.

Motorcycling Through the Smoky Mountains

One of the popular ways to experience this region of the North Carolina Smokies is by motorcycle. Spend the day on a scenic drive through the mountains. Smoky Mountain Steel Horses offers a selection of motorcycles to rent plus resources on beautiful rides through Maggie Valley. Ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Deal’s Gap, also known as “The Dragon.”

After your ride, swing by The Wheels of Time Museum to see a collection of rare American vintage motorcycles. It also includes other memorabilia, artifacts, and classic cars to peruse.

Grab Your Partner

Maggie Valley Stompin' Ground
Stompin’ Ground

The sounds of the Smoky Mountains are rooted in old-time mountain music. Listen to the bluegrass and old-time fiddle tunes at the Stompin’ Ground and watch as folks dance the mountain two-step, square-dance, and clog on the large dance floor. Get in on the action as audience participation in line dances is encouraged. They’ll guide you through the steps!

Mountain music is a big part of the music scene in Maggie Valley, but the musical influence is also international. Folkmoot USA brings musicians from around the globe to perform traditional song and dance. This year-round celebration boasts a diverse selection of exhibits, cultural programs, and fun for all ages. Then every July, the famous festival showcases global talent with events all around Maggie Valley, and nearby Waynesville.

Great Places to Dine

Maggie Southern Fried Chicken
Maggie Southern Fried Chicken

There’s no shortage of good eats and places for libations in Maggie Valley. Barbeque fans will enjoy Fat Buddies Ribs and BBQ of Waynesville along with the legacy of their famous Firehouse sauce. For those who enjoy old-fashioned ice cream in a warm waffle corn, make time in your plans for a stop by Jack the Dipper in Waynesville.

Elevated Mountain Distilling Co. brings traditional whiskey spirits to the area but also offers full bar with beer and wine options as well.

Shopping in the Smokies

Maggie Valley offers independent and locally owned shops, specialty boutiques, antiques, and handmade crafts. For those looking for local goods head to Downtown Waynesville for a plethora of art galleries, wonderful people, and unique shopping experiences like Mast General Store.

During the holidays, a trip to Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm is fun for the whole family. Besides charming cabin accommodations, visitors can pick out a famous Frazier Fir to bring home some mountain holiday cheer!

Outdoor Exploration in Cataloochee Valley

A popular spot for outdoor adventure is Cataloochee Valley. Here you’ll find multiple hiking trails to explore like the popular Boogerman Trail, Rough Fork Trail, and Pretty Hollow Gap Trail. While exploring the Valley you’ll also find multiple historic home-sites, churches, and a barn open to the public for self-guided tours.

See the Elk

Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Elk in Cataloochee Valley

The biggest attraction to the Cataloochee Valley is the ability to watch free-range elk grazing in the fields. They typically travel in a herd through the large open fields to graze in the morning and late afternoon.  They are accustomed to people hanging out in the fields so you won’t have any trouble finding them. As with any wildlife encounter, be sure to watch them from a safe distance. They are not contained behind a fence and they will become aggressive if they feel threatened. Respect their space and you shouldn’t have a problem.

Trout Fishing

Cataloochee Creek is home to wild rainbow and brook trout, making it a haven for fly-fishing. There are multiple tributary creeks you can fish so while it’s a popular place to fish, it’s not difficult to find a peaceful spot out of sight from other anglers. You must have as state license and follow the fishing regulations.

There are  like horseback riding, skiing, tubing, hiking to natural attractions such as Soco Falls or the popular Elk Tours and Firefly tours through Cataloochee Valley Tours, Inc.

Horseback Riding on the Mountaintop

Take in the panoramic beauty of the Smoky Mountains on horseback. At the Cataloochee Guest Ranch sign up for a ridge top tour that winds through forest trails, rhododendron tunnels, and creeks. Once you’re done riding take part in the many other activities the Ranch offers including tennis, swimming, daily hayrides, cookouts, bonfires, and lawn games.

Places to Stay in and Around Maggie Valley

Most photographed view in Maggie Valley
Most photographed view in Maggie Valley.

With all the great adventures in the area, there are diverse accommodation options to make anyone feel at home.

For stunning and unique rooms, the historic Andon-Reid Inn Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville provides cozy accommodations and is close to many attractions.

The Cataloochee Guest Ranch has a diverse range of accommodations from inn style rooms to large group cabins along with many onsite activities such as horseback riding.

Named the #1 “top Resort in the South” by Conde Nast, The Swag, a luxurious all-inclusive mountain resort provides a great location to celebrate an anniversary or other special weekend away.

Most folks come to western North Carolina in hopes of seeing a few bears. However, if you stay at in a cabin at Buffalo Creek Vacations, chances are you will catch a glimpse of Buffalo while you enjoy your stay. You can even rent a refurbished caboose train car for your accommodations.

Maggie Valley Country Cabins has a plethora of cabins to accommodate small or larger groups surrounded by beautiful mountain views.

Best Western Smoky Mountain Inn provides traditional and comfortable hotel accommodations in Waynesville.

Nestled in the heart of Maggie Valley, the quaint Hearth & Home Inn offers comfortable accommodations and easy access to attractions.

Within walking distance of Waynesville, the Oak Park Inn has modern accommodations with old-fashioned charm.

Celebrate Smoky Mountain Holiday Traditions

Enjoy a cozy and festive holiday escape full of small town festivities and gorgeous winter-time mountain views. Tap into dazzling light displays, multiple small town parades, pop-up shopping events, theater events and, of course, appearances by Santa Claus. Take part in the holiday cheer happening across the Smoky Mountains at one of these great events.

Our Top Picks For Holiday 2019 Events in the Smoky Mountains

People boarding The Polar Express in Bryson City
The Polar Express. Photo courtesy of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.

The Polar Express Train Ride

November 8 – December 31, 2019

All aboard! The Polar Express is waiting to take you and your family on a fantastic holiday ride to The North Pole to meet Santa Claus. This 1¼ hour round-trip excursion comes to life as the train departs the Bryson City depot for a journey through the quiet wilderness. Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, guests on board will enjoy warm cocoa and a treat while  they listen and read along with the magical story. Children’s faces show the magic of the season when the train arrives at the North Pole to find Santa Claus waiting. Santa will board the train, greet each child and present them with a special gift as in the story, their own silver sleigh bell. Christmas carols will be sung on the return back to the Bryson City Depot.

Christmas on Main – Andrews

November 23, 2019, All day

Andrews, NC, kicks off the holiday season with their Christmas On Main celebration the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Explore over 100 vendors to meet all your holiday gift needs, listen to great music and stay for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting at 4:00 pm.

Sylva Holiday Festivities

November 29 – December 1, 2019 – various times

Embrace small town holiday cheer as Sylva welcomes the Christmas season. Gather around the historic courthouse steps for the annual Christmas tree lighting, join Santa for photos, and gather on Main Street  for the “Christmas Past and Present Parade.”

Cashiers Christmas on the Green

Friday, November 29, 2019, 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

The Village Green transforms to a winter wonderland during Cashiers‘ annual Festival of the Trees, a whimsical display of holiday cheer from Thanksgiving weekend through the New Year! Bring the kids to meet Santa and stay to have cocoa and s’mores during the annual Cashiers Christmas Tree Lighting.

Kids on ice slide in Franklin
Winter Wonderland in Franklin

Cullowhee Mountain Artisans Hard Candy Christmas

November 29 – 30, 2019, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Get a jump start on holiday shopping at a two-day event in Cullowhee featuring approximately 100 local and regional artisans sharing their best work with you for that special gift.  Fresh cut evergreens, live music, and the finest arts and crafts around make this event a “Mountain Christmas Tradition.” Pick up a Cameo apple and peppermint candy piece and catch the Christmas Spirit!

Maggie Gets Lit

November 30, 2019, 2:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Maggie Valley welcomes winter and the holiday season with “Maggie Gets Lit” the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Grab some hot cocoa, peruse the work of  local artists, get your picture with Old Saint Nick, and sing along with Christmas carolers as Miss Maggie lights the tree at town hall.

Franklin’s Winter Wonderland

November 30 & December 7, 2019, 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Visit the town of Franklin for their 2019 Winter Wonderland festivities! Enjoy unique holiday experiences like living window displays, live sounds of the season, extended shopping hours, and you may even catch a glimpse of Santa! Attendees can witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree during the first night of the event.

Christmas in Highlands

November 30, 2019, 6:00 p.m.

Highlands, NC, welcomes you to join them in their holiday celebrations for their annual tree lighting. Come meet Santa and enjoy cookies, cocoa and small-town Christmas spirit.

Waynesville Christmas Tree Lighting

December 6, 2019, 6:00 p.m.

Join in the merriment in downtown Waynesville with the lighting of the Christmas Tree. Warm up with some cocoa, peruse the downtown shops, and welcome the holiday season with carolers singing everyone’s favorite Christmas songs.

Dillsboro luminaries
Dillsboro luminaries. Photo courtesy of Discover Jackson NC

Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries

December 6, 7, 13, and 14, 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Named one of the top 20 events in the southeast for December, Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries is a step back into Christmas past. Experience Christmas magic as the entire town transforms into a winter wonderland of lights, candles, laughter and song. 2500 luminaries light your way to shops and studios. Horse and buggy rides are available each night, shopkeepers provide live music and serve up holiday treats with hot cider and cocoa, carolers sing, and children visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The Carolina Christmas Show

December 6 – 7, 2019, 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Take in a heartwarming, Broadway-style show featuring the finest performers from Western North Carolina and special guest artists. Taking place at the Colonial Theater in Canton, NC, enjoy sacred and secular Christmas favorites, including Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, O Holy Night, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, and Go Tell it On the Mountain.

Robbinsville Christmas Parade

December 7, 2019, 6:00 p.m.

The Town of Robbinsville will ring in the start of the holiday season with the Robbinsville Christmas Parade. Floats, Cars, Fire Trucks, Santa, and much more are in store. Bring the family to enjoy the excitement of Christmas.

Murphy Christmas Market

December 7, 2019, 11:00 a.m.

Head to the L&N Depot in downtown Murphy to shop from a wide variety of vendors. This is a great opportunity to support local crafters and purchase unique gifts for friends and family.

Sylva NC holiday display
Sylva, NC, holiday display.

Highlands Olde Mountain Christmas parade

December 7, 2019, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Come watch an olde fashioned Christmas parade make it’s way down Highlands‘ Main Street. There is everything from a live nativity, dancers, and a special appearance by Mr. and Mrs. Clause. Join Santa after the parade to tell him what you want for Christmas, and stick around to check your status on Santa’s list.

The Biggest Little Christmas Parade in the Smokies

December 7, 2019, 2:00 p.m.

Takes to the streets of Bryson City for their annual Christmas parade, featuring floats, fire trucks, bands, classic cars, beauty queens, and Santa! Take the kids to the Swain County Heritage Museum and enjoy cookies and cocoa while sharing your holiday wishes

“Candy Cane Christmas” Waynesville Christmas Parade

December 9, 2019, 6:00 p.m.

The highly anticipated Christmas parade returns! Enjoy this annual community tradition as numerous illuminated entries parade down Main Street Waynesville celebrating the spirit of the holidays. Santa Claus makes a special appearance as the guest of honor!

A Night Before Christmas

December 14, 2019, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Waynesville turns into a holiday playground for children and children at heart. Shop and dine along a luminary lined street, tell Santa (and Mrs. Claus, too!) your Christmas wishes, and enjoy musicians and carolers.

Hometown Holiday Festival – Robbinsville

December 14, 2019, 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

Revel in the Christmas cheer with the Hometown Holiday Festival at Robbinsville High School. Santa will be stopping by along a variety of vendors to meet all your holiday shopping needs. Sip on hot cocoa and sing along with carolers.

Andrews Magic on Main Electric Christmas Parade

December 14, 2019, 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

The Magic on Main Electric Christmas Parade is Andrews’ crowning jewel for the holidays, Delight in over 50 lighted float, and see if you can tell who will win the Best in Show trophy. Stop by the Chamber office before the parade to pick up a candy bag for the kids (gotta have something to put all of that candy in). Grab some light sticks from Valleytown Cultural Arts and Historical Society.

Cherokee Light and Legend Christmas

December 15 – 17, 2019 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Cherokee, NC, welcomes all to celebrate the Christmas season each evening at the Cherokee Indian Fair Grounds. Enjoy craft making, games and food and items from a variety of vendors. Make sure to take a few laps on the skating rink! Free admission, individual games/experiences nominal fee. Cash only.

Christmas At Home Parade – Cherokee

December 16, 2019, 5:30 p.m.

Marching bands, floats, and lights galore! The Cherokee Christmas at Home Parade has all that and more. Following the parade, gather at the Cherokee Welcome Center for the annual lighting ceremony of the 40-foot Christmas tree!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Cherokee, NC – Things To See & Do.

Home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee, North Carolina, offers visitors a wide breadth of experiences. It’s a small town in the Great Smoky Mountains that is big on outdoor adventure, cultural experiences, and natural beauty. Here you can taste local cuisine (read: fry bread), learn the rich history of the tribe, shop for unique handmade crafts and jewelry, or try your luck at Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino.

Best Cultural Experiences in Cherokee

Many know about the dark history of the Trail of Tears, but that’s only part of the tribe’s rich history. The entire story is one of resilience, and to truly appreciate the extent of that you should visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Here you’ll follow the tribe’s journey from the days of hunter-gatherers, to the first chief to visit England as a delegate in 1699, to the displacement from native lands, and through modern days.

Another fantastic cultural show not to be missed is Unto These Hills. This drama is performed in an outdoor theatre and tells the story of who the Cherokee people were, who they are, and how things came to be.

Handmade Cherokee Arts and Crafts

Take home a beautiful piece of fine art from many of the best Cherokee artists across the Qualla Boundary. The Native American Craft Shop sells limited edition giclée prints, beautiful traditional and contemporary baskets, pottery and other works created by Cherokee and other Native American crafters. Showcasing the works of over 250 members, Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual preserves and promotes the traditional arts and crafts of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, and offers a vast selection of baskets, pottery, wood and stone carving, and beadwork. Traditional Hands Native American jewelry and Art Gallery features exclusively General Grant’s handmade Cherokee jewelry as part of a wide variety of high-quality Native American jewelry & art.

Explore the Smoky Mountains Surrounding Cherokee

A haven for outdoor adventurers, Cherokee offers visitors the perfect base camp for exploration. Hundreds of hiking trails dot the landscape, including some with beautiful waterfalls like Soco Falls and Mingo Falls. Choose your own adventure or let a professional guide from The American Wild Trekking Company lead the way on a guided tours throughout the Smoky Mountains.

The Oconaluftee River runs right through downtown Cherokee and offers a perfect spot to find rainbow trout on a fly-fishing adventures. Stop by Rivers Edge Outfitters to learn about their guided fly-fishing tours. The river is also a great spot for riding a tube. Book a trip with Smoky Mountain Tube and Raft to enjoy a lazy ride in a serene setting.

harrahs-cherokee-casinoAnother way to enjoy the mountains include on horseback. The folks at Smokemont Riding Stables offer a safe, family-friendly horseback riding experience through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Their tours are perfect for beginners and more experiences riders, and their trails feature beautiful wooded scenery, native plants, streams, and waterfalls.

You can also take in the mountain scenery from a championship golf course. The Sequoyah National Golf Club is open to the public and offers golfers an idyllic 18-hole journey, filled with panoramic vistas and beautiful landscapes.

Cherokee Nightlife

The best place to go for a fun evening in Cherokee is Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino. Play the slots or table games, see one of huge nationally-touring bands on the main stage, or head over to Ultra Star Multi-tainment Center, located inside the casino. This bowling, billiard and arcade center is perfect for family members too young for the casino floor.

With so much to see and do in the region, you’ll need a few days to explore everything. Check out our Cherokee guide to find local accommodations and campground information.

Where to Find Beautiful Fall Color in the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina offers stunning natural beauty year-round, but fall is an extra special time to visit the region to see autumn’s colorful quilt covering the ridge tops. Thanks to the extreme variations in elevation, the Smoky Mountains enjoy one of the longest leaf-peeping seasons in the country. The first pops of color begin in late September along the highest elevations (over 6,000 feet) and continue through early November as color rolls down to the foothills. This means you can find stunning fall color at any point of the season.

Where to look for early fall color

Nantahala LakeDuring the earliest part of the season (late September – early October) you typically need to go above 4,000 feet in elevation to find fall color. Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway to the higher points. Areas that tend to transition first along this scenic drive are Waterrock Knob (elevation 6,293’), the 16th highest peak in the eastern United States, Graveyard Fields (elevation 5,020’), a popular hiking spot with easy trails and multiple waterfalls, and Black Balsam Knob (elevation 6,214’), which offers near-360 views of the surrounding mountains. Another scenic drive to explore is the Cherohala Skyway near Lake Santeetlah. It spans the Great Smoky Mountains from North Carolina to Tennessee, connecting mountain peaks with elevations up to 5,390 feet at its highest point.

October is when fall color begins to accelerate across the mountains. Cooler nights and warm days provide the Smokies with the perfect weather conditions to produce peak season colors. When exploring for trees in transition, be sure to look down to find wildflowers adding their own pops of color to the season.

Typically around the second week of October is when Highlands, NC (elevation 4,117’), begins to see color emerge. Oaks, red maples, black cherries, and birches are all typically the first to turn. Blueberry bushes at the higher elevations will turn a brilliant red. A scenic drive along US Route 64 from Franklin to Highlands offers a beautiful way to see the color and some waterfalls along the way.

Top picks for mid season fall foliage

cherohala-skywayIn mid-October, you’ll find fall color heading into elevations around 3,000 – 4,000 feet. During this time you should visit Cashiers (elevation 3,484’), located in the heart of Jackson County. Nearby you can hike Whiteside Mountain, a 2.2-mile hike with gorgeous long-range views.

Around the North Carolina Smoky Mountains you’ll find fall foliage appearing around small mountain towns like Andrews and Maggie Valley. This is a great time to check out the Joyce Kilmer National Forest, a popular hiking spot near Robbinsville in Graham County. The combination of towering old-growth poplars and fall color make this a sought after spot for color hunters. Nearby you’ll find Lake Santeetlah, one of the most beautiful lakes in the country, thanks in part to the Nantahala National Forest that borders it.

In late October, fall color will encompass areas below 3,000 feet in elevation. You’ll find beautiful foliage throughout many of the mountain towns around the Smokies including Sylva and Franklin. Make a trip to Cataloochee Valley to see the majestic elk roaming the pastures to graze in the evening. As with any wildlife experience, keep a safe distance from the elk. You can also find elk at Oconaluftee Visitors Center near Cherokee.

End of season autumn hues

Great Smoky Mountain RailroadOnce November rolls around, you’ll find fall color creeping below 2,000 feet in elevation. This is the time to visit areas like Chatuge Lake in Haysville and Fire Creek Falls near Murphy. In Dillsboro, climb aboard the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and get a scenic tour of fall color.

In Cherokee take a quick out and back hike to Mingo Falls, offering a stunning 120-high foot waterfall.

 

Happy leaf peeping!

Special Alert: Nantahala River Closures No Longer in Effect

UPDATE: The Nantahala River has been re-opened to the general public. After a week long process, the US Forest Service has taken the steps needed to clear and repair the damage done after multiple mudslides impacted the region.

What happened to the Nantahala River?

Debris in the Nantahala RiverSaturday, August 24, 2019 – Significant rainfall created multiple mudslides in the Nantahala Gorge area. Both the river and the road became inaccessible. Thankfully, no one was injured.

Monday, August 26, 2019 – Road access to the area was restored. Impacts to the river were significant and the US Forest Service suspended all river access permits until crews could remove debris, which included entire trees, boles, root wads, and other organic and inorganic material.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019 – Forest service contractors made significant progress on Quarry Rapid, and began work removing a tree dam.

Saturday, August 31, 2019 – Clean up the Nantahala River continues, and water is flowing, albeit a bit muddier than usual. Emergency closures are still in effect, as it remains unsafe for recreation.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019 – The clean up is complete and the Nantahala River is back open for everyone to enjoy.

What areas of the Nantahala River are closed for public use?

Restoration work of the Nantahala RiverUPDATE: The emergency closure order issued by the US Forest Service has been lifted. It is safe to enjoy recreational and commercial use of the Nantahala River.

Areas impacted by the closure were between the Beechertown Launch Ramp and the Silvermine Takeout Ramp on U.S. 19 on National Forest System lands within the jurisdiction of the USDA Forest Service. The prohibition included the entire Ferebee Memorial Site.

What can visitors to the Nantahala Gorge access?

There are plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities available in the region. Here are updates for attractions that access the Nantahala River.

Brookside Campground: Located a few miles away, they were not impacted by the mudslide. They are now able to provide trips down the Nantahala River.

Carolina Outfitters: Nantahala trips are now available as are trips down the Ocoee River.

Nantahala Outdoor Center: Pre-purchased tickets for rafting trips will be honored as business has now resumed. Their zip lines, hiking and biking trails, local paddling destinations, train trips, lodging, riverside restaurant and retail shops are also open for visitors.

Rolling Thunder: Nantahala River trips are no longer suspended.Ocoee and Toccoa River experiences are also available.

Wildwater Rafting: Rafting trips are available on all rivers including the Nantahala, Pigeon, and Ocoee. Their yurts, zipline and Jeep tours are available as well.