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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Throughout the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, many businesses have had to make the difficult choice to temporarily close their doors for the greater good of keeping their community healthy. While spring is naturally a time when people are ready to get back to nature, the unprecedented situation we all face means that now is not the time to be traveling.
While the recommendation is that you stay at home and stay safe during this pandemic, there may be reasons you need to travel through the NC Smokies. In this case, here’s what you need to know.
Last updated on September 17, 2020
Local State of Emergency Declarations with Travel Impacts
North Carolina is in Phase 2.5 of a three phase plan for reopening the economy. 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 2.5 can be found here.
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.
As of May 4, the curfew and 14-day isolation supplemental orders have been terminated. All lodging will reopen beginning Friday, May 8 at 5 pm. 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 updated its Declaration of a State of Emergency to lift the ban currently in place on lodging rentals of less than 30 days, but added strong guidance regarding social distancing and mask wearing.
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.
On May 15, retail establishments, hotels, and campgrounds may re-open at 50 percent capacity while following strict cleaning and social distancing procedures. Several outdoor activities in Cherokee will open to the general public the same day including the Fire Mountain Trails, Cherokee Skate Park, and the Oconaluftee Island Park. Cherokee Enterprise Waters will open that day as well 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.
All NCDOT’s 58 Rest Areas’ restroom facilities statewide remain open 24 hours per day for travelers’ relief. State Welcome Centers on the interstate highways are closed for visitor information, but 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.
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:
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
The Skyway has reopened.
Unrelated to COVID-19, all access to Cataloochee Valley will be closed for road repairs. Estimate reopening is August 2020.
Outdoor recreation areas including Mingo Falls, Soco Falls, picnic areas, and tribal backroads will reopened on May 15 for public access.
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
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)
Hardtimes Gap (661)
Deer Lake Lodge and FSR491 (661)
Appalachian Ranger District
Big Butt (161)
Douglas Falls (162)
Walker Creek (165)
Elk Pen (166)
Elk Falls (172)
Upper Corner Rock (173)
Little Andy (174)
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)
River Loop (200)
Fork Ridge (285)
Jerry Miller (286)
Green Ridge (287)
Hickey Fork (292)
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)
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.
Swain County Visitors Center and Heritage Museum – Now Open
The Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians – Now Open at 50% Capacity
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
1. 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.
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.
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.
8. 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.
10. 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.
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.
The 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.
Fly 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
Whiteside Mountain offers panoramic views following a 2 mile track. In the spring and summer, keep lookout for nesting peregrine falcons.
Culture and Shopping
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
Boasting 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.
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.
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
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 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
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 Lodgeoffers 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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
With all the great adventures in the area, there are diverse accommodation options to make anyone feel at home.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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, 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.
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!
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.
Another 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.
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.
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
During 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
In 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
Once 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.
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?
Saturday, 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?
UPDATE: 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.
The elegance and adventure of yesteryears train travel can be found today, on North Carolina’s steam powered Smoky Mountain Railroad. Traveling this historic route, one might expect James Bond and a femme fatal, or Hercule Poirot, to be in the club car sipping a glass of wine while watching the countryside and vineyards roll by. Featuring the best Vintner selections of North Carolina local wines to enhance your palate, choices and tastings can be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, The Hunt Sonoma Country 2014, Vanderbilt Russian River Pinot Noir, and for dessert, Blane deNoir. All offered to compliment your gourmet meal with a side order of panoramic view. Traveling the countryside on an adventure of sight, sound and palate pleasing tastes runs from early May to the first week of January. Smoky Mountain Railroad excursions transport you on a nostalgic train ride, wine tasting journey that memories are made of. Bon Appetite and enjoy.