The Impact of COVID-19 in the Smoky Mountains

covid-19 travel information for north carolina smoky mountains

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 April 2, 2020

Local State of Emergency Declarations with Travel Impacts

Many counties in western North Carolina are now declaring states of emergency and putting restrictions on travel. Anyone passing through these counties should make sure to plan accordingly.

Graham County

Beginning on Friday, March 27, 2020, checkpoints will be established at entry points to Graham County and no visitors will be allowed access. Please see here for a list of highways with restricted access.

Jackson County and Swain County

All accommodations are now closed to visitors without a work-related reason for the stay. Proof of work will be required including a work ID badge and a letter from the employer stating the purpose of the work to be performed in the respective county.

Cherokee

The Qualla Boundary is currently only open to enrolled members and first descendants with valid ID, non-enrolled persons residing on the Qualla Boundary, non-enrolled employees of essential services and businesses, and delivery services.

Rest Areas

All NCDOT’s 58 Rest Areas’ restroom facilities statewide remain open 24 hours per day for travelers’ relief including the Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Franklin, NC. State Welcome Centers on the interstate highways are closed for visitor information, but remain open for restrooms 24 hours per day.

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

All campgrounds, picnic areas and restaurants are closed. Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, and Cades Cove Visitor Centers remain closed until further notice.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The southernmost 14 miles of this scenic road have been closed. This spans from Milepost 455 to 469. There are some segments of this scene drive that remain accessible, but any public facility like picnic areas and bathrooms are closed.

Cherohala Skyway

Closed to all traffic.

Cataloochee Valley

Unrelated to COVID-19, all access to Cataloochee Valley will be closed from February 10 through May 20 for road repairs.

Cherokee – Fishing Season

The fishing season in Cherokee has been postponed until further notice. It is recommended that you don’t purchase permits at this time. Waters are not being stocked at this time.

The Appalachian Trail

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina are temporarily shutting down trailhead facilities and other access points to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to prevent groups from congregating and to protect public health and safety. 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 says that the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests will remain open however recreation services at their facilities may be changed, suspended or offered through alternate approaches as they manage for the health and safety of our work force and the public. All campgrounds have been closed.

 

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

Our Top Picks For Holiday 2019 Events in the Smoky Mountains

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

The Polar Express Train Ride

November 8 – December 31, 2019

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

Christmas on Main – Andrews

November 23, 2019, All day

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

Sylva Holiday Festivities

November 29 – December 1, 2019 – various times

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

Cashiers Christmas on the Green

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

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

Kids on ice slide in Franklin
Winter Wonderland in Franklin

Cullowhee Mountain Artisans Hard Candy Christmas

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

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

Maggie Gets Lit

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

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

Franklin’s Winter Wonderland

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

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

Christmas in Highlands

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

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

Waynesville Christmas Tree Lighting

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

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

Dillsboro luminaries
Dillsboro luminaries. Photo courtesy of Discover Jackson NC

Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries

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

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

The Carolina Christmas Show

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

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

Robbinsville Christmas Parade

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

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

Murphy Christmas Market

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

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

Sylva NC holiday display
Sylva, NC, holiday display.

Highlands Olde Mountain Christmas parade

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

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

The Biggest Little Christmas Parade in the Smokies

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

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

“Candy Cane Christmas” Waynesville Christmas Parade

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

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

A Night Before Christmas

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

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

Hometown Holiday Festival – Robbinsville

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

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

Andrews Magic on Main Electric Christmas Parade

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

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

Cherokee Light and Legend Christmas

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

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

Christmas At Home Parade – Cherokee

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Cherokee, NC – Things To See & Do.

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

Best Cultural Experiences in Cherokee

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

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

Handmade Cherokee Arts and Crafts

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

Explore the Smoky Mountains Surrounding Cherokee

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

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

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

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

Cherokee Nightlife

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

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

Where to Find Beautiful Fall Color in the Smoky Mountains

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

Where to look for early fall color

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

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

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

Top picks for mid season fall foliage

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

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

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

End of season autumn hues

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

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

 

Happy leaf peeping!

Special Alert: Nantahala River Closures No Longer in Effect

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

What happened to the Nantahala River?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can visitors to the Nantahala Gorge access?

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Aboard!

All Aboard!
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.

Rush down the Rapids to Nantahala Falls

If you want fun, sun, water and adventure you can have it all in Nantahala, North Carolina. It’s home to the Nantahala Gorge, one of the premier whitewater rafting rivers. The river boasts eight miles of waves and swift currents, with a three-hour trip that culminates (for you Class III rafters) in a trip down the Nantahala Falls. Known by the Cherokee as the “Land of the Noonday Sun,” this steep gorge offers Class I and Class II rafting for the majority of the trip and is a favorite training ground for Olympic kayakers. The outfitters offer guided and unguided trips in eight-person rafts or inflatable kayaks. You can bus to one of their outpost locations, hit the river for some fun and catch the bus back. The whitewater rafting season typically lasts from March to October and is a great way to create lasting memories. If you’re looking for the adventure of a lifetime, look no further than Nantahala!