As the days lengthen and the weather warms, colorful signs of spring begin to pop up from forest floors and trailside shrubs. Brilliant wildflowers of all shapes, sizes and colors appear across the North Carolina Smoky Mountains in waves from February through late summer, to the delight of gardeners, hikers and adventurers of all ages.
A fleeting group of flowers known as spring ephemerals — including showy three-petaled trillium, lady slipper orchids, fire pink and columbine — are first on the scene beginning in late February. Bright bee balm, black-eyed susans and jewelweed take over in the summer months, alongside native shrubs such as flame azalea. As summer wanes into August and September, asters and goldenrod prelude the fall foliage display.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts more than 1,500 kinds of flowering plants, earning it the nickname of “Wildflower National Park.” Likewise, the varying elevations and habitats of the Blue Ridge Parkway make it an excellent route for flower-sighting in spring.
Look for seasonal blooms along the edges of trails, roads and rivers, or any sunny open area. To ensure there are plenty of flowers for everyone to enjoy, resist picking any blooms and keep your feet on designated trails. Be sure to bring your camera!
Here are some of the top spots in the Smoky Mountains to see spring wildflowers:
Deep Creek Trail
Located north of Bryson City, this easy trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park leads past two waterfalls in a two-mile out-and-back walk, or hike the whole loop for 4.9 miles and a third waterfall!
A favorite stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 418.8, the loop trail at Graveyard Fields takes hikers past waterfalls, through open meadows and along wooded paths. Visit in May or June for a peek at pinkshell, flame azalea or mountain laurel.
Oconaluftee River Trail
This easy 1.5-mile (one way) trail begins at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and leads along the river to the outskirts of Cherokee, N.C. It’s a favorite for jogging, biking and walking pets (and one of only two Great Smoky Mountains National Park trails that allows both bikes and pets).
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
A 2-mile loop trail offers a breathtaking view of this virgin forest cove, which is a great place to spot trillium, crested iris, dutchman’s breeches and violets in spring. Take a break from your flower search to look up into the canopy of the forest’s centuries-old trees.
New for 2020: The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad has extended its operating season into the winter. For the first time they will host passenger excursions well into December!
The Nantahala Gorge Winter Train Trips will allow you to experience the winter season set in the Smoky Mountains, and to add more excitement to your journey they’ve added a small dash of an Old Fashioned Smoky Mountain Christmas! You’ll be able to see unobstructed mountain views from their cozy and festive train cars.
Also be on the lookout for a very special guest to hop onboard to share in the holiday spirit. Smoky Mountain Santa will be visiting each car telling tales of Western North Carolina Christmas’s from days gone by. Passengers will receive traditional Christmas sweets of oranges and peppermint sticks and the history behind it all. This new option will give you and your family the quality time we all crave during this season.
About Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Trains have connected the communities of Western North Carolina since the 1800s, and helped to increase visitation to once remote areas of the Smoky Mountains. Today they are enduring reminders of our past, and provide a unique setting to take in the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Learn about train rides through the Smoky Mountains, including routes and annual events.
They Great Smoky Mountain Railroad is operating under all current COVID-19 safety guidelines and ask that you follow all protocols. Due to COVID-19, dining options at the layover destination, the Nantahala Outdoor Center, is restricted to 50% capacity. This means your wait time will not allow for you to be served during the layover. You are advised to enjoy onboard dining by pre-purchasing a box lunch meal option along with your train tickets.
Spring is the perfect time of year to emerge from your winter hibernation and take a trip to the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. As the weather warms, wildflowers begin to peek out from the forest floor, and clear views of the Appalachian Mountains stretch on for miles.
Plan your Smoky Mountain escape—be it a romantic getaway, a family vacation or a solo expedition—with these favorite springtime adventures.
If you find your bliss by the water, then this system of tranquil lakes and pristine rivers is the place for you this spring. Together the Little Tennessee, Nantahala, Oconaluftee and Tuckasegee rivers flow into Fontana Lake, passing through three picturesque lakes along the way.
The Smoky Mountain Blueway Trails offer all manner of recreational water sports, from boating and tubing to stand-up paddle boarding and swimming.
Anglers love this system of waterways for its Class A trout streams, while the lakes host large- and smallmouth bass, walleye, crappie and sunfish.
The waterfalls of the N.C. Smokies—naturally breathtaking in any season—are made even more magnificent following frequent spring rains. Whitewater Falls near Cashiers is the highest waterfall in the Eastern U.S. at 411 feet!
The whole family will love a spring excursion on these historic steam and diesel trains that wind through the Nantahala Gorge or along the Tuckasegee River. Choose from open-air gondola cars with unencumbered views of the surrounding landscape or plush first-class seating with an included boxed lunch.
On the Nantahala Gorge route, passengers travel across an historic trellis bridge over Fontana Lake, then journey on to a layover stop at the picturesque Nantahala Outdoor Center.
All Great Smoky Mountains Railroad trips depart from the depot in charming Bryson City, N.C. Check the calendar for fun themed rides designed for the youngest passengers.
The N.C. Smokies are the place to find whitewater adventures, with regional rivers boasting rapids of all levels.
Visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center for an unforgettable guided river tour. This Bryson City outpost welcomes top whitewater athletes from across the globe when it hosts international paddlesports competitions, but don’t let that fool you—the NOC offers trips for kids as young as 7 years old.
Outfitters on the Nantahala, Tuckasegee and Ocoee rivers offer guided and self-guided rafting expeditions. Or choose a leisurely float down the Little Tennessee River, where you can see river otters, beavers, deer and countless birds.
It’s hard to top the scenic beauty of the N.C. Smoky Mountains. If you just can’t get enough of the winding roads, stunning views, rivers, waterfalls and wildflowers of this region, then head for the hills on one of the area’s scenic byways.
Cherohala Skyway in Graham County connects the Cherokee National Forest to the Nantahala National Forest and boasts breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
Find the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” in Cherokee, N.C. Then follow this scenic road to the north, stopping at overlooks and hiking trails along the way.
The first inhabitants of the Southern Appalachians arrived more than 11,000 years ago, when the Cherokee Nation stretched from the Ohio River to South Carolina.
The interactive Museum of the Cherokee Indian takes visitors back in time to experience the life of Western North Carolina’s indigenous people. Nearby, the Oconaluftee Indian Village offers an immersive look at what Cherokee life here was like in the 1700s, when Europeans began to settle the region.
Today Cherokee is also a destination for entertainment at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. In addition to slot machines and game tables, visitors can enjoy restaurants, shopping and a calendar of world-class performances throughout the year.
See the Smokies from a whole new point of view as you soar between the mountaintops on a zipline tour. With options available for the whole family, these thrilling treetop adventures are also highly educational as knowledgeable guides share information about the region’s natural and cultural history.
Whether your destination is the river, the trail or a trip back in time, the towns and forests of the N.C. Smokies are ready to welcome your adventurous spirit.
The Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina are home to dozens of breathtaking waterfalls cascading down slopes and rock faces.
These four favorite waterfalls are located in Macon County, just outside of the charming town of Highlands, N.C. While three of them are visible from the roadside of US Highway 64 (also known as the Waterfall Byway), the true majesty of these falls are best viewed from their trails and observation areas.
This 250-foot cascade can be found along US Highway 64 less than 9 miles west of Highlands. If you want to snap a photo, look for a very small roadside pull-off on your left. (It’s recommended that you pull into this area from the eastbound lane, and park completely off the road.) The view of Cullasaja is lovely from the parking area, especially in winter once the trees lose their leaves. Experienced hikers can take the steep, unmarked trail down to the base of the falls for another perspective.
Bridal Veil Falls
You can’t miss this waterfall located about 2 miles west of Highlands on US Highway 64. The road was once routed behind the falls (later changed due to problems with icing in winter), but visitors today can still park the car to walk behind this beautiful natural feature.
Another waterfall that invites visitors to venture behind its falling waters is Dry Falls, located close to Bridal Veil Falls, about 3 miles west of Highlands alongside US Highway 64. Look for signs to the parking area, then take in the stunning view from the accessible observation area or walk the short paved trail that takes you up to and behind the 75-foot cascade.
The popular two-mile out-and-back trail at the Glen Falls Scenic Area takes hikers past three gorgeous waterfalls. The trail leads downhill via several switchbacks to connect observation areas for each falls. On your hike back up, be sure to look for the side trail leading to a birds-eye view of Overflow Creek and the surrounding valley. Parking for Glen Falls is located along NC Highway 106, about 1.7 miles from US Highway 64 in Highlands.
Before you visit these natural beauties, please keep in mind the basics of waterfall safety. Never climb rock faces, jump off waterfalls or dive into the water. Obey all posted signs, and stick to designated trails and observation platforms. Don’t play in or wade into the water above a waterfall, where strong currents can sweep you over the falls without warning. Stay safe, and enjoy!
Late September in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina brings early signs of fall—cooler weather, the first few brightly tinted leaves, and the fluttering orange flashes of migrating monarch butterflies.
The monarchs, with their iconic orange, black and white-patterned wings, pass through the Southern Appalachian Mountains on their way to Mexico, the destination that marks the end of a 2,000+-mile southbound migration. The butterflies that pass through Western North Carolina likely began their journey in Pennsylvania, New York or even Canada. In spring, their descendants will make their way back to the north.
Where to Find Migrating Monarchs in the Smoky Mountains
During the fall migration, monarch butterflies travel among the treetops at higher elevations, some Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks and nearby mountain balds great places to see these winged beauties in action from late September through early to mid-October.
Black Balsam is a popular spot for hikers and picnickers, and during migration season the mountain bald is also great for finding monarchs. Find trailhead parking on Black Balsam Road, accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 420.2. Bring a jacket (and your camera!) for the 1-mile hike to the top of the knob.
Nearby Waterrock Knob (at Parkway MP 451.2) is similarly known for its 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, giving visitors plenty of open space to see a migrating monarch.
Butterflies abound in the Cade’s Cove area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where groups gather each year to count and tag the passing butterflies. Check out the pretty pollinators in one of the area’s meadows, or head to Gregory Bald Trail for a 9-mile (round trip) hike with old growth forests and stunning views.
Those who are willing to venture a bit farther down the Blue Ridge Parkway may also find good butterfly-spying at Pounding Mill Overlook (MP 413.2)
The Smoky Mountains are one of the most beautiful places to visit during autumn, with cool mountain weather and brilliant fall foliage blanketing the slopes. From late September through early November, numerous fall adventures await leaf-peeping visitors. Check out these popular experiences, from serene mountain lakes to thrilling ziplines.
Bonus: Social distancing comes naturally for many of these outdoor activities; check with outfitters and tour companies about any special arrangements for your visit.
Feel the thrill of flying above the colorful forest canopy on a mountain zipline. The ridgeline-to-ridgeline course at Nantahala Outdoor Center boasts 360-degree views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala Gorge.
Whether you’re in search of mountain top views or breathtaking waterfalls, an easy walk or a strenuous trek, there’s a Smoky Mountain hiking trail perfect for your next adventure. Check out this list of popular hikes.
Pack a picnic and hit the road for an unforgettable fall drive. By car or by motorcycle, the Blue Ridge Parkway is an excellent choice, especially in early fall when the colors arrive at popular spots like Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam Knob. Or check out US Route 64 between Franklin and Highlands to see waterfalls tucked among the brilliant trees.
Tour by Train
Bring the family and make fall memories touring the beautiful Nantahala Gorge by riding the rails. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers twice-daily tours (closed on Mondays) on their steam-powered trains. Choose open-air or enclosed train cars and order a boxed lunch for your excursion.
Get to know these mountains through the stories of the people who have lived here for thousands of years. Enjoy an interactive cultural experience at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian then head over to Ococnaluftee Indian Village to immerse yourselves in the living history of the Smokies.
Enjoy the autumn forest from a new perspective as you ride along with your new equine companion. Book a horseback trail ride alongside your reservation at a local resort, or choose from a wide variety of guided tours at Chunky Gal Stables, which welcomes guests of all experience levels year-round.
Covid-19 has impacted the way we live, and the way we travel. While you’re still safer staying at home, the great outdoors provide much needed relief from quarantine fatigue. When planning your vacation to the North Carolina Smoky Mountains remember that many businesses have had to modify hours and operations. You’ll want to call ahead to ensure you’ll be able to enjoy certain experiences.
Here, you’ll need to follow the three W’s. 1. Expect to wait in lines to enter businesses. 2. Wear a mask when indoors and in any communities that request they be used on sidewalks. 3. Wash your hands frequently. Here’s some other information to know.
Last updated on December 11, 2020
Local State of Emergency Declarations with Travel Impacts
North Carolina has implemented new executive order effective December 11. A Stay at Home order remains in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily. All businesses are required to be closed during this time. Alcohol sales are prohibited from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day.
Businesses are allowed to be open with limited capacity. Please note that face coverings are now required in all public indoor settings.
Travel restrictions into the county have been removed, however all nonresidents must observe a 14 days self-quarantine, or for the duration of their visit if it is for less than 14 days. Be prepared to bring your own supplies and groceries to sustain the 14-day quarantine.
Swain County is following the state’s guidelines. Restaurants, breweries and wineries are open with restrictions. Attractions are open – many are at 50% capacity. For lodging, please bring as much food, drink and supplies with you as possible. This will lessen the impact on their groceries and other stores that have been and are still experiencing shortages. Also, please help to mitigate any spread in their community by practicing proper social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizing, and the use of protective face coverings as you enjoy our county and trails. The small businesses that have been closed are eager to welcome you!
Jackson County updated its Declaration of a State of Emergency to lift the ban on lodging rentals of less than 30 days, but added strong guidance regarding social distancing and mask wearing.
The Chamber Visitor Center has reopened. The hours of operation are Monday – Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Local businesses will display signs to let visitors know if they are open.
On May 15, retail establishments, hotels, and campgrounds re-opened at 50 percent capacity while following strict cleaning and social distancing procedures. Several outdoor activities in Cherokee are open to the general public including the Fire Mountain Trails, Cherokee Skate Park, and the Oconaluftee Island Park. Cherokee Enterprise Waters is open for fishing for people not enrolled with the EBCI. Fishing permits may be purchased on-line at www.fishcherokee.com or from a local fishing permit vendor.
All NCDOT’s 58 Rest Areas’ restroom facilities statewide remain open 24 hours per day for travelers’ relief. State Welcome Centers also remain open for restrooms 24 hours per day.
UPDATE: The Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Franklin, NC reopened on Saturday, May 9.
Outdoor Closures & Updates
During this time of social distancing, the great outdoors at first seemed the best option to remain active. However, as people flocked to popular hiking trails, scenic lookouts, and waterfalls in droves it became clear that these too would need to be limited. While there are still ways to enjoy outdoor recreation, these more popular spots are have been closed.
Abrams Creek Campground Road
Balsam Mountain Road
Big Creek Road
Cades Cove Loop Road (Road will open daily at 8:00 a.m. Closed to motor vehicles on Wednesdays from June 17 to September 30, 2020 for bicylces and pedestrians only.)
Cataloochee Road (To Palmer Chapel only due to road washout.)
Cherokee Orchard Road
Clingmans Dome Road
Deep Creek Road
Forge Creek Road
Greenbrier Road (Due to roadwork, open to Ramsey Cascades Trailhead only.)
Heintooga Round Bottom Road
Laurel Creek Road
Little Greenbrier Road
Little River Road
Newfound Gap Road/Highway 441
Rich Mountain Road
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Straight Fork Road
Tom Branch Road
Tow String Road
Upper Tremont Road
Wear Cove Gap Road
Restrooms: Clingmans Dome, Sugarlands Visitor Center, Newfound Gap, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Cades Cove Cable Mill, Abram Falls Trailhead, Rainbow Falls Trailhead, Alum Cavem and picnic areas
Picnic Areas: Big Creek, Chimney Tops, Collins Creek and Pavilion, Metcalf Bottoms, Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier (pavilion is closed), Metcalf Bottoms and Pavilion, Twin Creeks Pavilion. **Note that pavilions must be reserved through Recreation.gov
Horse Camps: Anthony Creek Horse Camp, Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, Tow String
Visitor Centers: Cable Mill in Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Mingus Mill near Oconaluftee, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Sugarlands Visitor Center
Campgrounds: Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek*, Cades Cove*, Cataloochee*, Cosby*, Deep Creek*, Elkmont*, Smokemont*
*The Following Campgrounds Remain Closed:
Group Campgrounds: Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Horse Camps: Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Tow String.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Campgrounds, Visitor Centers, and Picnic Areas are now closed for the winter. Most sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway, including the southern section through the Smoky Mountains are closed for the winter. Hikers and cyclists can still access the Parkway at road closure points to enjoy mountain views without traffic.
Areas that remain open to vehicles are from mile marker 389 to mile marker 402 as well as mile marker 385 to 376. Points of interest along these open sections include the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, the Folk Art Center, and the North Carolina Arboretum.
The Skyway is open.
Roads into Cataloochee Valley have recently reopened. This is a great place to park and watch as wild elk graze in the fields.
Outdoor recreation areas including Mingo Falls, Soco Falls, picnic areas, and tribal backroads are open.
The Appalachian Trail
The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina have reopened trailhead and access points to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, but restroom facilities remain unavailable. Shelters will remain closed at this time. These include the following popular spots. See the full list here.
Wayah Bald – Nantahala National Forest
Cheoah Bald – Nantahala National Forest
Hampton and Dennis Cove Trailheads (Laurel Falls) – Cherokee National Forest
Osborne Farm – Cherokee National Forest
Max Patch – Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests
Roan Mountain/Carvers Gap – Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests
Lovers Leap – Pisgah National Forest
The National Forest Service has closed shelters and restrooms. As winter weather begins there will be road closures. Before traveling into the Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, or Grandfather Ranger District, be sure to look here for alerts about road closures.
Harrah’s Cherokee as officially reopened. They’ve rearranged the casino floor to provide more space between the games. In addition to their social distancing strategies, there are other protocols in place including mandatory masks for all guests. You can find the full list of safety requirements here.
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Nantahala Outdoor Center resumed operations this year with new safety protocols. See the video below for full details. The season has ended for whitewater adventures, but they do offer winter activities like survival classes.
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Passenger train operations have resumed with 50% capacity. Please be sure to review their full safety guidelines prior to your trip. New this year, they have extended their schedule with new winter season train rides into the Nantahala Gorge.
Swain County Visitors Center and Heritage Museum – Now Open
The Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians – Now Open at 50% Capacity
The Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina are a prime destination for birdwatchers, or “birders,” thanks to a wide range of elevations and a diversity of habitats that welcome both permanent residents and migrating species.
The arrival of spring marks the first of the year’s big seasons for birding, when migrating songbirds arrive at lower elevation areas. These travelers move into the area throughout the spring and into the summer, when eagle-eyed birdwatchers can find dozens of species singing and nesting in the trees.
Early fall marks a second big migration season and is notable for the opportunity to see Broad-Winged Hawks and other awe-inspiring species.
Prime Locations to Bird Watch in the Smokies.
Pack your binoculars for these favorite birding hotspots in the N.C. Smoky Mountains:
Just a few miles from the crystalline lakes of the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway, scenic Stecoah Gap is famous for its variety of stunning wildflowers, as well as a diversity of warblers during the spring breeding season in April and May.
Hop on an easy-to-hike forest road and look out for Blackburnian Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers and Wood Thrushes. Or choose the Appalachian Trail for a more strenuous hike and a possible sighting of the vivid Cerulean Warbler.
Kituwah Farm & Cherokee
The site of one of the original “mother towns” of the Cherokee Nation, Kituwah Farm offers 300 acres of open field to explore—perfect for spying raptors like the American Kestrel and sparrows such as Savannah and White-crowned sparrows, even in late winter and early spring. A few miles away, the Garden Trail at the Oconaluftee Indian Village offers an introduction to native plants and those cultivated by the Cherokee people, as well as sightings of Pileated Woodpeckers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Hooded Warblers.
Situated in an idyllic valley a few miles from downtown Waynesville, Lake Junaluska is home to dozens of bird species, from waterfowl like swans (see baby cygnets April-June), herons and ducks, to a number of vireos and woodpeckers.
Bird enthusiasts have been very excited to see a nesting pair of Bald Eagles at Lake Junaluska in recent years. Pick up a birding checklist at the welcome center, or check the calendar for a guided bird tour in summer.
Little Tennessee River Greenway
In the town of Franklin, the Little Tennessee River Greenway offers a pleasant paved walk along the river, plus many family-friendly recreation options. Birders will find plenty of species along the main trail, and don’t miss the small wetland area adjacent to Big Bear Park where you’re likely to see White-breasted and Brown-Headed Nuthatches, Red-winged Blackbirds and a variety of ducks and woodpeckers.
Blue Ridge Parkway
With its wide diversity of elevations and habitats, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a birder’s paradise. Devil’s Courthouse is a favorite nesting area of the Peregrine Falcon, with the parking area at milepost 422.4 offering the best views. Visit this area at sunset for a stunning view, then stick around during the spring months to hear the songs of Veery and Winter Wrens and to listen for the call of the Northern Saw-whet Owl.
Pack a picnic for Waterrock Knob at milepost 451.2, which boasts a panoramic view and a convenient loop trail perfect for spying Ruffed Grouse, Brown Creeper, Cedar Waxwing and many species of warbler.
A mountain escape is even sweeter with someone special, and the North Carolina Smoky Mountains have plenty to inspire a romantic getaway. From cozy accommodations and sweet temptations to date-night ideas both fun and adventurous, here are some top activities for couples visiting the mountains.
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. Many restaurants are offering take-out options so you can dine in the privacy of your accommodation.
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. Bearwaters Brewing Company is a local’ favorite with two locations. One in Maggie Valley, and the other along the banks of the Pigeon River in Canton. They’re currently providing curb-side pickup during the pandemic.
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 tree house cabin at Watershed Resort as your mountain home-away-from-home.
6. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
Put the “sweet” in “sweetheart” by sharing a decadent dessert. With locations in Bryson City and Cherokee, Heavenly Fudge Depot & Shoppe has been crafting handmade fudge and candies for more than 40 years. In Waynesville and Sylva, stop by Jack the Dipper for a decadent ice cream treat—served in the parlor’s signature made-to-order warm waffle cones!
7. Take a Hike
Enjoy nature’s wonders side by side on a favorite Smoky Mountain hiking trail. The easy Whiteside Mountain Trail near Cashiers features an awe-inspiring view of the highest vertical drop in the Eastern U.S. Feel at one with the forest on the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail. Or be wow-ed by waterfalls near Bryson City—a loop trail in the Deep Creek area passes right by three favorite falls. Can’t choose? Let the professionals be your guide—companies like Alarka Expeditions in Cowee will tailor a trip to your specific interests, be it birds, botanicals or cultural history.
8. Enjoy a Scenic Sunset
Watch the sky come alive at a favorite sunset spot, like the mountain bald at Max Patch, which boasts stunning 360-degree views. Waterrock Knob and Cowee Mountain Overlook are two of the top spots for sunsets on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. And Clingmans Dome—the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park—is ideal for both sunset and sunrise views. Remember to pack a jacket for quickly cooling temperatures and a flashlight for the hike back to the car! If you prefer to pair your sunset with a delicious dinner or drink, reserve a table at Mountview Bistro at Fontana Village.
9. Stroll a Small Town Main Street
Walk hand-in-hand through a charming mountain town and discover local shopping and art along the way. Waynesville has welcomed visitors to its downtown for well over a century. Sylva is known for its all-American Main Street and iconic courthouse, while nearby Dillsboro features the work of local artisans in the historic charm of 19th century buildings. Cashiers and Highlands combine high-end shopping with delicious restaurants and outdoor outfitters.
10. Learn From the Local Culture
Get to know the history and heritage of the Smokies, and take home some skills or souvenirs to remember your visit! Learn from Cherokee artisans at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, and stick around after dark for theater under the stars. Unto These Hills has reenacted the stories of the Cherokee people for 70 years. In the fall, a retelling of Sleepy Hollow takes over the outdoor amphitheatre. At the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, learn traditional Appalachian crafts, dance, music and cooking in week-long and weekend classes year-round.
Located in Jackson County, Dillsboro, North Carolina is the ideal getaway for a weekend or longer. Surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest and located along the banks of the Tuskasegee River, this charming and artsy town offers a relaxing atmosphere, family activities, shopping, and great food. Just 45 minutes west of Asheville, Dillsboro is a one stop destination with a variety of experiences to create a memorable visit.
Things to do in Dillsboro
With an abundance of hiking trails and activities along the Tuskasegee River, Dillsboro is the perfect basecamp for outdoors adventure.
The Tuckasegee, also known as “Tuck” flows from Cashiers all the way to its entry into Fontana Lake. A popular river for fly fishing, boating, and floating, visitors can experience it all. Dillsboro is the fifth put-in point along the river and the ideal spot to take a slow float, kayak trip or fishing expedition. Here are some places who can help you access these mountain blueway adventures.
Smoky Mountain River adventures takes families on white water rafting with guide or offers advice to do it on your own. Rental for rafts and inflatable kayaks are available.
Tuckasegee Outfitters offers family friendly rafting trips May-September from Dillsboro to Barkers Creek Crossing. The rapids are small (class I and II), and perfect for an easy trip down the river.
Dillsboro River Company provides river trips for the whole family and is perfect for first time rafters or young children.
Fly fishing is huge in Jackson County. In fact it’s known as the North Carolina Trout Capital and boasts 15 spots to catch a few varieties of trout. You’re sure to find a great spot away from other fishers to spend a quiet morning or afternoon. For license information, rules, and maps visit Discover Jackson NC.
Hiking in Jackson County will always end with a great view but what makes it special is that there is a trail for everyone regardless of age or ability. Here are some local favorites.
Black Balsam Trail loops through Black Balsam Knob with the full hike being 5 miles. Once you reach the 6,000-foot elevation point, visitors will see mountains from every angle. A seven mile challenge for the seasoned hiker or adventurer
Whiteside Mountain offers panoramic views following a 2 mile track. In the spring and summer, keep lookout for nesting peregrine falcons.
Culture and Shopping
Explore a variety of cultural and shopping experiences rich in the history and people of the area. Probably one of the most popular excursions is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which offers year-round train rides along the Tuckasegee River. Special themed trips like The Polar Express and The Easter Express are local favorites. Another unique Dillsboro offering is the Appalachian Women’s Museum, the first museum dedicated to Southern Appalachian women offers exhibits and a glimpse into their lives.
Dillsboro is known as an artsy community that has hundreds of arts and crafts on display along the five block village.
Since 1976, Dogwood Crafters has housed fine arts and crafts from over 125 local artists. Stop here to purchase a piece of Dillsboro culture.
The American House Cat Museum is for cat lovers alike. Located 4 miles south of Dillsboro, visitors will find cat memorabilia from any decade and many important pieces of purr cat history.
Riverwood Pottery has been in the village since 1973 and is a great place to find a special ceramic piece. The studio also offers demonstrations and classes.
Great Places to Dine
Boasting the “Best Hand Cut Steaks in the Smokys”, Boots Steakhouse offers fine dining with a cozy mountain town feel. Besides steak, the menu offers seafood, southern comfort foods, and a full bar.
With locations in neighboring Sylva and Dillsboro, Innovation Brewing offers a unique selection of over 30 brews along with crowd favorites. Live music is featured every Saturday and Cosmic Carryout, their food truck is in full operation every day.
Located in Sylva, Foragers Canteen offers an eclectic twist on southern and new favorites. By offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you could make a day out of it!
Places to Stay in and Around Dillsboro
Dillsboro and surrounding offer a variety of accommodations to rest and relax after all that fun!
Best Western Plus River Escape Inn and Suites offers traditional accommodations with Tuckasegee River and Great Smoky Mountain views. Each stay offers full amenities including full hot breakfast, internet access, and an indoor pool and hot tub.
Sure the temperatures might get a little cooler in the winter, but don’t let that stop you from getting outside to explore the North Carolina Smoky Mountains! Visitors will find plenty of fun activities all season long both outdoor and indoor. Here are our top choices for wintertime fun in the mountains.
Winter Hikes in the Smoky Mountains
For the outdoor enthusiasts, the good news is that the winters can be relatively mild and the main roads remain passable most all of the time. That means you can access trailheads and get stunning and unobstructed winter views. Here are some of our favorites.
• Max Patch offers an elevated beautiful view from every angle along its 2.4-mile loop. Make sure to pack proper attire and have a four-wheel drive vehicle if there has been a snowfall.
• Lake Junaluska offers fantastic views with a flatter trail. Choose from a 2.3 or 3.8-mile loop along the lake and enjoy the view from the many benches along the trail. This trail is friendly to strollers, wheelchairs, and scooters.
• Whiteside Mountain offers panoramic views along a 2-mile loop in Nantahala Forest National Park near Cashiers.
Frozen Waterfall Adventures
Hiking through a winter forest is a serene experience. There’s little noise except for the occasional wildlife scurrying about. Even the roar of the waterfalls can fall silent if it’s cold enough to freeze over. Quick PSA: Exercise extreme caution when exploring waterfalls, especially in the winter. The rocks are icy so stay at the foot of the falls. Never attempt to climb to the top. Here are some places you might catch a frozen falls.
• On the edge of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, you will find Soco Falls, a double waterfall that offers many views and is especially spectacular in the winter months.
• Mingo Falls offers a challenging step hike (161 to be exact) to view the cascades down 200 ft. along a multitude of boulders.
• Immerse yourself in the full waterfall experience at Deep Creek nestled in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s a great low elevation hike with three different waterfalls. The full loop from Deep Creek to Indian Creek is 5 miles.
Skiing and Tubing
For the snowbirds out there, the Great Smoky Mountains offer skiing and tubing options for the whole family.
• Scaly Mountain Outdoor Center offers 2-3 ski slops along with child friendly slops, ice-skating, tubing, and dry tubing.
• Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley offers 18 slopes for a variety of levels, exceptional views, and fun for the whole family. With elevations of 5,400 and the temperature just right, this haven for ski lovers stays open longer than most regional ski resorts.
Cozy Indoors Retreats
The outdoors can be amazing during the winter months, but for those who want to stay warm and cozy the Great Smoky Mountains offers plenty of indoor options. Due to the pandemic, some experiences may be closed, completely booked, or there may be entrance delays due to capacity restrictions. Be sure to plan in advance before visiting any indoor locations. Go here for up to date information on COVID-19 in the Smoky Mountains.
Test your Luck
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, North Carolina’s very first casino, offers 1,200 slot machines, 30 plus gaming tables, restaurants, entertainment and a spa all in one spot.
You can also take the scenic drive from Cherokee over to Murphy, NC to play at the newer Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, which features 1,200 slot machines, 30-40 gaming tables, and a 300-room hotel.
Arts and Crafts Experiences
Handmade arts are part of the cultural footprint of the Smoky Mountains. Visitors should stop by one of these galleries while exploring the region.
• Goldhagen Studios in Hayesville to watch live glass blowing demonstrations by David Goldhagen, and view his work in the gallery.
• The Native American Craft Shop in Cherokee offers limited edition prints from Native American artists, pottery, and other crafts that would be a great addition to any art collection.
• The Macon County Art Association’s Uptown Gallery in downtown Franklin features exhibits by local artists and works to promote art in the area. The Uptown gallery also offers year round workshops and classes.
Museums and Culture
Learn about regional history, discover a traveling exhibit, or peruse the displays at some of the eclectic museums found in the mountains.
• The Museum of the Cherokee Indian takes you on a journey from the early days of Cherokee hunter-gatherers to the Trail of Tears and beyond. The museum offers a fascinating history lesson of the tribe.
• The Wheels of Time Museum in Maggie Valley offers a collection of rare American vintage motorcycles, classic cars, and memorabilia .
• The Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center offers an artesian gallery featuring over 125 artists and craftsmen. Visitors can also enjoy trying cultural foods from local sources, and both art and cooking classes.
• For the cat lovers, the American Museum of the House Cat in Sylva boasts vintage and modern cat art, cat art glass, and an archive of cat memorable.
• Located in Bryson City, the top 10 nationally ranked Smoky Mountain Train Museum has train displays for all ages and model train enthusiast alike.
Rest Your Head
With all the winter fun that the Great Smoky Mountains offer, visitors can rest and relax at a variety of cozy accommodations.
• Cataloochee Ranch Resort offers accommodations for small and larger groups. Amenities include outdoor and indoor entertainment, a 20 foot heated spa, and fireplaces in most lodgings.
• The Buckwood Log Lodgeoffers warm and rustic accommodations in the heart of Highlands, NC.
• For peace and luxury, Fontana Mountain Resort, located in the Nantahala Forest has a variety of accommodations from rooms in the lodge to private cabins. The property has trails and a pool and is open year round. Amenities also include the Mountain View Bistro and Wildwood grill and a massage center.
Located on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Maggie Valley is a short drive to the gorgeous Cataloochee Valley section of the park and the quaint town of Waynesville, North Carolina. The area offers beautiful views, outdoor adventure, wildlife encounters, family activities, old time music, and small town charm. Pick a few experiences below to make your visit one to remember.
Things to do in Maggie Valley
The stretch of U.S. Route 19 that passes through the small town of Maggie Valley offers access to charming accommodations, live entertainment venues, skiing and tubing, a museum, and a brewery. Along this route you’ll also find access to the most photographed scenic lookout in the mountains as well as access to the beautiful Soco Falls.
Motorcycling Through the Smoky Mountains
One of the popular ways to experience this region of the North Carolina Smokies is by motorcycle. Spend the day on a scenic drive through the mountains. Smoky Mountain Steel Horses offers a selection of motorcycles to rent plus resources on beautiful rides through Maggie Valley. Ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Deal’s Gap, also known as “The Dragon.”
After your ride, swing by The Wheels of Time Museum to see a collection of rare American vintage motorcycles. It also includes other memorabilia, artifacts, and classic cars to peruse.
Grab Your Partner
The sounds of the Smoky Mountains are rooted in old-time mountain music. Listen to the bluegrass and old-time fiddle tunes at the Stompin’ Ground and watch as folks dance the mountain two-step, square-dance, and clog on the large dance floor. Get in on the action as audience participation in line dances is encouraged. They’ll guide you through the steps!
Mountain music is a big part of the music scene in Maggie Valley, but the musical influence is also international. Folkmoot USA brings musicians from around the globe to perform traditional song and dance. This year-round celebration boasts a diverse selection of exhibits, cultural programs, and fun for all ages. Then every July, the famous festival showcases global talent with events all around Maggie Valley, and nearby Waynesville.
Great Places to Dine
There’s no shortage of good eats and places for libations in Maggie Valley. Barbeque fans will enjoy Fat Buddies Ribs and BBQ of Waynesville along with the legacy of their famous Firehouse sauce. For those who enjoy old-fashioned ice cream in a warm waffle corn, make time in your plans for a stop by Jack the Dipper in Waynesville.
Maggie Valley offers independent and locally owned shops, specialty boutiques, antiques, and handmade crafts. For those looking for local goods head to Downtown Waynesville for a plethora of art galleries, wonderful people, and unique shopping experiences like Mast General Store.
During the holidays, a trip to Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm is fun for the whole family. Besides charming cabin accommodations, visitors can pick out a famous Frazier Fir to bring home some mountain holiday cheer!
Outdoor Exploration in Cataloochee Valley
A popular spot for outdoor adventure is Cataloochee Valley. Here you’ll find multiple hiking trails to explore like the popular Boogerman Trail, Rough Fork Trail, and Pretty Hollow Gap Trail. While exploring the Valley you’ll also find multiple historic home-sites, churches, and a barn open to the public for self-guided tours.
See the Elk
The biggest attraction to the Cataloochee Valley is the ability to watch free-range elk grazing in the fields. They typically travel in a herd through the large open fields to graze in the morning and late afternoon. They are accustomed to people hanging out in the fields so you won’t have any trouble finding them. As with any wildlife encounter, be sure to watch them from a safe distance. They are not contained behind a fence and they will become aggressive if they feel threatened. Respect their space and you shouldn’t have a problem.
Cataloochee Creek is home to wild rainbow and brook trout, making it a haven for fly-fishing. There are multiple tributary creeks you can fish so while it’s a popular place to fish, it’s not difficult to find a peaceful spot out of sight from other anglers. You must have as state license and follow the fishing regulations.
There are like horseback riding, skiing, tubing, hiking to natural attractions such as Soco Falls or the popular Elk Tours and Firefly tours through Cataloochee Valley Tours, Inc.
Horseback Riding on the Mountaintop
Take in the panoramic beauty of the Smoky Mountains on horseback. At the Cataloochee Guest Ranch sign up for a ridge top tour that winds through forest trails, rhododendron tunnels, and creeks. Once you’re done riding take part in the many other activities the Ranch offers including tennis, swimming, daily hayrides, cookouts, bonfires, and lawn games.
Places to Stay in and Around Maggie Valley
With all the great adventures in the area, there are diverse accommodation options to make anyone feel at home.
The Cataloochee Guest Ranch has a diverse range of accommodations from inn style rooms to large group cabins along with many onsite activities such as horseback riding.
Named the #1 “top Resort in the South” by Conde Nast, The Swag, a luxurious all-inclusive mountain resort provides a great location to celebrate an anniversary or other special weekend away.
Most folks come to western North Carolina in hopes of seeing a few bears. However, if you stay at in a cabin at Buffalo Creek Vacations, chances are you will catch a glimpse of Buffalo while you enjoy your stay. You can even rent a refurbished caboose train car for your accommodations.