Smoky Mountain Visitor Center – Your Travel Resource in the Smokies

Smoky Mountain Host visitor center

The sprawling North Carolina Smoky Mountains cover seven of the westernmost counties in the state, and to anyone unfamiliar with the region it may be a challenge to know where to go and what to do. For that reason it’s helpful to get guidance from one of the local experts at the Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Franklin. The folks there are knowledgeable on all of the activities, events, history, and natural beauty the region has to offer.

The Visitor Center is located inside an NC public restroom facility, but it often surprises visitors to learn that it’s so much more than that. It’s also the best place to get suggestions on activities that meet your interest, and details on outdoor adventures that fit your fitness level. You can also pick up some keepsakes at the gift shop to remember your trip through the world’s oldest mountains.

Visitors passing through can find a comfortable picnic area and super clean bathroom facilities on site. It’s also a great place to get a sneak peak of the beauty of this region. People actually rave about this place, which is interesting for a rest area, but it’s a testament to why this place is worthy of a visit for local information as well as to see the beauty of the area where it’s located. Here are a handful of the almost 2,000 reviews received online.

☆☆☆☆☆ “One of the nicest Visitor’s Centers around. The people that work there are very friendly and could answer any questions that we had. They have items for sale in the center. Extremely clean rest rooms. It was well lit. Easy to maneuver a wheelchair. Plenty of parking. Easy to get to.” ~Jacque W.

☆☆☆☆☆ “The helper behind the counter was so gracious and kind. So friendly. We stopped for a picnic it was so beautiful. We even met others who are enjoying all this as much as we did.” ~ Mel F.

☆☆☆☆☆ “100 percent the nicest rest area I’ve ever seen. Clean, spacious and well stocked. They have a wonderful little shop with a great supply of local products as well as visitor information. Courteous and friendly staff complete a wonderful traveling experience.” ~Monte W.

☆☆☆☆☆ “This is the best Visitor’s Center I’ve ever been too! They had an amazing gift shop featuring locally made items. You get an amazing cup of locally roasted coffee, great conversation and tips for your travels from the great staff. The bathrooms are a work of art and super clean.” ~Michele M.

☆☆☆☆☆ “The visitors center is a must see!! Very educational, lots of maps for hikes, lots of gifts to take home.” ~ Lil R.

 

Location & Hours of Operation
4437 Georgia Rd
Franklin, NC 28734
828.369.9606

Open Sunday-Saturday
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed Christmas and Thanksgiving

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Explorer’s Guide to Murphy, NC

Buckle up explorers and travelers! You’re heading to one of the most charming and peaceful, yet outrageously adventurous small towns in the NC Great Smoky Mountains – Murphy, NC!

Geographically, Murphy is located in the westernmost county of North Carolina and serves as a gateway to the Smoky Mountains. It also provides easy access to the the outdoor recreation found in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Ready to explore? Here are some activities to add to your travel itinerary.

downtown murhpy

Murphy’s Outdoor Adventures: Hikes, Waterfalls, and Mountain Biking

Murphy River Walk

For those who like to stroll at a leisurely pace, there is no better option than the Murphy River Walk, skirting the downtown center of Murphy and meandering alongside the Hiwassee and Valley Rivers (they converge in Murphy.) Discover meadows and wetlands, thick forests and a rock cliff as you walk the trails, breathing in the fresh air in the peaceful surroundings. The trail is a little over 2 miles long if you walk its entirety, but there are several trailheads for you to pick your own distance.

Piney Knob Trails

Spreading across 700-plus acres, the Piney Knob Trail System invites hikers to explore the beauty of the Murphy Watershed. This is a great option for families who have differing skill levels on the trails.

Hanging Dog Recreation Area

Just 5 miles from downtown Murphy is the fantastically fun (if regrettably named) Hanging Dog Recreational Area. But don’t let the name fool you. The hiking trails here will fill you with nothing but joy. You can hike or bike the Ramsey Bluff Mountain Biking System, with 8 miles of moderately difficult trails or enjoy an easier hike on one of the 1-mile trails that lead from some of the best sightseeing spots on Hiwassee Lake.

The Waterfalls Byway

The famous Waterfall Byway begins (or ends, depending on which direction you’re headed) in Murphy, NC. The 98-mile route features 200-plus towering cascades along the beautiful mountain roads of these western-most towns.

Tsali Recreation Area Mountain Biking

The Tsali Recreation Area with its 40 miles of off-road biking at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains is the Mack Daddy of all-terrain riding experiences. Skirting crystal-clear Fontana Lake with 4 loops of hard-packed, single track, Tsali delivers on the thrills and is hailed internationally as a mecca for mountain biking.

Hiwassee Lake

For a true “get-away-from-it-all” experience, spend the day at Hiwassee Lake in Murphy, NC. This 22-mile-long reservoir has over 160 miles of shoreline for fishing, boating, swimming, and just enjoying the lake views. Considered a non-commercial reservoir, because only 7% of it has been developed(!), the lake will help you find absolute peace in nature. For a choice of access points, drive the loop around Hiwassee Lake (a little over 2 ½ hours) until you find what you’re looking for, whether it be boating and swimming with other day trippers or your own quiet slice of heaven. For a panoramic view of this magnificent lake, visit the Hiwassee Dam, one of 3 hydroelectric dams on the Hiwassee River that is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Next to the dam is a park with lake access, trails, public restrooms, and picnic areas.

Local Culture

Cherokee County Historical Museum

Visitors to the Cherokee County Historical Museum will be fascinated by interactive stories and displays as you uncover the 11,000-year known history of the Cherokee Indians. Settle around the holographic Cherokee storyteller at his fire to hear tales in the original oral tradition. Perhaps you’ll hear the story of Tsali, a Cherokee Indian warrior who killed a US soldier and then, to save his tribe from the Trail of Tears, turned himself in. If you are interested, you can also see the actual rifle used to execute Tsali.

Highlander Gallery

A short, 10-minute jaunt up the road to Brasstown, NC leads to the remarkable Highlander Gallery. Here you will find crafts and artwork that represent Western North Carolina in multiple mediums, each expressing the artist’s unique style while honoring their heritage. They say to bring back a special item from each of your travels to always remember the feelings and experiences of each place. Choose from one or more pieces amongst paintings, photography, wood art, basketry, jewelry, stone sculptures, marquetry (decorative patterns inserted onto a form), pottery, illustrations, and weaving and fabric art for your touchstone back to the NC Great Smoky Mountains.

Blue Ridge Craft Heritage Trail

The Smoky Mountains are home and inspiration to hundreds of artists. Across Western North Carolina, visitors can find handmade crafts at a number of studios and galleries, and now, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Trail Area, connects visitors to these cultural resources through a network of craft trails. The initiative is called the Blue Ridge Craft Trails, a series of curated driving trails throughout the region featuring 200 craft sites. Travelers can use craft trail itineraries for tips to round out their craft-hunting experiences with nearby foods, breweries, wineries, music, outdoor activities, and scenic views. Check out their suggested itinerary for the craft trail through Murphy and the neighboring town of Andrews, NC.

Joe Waldroup Woodworks in Hayesville

Where To Stay in Murphy N.C.

Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee Valley River

Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino features over 50,000 feet of gaming, over 1,000 slot machines, and your favorite table games, like blackjack, craps, and roulette! Enjoy non-stop entertainment at the Ultrastar Multi-tainment Center, which includes a bowling alley, arcade, fireside patio, and more. When you get hungry, there are numerous, well-known restaurants to choose from without ever leaving the resort. When the excitement winds down, retire to your luxury room, or perhaps stop by the spa first for the ultimate unwinding!

Murphy Peace Valley Campground

The Murphy Peace Valley Campground KOA is your peaceful retreat in the Heart of the Smoky Mountains, located one mile from Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino. They offer furnished deluxe cabins; shaded, full-hook-up RV sites with cable tv and wi-fi internet; and tent camping. Or stay at their award-winning campground, relaxing by the campfire on the peaceful Valley River. The property features a swimming pool, game room, pet play area, playground, and pavilion to enjoy when you’re not on the river fishing, swimming, or tubing.

The Valley River RV Resort

Murphy also boasts the Valley River RV Resort, a destination that features spacious RV sites, 50-amp service, a clubhouse with a kitchen, a bathhouse, and a laundry facility. Other amenities include wi-fi, cable tv, grills, an outdoor pool, a game room, and a pet washing station. With waterfront sites available, you can wake up in the morning and cast your line just feet away from where you slept!

Mountain Country Cabins

With names like “Moonlight Holler,” “Papa Bears Den,” “Owl’s Roost Hideaway,” and “Almost Heaven,” consider booking a cabin through Mountain Country Cabin Rentals to find a vacation cabin that has everything you’re looking for from a small, romantic getaway to a large-group family reunion!

Ultra Star in Murphy NC

Where to Eat and Drink

Chevelles66

With locations in downtown Murphy and nearby Hayesville, Chevelles is a motor sports themed restaurant and bar serving up steaks, seafood, chicken, pasta, salads, & desserts. They also have live music.

River Valley Brewery

One of Murphy’s premier craft beer breweries, River Valley offers brick oven pizza, gyros, philly cheese steak sandwich, burgers,fish ,shrimp, salads, soups, appetizers and a great kids menu.

FernCrest Winery

The FernCrest Winery Tasting Room is open in downtown Andrews just over from Murphy. They have created hand-crafted wines using the best grapes from their vineyard and their vineyard partners. They offer wine tastings and wines by the bottle or by the glass. Be sure to sample some of the local cheeses and jams from the menu, and pick up some cool wine merchandise while you’re there.

Murphy’s Chophouse

Treat yourself to a nice evening on the town with some gourmet cuisine, wines and cocktails. World renowned Chef and Owner, James Reaux provides a fine dining approach and a casual comfortable atmosphere.

HoppyTrout Brewing Company

Hoppy Trout Brewing is a newish microbrewery in nearby Andrews. With beer names like Hop Incident, Wicked Weed, Behold the Reaper, Allagash, and Dr. Smores Stout, it’ll be hard to decide which one to try first! Make a meal out of your visit with appetizers, salads, and a mouth-watering hand-made, brick-oven Sicilian Pizza.

Hoppy Trout

Traveling the Appalachian Folkways

Adjacent to the Oconaluftee Village, where you can witness the history of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill offer a glimpse into early Appalachian life. Early Scotch-Irish, German, and English immigrants settled the area in the mid-1700s, bringing their cultures and influences to the heavily forested, rocky slopes of the NC Great Smoky Mountains.

Mingus Mill

Learn the History of Early Appalachian Life at Mountain Farm Museum

To experience first-hand what life was like for these immigrants, you need to go no farther than the Mountain Farm Museum  just off the Oconaluftee River Trail at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. First, stop by the state-of-the-art Oconaluftee Visitor Center for a free map and the opportunity to ask park rangers questions and hear their insights into the displays. Wander through the exhibits and media presentations, and maybe pick up a souvenir at the gift shop and bookstore. Then step outdoors and through a hundred-plus-year time warp.

Around the 1950s, the numerous buildings at this open-air museum were moved from their original locations within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to their current location, where they can be preserved properly and seen collectively as a living display of the day-to-day activities of early farm life. Explore the authentic barn, smokehouse, spring house, apple house, and working blacksmith shop, all original structures dating back to the 1800s and 1900s. And don’t miss the historical farming and agriculture also happening on site.

Perhaps most fascinating about the museum are the log houses where actual settlers once lived. Pay special attention to the single hardwood log house, The David House, made from local Chestnut trees before a blight that later decimated their population.

Admission to the Mountain Farm Museum is free.

Insider Tip: In the early morning and early evening hours, free-range elk oftentimes can be spotted grazing in the fields next to the Visitor Center. Witness the rebirth of a population that was brought back from the brink of extinction through the successful efforts of local conservationists.

Visit Mingus Mill

A short half-mile north of the Mountain Farm Museum and Oconaluftee Village is Mingus Mill, a historic, water-powered turbine used for grinding corn. Built in 1886, the mill was key to the survival of the immigrants who relied on the resulting cornmeal, especially in the difficult winters. Today, visitors can purchase cornmeal and other mill-related products on site.

It would be remiss to not acknowledge to impact the Cherokee People had on the survival and eventual thriving of the early settlers to these mountains. It is widely recorded that the Scots, especially, and Cherokee had an amiable relationship due to many common aspects of their cultures, including societies organized around kinship and clan instead of land ownership. They both also identified as being fiercely independent people who had been subjected to ruling aggressors. In fact, many of the Scots took Cherokee wives and lived together as one in communities. In large part, it was only through the early intervention and mentorship of the Cherokee People that early immigrants survived the harsh landscape they call home today.

Exploring Trails Near Sacred Waters

There are several other exciting, one-of-a-kind experiences to explore while in the area. The Oconaluftee River Trail, which begins at the Visitor Center, takes you on an easy, 1 ½-mile stroll (each way) to the outskirts of Cherokee, NC. The walking path can even accommodate a baby stroller. Pets and bicycles are also welcome, which is uncommon in this area. The nearby Mingus Creek Trail is a far more challenging adventure along a 5.8-mile-long route with a high degree of difficulty. But you will be well rewarded with stunning views, pristine creeks and fields of wildflowers.

Anglers from around the world also flock to these waters for some extreme Fly Fishing. The Oconaluftee River, considered to be “sacred waters” by the Cherokee and known as the “Luftee,” is a beautiful, freestone river that drops 2,000 feet over 10 miles. It flows through downtown Cherokee and Qualla Boundary, the homeland of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and is most famous for its abundant healthy Rainbow, Brook and Brown Trout. In fact, it holds the North Carolina Record for a Brown Trout weighing in at 15.9 pounds!

When you add some cornmeal from Mingus Mill to your catch of the day (unless, of course, you are catching and releasing,) you will be eating exactly like the hearty immigrants who traveled across the world to start a new life in the Great Smoky Mountains of NC.

For more unique vacation activities while you’re here, visit must-do activities in and around Cherokee, NC.

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Featured image: “Mingus Mill” by Photomatt28 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Top 25 Things To Do in the NC Smoky Mountains

Collage of images showcasing top things to do in the Smoky Mountains of NC

Planning a vacation that delivers on thrills, romance, family fun, and relaxation while exploring unfamiliar cultures and unparalleled adventures? The NC Great Smoky Mountains is your one-stop destination to it all. Here are the Top 25 ideas for your Vacation Bucket List!

 

Outdoor Adventure

fly fishing in Jackson County
Photo courtesy of Jackson County TDA

1. Discover serious Fly Fishing

There is no end to the adventures you will have fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains! Whether you are a first-timer or seasoned pro, angling in our crystalline mountain rivers and streams will become an experience that you will repeat as often as possible.

With your choice of Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout, fished from open waters or rocky torrents, either by wading or floating, and either caught and released or served for dinner, no two trips are identical.

2.Experience lake life

Enjoy swimming, boating, paddleboarding, and fishing in our cool, crystalline mountain lakes, like Nantahala Lake and Lake Santeetlah. To really get back to nature, plan a lake-front overnight with a Fontana Lake Camping Trip. 

The 98-mile Waterfall Byway follows Rte. 64 from Rosman to Murphy, NC, with more than 200 waterfalls along the byway. For those worried about having to hike into the forest to see the falls, rest assured there are many falls that can be seen from parking areas.

3. Go Chasing Waterfalls

Yellow Falls in Graham County NCThe 98-mile Waterfall Byway follows Rte. 64 from Rosman to Murphy, NC, with more than 200 waterfalls along the byway. For those worried about having to hike into the forest to see the falls, rest assured there are many falls that can be seen from parking areas.

4.Take a hike

This area of Western North Carolina is synonymous with numerous hiking trails of varying difficulties and unparalleled beauty. Some deliver on a hard workout with knockout views from the apex. Others feature the best places to bird-watch or to surround yourself in a sea of wildflowers. Pick your favorite Hiking Trails and get yourself out into nature.

5. Mountain-bike for YEW!

If your extreme hobby is riding “knobbies,” the NC Great Smoky Mountains is fast becoming your Holy Grail! Some tracks are suitable for families and novices, but, really, this precipitous terrain is the epitome of adrenaline-pumping action that will have you questioning your sanity.

Of special note is the Tsali Recreation Area with its 40 miles of off-road biking at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains is the Mack Daddy of all-terrain riding experiences. Skirting crystal-clear Fontana Lake with 4 loops of hard-packed, single tracks, Tsali Recreation Area delivers on the thrills.

6. Celebrate 50 years of adventure at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)

NOC’s initial niche of whitewater rafting trips has expanded to over 120 land and river-based activities, including kayaking, ziplining, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, tubing and international trips. A home for professional adventurers as well as novices, the campus is one of the nation’s premier training sites for elite whitewater athletes, including 23 Olympians and two gold medalists.

elk in the great smoky mountain national park7. Witness the rebirth of the American Elk population

America’s elk population was decimated from over-hunting and loss of habitat in the early 1900’s. Efforts to revitalize the species have slowly paid off and now the numbers of wild elk are beginning to grow. Today, you can view elk in their natural setting in the heart of the Cataloochee Valley where the elk roam freely. They are most often seen in the morning and late afternoon. Bring a camera to take photos, but keep a safe distance — as with any wildlife encounter, respecting the animal’s space is important.

8. Experience the Great Smoky Mountains on Horseback

Ride the trails through the national forests of North Carolina atop a strong, majestic horse, and take in the incredible sights, sounds, and smells of nature at a leisurely pace.

9. Go primordial in old-growth forests

One of the best examples is the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forestin Graham County, NC. Widely unknown by most, this forest, part of the Nantahala National Forest, lives under the protective watch of the US Forest Service and has remained untouched by logging and development since 1936. In fact, this land is so shielded from intrusion, all-terrain vehicles and chainsaws are not permitted, even by the forest’s keepers.

Can’t-Miss Adventures

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad steam locomotive10. Hop onboard the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

Experience the landscape in motion with gorgeous views of the lovely countryside, charming local towns, mountain rivers, and more as you sit back, relax, and take in the scenery. You can even choose a special train ride with dinner and music!

11. Climb Clingman’s Dome

If it takes a lot to take your breath away, then a visit to Clingman’s Dome is in order. As the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, Clingman’s Dome sits at over 6,600 feet and offers staggering views of the Smokies that can span over 100 miles and across 7 states on a clear day.

12. Drive like a local

The steep windy roads that roll through the Great Smoky Mountains challenge even the best drivers. Out of the Great Depression came a grand vision to connect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia; that vision became the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway remains a unique American treasure with 469 slowly flowing miles of ridge tops, parks, tunnels, overlooks, and views that are simply unmatched.

13. Cruise like a professional on the Tail of the Dragon

Undiscovered by most casual road-trippers, the “Tail of the Dragon” describes the adrenaline-pumping thoroughfare that has become world famous to those in the know. Motorcyclists and sports car drivers come from all over the world to test their grit on this road with over 300 tight curves spanning a short 11 miles.

Nantahala Falls14. Journey along the Cherahola Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile National Scenic Byway and National Forest Scenic Byway that connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina in the southeastern United States. This road is perfect for a more relaxing, meandering drive with magnificent vistas.

Taste Your Way Through the Smokies

15. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

The real challenge when you’re traveling is to find the experiences that make a place unique, special, and memorable. The best way to do that is to discover what the locals love best and do as they do. When you’re considering your dining options in the NC Great Smoky Mountains, think traditional Southern Cuisine (cheesy grits and collard greens), BBQ (the North Carolina way), and authentic Cherokee cuisine (“three sisters” – corn, beans, and squash with a side of fry bread.)

16. Sip local wine

Of course, food alone cannot sustain the soul. The NC Great Smoky Mountains boast an honor society of breweries and wineries. A vacation, or staycation, in the Great Smoky Mountains of NC can have you exploring the ridgetops of a mountain after lunch and then sipping a glass of distinctive, locally produced wine by dinner.

For a special experience, spend an afternoon at FernCrest Winery. They grow their own grapes on a small vineyard sloping down the mountain below.  In 2013, they produced their first wines and immediately started winning awards. For your convenience, FernCrest opened a Tasting Room in downtown Andrews, NC where you can sample different wines by the glass or order a bottle of your favorite.

In addition to award-winning wines, FernCrest also sells local cheeses from Yellow Branch Creamery; visitors rave about their Natural Rind Cheese that has been aged for at least 6 months. Pair that with 5-Spice Apple Butter from Garnet Gals Jams or Pineapple Jalapeno Jam from maams HotJam and you have yourself a delicious feast.

17. Drink a local brew or two

The western-most towns of North Carolina along the Tennessee border have become a mecca for beer drinkers. Pull up a stool at Lazy Hiker Brewing and listen to harrowing tales from hikers fresh off the nearby, iconic Appalachian Trail (lots and lots of bears!) Hoppy Trout Brewing Company, located right on the main drag of Andrews, NC in Cherokee County, is another perfect respite after a day of exploring.

Discover Local Culture, Arts, & Craft

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

18. Get cultured

As the home of the Cherokee people, early Scotch Irish settlers and countless generations of self-reliant Appalachian folk, the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina offer many opportunities to encounter the ways of the past.

19. Spend some time at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Visitors are guided visitors through 11,000-years of Cherokee history. Step into the Oconaluftee Indian Village to find yourself standing in a recreated 1700s village. Watch skilled artisans at work making traditional wares, and experience re-enactments and traditional dances.

 20. Behold “Unto These Hills”

The Cherokee story is one that shouldn’t be lost in time. These resilient people brought the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains alive with their spirit and way of life. And “Unto These Hills” keeps their stories alive.

It’s an outstanding outdoor drama that tells the story of who these people were, who they are, and how things came to be. In this 2,100-seat Mountainside Theater in Cherokee, NC, brilliant actors transport the audience into an authentic tale of Cherokee life through acting, singing and dance.

21. Visit the Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center

It’s the only museum of the Scots in the entire country. Located in Franklin, NC since 1994, this museum was established to be a source of “reliable information” on traditional Highlands dress and heritage.

22. Get Crafty

The Smoky Mountains are home and inspiration to hundreds of artists. Across Western North Carolina visitors can find handmade crafts at a number of studios and galleries. Visit the Stecoah Valley Cultural Center, originally an old stone schoolhouse and now a study of the Appalachian arts. You can purchase unique local crafts and artwork and see the mountain music concert series, An Appalachian Evening.

Carmen Haynes/Pine Needles and Things in Brasstown23. Follow the trail

The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is also connecting visitors to local cultural resources through a network of craft trails. The initiative is the Blue Ridge Craft Trails, a series of curated driving trails throughout the region featuring 200 craft sites. Travelers can use craft trail itineraries for tips to round out their craft-hunting experiences with nearby foods, breweries, wineries, music, outdoor activities, and scenic views.

24. Find your fortune

With locations in both Cherokee and Murphy, NC, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resorts can be likened to Disney of the Natural World. With Vegas-style games of chance, international dining options, live shows, outdoor adventure, and relaxation and luxury at your fingertips, it will be hard to leave the grounds. Book your stay at Harrah’s today.

25. Pan for precious gems

Take home memories and possibly some valuable stones when you bring your family gem mining in North Carolina. Search for treasure while enjoying a unique experience in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Come gem mining in North Carolina, and you’ll have some good clean fun in the dirt.

But, the most important tip for a memorable vacation is to explore the welcoming and unique small towns of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.  Choose activities that take you through the back roads of Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Bryson City, Sylva, Dillsboro, Fontana, Robbinsville, and Franklin, and so many more fascinating and colorful towns where you can catch live music in town pavilions, dine on local cuisine made with fresh local products, and explore charming antique stores. Most importantly, talk to the townspeople at every opportunity. Hear their histories and stories and ask them what’s on their personal Top Twenty-Five List of things to do. You might just discover a secret waterfall or hidden fishing hole that only a local can share with you.

Explore Wineries in the NC Great Smoky Mountains

A vacation, or staycation, in the Great Smoky Mountains of NC can have you exploring the ridgetops of a mountain after lunch and then sipping a glass of distinctive, locally produced wine by dinner. Here is your comprehensive guide to the best wineries and vineyards available in the western-most towns of North Carolina.

B & C Winery

B & C Winery

Located in the resort town of Maggie Valley, NC near the legendary Cherokee Indian Reservation, B & C Winery imports the skins and juices of grapes from around the world and blends them with crisp mountain spring water to make some of the finest wines in our region. Owners Chris and Bob, a silent-but-supportive partner, welcome you (and your pets!) into their tasting room.

For a medium-bodied Barolo described as “burly and assertive,” order the Long Views red table wine with notes of dark cherry and strawberries and a floral aroma. Or lighten up with a chilled Colorful Wings Pinot Grigio, a bright, dry white wine with perfumy notes of citrus and almonds.

In addition to daily wine tastings, B & C Winery may also be reserved for a private tasting. Or, check out their event calendar when planning your trip, and you may be able to catch a fun class like “Paint and Sip in the Afternoon.”

Insider Tip: They also can work with you to create a custom wine for a special event like a wedding or family reunion. Talk about a showstopper!

Deep Creek Winery

Deep Creek Winery

Deep Creek Winery makes its home in Bryson City, a fascinating and quaint small town in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. Co-owner, Robert Acton, has been making wine for a decade. Together with co-owner and wife, Heather, he retrofitted an old barn to create a charming small-scale winery. Using grapes imported from all over the world, Deep Creek specializes in small batches to ensure the flavors and aromas that go into making a quality wine.

Settle in at a table on the deck overlooking the magnificent scenery to begin your adventure. Wines by both the glass and bottle are sampled to you tableside for that extra-personal service. Order a charcuterie platter for some ideal wine and food pairings.

Experience the flavors of the South with a glass of Southern Hospitality, a peach-infused California Chardonnay. Taking the Bronze at a 2018 wine competition in upper New York State, this wine offers crisp and sweet notes. Or, if you prefer something red with berry undertones, you can’t go wrong with the Fire Side Red, an easy-drinking Pinot Noir made with grapes from the Burgundy Region of France.

Special Note: Deep Creek Winery does not take reservations or allow pets or anyone under the age of 21, so plan accordingly.

Eagle Fork Vineyard

Eagle Fork Vineyard

A small, boutique winery, Eagle Fork Vineyard is located in beautiful Hayesville, NC, and relies on all aspects of the natural world to produce its luscious grapes for winemaking. Harnessing the warm, misty summer days and refreshingly cool nights of the Great Smoky Mountains, the winemakers take great grape-growing one step further. Standing along the rushing mountain stream that borders the vineyard, you can hear the classical music being played to the vines in the early morning hours. Relaxed, happy, cultured grapes indeed! (Insider Note: playing them classical music also means their grapes can be insecticide-free.)

Visit the tasting room and grab a seat on the outdoor pavilion to enjoy a glass of Petite Monsing, a richly sweet, late-harvest wine with hints of citrus, sweet spice, peach and apricots. Or for a drier white similar to a Pinot Grigio, order the Seyval with notes of fresh, ripe citrus and pineapple. Seeking a perfect, medium-bodied, lightly tannic red wine to sip? You won’t go wrong ordering a glass of Classic Chambourcin, one of Eagle Fork’s premium wines, rich with the taste of caramel, chocolate, cherries and blackberries.

Ferncrest Winery

FernCrest Winery

With what started as a hobby of making wine at home with wine-making kits, Jan and Kurt Olson, founders of FernCrest Winery, eventually got serious about their passion and planted a small vineyard of their own in 2010. They chose to focus on three varietals that would thrive in the local climactic conditions: Chardonel, Vidal Blanc and Cynthiana. In 2013, they produced their first wines and immediately started winning awards.

The name “FernCrest” comes from Kurt’s background as a fern specialist, growing his own fern spores and easily identifying wild ferns on sight. The “Crest” refers to the location of the winery, situated on the crest of a hill. Charmingly, all of their wines are named after ferns.

The winery overlooks the steep, rocky slope below where the growing grapes harness the power of the sun for optimum plumpness and juiciness. When needing additional grapes, the Olsons, always with an eye on buying local, purchase grapes from other nearby vineyards.

For your convenience, FernCrest opened a Tasting Room in downtown Andrews, NC where you can sample different wines by the glass or order a bottle of your favorite. (Check days and hours in advance.) There are many delectable wines to choose from, starting with their Royal White. Described as “a dry, crisp wine made from our vineyard grown Vidal Blanc grapes – floral aromas with tangerine and pineapple flavors,” Royal White won Gold in 2021 at the NC State Fair (previous vintages have also won Gold and Silver medals.)

Connoisseurs of red wines must try the Mountain Wood Red, a full-bodied, dry wine made from the Cynthiana grape varietal grown in the FernCrest Winery vineyard. With a spicy nose and finish, Mountain Wood delivers on plum and blackberry notes. Or lose yourself in a glass of Black Lady, featuring locally hand-picked blackberries and blueberries. One glass is a journey from a sweet start to a tart finish.

In addition to award-winning wines, FernCrest also sells local cheeses from Yellow Branch Creamery; visitors rave about their Natural Rind Cheese that has been aged for at least 6 months. Pair that with 5-Spice Apple Butter from Garnet Gals Jams or Pineapple Jalapeno Jam from maams HotJam and you have yourself a delicious feast.

Celebrating 50 Years of Outdoor Adventure at NOC

Rafting with NOC 

2022 marks the 50th year since the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) opened their adventure outpost along the waters of the Nantahala River in Bryson City. What began as a small motel and gas station in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains has since grown to multiple locations across four Southeastern states providing millions of guided trips down the river.

 

NOC’s initial niche of whitewater rafting trips has expanded to over 120 land and river-based activities, including kayaking, ziplining, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, tubing and international trips. The 500-acre main campus in Bryson City hosts the renowned Paddling School, SOLO Wilderness Medicine courses, restaurants and lodging, also serving as a respite for thru hikers along the Appalachian Trail. A home for professional adventurers as well as novices, the campus is one of the nation’s premier training sites for elite whitewater athletes, including 23 Olympians and two gold medalists.

 

Nantahala Outdoor Center was founded by Payson & Aurelia Kennedy, and Horace Holden Sr., and was the outgrowth of an idea that friends working together to pursue their outdoor passions could change lives.

 

People radting down the Nantahala with NOCTake Part in the 50th Anniversary Festivities

In celebration of this important milestone, NOC will be hosting events, giveaways, storytelling, interviews and more throughout the year. Here’s a sampling of what to expect this season.

  • NOC Spring FlingSaturday, April 23, 2022 – This is the annual season-opening paddling event on the Nantahala.
  • Smoky Mountain RelayFriday – Saturday, April 29-30, 2022 – NOC serves as the finish line for the popular Smoky Mountain Relay Race! Join racers and spectators for a celebration and after party at Big Wesser!
  • NOC Jubilee – Celebrating 50 Years of AdventureSaturday, June 11, 2022 – A party for the decades with live music, family-friendly activities, giveaways, and adventure.

Fun Facts About NOC

  • In 1971 Payson Kennedy played a stunt double in the award winning film, Deliverance. One year later, NOC began rafting trips on the Chattooga River where the movie was filmed.
  • Aurelia Kennedy was known as the first woman to run a canoe down Nantahala Falls.
  • NOC hired the first female guides from the women’s 1972 Olympic team.
  • Cathy Kennedy, Payson and Aurelia’s daughter starting working at NOC when she was 16. It is the only place she has ever worked and she still guides rafts down the river, while also managing the company vehicle shop, among many other things.
  • Evy Leibfarth, at age 17, became the youngest female to compete in the Olympics for slalom C1 race in 2021. She grew up in Bryson City and trained at NOC.
  • 23 Olympians, including 2 Olympic Gold Medalists, have called NOC home.

A to Z: The Best Breweries in the NC Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains offer dozens of thrilling escapades that are deserving of a cold brew or two at the end of the day. Or maybe visiting every single brewery is your idea of vacation adventure. Here is the ultimate guide to the best breweries in the Great Smoky Mountains of NC.

breweries in the smoky mountains

Balsam Falls Brewing Company

Both traditional and creative, one-of-a-kind beers are always on tap at this self-described “nano” brewery in Sylva, NC. Don’t miss the Petrified Dragonfly Red Ale or Red in the Head IPA for something unique. Also of note, Balsam Falls Brewery has an impressive menu of mead and hard ciders.

Bearwaters Brewing

With locations in both Canton and Maggie Valley, NC Bearwaters Brewing offers over 40 hand-crafted  beer varieties along with food with a southern influence. Find a favorite brew? Take home a Croaker (2 pints) or a Growler (4 pints).

Boojum Brewing

Situated right on Main Street in downtown Waynesville, Boojum Brewing invites you to try their own craft brews, like  Dunkel Dark Lager, or any one of a handful of “guest taps” to always keep things fresh. They also offer savory bites and craft cocktails, so non-beer-drinkers (they do, in fact, exist) have choices.

Currahee Brewing Company

Operating its main production facility in Franklin, NC with a 2nd location in Alpharetta, GA, Currahee Brewing Company features a taproom, a bier garden overlooking the river, a kayak put-in and take out, outdoor music stage and a food truck. Smokehouse BBQ is next door and offers service to the brewery, so you never need to leave the bar!

Frog Level Brewing

Enjoy unique craft brews on a deck overlooking a running creek at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville, NC. If you’re hungry, you are welcome to bring your own grub while you listen to live music on their new outdoor stage. Don’t miss their Milky Way Stout with hints of clove and banana.

Hoppy Trout Brewing Company

If you haven’t visited the craft-brew scene in the NC Great Smoky Mountains in a bit or if you’re spending your PTO seeking the best craft brews, you have to try the newish Hoppy Trout Brewing Company, conveniently located right on the main drag of Andrews, NC in Cherokee County. After a day of exploring the Oconaluftee Indian Village learning how to shoot a blowgun, relax over a Sicilian brick-oven pizza and remarkable craft beer, such the One-eyed Wilma American Wheat Ale. Complete with comedy shows and home-brew competitions, Hoppy Trout Brewing Company is the perfect way to wind down a day of exploring the history and customs of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians or just to drink great beer.

Innovation Brewing Company

Ales Trail
Jackson County Ale Trail. Image Courtesy of Jackson County TDA.

Innovation, indeed! If you’re bored with beer, excite your palette at Innovation Brewing Company. How about a Mix 6 Brew made by combining a Chocolate Stout with a Peanut Butter Ale? Or a Hoppy Camper touted to be “as juicy as actual juice”. Visit all 3 of their locations. The original Innovation Brewing Company lives in Sylva, NC. Dillsboro’s Innovation Station is located at the old train station and is home to their production facility and taproom, and the Innovation Brewing taproom on the Western North Carolina college campus in Cullowhee, NC is perfect for the young at heart.

Insider Tip: While not a brewery, the Ale Trail Pass offers a Jackson County, NC Ale Trail Field Guide Vol 1 and a list of Top 10 Brews to help you plan. Visit 4 of the included breweries to receive a free, limited-edition logo pint glass.

Lazy Hiker Brewing

Located in picturesque Franklin, NC,  Lazy Hiker Brewing is your serious, must-go destination of choice! Listen to harrowing tales from hikers fresh off the nearby, iconic Appalachian Trail (lots and lots of bears!) while you sip a Trail Mate Golden Ale or Twenty Mile IPA. With over 25 brews on tap, two outdoor areas, live music, a food truck with the most amazing hand-cut fries, and a disc-golf course, you may as well plan to spend the whole day. In 2019, Lazy Hiker Brewing opened a tap room in downtown Sylva. With live music and the adjacent Mad Batter Kitchen, the Sylva taproom is always an entertaining place to be, especially when it’s time for “Slogan Trivia”!

Mountain Layers Brewing Company

With both a taproom and rooftop bar in Bryson City, Mountain Layers Brewing Company is a magnificent venue to enjoy the mountain air over a cold microbrew. Try a beer that just makes the world a better place, like Mountain Layer’s Peace, Love and Pilsner. Shout out for their Honor and Remember Wall paying tribute to veterans and first responders.

Nantahala Brewing Company

Winning numerous awards for their delectable brews created with refreshing Smoky Mountain water, Nantahala Brewing Company at the historic RC Cola Bottling Plant in Bryson City, NC is a popular hot spot for local craft beer. Try a special barrel-aged draught from their onsite cellar along with live music. Or hop over to their Sylva Outpost & Brewpub for a brew and view of the big game. The Nantahala Pale Ale is a crowd favorite that pairs with almost any food. Nantahala Brewing Company is serious about sustainability and walks the walk in their brewing process. (Insider Tip: the barrel-aged beers are only available at their Bryson City taproom.)

Nocturnal Brewing Company

Hoppy TroutLocated in Hayesville, NC on the Georgia border, Nocturnal Brewing Company’s Brewer, David Grace, creates craft beers using many locally sourced and foraged ingredients. Be sure to try the Fog Delay, available on nitro for a thicker, longer-lasting foam and a velvety smooth texture.

Satulah Mountain Brewing Company

Situated in the heart of Highlands, NC, Satulah Mountain Brewing Company is just off Main Street and prides itself on an ever-changing rotation of delicious craft beer inspired by the surrounding wilderness. Touted as “Macon County’s First Beer Destination,” they remain the only beer producers in Highlands, NC today.

Snowbird Mountains Brewery

If you’re looking for some out-of-the-box brew flavors, you’ll find them at Snowbird Mountains Brewery in Andrews, NC. Co-owner Terry enjoys experimenting with recipes and includes some exotic ingredients in his creations, like Riptide with a hint of pine. They also offer a delightful food menu with a spotlight on fresh, local organic ingredients.

Whiteside Brewing Company

Whiteside Brewing Company is a local brewery located in the heart of Cashiers, NC serving American cuisine and a large selection of both local and house-brewed beers. With a park-like setting, welcoming of dogs and large gatherings, Whiteside Brewing Company is a fantastic venue for large celebrations.

Insider Tip: To make the most of your Best Brews beer tour, ask the bartender (or Cicerone, if they have what can be likened to a beer sommelier) for a sample of the draughts that pique your interest before you order. Many breweries also offer flights with smaller portions of several beers to sample, like a craft-brew pupu platter! Most breweries are also dog friendly, and everyone knows beer always tastes better with your best friend!

 

Explorer’s Guide to Fontana and Robbinsville, NC

Spending time in the natural world is easily the most reliable and enjoyable way to reset your sensibilities. A vacation in Robbinsville, NC and the Fontana Recreation Area along the Western North Carolina and Tennessee border, drops you squarely into Mother Nature’s lap. Here you will watch your everyday cares fade like clouds into the misty mountain air as you refocus on the important things in life. Besides, your adrenaline won’t leave room for much thought as you bounce joyfully across the rushing water, fly down the side of a steep mountain, and careen through the air with wild abandon.

Outdoor Adventure

Hiking Trails

man hiking in the smoky mountainsWith the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Nantahala National Forest on your vacation doorstep, the number of hiking trails seems limitless. A few favorites are the Yellow Creek Falls Trail for beginners, Snowbird Creek Waterfalls Trail for a moderate level of difficulty and Cheoah Bald Via Appalachian Trail for a 6-hour-plus hike on a pretty challenging trail. Click here for more hiking-trail options.

One of the most beautiful, isolated and historic places to hike is the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Visit Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest Hiking Trails for information on trailheads, degrees of difficulty and maps. Also see below for more information about this virgin, old-growth forest named after one of America’s great poets.

Lake Santeetlah

When you come upon the shores of Lake Santeetlah, almost completely surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest, it’s easy to forget you are not alone in the wilderness. Be one of the lucky few to nab a campsite right on the lake and your isolation is almost complete. The word “Santeetlah” is Native American for “blue waters,” and you will not be challenged to see why in this crystalline lake. Your lazy lake days can be spent fishing, swimming, and boating on these tranquil waters. For put-in points and types of fish in Lake Santeetlah, click here

Nearby Fontana Lake is also an excellent spot for swimming, boating, kayaking, paddle-boarding and fishing. In fact, some say that Fontana Lake offers the best smallmouth bass fishing in the United States. Check out the types of fish you can catch and a list of put-in points for Lake Fontana here.

Cheoah River

a person boating on lake santeetlah in the nc smoky mountains
Lake Santeethlah – Photo by anoldent

The 20-mile-long Cheoah River in Graham County, NC is one of the most challenging white waters in the world, when allowed to be in its natural state. The river was “de-watered” for 70 years by Alcoa Power, which diverted its water to a hydropower generator. The 9-mile section between the Santeetlah Dam and Lake Calderwood came back into use in 2005, thanks to the efforts of the group American Whitewater. There are now 18 “releases” for extreme paddlers to enjoy every year for the next 40 years.

In addition to the reintroduction of rare fish whose population was decimated with the river’s diversion and the mitigation of vegetation that had eventually taken over the ecosystem, the river is now returning to its former glory with challenging Class IV and V rapids through dense vegetation, root balls, and other natural obstacles. The lower section also has numerous “classic drops,” including an 8-footer!

Tsali Recreation Area

Outdoor enthusiasts will find Nirvana in the Tsali Recreation Area with its seemingly limitless options for fun. Immerse yourself in your favorite hobby or learn a new skill, like flat-water paddle boarding. Our hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, boating and bicycling are situated in some of this country’s most breathtaking surroundings from our glorious mountains to our crystal-clear lakes.

For some adventurers, the Tsali Recreation Area represents elite challenges to the best competitors in the world. With its 40 miles of off-road biking skirting Fontana Lake at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Tsali trail system is the Mack Daddy of all-terrain riding experiences. Rated as a Top-Ten 10 place to ride in the US, Tsali was recently added to the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Epics list of “what many mountain bikers live for and make travel plans around: immersive rides that are technically and physically challenging, beautiful to behold and worthy of celebration.”

All of Tsali’s recreation trails are open to hikers, but mountain bikers and equestrians follow a rotating-use-schedule, so visit the USDA Forest Service website to plan your ride. They also post comprehensive information on fees, weather, camping, amenities, directions, and activities.

Iconic Things To Do

Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway is a 40-mile-long, 2-lane scenic drive that crosses through the Nantahala National Forest in southwest NC near Robbinsville and into the Cherokee National Forest in TN. Taking part of its name from each of these national forests, the Skyway is a can’t-miss destination for drivers and road cyclers who crave crisp mountain air and ridge after ridge of immense natural splendor. It took 34 years to plan and build so it’s worth your time. Read more about this designated National Scenic Byway at the Cherohala Skyway.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Large poplar tree at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in Graham County, NC inspires the kind of hushed awe that can only be found in rare old-growth forests. Widely undiscovered by most, this forest, part of the Nantahala National Forest, lives under the protective watch of the US Forest Service and has remained untouched by logging and development since 1936. In fact, this land is so shielded from intrusion, all-terrain vehicles and chainsaws are not permitted, even by the forest’s keepers.

Joyce Kilmer (1886–1918), the American poet and writer for whom the forest is named, is probably best known for his 1913 poem ‘Trees.” Featuring one of the largest contiguous growths of hardwood trees and encompassing 3800 square miles near the town of Robbinsville, NC, this majestic paradise will have you questioning when exactly you stepped through time and into these primordial woods. Read more about the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest here.

Fontana Dam

Reaching as high as a dizzying 50-story skyscraper, Fontana Dam is the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. Located on the Tennessee Valley River, the dam was designed to satisfy the urgent need for electric power during WWII. Amazingly, the project was completed in an unbelievable 3 years. The world-famous Appalachian Trail crosses over the dam and you are welcome to walk or drive it. On the far side, you will find an Information Center and gift shop. But, standing on the Observation Deck and feeling the raw power of the dam is the real draw. Insider Tip: for an astounding experience, take the funicular – or cable car – from the visitor center to the base of the Fontana Dam.

Tail of the Dragon

Undiscovered by most casual road-trippers, the “Tail of the Dragon” describes the adrenaline-pumping thoroughfare that has become world famous to those in the know. Motorcyclists and sports car drivers come from all over the world to test their grit on this road with over 300 tight curves spanning a short 11 miles. But more than just a challenging drive, the scenery lining the Tail of the Dragon is untouched by man. It is from this glorious road that the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway begins in Almond, NC.

Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center

Any visit to the Fontana and Robbinsville, NC area should begin with the Stecoah Valley Cultural Center, originally an old stone schoolhouse and now a study of the Appalachian arts. Derived from the Cherokee word “Usdi Gohi,” “Stecoah” means “little place.” Visit the artists’ gallery to purchase unique local crafts and artwork. The center also serves to protect mountain music, offering opportunities for young people to learn mountain instruments and for the community and visitors to enjoy the mountain music concert series, An Appalachian Evening.

Wehrloom Honey and Meadery

For a literal once-in-a-lifetime experience, spend a few hours at Wehrloom Honey and Meadery in Robbinsville, NC. Their honey and honey products, like candles and lip balm, are sourced from Honeybees that forage in the unadulterated national forests that surround this family bee farm. Celebrate the bee culture with a glass of mead or order a flight to sample a variety of these fermented honey elixirs from their onsite meadery.

Where to Stay

Yellow Falls in Graham County NC
Yellow Falls

River’s Edge Treehouse Resort

Is there anything more relaxing than sleeping in a towering treetop as the wind rustles the branches outside? With 6 individual treehouse units, River’s Edge Treehouse Resort is located right on the gorgeous Cheoah River near Robbinsville, NC. But you don’t have to sacrifice comfort to commune with the wild, so prepare to be pampered with luxury linens on a king-size bed with memory foam.

Sip your morning coffee in a rocking chair on your private deck or enjoy a glass of wine while you fire up your personal gas grill. If you like an occasional break from the solitude, join fellow vacationers in the common areas to tell stories around the fire pit or play a game of cornhole. If you want to hike and fish, they will even lend you walking sticks and fishing gear!

Fontana Village Resort and Marina   

In the heart of the Fontana Recreation Area, nestled in the pristine beauty of the Nantahala Forest near the TN border, lies the Fontana Village Resort and Marina, a year-round destination in its own right. Select from multiple choices of accommodations, including rooms in The Lodge, suites, or cabins. They also offer RVing and tent campsites on Cheoah Lake with unparalleled views of the river and Fontana Dam. Insider Tip: The RV sites can only cater to rigs 30 feet long and less.

This resort has everything you need for a stellar outdoor vacation, like hiking and biking trails, a large swimming pool and Lazy River, disc golf, a marina, a massage and fitness center, outfitters, a general store, a gift shop, and restaurants. And they will rent you the equipment you need to have fun and explore.

Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort

One of the coolest places you can stay in the Fontana and Robbinsville, NC area is at the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. This mecca for motorcyclists on the NC/TN border is well-known for its convenience to the Tail of the Dragon, a harrowing 11-mile drive around 318 curves that appeals to performance car drivers and motorcyclists seeking the ride of a lifetime. Whether you choose to camp under the stars or bunk in one of their cozy motel rooms, this resort has everything you need for a pit stop, including a restaurant, store, gas pumps and a community pavilion and firepit for swapping Dragon tales. Also visit the Tree of Shame, created from pieces of bikes “bitten by the Dragon” and try not to add to it!

The Topoco Lodge

The Topoco Lodge, established in 1930 and included on the National Register of Historic Places, is exactly what you’re looking for in a perfect outdoor vacation. With 24-hour guest-service attendants, nightly bonfires, private hiking trails, tennis courts, and a “hammock cove,” you’ll quickly feel your shoulders relax as you take in everything good the natural world has to offer. Enjoy a romantic weekend in one of their newly renovated cabins with an open-air but totally secluded feel, or book a luxury suite or room with a king-size bed and hot tub.

Where To Eat

Topoco Lodge and Tavern in Graham County
Topoco Lodge

Three of above-recommended resorts offer restaurants right onsite, so you can eat a delicious meal and immediately collapse in bed after hours of unparalleled adventure.

Dragon’s Den Pub and Grill (at Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort)

You can’t go wrong with their hearty pub food in generous portions at really reasonable prices. The original Dragon Burger is memorable. Regulars also highly recommend their delicious and satisfying breakfasts to start an active day off right.

Mountview Restaurant (at the Fontana Village Resort)

Surrounded by stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the Mountview Restaurant offers an elegant but relaxed atmosphere serving fresh local vegetables and meats, baked goods, and desserts. For breakfast, don’t miss the Hungry Hiker or Hillbilly Benedict!

Wildwood Grill and Bar (at Fontana Village Resort)

Also located at the Fontana Village Resort, the seasonal Wildwood Grill and Bar is an inviting place to eat good food, listen to music and meet new friends. Insider Tip: Ask for a seat on the patio where you can watch all of the comings and goings of this bustling resort village.

Tapoco Tavern (at the Tapoco Lodge)

Just feet from the Cheoah River, the Tapoco Tavern serves up all-American fare and classic stone-oven pizza. Enjoy your steak, salad, or local mountain trout meal with a house-special Bloody Mary. Or get your motor running with southern breakfast favorites like biscuits and gravy, cinnamon rolls, and hash brown casserole.

There is far too much to do in Graham County, NC to fit it all here. For more vacation ideas, go to Visit Smokies – Discover Fontana and Robbinsville and Graham County Things To Do. See you when you get here, because you know this is where you really want to be!

5 Places to go Camping in the Smoky Mountains

Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains can be an exciting adventure for families and friends to enjoy together. There are many campgrounds in the Western North Carolina area to visit, all with beautiful views and plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. Below is a list of some of our favorites.

Five Campgrounds to Visit in the Smokies

a camp site in the smokies

Rattler Ford Campground

Rattler Ford Campground is located along the Santeetlah Creek and Lake Santeetlah in the Nantahala National Forest. This campground is a popular spot for fly fishing and other water sports activities, like canoeing and boating. Visitors can enjoy on-site horseshoe pits and volleyball courts, as well as nearby hiking trails and scenic drives.

This campsite is also located a mere quarter of a mile from the entrance to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness and the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest where hikers can enjoy 17,000+ acres of old-growth forest.

Facilities

At Rattler Ford Campground, there are four separate sites with varying facilities; however, each can accommodate several tents and a maximum of 25 guests. Each site contains tables, lantern posts, campfire pits, and oversized grills. The campground also provides flush toilets, drinking water, and hot showers.

Deep Creek Campground

Deep Creek Campground in Bryson City is an ideal camping spot for hikers and water recreation enthusiasts. Situated next to one of the most popular creeks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Deep Creek Campground offers traditional camping with stunning views.

The hiking trails of the Smoky Mountains are easily accessible from Deep Creek Campground. You can also hike to two beautiful waterfalls in the area! For those that enjoy fishing, wading, and tubing, Deep Creek is perfect for you.

Facilities

Deep Creek Campground has 92 individual campsites that have tables, fire pits, and grills. Flush toilets and drinking water are available, too. The campground also provides a limited selection of camping supplies, groceries, food and beverages, and bundles of firewood.

camping at Hot SpringsWayah Bald

Wayah Bald in Macon County west of Franklin, North Carolina, is the ideal location for backcountry/wilderness hike-in camping. This camping location features the historic Wayah Bald Fire Tower, which offers an incredible view of the surrounding mountains. Two long-distance hiking trails – the Appalachian and Bartram Trails – cross the bald at the tower.

Hikers can also visit the nearby Wilson Lick Ranger Station – the first ranger station in the Nantahala National Forest, which was built in 1913.

Facilities

Wayah Bald campsites have spots for tents, plus drinking water, and are campfire and pet-friendly.

Cheoah Point Campground

Cheoah Point Campground sits on a peninsula on Lake Santeetlah in Robbinsville, North Carolina. Here, recreational opportunities abound for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds! Many of the campsites overlook the lake and are surrounded by steep yet beautiful terrain. Hikers can take advantage of the many trails located in the nearby Nantahala National Forest. At an elevation of 1,760 feet, Cheoah Point is a must-visit!

Fishers can find Lake Santeetlah well-stocked with trout, walleye, bass, bream, crappie, and more. The lake is also a popular spot for water recreation like swimming, canoeing, boating, and jet skiing.

Facilities

Cheoah Point Campground offers both open and wooded campsites. Each site can accommodate up to 10 guests and two vehicles. There are also six RV sites with 15/30/50 amp electrical hookups. All campsites include tables, fire pits, and grills. Hot showers, drinking water, and flush toilets are also provided.

Standing Indian Campground

Located in the beautiful Nantahala National Forest just 20 minutes from Franklin, North Carolina, Standing Indian Campground is an ideal spot for both tent and RV campers. It is also the perfect destination for hiking enthusiasts, providing access to many beautiful trails.

Surrounded by 5000-foot peaks, Standing Indian Campground sits at an elevation of 3,880-feet, is crossed by multiple natural streams, and is located at the headwaters of the Nantahala River. The Nantahala River is perfect for trout fishing, whitewater rafting, and kayaking.

Facilities

The campground’s four loops feature sites available for reservation or on a first-come, first-served basis. Each campsite is equipped with fire pits, grills, lantern posts, and tables. Nearby drinking water, showers, and flush toilets are also available for campers.

Take Care of Your Surroundings

When camping in the Great Smoky Mountains, there are a few guiding principles to consider.

  • Leave No Trace: help us keep our campgrounds and trails beautiful and protect them from overuse, trash, and harm to local wildlife. Clean up after yourselves, and be sure to leave no trace of your adventure behind!
  • Be Bear Aware: being outdoors means being surrounded by wildlife – and that includes bears. Before you head out on your camping trip, be sure everyone in your party is aware of these tips in case you encounter a bear.
  • Be Fire Safe: before lighting your campfire, check for fire restrictions or closures in the area. Make sure your fire is fully extinguished and cold to the touch before leaving the area. Find more fire safety tips from the US Forest Service here.

For more ideas on camping in the Great Smoky Mountains, visit https://www.visitsmokies.org/camping!

Shadow of the Bear in the Great Smoky Mountains

Shadow of the Bear

From February through March, and then again in November, a natural, can’t-be-missed phenomenon happens in the Great Smoky Mountains of Jackson County, NC. The Shadow of the Bear occurs when the sun hits a certain point in the sky and a distinct, bear-shaped shadow appears across the mountains.

When, Where, and How To Experience The Shadow of the Bear

On sunny days, when the sun is at the perfect angle as it sets behind Whiteside Mountain, the Shadow of the Bear appears. The Shadow of the Bear is only visible for about 30 minutes every day – between 5:30 and 6:15 pm. It occurs only twice a year – from mid-February to early March and from mid-October through early November. Weather conditions like mountain haze and rain can impede the shadow.

The best place to view the Shadow of the Bear is from Rhodes Big View Overlook, right off of US Highway 64. The Rhodes Big View Overlook is only a few miles from both Cashiers and Highlands. This site marks the entrance to Jackson County with breathtaking sights! While parking for the overlook is available, be cautious when crossing the road and hiking to the overlook.

Be sure to bring your camera to capture this unique phenomenon!

Shadow of the Bear near Cashiers in Jackson County NC
Photo by bluesman46

When The Weather Doesn’t Cooperate

If you happen to venture out and the weather is cloudy or rainy, there are plenty of nearby Jackson County attractions to keep you entertained until the sun makes an appearance.

Sylva

Sylva is a charming town located in the heart of Jackson County and the Great Smoky Mountains. Check out downtown Sylva for plenty of delicious eateries, like the famous Lulu’s On Main, unique breweries, and exciting shops!

Dillsboro

This ideal getaway in Jackson County is surrounded by the Nantahala Nation Forest and sits on the banks of the Tuskasegee River. The charming town offers plenty of family activities, shopping, food, and a variety of relaxing and exciting experiences for a memorable visit!

Cashiers and Highlands

Both of these quaint towns feature fine dining, golfing, boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, breweries, and so much more!

Visit the Great Smoky Mountains

With so much to do at any time during the year, the Great Smoky Mountains is an ideal getaway for all ages! Begin planning your vacation to Jackson County today to catch the Shadow of the Bear before it returns to hibernation until Fall.

There’s plenty to see and experience in the Smokies, from hiking trails and waterfalls to cultural and educational adventures. Come see for yourself!

 

Featured image at top taken by Frank Kehren

The Explorer’s Guide to Franklin, NC

Well known for its neighborly ways and charming historic downtown, Franklin, NC is a destination of its own. With a population of about 4,000 people and surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains, it is by definition a small town with its own unique heritage. Serving as the seat of Macon County in Western North Carolina, Franklin has a history deeply rooted in both the native Eastern Band of Cherokee and a unique Highland Scottish heritage.

Things to Do in Franklin

Recently named as one of the top 10 places to retire by Retirement Lifestyle Magazine, the city of Franklin offers a rich mosaic of things to do. The historic downtown with its museums, shops, festivals, entertainment venues and hometown eateries coupled with one-of-a-kind outdoor activities are enough to fill a whole week of adventure and then some.

Buck Creek in Franklin NC

Outdoor Adventures

Surrounded by the beauty of the Smoky Mountains, Franklin is the perfect basecamp for outdoor exploration. There are miles upon miles of hiking and biking trails dotting the mountain landscape. Some lead to breathtaking views and others to thunderous waterfalls. Here’s a list of some of the best trails in the region including Whiteside Mountain, Bartram Trail, and Yellow Mountain Trail.

Continue to explore the beautiful Franklin outdoors on a trail with the Friends Of the Greenway (FROG) along the Little Tennessee River. You can hike, bike, or walk your dog along this almost 5-mile trail, or one of its segments. You’ll traverse over bridges and through meadows, wetlands, and forest with outstanding opportunities for bird-watching and butterfly viewing at the Greenway’s Butterfly Garden.

In Otto, NC, about 8 miles south of Franklin, sign up for an off-the-beaten-path adventure with the Primitive Outback Kayaking and Gem Mining “Kayaking Adventure.” This adventure is a 2.5 – to 3-hour, self-guided kayaking trip on the picturesque Little Tennessee River. You’ll get a life jacket, dry box and return shuttle for one all-inclusive price. There are experts on hand to teach you about your precious discoveries as you unearth them from a covered outdoor flume that overlooks the river.

Main Street in Franklin NC

Where to Shop

When exploring historic downtown Franklin, you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time, especially at the T.M. Rickman’s General Store. Serving as the town’s general store and nerve center since 1925, the store was closed when the owner died but was purchased in 2007 by the Mainspring Conservation Trust to protect its heritage.

Rickman’s General Store also serves as a community gathering place. Every Saturday between May and December, volunteers host an open house and old-time jam session from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the storefront. Peruse the vintage items and furniture on display from the store’s heyday and purchase the wares of local artisans, quilters, writers, and photographers to help support the preservation effort.

Hoping to add an exceptional antique find to your home décor? Look no further than the 3 floors of treasures at Nestfeathers Antiques, recognizable for their picturesque building and known for their great prices. Also stop by NC Mountain Made for rare “primitives” and antiques, along with the works of more than 100 artists and craftspeople.

You cannot miss the Whistle Stop Depot, a one-of-a-kind antiques mall specializing in furniture, clothing, jewelry, and country accessories. Here you will find items you didn’t even know you wanted. but you surely will.

Franklin NC Gem Mining Museum

Mountain Museums

The town’s most remarkable historical objects are found in Franklin’s fascinating museums. The Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center is the only museum of the Scots in the entire country.

Located in Franklin, NC since 1994, this museum was established to be a source of “reliable information” on traditional Highlands dress and heritage. The second floor of the museum houses a tartan gift shop where you can research your family’s own traditional pattern and have it transferred onto everything from shirts, ties and kilts to coffee mugs.

A World of Gems

Franklin, NC is rich in gems and minerals and known internationally as the “Gem Capital of the World.” The Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum, established in 1974 and open from May through October, is a mesmerizing study of thousands of gems and minerals from across the globe.

Here you will see a ruby that weighs more than 2 pounds. How about a 385-pound sapphire? Ruby City Gems and Minerals is not only a rock and jewelry store, its free museum hosts this remarkable gem along with a shrunken head (!) and ivory carvings. Another interesting feature of this museum is it’s location. It was once home to the local jail!

Open year-round, the Macon County Historical Museum also merits a visit. Situated in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the free museum takes a close look at the mountain heritage distinctive to the Southern Appalachians.

When inspired by so many magnificent gems, you will no doubt want to dig for your own precious souvenir. There are several splendid gem-mining places to try in Franklin, including Artisan Gemstone and Mineral Gallery and Rose Creek Mine.

Cloggers in Dillsboro

Performing Arts

Franklin is home to world-class shows, events and festivals. The Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts is a premiere venue for superlative artists and performances. With stunning architecture and impeccable acoustics, this site offers a variety of shows, including concerts, comedies, gospel, folk and dance to name a few.

Every year in June, Franklin’s 3-day Taste of Scotland Festival celebrates its Scottish heritage with highland games, bagpipe music, the crowning of Little Miss Tartan, Border Collie trials, crafter exhibitions, and Cherokee and re‑enactor demonstrations.

Kids on ice slide in Franklin

Holiday Traditions

The holidays in Franklin are simply magical. Historic Downtown Franklin is transformedinto  “Winter Wonderland” with live music in the downtown gazebo, enchanting holiday decorations, and storefronts pulling out all the stops to make sure holiday shopping memorable. The schedule for Winter Wonderland is available here.

Where To Dine and Drink

You can always find a delicious and interesting cold beer in Franklin, NC. At the Currahee Brewing Company, named for the Cherokee word for “stands alone,” just off Main Street, you can try their European-inspired ales and lagers such as “Lucky Scars Wild IPA” or “Frankenstark.” Enjoy your brew in their large tap room or at the bier garden overlooking the Little Tennessee River while eating your fair share of BBQ from Smokejack next door.

For a taste of the Appalachian Trail, you must visit the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company. Because of its proximity to the world-famous trail, Lazy Hikers tips its hat to those who traveled as far as they could go with surrendered hiking boots dangling from the rafters and brews with names like “Slack Pack IPA” and “Trail Mate Golden Ale.” No visit is complete without homemade fries from the Hiker’s Kitchen Food Truck and live music on their backyard stage.

lazy hiker brewery in the nc smoky mountains

Franklin brings the comfort to “comfort food.” Martha’s Kitchen in downtown Franklin is only open from 11 am to 2 pm, so plan ahead. Enjoy a hot buffet with meatloaf and chicken and dumplings or order from the menu. You don’t want to miss their Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad on a croissant or a Veggie Wrap on wheatberry bread. Enjoy your meal at a cozy private booth inside or dine al fresco in the fresh mountain air.

Relish some southern cooking and homemade pie at Sunset Restaurant, where you’ll have a nearly impossible time choosing from amongst Chocolate, Coconut, Lemon, Butterscotch, Pecan or Egg Custard plus their seasonal pies. Or why not skip a meal and sample them all? You won’t be sorry.

Where To Stay

For true southern hospitality, plan your stay at the Franklin Terrace B&B, an old schoolhouse with wide porches and large guestrooms. Browse the antiques and crafts for sale on the main floor or take a short walk to downtown for your shopping.

Want to be closer to outdoors? Rent a cabin, pitch a tent or hook up your RV at Pines RV Park and Cabins, featuring campfire rings, a playground, basketball, planned activities and a pet-friendly park.

Choose a vacation rental from Franklin Home Store, where you can select a cabin with fishing from your deck, an adorable, cozy tiny house, or a home with a wrap-around porch, perfect for a trio of couples.

Cozy Winter Escapes in the Smoky Mountains

With winter views that go on for miles, cozy cabin rentals, and plenty of indoor activities to pass the time, winter is a beautiful time of year to visit the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina!

Sure the temperatures may be cooler, but get outside anyway! Enjoy hiking through the woods (and possibly through the snow!) to catch spectacular views of frozen waterfalls scattered throughout the area. You can also take part in outdoor excitement like skiing and snow-tubing. However, if you’re looking for a vacation that marries comfy and cozy vibes with plenty of relaxation, then there’s plenty of options available as well.

Cozy Cabins and Resorts

cozy cabin rentals in the Smoky Mountains

There are so many options for cabins and cottages to rent and hunker down in cozy, warm bliss. Some even have fireplaces and hot tubs for extra relaxation!

  • Watershed Resorts: The cabins available at Watershed Resorts in Bryson City, NC, offer everything from one- and two-bedroom cozy cabins to amenities like hot tubs and fireplaces. They even offer cabins large enough to house a group of your family and friends!
  • Laurel Bush Riverfront Cabins: The rustic, cozy cabins available through Laurel Bush Riverfront Cabins in Sylva, NC, sit on the Tuckasegee River, offering amazing views all year-round!
  • Fire Mountain: The cabins at Fire Mountain in Highlands, NC, feature amenities to keep you warm and relaxed during your stay, including hand-laid fireplaces made of native stone and two- and four-person jacuzzi tubs!

Seasonal Indoor Activities

great smoky mountain railroad in the winter

Outdoor adventures aren’t the only way to have fun in Western, NC, this winter! Here are a few ways you can stay warm while still enjoying everything our beautiful small towns have to offer!

  • Train Excursions: This family-friendly activity in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina is open year-round. During the holidays, your kids will LOVE riding on the Polar Express!
  • Shopping & Museums: At any of the shops in the Great Smoky Mountains, you can find everything from unique antiques to locally-made goods perfect to take home as souvenirs or give as gifts! Plus, there are plenty of cultural and educational experiences to be had at the local museums!
  • Seasonal Drinks to Warm You Up: Sip on sensational lattes, cappuchinos, hot chocolate and more at quaint local coffee shops like Mountain Perks Espresso Bar & Cafe, Panacea Coffee Company, or Smoky Mountain Roasters!

Endless Winter Views

Blue Ridge Parkway winter vista

No matter where (or when) you stay in Western NC, the views of the mountains and valleys will be exquisite. In the winter, when snow blankets the forests and the world seems a little bigger, brighter, and quieter. Book your stay in the Great Smoky Mountains to experience this for yourself!