Top 8 Spring Adventures in the Smoky Mountains

elk in the great smoky mountain national park

Spring is the perfect time of year to emerge from your winter hibernation and take a trip to the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. As the weather warms, wildflowers begin to peek out from the forest floor, and clear views of the Appalachian Mountains stretch on for miles.

Plan your Smoky Mountain escape—be it a romantic getaway, a family vacation or a solo expedition—with these favorite springtime adventures.

Fly fisher in Jackson County North CarolinaSmoky Mountain Blueway Trails

If you find your bliss by the water, then this system of tranquil lakes and pristine rivers is the place for you this spring. Together the Little Tennessee, Nantahala, Oconaluftee and Tuckasegee rivers flow into Fontana Lake, passing through three picturesque lakes along the way.

The Smoky Mountain Blueway Trails offer all manner of recreational water sports, from boating and tubing to stand-up paddle boarding and swimming.

Anglers love this system of waterways for its Class A trout streams, while the lakes host large- and smallmouth bass, walleye, crappie and sunfish.

Waterfalls

The waterfalls of the N.C. Smokies—naturally breathtaking in any season—are made even more magnificent following frequent spring rains. Whitewater Falls near Cashiers is the highest waterfall in the Eastern U.S. at 411 feet!

More than a dozen popular waterfalls are readily accessible on short hikes, and some can be seen right from the side of the road. Check out our guide to the top waterfalls in the North Carolina Smokies.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad steam locomotive

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

The whole family will love a spring excursion on these historic steam and diesel trains that wind through the Nantahala Gorge or along the Tuckasegee River. Choose from open-air gondola cars with unencumbered views of the surrounding landscape or plush first-class seating with an included boxed lunch.

On the Nantahala Gorge route, passengers travel across an historic trellis bridge over Fontana Lake, then journey on to a layover stop at the picturesque Nantahala Outdoor Center.

All Great Smoky Mountains Railroad trips depart from the depot in charming Bryson City, N.C. Check the calendar for fun themed rides designed for the youngest passengers.

rafting the rapids on the NantahalaWhitewater Rafting & Kayaking

The N.C. Smokies are the place to find whitewater adventures, with regional rivers boasting rapids of all levels.

Visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center for an unforgettable guided river tour. This Bryson City outpost welcomes top whitewater athletes from across the globe when it hosts international paddlesports competitions, but don’t let that fool you—the NOC offers trips for kids as young as 7 years old.

Outfitters on the Nantahala, Tuckasegee and Ocoee rivers offer guided and self-guided rafting expeditions. Or choose a leisurely float down the Little Tennessee River, where you can see river otters, beavers, deer and countless birds.

Scenic Drives

sunset over the Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina

It’s hard to top the scenic beauty of the N.C. Smoky Mountains. If you just can’t get enough of the winding roads, stunning views, rivers, waterfalls and wildflowers of this region, then head for the hills on one of the area’s scenic byways.

Cherohala Skyway in Graham County connects the Cherokee National Forest to the Nantahala National Forest and boasts breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

To the southeast, U.S. Highway 64 earns its nickname “Waterfall Byway” by winding past 200+ distinct waterfalls on its 98-mile route. For a quick trip, check these four favorite falls in Macon County.

Find the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” in Cherokee, N.C. Then follow this scenic road to the north, stopping at overlooks and hiking trails along the way.

Best Eagle Dance in Cherokee, NCExperience Cherokee

The first inhabitants of the Southern Appalachians arrived more than 11,000 years ago, when the Cherokee Nation stretched from the Ohio River to South Carolina.

The interactive Museum of the Cherokee Indian takes visitors back in time to experience the life of Western North Carolina’s indigenous people. Nearby, the Oconaluftee Indian Village offers an immersive look at what Cherokee life here was like in the 1700s, when Europeans began to settle the region.

Today Cherokee is also a destination for entertainment at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. In addition to slot machines and game tables, visitors can enjoy restaurants, shopping and a calendar of world-class performances throughout the year.

Hiking Trails

Hit the trail this spring and explore the forests and peaks of the N.C. Smokies. With easy, moderate and difficult trails available, you’re sure to find the right adventure for your visit. See beautiful mountain views, or sneak a peek at some local wildlife. Spring is an excellent season for birdwatching amid the new forest leaves. Multi-use trails also welcome mountain biking and horseback riding.

ziplining in the smoky mountains with NOCZipline Tours

See the Smokies from a whole new point of view as you soar between the mountaintops on a zipline tour. With options available for the whole family, these thrilling treetop adventures are also highly educational as knowledgeable guides share information about the region’s natural and cultural history.

Whether your destination is the river, the trail or a trip back in time, the towns and forests of the N.C. Smokies are ready to welcome your adventurous spirit.

Download your free Visitors Guide to start planning today.

Four Must-See Waterfalls Near Highlands, N.C.

The Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina are home to dozens of breathtaking waterfalls cascading down slopes and rock faces.

These four favorite waterfalls are located in Macon County, just outside of the charming town of Highlands, N.C. While three of them are visible from the roadside of US Highway 64 (also known as the Waterfall Byway), the true majesty of these falls are best viewed from their trails and observation areas.

Glen Waterfall in the Smoky Mountains
Glen Falls

Cullasaja Falls

This 250-foot cascade can be found along US Highway 64 less than 9 miles west of Highlands. If you want to snap a photo, look for a very small roadside pull-off on your left. (It’s recommended that you pull into this area from the eastbound lane, and park completely off the road.) The view of Cullasaja is lovely from the parking area, especially in winter once the trees lose their leaves. Experienced hikers can take the steep, unmarked trail down to the base of the falls for another perspective.

Bridal Veil Falls

You can’t miss this waterfall located about 2 miles west of Highlands on US Highway 64. The road was once routed behind the falls (later changed due to problems with icing in winter), but visitors today can still park the car to walk behind this beautiful natural feature.

Dry Falls

Another waterfall that invites visitors to venture behind its falling waters is Dry Falls, located close to Bridal Veil Falls, about 3 miles west of Highlands alongside US Highway 64. Look for signs to the parking area, then take in the stunning view from the accessible observation area or walk the short paved trail that takes you up to and behind the 75-foot cascade.

Glen Falls

The popular two-mile out-and-back trail at the Glen Falls Scenic Area takes hikers past three gorgeous waterfalls. The trail leads downhill via several switchbacks to connect observation areas for each falls. On your hike back up, be sure to look for the side trail leading to a birds-eye view of Overflow Creek and the surrounding valley. Parking for Glen Falls is located along NC Highway 106, about 1.7 miles from US Highway 64 in Highlands.

Before you visit these natural beauties, please keep in mind the basics of waterfall safety. Never climb rock faces, jump off waterfalls or dive into the water. Obey all posted signs, and stick to designated trails and observation platforms. Don’t play in or wade into the water above a waterfall, where strong currents can sweep you over the falls without warning. Stay safe, and enjoy!

Want more suggestions? Here’s our guide to waterfalls in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains.

Monarch Butterfly Migration in the N.C. Smokies

monarch in migrationLate September in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina brings early signs of fall—cooler weather, the first few brightly tinted leaves, and the fluttering orange flashes of migrating monarch butterflies.

The monarchs, with their iconic orange, black and white-patterned wings, pass through the Southern Appalachian Mountains on their way to Mexico, the destination that marks the end of a 2,000+-mile southbound migration. The butterflies that pass through Western North Carolina likely began their journey in Pennsylvania, New York or even Canada. In spring, their descendants will make their way back to the north.

Where to Find Migrating Monarchs in the Smoky Mountains

During the fall migration, monarch butterflies travel among the treetops at higher elevations, some Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks and nearby mountain balds great places to see these winged beauties in action from late September through early to mid-October.

  • Black Balsam is a popular spot for hikers and picnickers, and during migration season the mountain bald is also great for finding monarchs. Find trailhead parking on Black Balsam Road, accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 420.2. Bring a jacket (and your camera!) for the 1-mile hike to the top of the knob.
  • Nearby Waterrock Knob (at Parkway MP 451.2) is similarly known for its 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, giving visitors plenty of open space to see a migrating monarch.
  • Butterflies abound in the Cade’s Cove area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where groups gather each year to count and tag the passing butterflies. Check out the pretty pollinators in one of the area’s meadows, or head to Gregory Bald Trail for a 9-mile (round trip) hike with old growth forests and stunning views.
  • Those who are willing to venture a bit farther down the Blue Ridge Parkway may also find good butterfly-spying at Pounding Mill Overlook (MP 413.2)

7 Great Fall Adventures in the Smoky Mountains

The Smoky Mountains are one of the most beautiful places to visit during autumn, with cool mountain weather and brilliant fall foliage blanketing the slopes. From late September through early November, numerous fall adventures await leaf-peeping visitors. Check out these popular experiences, from serene mountain lakes to thrilling ziplines.

Bonus: Social distancing comes naturally for many of these outdoor activities; check with outfitters and tour companies about any special arrangements for your visit.

whitewater rafting down the nantahala river with NOC.Mountain Lakes, Rivers & Fishing Holes

The many lakes and rivers of the Smoky Mountains offer recreational opportunities of all kinds, from whitewater adventures to boating excursions and fly fishing. Book a guided kayak trip with Primitive Outback, Inc. to see local wildlife from the water, or rent a cane pole at a nearby fishing pond to catch your own trout dinner.

Ziplines

Feel the thrill of flying above the colorful forest canopy on a mountain zipline. The ridgeline-to-ridgeline course at Nantahala Outdoor Center boasts 360-degree views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala Gorge.

Hiking Trails

Whether you’re in search of mountain top views or breathtaking waterfalls, an easy walk or a strenuous trek, there’s a Smoky Mountain hiking trail perfect for your next adventure. Check out this list of popular hikes.

Scenic Drives

Pack a picnic and hit the road for an unforgettable fall drive. By car or by motorcycle, the Blue Ridge Parkway is an excellent choice, especially in early fall when the colors arrive at popular spots like Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam Knob. Or check out US Route 64 between Franklin and Highlands to see waterfalls tucked among the brilliant trees.

scenic byway in the nc smoky mountains

Tour by Train

Bring the family and make fall memories touring the beautiful Nantahala Gorge by riding the rails. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers twice-daily tours (closed on Mondays) on their steam-powered trains. Choose open-air or enclosed train cars and order a boxed lunch for your excursion.

Museum of Cherokee Indian group photo
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian.

Cherokee History

Get to know these mountains through the stories of the people who have lived here for thousands of years. Enjoy an interactive cultural experience at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian then head over to Ococnaluftee Indian Village to immerse yourselves in the living history of the Smokies.

Horseback Riding

Enjoy the autumn forest from a new perspective as you ride along with your new equine companion. Book a horseback trail ride alongside your reservation at a local resort, or choose from a wide variety of guided tours at Chunky Gal Stables, which welcomes guests of all experience levels year-round.

 

Featured image courtesy of Adam Duff – @biodiverseavl

The Impact of COVID-19 in the Smoky Mountains

covid-19 travel information for north carolina smoky mountains

Covid-19 has impacted the way we live, and the way we travel. While you’re still safer staying at home, the great outdoors provide much needed relief from quarantine fatigue. When planning your vacation to the North Carolina Smoky Mountains remember that many businesses have had to modify hours and operations. You’ll want to call ahead to ensure you’ll be able to enjoy certain experiences.

Here, you’ll need to follow the three W’s. 1.  Expect to wait in lines to enter businesses. 2. Wear a mask when indoors and in any communities that request they be used on sidewalks. 3. Wash your hands frequently. Here’s some other information to know.

Last updated on October 27, 2020

Local State of Emergency Declarations with Travel Impacts

North Carolina is in Phase 3 of a three phase plan for reopening the economy, and it is in effect until November 13, 2020. A Stay at Home order remains in effect with some allowances for select businesses to reopen with limited capacity. Please note that face coverings are now required in public space, although there are some exceptions. More information about Phase 3 can be found here.

Graham County

Travel restrictions into the county have been removed, however all nonresidents must observe a 14 days self-quarantine, or for the duration of their visit if it is for less than 14 days. Be prepared to bring your own supplies and groceries to sustain the 14-day quarantine.

Swain County

Swain County is following the state’s Phase 3 guidelines. Restaurants, breweries and wineries are open with restrictions. Attractions are open – many are at 50% capacity. For lodging, please bring as much food, drink and supplies with you as possible. This will lessen the impact on their groceries and other stores that have been and are still experiencing shortages. Also, please help to mitigate any spread in their community by practicing proper social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizing, and the use of protective face coverings as you enjoy our county and trails. The small businesses that have been closed are eager to welcome you!

Jackson County

Jackson County updated its Declaration of a State of Emergency to lift the ban on lodging rentals of less than 30 days, but added strong guidance regarding social distancing and mask wearing.

Macon County

The Chamber Visitor Center has reopened. The hours of operation are Monday – Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Local businesses will display signs to let visitors know if they are open.

Cherokee

On May 15, retail establishments, hotels, and campgrounds re-opened at 50 percent capacity while following strict cleaning and social distancing procedures. Several outdoor activities in Cherokee are open to the general public including the Fire Mountain Trails, Cherokee Skate Park, and the Oconaluftee Island Park. Cherokee Enterprise Waters is open for fishing for people not enrolled with the EBCI. Fishing permits may be purchased on-line at www.fishcherokee.com or from a local fishing permit vendor.

Rest Areas

All NCDOT’s 58 Rest Areas’ restroom facilities statewide remain open 24 hours per day for travelers’ relief. State Welcome Centers also remain open for restrooms 24 hours per day.

UPDATE: The Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Franklin, NC reopened on Saturday, May 9.

Outdoor Closures & Updates

During this time of social distancing, the great outdoors at first seemed the best option to remain active. However, as people flocked to popular hiking trails, scenic lookouts, and waterfalls in droves it became clear that these too would need to be limited. While there are still ways to enjoy outdoor recreation, these more popular spots are have been closed.

We’ll update these as we learn more.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Beginning on Saturday, May 9, the park will begin reopening in phases. Exercise caution while exploring the park, and be sure to read the announcement from the National Park Service before visiting as not all trails will be open.

Roads: Newfound Gap Road, Gatlinburg By-pass, Little River Road, Wear Cove Road, Laurel Creek Road, Cades Cove Loop Road, Cherokee Orchard Road, Lakeview Drive Road, Deep Creek Road and trailheads 

Restrooms: Sugarlands Visitor Center, Newfound Gap, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Cades Cove Cable Mill, Abram Falls Trailhead, Rainbow Falls Trailhead, and picnic areas 

Picnic Areas: Chimney Tops, Metcalf Bottoms, Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Collins Creek 

June 8 update: Some visitor centers and campgrounds are now open.

Horse Camps: Anthony Creek Horse Camp

Visitor Centers: Cable Mill in Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Mingus Mill near Oconaluftee, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Sugarlands Visitor Center

Campgrounds: Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Smokemont

The Following Campgrounds Remain Closed:
Family Campgrounds: Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cataloochee, and Cosby. Group Campgrounds: Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Horse Camps: Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Tow String.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Beginning June 13, 2020, the Blue Ridge Parkway reopened access to picnic areas, including restroom facilities, at the following locations:

– Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, 367.6 (port-o-johns)
– Mt. Pisgah Picnic Area, 407.8

Restrooms or portable toilets are also available at these additional locations:

– Craggy Gardens Visitor Center (port-o-johns), Milepost 364.5
– Folk Art Center (restrooms/water available while building is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10am-4pm), Milepost 382
– Graveyard Fields Trailhead (pit toilets), Milepost 418.8
– Waterrock Knob Visitor Center (pit toilets), Milepost 451.2

The following areas continue to be available:

• Additional portable toilets may be available at intermittent North Carolina park locations
• Select concession operations (additional details available on park website)
• All Parkway trails, and
• All other sections of the motor route in North Carolina and Virginia, except for a road closure from Milepost 115.5 to Milepost 135.9, from Explore Park Access Rd. to Adney Gap, due to multiple road hazards. For more information about this road closure and the timeline for repairs, please visit our road conditions page.

With public health in mind or due to maintenance concerns, the following seasonal visitor facilities remain closed:

• Campgrounds park-wide
• Visitor Centers park-wide
• Crabtree Falls Picnic Area in North Carolina

Cherohala Skyway

The Skyway has reopened.

Cataloochee Valley

Roads into Cataloochee Valley have recently reopened. This is a great place to park and watch as wild elk graze in the fields.

Cherokee

Outdoor recreation areas including Mingo Falls, Soco Falls, picnic areas, and tribal backroads have reopened.

The Appalachian Trail

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina have reopened trailhead and access points to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, but restroom facilities remain unavailable. Shelters will remain closed at this time. These include the following popular spots. See the full list here.

  • Wayah Bald – Nantahala National Forest
  • Cheoah Bald – Nantahala National Forest
  • Hampton and Dennis Cove Trailheads (Laurel Falls) – Cherokee National Forest
  • Osborne Farm – Cherokee National Forest
  • Max Patch – Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests
  • Roan Mountain/Carvers Gap – Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests
  • Lovers Leap – Pisgah National Forest

National Forests

The National Forest Service will began reopening trails and roads on May 14. Restrictions on dispersed camping are being partially lifted as Park Rangers assess campsites on a site-by-site basis. Below is a complete list of trails that are reopening unless otherwise indicated. More information on roads and recreation facilities can be found here.

Pisgah Ranger District 

  • Ivestor Gap (101)
  • Daniel Ridge Loop (105)
  • Looking Glass Rock (114)
  • Slick Rock Falls (117)
  • Cat Gap (120)
  • North Face (132)
  • Art Loeb – Davidson River to Joel Branch FSR5002 (146)
  • Art Loeb – Black Balsam Road FSR816 to Camp Daniel Boone (146)
  • Moore Cove (318)
  • Campground Connector (329)
  • Mt. Pisgah (355)
  • Graveyard Ridge (356)
  • Graveyard Ridge (356A)
  • Graveyard Fields (358)
  • Upper Falls (358A)
  • MST Access (358B)
  • Shining Creek (363)
  • John Rock (365)
  • Rainbow Falls (499)
  • Sunwall (601)
  • Hardtimes Gap (661)
  • Deer Lake Lodge and FSR491 (661)

Appalachian Ranger District

  • Big Butt (161)
  • Douglas Falls (162)
  • Walker Creek (165)
  • Elk Pen (166)
  • Snowball (170)
  • Elk Falls (172)
  • Upper Corner Rock (173)
  • Little Andy (174)
  • Perkins (175)
  • Bear Pen (176)
  • Black Mountain Crest (179) – CLOSED
  • Green Knob (182)
  • Stair Creek (183)
  • Laurel Gap (184)
  • Mount Mitchell (190)
  • Buncombe Horse (191)
  • Big Tom Gap (191A)
  • Roaring Fork Falls (195)
  • Setrock (197)
  • River Loop (200)
  • Fork Ridge (285)
  • Jerry Miller (286)
  • Green Ridge (287)
  • Hickey Fork (292)
  • Whiteoak (293)
  • Roundtop Ridge (295)
  • Shutin Creek (296)
  • Cherry Creek (300)
  • Cold Springs Horse (302)
  • Buckeye Ridge Horse (304)
  • Max Patch Loop (306)
  • Lover’s Leap (308)
  • Overmountain Victory Trail, from Roaring Creek to AT (308A)
  • Pump Gap Loop (309)
  • Laurel River (310)
  • Groundhog Creek (315)
  • Mountains to Sea (440)
  • Hemlock (1003)
  • Briar Bottom (1006)

 

Smoky Mountain Attractions

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

Harrah’s Cherokee as officially reopened. They’ve rearranged the casino floor to provide more space between the games. In addition to their social distancing strategies, there are other protocols in place including mandatory masks for all guests. You can find the full list of safety requirements here.

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Nantahala Outdoor Center has resumed operations with new safety protocols. See the video below for full details.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

Passenger train operations have resumed with 50% capacity. Please be sure to review their full safety guidelines prior to your trip.

Other attractions:

  • Swain County Visitors Center and Heritage Museum – Now Open
  • The Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians – Now Open at 50% Capacity
  • The Museum of the Cherokee Indian – Open

For the latest information on COVID-19, please check the website for the North Carolina Department of Health.

Birding in the Smoky Mountains

The Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina are a prime destination for birdwatchers, or “birders,” thanks to a wide range of elevations and a diversity of habitats that welcome both permanent residents and migrating species.

The arrival of spring marks the first of the year’s big seasons for birding, when migrating songbirds arrive at lower elevation areas. These travelers move into the area throughout the spring and into the summer, when eagle-eyed birdwatchers can find dozens of species singing and nesting in the trees.

Early fall marks a second big migration season and is notable for the opportunity to see Broad-Winged Hawks and other awe-inspiring species.

Prime Locations to Bird Watch in the Smokies.

Pack your binoculars for these favorite birding hotspots in the N.C. Smoky Mountains:

Killdeer bird in the smoky mountains
Killdeer

Stecoah Gap

Just a few miles from the crystalline lakes of the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway, scenic Stecoah Gap is famous for its variety of stunning wildflowers, as well as a diversity of warblers during the spring breeding season in April and May.

Hop on an easy-to-hike forest road and look out for Blackburnian Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers and Wood Thrushes. Or choose the Appalachian Trail for a more strenuous hike and a possible sighting of the vivid Cerulean Warbler.

Kituwah Farm & Cherokee

The site of one of the original “mother towns” of the Cherokee Nation, Kituwah Farm offers 300 acres of open field to explore—perfect for spying raptors like the American Kestrel and sparrows such as Savannah and White-crowned sparrows, even in late winter and early spring. A few miles away, the Garden Trail at the Oconaluftee Indian Village offers an introduction to native plants and those cultivated by the Cherokee people, as well as sightings of Pileated Woodpeckers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Hooded Warblers.

family looking at ducks at Lake Junaluska
Lake Junaluska

Lake Junaluska

Situated in an idyllic valley a few miles from downtown Waynesville, Lake Junaluska is home to dozens of bird species, from waterfowl like swans (see baby cygnets April-June), herons and ducks, to a number of vireos and woodpeckers.

Bird enthusiasts have been very excited to see a nesting pair of Bald Eagles at Lake Junaluska in recent years. Pick up a birding checklist at the welcome center, or check the calendar for a guided bird tour in summer.

Little Tennessee River Greenway

In the town of Franklin, the Little Tennessee River Greenway offers a pleasant paved walk along the river, plus many family-friendly recreation options. Birders will find plenty of species along the main trail, and don’t miss the small wetland area adjacent to Big Bear Park where you’re likely to see White-breasted and Brown-Headed Nuthatches, Red-winged Blackbirds and a variety of ducks and woodpeckers.

Wren chirping in the Smoky Mountains
Wren singing

Blue Ridge Parkway

With its wide diversity of elevations and habitats, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a birder’s paradise. Devil’s Courthouse is a favorite nesting area of the Peregrine Falcon, with the parking area at milepost 422.4 offering the best views. Visit this area at sunset for a stunning view, then stick around during the spring months to hear the songs of Veery and Winter Wrens and to listen for the call of the Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Pack a picnic for Waterrock Knob at milepost 451.2, which boasts a panoramic view and a convenient loop trail perfect for spying Ruffed Grouse, Brown Creeper, Cedar Waxwing and many species of warbler.

Top 10 Romantic Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains

A mountain escape is even sweeter with someone special, and the North Carolina Smoky Mountains have plenty to inspire a romantic getaway. From cozy accommodations and sweet temptations to date-night ideas both fun and adventurous, here are some top activities for couples visiting the mountains.

A couple enjoying a romantic date night in the Smoky Mountains1. Enjoy a Romantic Meal for Two

Whether candlelight or BBQ night is more your speed, there are plenty of places to grab a table for two and enjoy delicious mountain fare. At Bogart’s Restaurant & Tavern in Waynesville or Sylva enjoy a signature Philly cheesesteak, a flame-grilled steak or the catch of the day. The Copper Door in Hayesville also offers elegant steak and seafood dishes in an inviting dining room or patio courtyard. And at Lulu’s On Main in downtown Sylva, grab a seat at the whimsical mosaic-tiled bar and choose from an eclectic menu including Thai noodles, paella, and eggplant parmesan.

2. Raise a Glass to Romance

Toast to a new favorite beverage, or two, at a local craft brewery, winery or distillery. Hoppy Trout Brewing in Andrews pours house brews in imaginative flavors, such as a s’mores flavored milk stout and a Belgian saison aged on cucumbers and jalapeno peppers, while the pub’s dining room serves up brick-oven pizzas and paninis. Lazy Hiker Brewing Company in Franklin lives up to its name, offering a laid-back tap room and patio where you can sip a porter or IPA and perhaps swap stories with a hiker on the Appalachian Trail. Elevated Mountain Distillery in Maggie Valley crafts small batch whiskeys, moonshine and vodka. The distillery offers tours and tastings Monday through Saturday, with mornings and early afternoons being the best times to see the still at work.

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

3. Plan a Date Night with Serious Fun Factor

The couple who plays together stays together! Cherokee’s Ultra Star Multi-Tainment Center combines bowling, billiards and arcade games into one location. Be sure to check their schedule for 90s hip hop theme nights, live band karaoke and DJs spinning on the lanes. In downtown Sylva, Mad Batter Kitchen features live music and free movie showings on select evenings. Go for an old-school date night with mini golf and a milkshake at Bear Creek Adventures Mini Golf & Gem Mining, open seasonally in Murphy. Or try your luck at the tables or slots at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.

Founders Bridge Hikers4. Choose Your Own Couples Adventure

The Smokies offer adventure in all its forms, from adrenaline-fueled zipline courses at Highlands Aerial Park to go-with-the-flow tubing at Deep Creek Tube Center & Campground. Explore the trails on horseback with a tour at Smokemont Riding Stable, or enjoy the rush of the rapids with whitewater rafting at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Take in the zen calm of the forest as you luxuriate in the private outdoor hot tubs at Shoji Spa & Lodge in nearby Asheville.

5. Cozy Up in a Cabin or Lodge

Find your own slice of mountain paradise at one of the many accommodations that offers that iconic mountain experience, including mountain or lake views, crackling fireplaces and an away-from-it-all feeling. Tapoco Lodge in Robbinsville is set on 120 acres of the Nantahala National Forest, with an elegant lodge and classic cabins right on the banks of the Cheoah River. Nearby, the historic Snowbird Mountain Lodge beckons with panoramic mountain views, a screened-in fire pit area, and guest rooms featuring private decks with hot tubs for two. In Hayesville, discover a tranquil retreat at the Hinton Center, with a view of Lake Chatuge on the North Carolina-Georgia line. Or choose a one-bedroom treehouse cabin at Watershed Resort as your mountain home-away-from-home.

Heavenly Fudge in Cherokee
Heavenly Fudge in Cherokee

6. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth

Put the “sweet” in “sweetheart” by sharing a decadent dessert. With locations in Bryson City and Cherokee, Heavenly Fudge Depot & Shoppe has been crafting handmade fudge and candies for more than 40 years. In Waynesville and Sylva, stop by Jack the Dipper for a decadent ice cream treat⁠—served in the parlor’s signature made-to-order warm waffle cones!

7. Take a Hike

Enjoy nature’s wonders side by side on a favorite Smoky Mountain hiking trail. The easy Whiteside Mountain Trail near Cashiers features an awe-inspiring view of the highest vertical drop in the Eastern U.S. Feel at one with the forest on the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail. Or be wow-ed by waterfalls near Bryson City⁠—a loop trail in the Deep Creek area passes right by three favorite falls. Can’t choose? Let the professionals be your guide⁠—companies like Alarka Expeditions in Cowee will tailor a trip to your specific interests, be it birds, botanicals or cultural history.

Sunset in Cherokee NC8. Enjoy a Scenic Sunset

Watch the sky come alive at a favorite sunset spot, like the mountain bald at Max Patch, which boasts stunning 360-degree views. Waterrock Knob and Cowee Mountain Overlook are two of the top spots for sunsets on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. And Clingmans Dome⁠—the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park⁠—is ideal for both sunset and sunrise views. Remember to pack a jacket for quickly cooling temperatures and a flashlight for the hike back to the car! If you prefer to pair your sunset with a delicious dinner or drink, reserve a table at Mountview Bistro at Fontana Village.

9. Stroll a Small Town Main Street

Walk hand-in-hand through a charming mountain town and discover local shopping and art along the way. Waynesville has welcomed visitors to its downtown for well over a century. Sylva is known for its all-American Main Street and iconic courthouse, while nearby Dillsboro features the work of local artisans in the historic charm of 19th century buildings. Cashiers and Highlands combine high-end shopping with delicious restaurants and outdoor outfitters.

Cloggers in Dillsboro10. Learn From the Local Culture

Get to know the history and heritage of the Smokies, and take home some skills or souvenirs to remember your visit! Learn from Cherokee artisans at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, and stick around after dark for theater under the stars. Unto These Hills has reenacted the stories of the Cherokee people for 70 years. In the fall, a retelling of Sleepy Hollow takes over the outdoor amphitheatre. At the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, learn traditional Appalachian crafts, dance, music and cooking in week-long and weekend classes year-round.

 

Dillsboro Exploration Guide – Top Things To Do

Located in Jackson County, Dillsboro, North Carolina is the ideal getaway for a weekend or longer.  Surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest and located along the banks of the Tuskasegee River, this charming and artsy town offers a relaxing atmosphere, family activities, shopping, and great food.  Just 45 minutes west of Asheville, Dillsboro is a one stop destination with a variety of experiences to create a memorable visit.

Things to do in Dillsboro

With an abundance of hiking trails and activities along the Tuskasegee River, Dillsboro is the perfect basecamp for outdoors adventure.

River Adventures

kayakers on the Tuckasegee RiverThe Tuckasegee, also known as “Tuck” flows from Cashiers all the way to its entry into Fontana Lake.  A popular river for fly fishing, boating, and floating, visitors can experience it all.  Dillsboro is the fifth put-in point along the river and the ideal spot to take a slow float, kayak trip or fishing expedition. Here are some places who can help you access these mountain blueway adventures.

  • Smoky Mountain River adventures takes families on white water rafting with guide or offers advice to do it on your own.  Rental for rafts and inflatable kayaks are available.
  • Tuckasegee Outfitters offers family friendly rafting trips May-September from Dillsboro to Barkers Creek Crossing.  The rapids are small (class I and II), and perfect for an easy trip down the river.
  • Dillsboro River Company provides river trips for the whole family and is perfect for first time rafters or young children.

Go Fish

Fly fisher in Jackson County North CarolinaFly fishing is huge in Jackson County. In fact it’s known as the North Carolina Trout Capital and boasts 15 spots to catch a few varieties of trout. You’re sure to find a great spot away from other fishers to spend a quiet morning or afternoon. For license information, rules, and maps visit Discover Jackson NC.

Hiking in Jackson County will always end with a great view but what makes it special is that there is a trail for everyone regardless of age or ability. Here are some local favorites.

  • Black Balsam Trail loops through Black Balsam Knob with the full hike being 5 miles.  Once you reach the 6,000-foot elevation point, visitors will see mountains from every angle.  A  seven mile challenge for the seasoned hiker or adventurer
  • Pinnacle Park Trail offers a steep and rocky ascend to gorgeous summit views.
  • Whiteside Mountain offers panoramic views following a 2 mile track.  In the spring and summer, keep lookout for nesting peregrine falcons.

Culture and Shopping

Southern Appalachian Womens Musuem
Appalachian Women’s Museum

Explore a variety of cultural and shopping experiences rich in the history and people of the area. Probably one of the most popular excursions is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which offers year-round train rides along the Tuckasegee River.  Special themed trips like The Polar Express and The Easter Express are local favorites. Another unique Dillsboro offering is the Appalachian Women’s Museum, the first museum dedicated to Southern Appalachian women offers exhibits and a glimpse into their lives.

Dillsboro is known as an artsy community that has hundreds of arts and crafts on display along the five block village.

  • Since 1976, Dogwood Crafters has housed fine arts and crafts from over 125 local artists. Stop here to purchase a piece of Dillsboro culture.
  • The American House Cat Museum is for cat lovers alike.  Located 4 miles south of Dillsboro, visitors will find cat memorabilia from any decade and many important pieces of purr cat history.
  • Riverwood Pottery has been in the village since 1973 and is a great place to find a special ceramic piece.  The studio also offers demonstrations and classes.

Great Places to Dine

toward plott balsams mountain rangeBoasting the “Best Hand Cut Steaks in the Smokys”, Boots Steakhouse offers fine dining with a cozy mountain town feel.  Besides steak, the menu offers seafood, southern comfort foods, and a full bar.

With locations in neighboring Sylva and Dillsboro, Innovation Brewing offers a unique selection of over 30 brews along with crowd favorites.  Live music is featured every Saturday and Cosmic Carryout, their food truck is in full operation every day.

Located in Sylva,  Foragers Canteen offers an eclectic twist on southern and new favorites.  By offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you could make a day out of it!

Places to Stay in and Around Dillsboro

Dillsboro and surrounding offer a variety of accommodations to rest and relax after all that fun!

  • Best Western Plus River Escape Inn and Suites offers traditional accommodations with Tuckasegee River and Great Smoky Mountain views.  Each stay offers full amenities including full hot breakfast, internet access, and an indoor pool and hot tub.
  • Holiday Inn Express-Sylva is convenient to many area attractions, offers reasonable rates, and pool and hot tub.
  • For a unique experience, try  The Grand Old Lady Hotel in nearby Balsam.   Housed on a historic property, The Grand Old Lady Hotel offers standard rooms along, junior and traditional suites.

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 in the North Carolina Smokies. There are plenty of gorgeous winter-time mountain views to go around. And while several traditional events have been cancelled due to the pandemic, many small towns are creatively adapting their festivities to keep residents and visitors safe in 2020.

Wander among dazzling light displays, enjoy a small town parade on main street, and support local small businesses as you check off the gifts on your shopping list. Take part in the holiday cheer happening across the Smoky Mountains at one of these great events. Please note that scheduled events are subject to change—refer to event websites and organizers for the most up-to-date information. We’ll update this blog as we learn of new events.

Our Top Picks For Holiday 2020 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 6 – December 31, 2020

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. Excursions in 2020 will operate with reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and all passengers must wear face coverings.

Franklin’s Winter Wonderland

November 28 & December 5, 2020, 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Kids on ice slide in Franklin
Winter Wonderland in Franklin

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.

Andrews Magic on Main Electric Christmas Parade

November 28, 2020, 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 floats, and see if you can tell who will win the Best in Show trophy. For the 2020 event, no candy will be thrown from floats—look for volunteers handing out bagged candy before the event!

Christmas in Highlands

November 28, 2020, 6:00 p.m.

Highlands, N.C., welcomes you to join them in their holiday celebrations for their annual tree lighting. The trees in  Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park will be switched on promptly at 6 p.m. to be enjoyed by car or on foot. Tune in to WHLC 104.5 FM for a festive program with holiday music, Christmas carols and Santa Claus reading The Night Before Christmas.

Dillsboro luminaries
Dillsboro luminaries. Photo courtesy of Discover Jackson NC

Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries

December 4, 5, 11, and 12, 2020, 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 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.

Highlands Olde Mountain Drive Through Festival

December 5, 2020, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Enjoy Highlands’ creative take on an old-fashioned Christmas parade! Floats decorated by community groups will line the center of Main Street all the way down to Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park, plus dazzling lights, fire trucks and bagpipers and a brass ensemble playing holiday tunes. To enjoy the show, get in your car and follow the mapped route through the festivities. Volunteers will be on hand to direct drivers, and downtown storefronts will sparkle with festive displays. Santa Claus and his helpers will also make a special appearance on an antique fire truck!

Sylva NC holiday display
Sylva, NC, holiday display.

Murphy Farmers Market

December 12, 2020, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.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.

Robbinsville Christmas Parade

December 12, 2020, 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.

A Night Before Christmas

December 12, 2020, 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.

 

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.