In the westernmost regions of the North Carolina Smokies, Hayesville and Brasstown in Clay County offer visitors stunning mountain vistas, pristine lakes, glorious hiking and biking trails, rave-worthy dining, and the nicest folks in the nation. Seriously, Hayesville placed #4 in Reader Digest’s Friendliest places to live in America!
Lake Chatuge is a paradise for swimming, boating, fishing, and camping, and the Blue Ridge Craft Trails feature many talented local artists along it path. Visit the oldest folk school in the nation to try your hand at Appalachian traditions of crafts and music and plan to spend some time at the Cherokee Cultural Center to witness the history of this area’s indigenous people.
What To Do (Can’t-Miss Fun)
Whether you are into hiking, biking, trail running, or just exploring, there are 12 superb trails near Hayesville and Brasstown calling your name. For an easy family adventure, there is no better trail than the Jackrabbit Trail in the Nantahala Forest. This 4.1-mile loop trail takes about 1 ½ hours to complete. It is shared between hikers and mountain bikers, so use caution on the blind corners. A big plus is that they allow dogs, and everything is better with your four-legged best friend. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking with its lake views and wildflowers.
For more of a challenge, try the 6.4-mile Leatherwood Logging Trail to Rim Trail. Considered a moderately difficult trail, the trail follows an old, flat, logging road through meadows, gradually leading up to a ridge with stunning vistas. Depending on the time of year, the mountain creeks along the trail may be swollen, requiring periodic crossings. The trail is also designed for horseback riding, so be prepared to meet some equine beauties along your hike. Leashed dogs are also welcome here.
Ready to test your outdoor skills? The Fires Creek Rim Trail is a 24.9-mile loop that takes about 15 hours to complete. Many hikers camp along the way, enjoying the serenity, waterfalls, wildflowers, fishing, and birding-watching. Dogs are welcome and may even be off leash in some areas.
Lake Chatuge is a water lovers paradise, sharing crystalline waters almost equally between North Carolina and Georgia. It has over 130 miles of coastline for swimming and fishing and boasts over 30 types of fish, including both big- and small-mouth bass. With public boat ramps and several marinas that rent watercraft, Lake Chatuge is the ideal vacation spot to rest, relax, and renew. Read about camping and lodging on the lake in the “Where To Stay” section below.
We’re not talking about the horses or the riders here! The legend of Chunky Gal is an old Cherokee Indian story about a chief’s daughter who didn’t want to marry the man her father chose for her, so she ran away. The Chunky Girl Mountain, the last place she was seen, was named for her. And Chunky Gal Stables sits in its shadow.
Discover “big city entertainment in a quiet mountain town.” Located right on the town square in Hayesville, the Peacock Performing Arts Center offers a wide variety of entertainment, including plays, concerts, and family shows with magicians and jugglers. The venue itself only seats 250 people, so everyone has a seat within 10 rows of the stage. The lighting and sound are superior, but the talent drawn to the theater is the real star.
The Blue Ridge Crafts Trail runs through Hayesville and Brasstown and features every artistic medium you can imagine. First on the list is the Goldhagen Studio, home to David Goldhagen’s fine art glass. Known for his massive blown-glass platters and sculptural forms, Goldhagen uses bright, vivid colors in a clean, modern style that often features earth elements, like gold, cobalt, and copper.
No trip is complete without a visit to the John C. Campbell Folk School. Many people travel to Brasstown, NC just to attend one-week and weekend classes at the school. Founded in 1925, it is the oldest folk school in the nation! Students and visitors get rare insight into the Appalachian traditions of crafts, music, and dance. A sampling of the fascinating classes offered includes “Clay: Teapots,” “Glass, Jewelry, Stone, Sculpture & Mosaics: Bottles to Art,” Marbling, Book Arts: Marbling Around the World,” “Mixed Media, Painting, Needlework & Thread Art: Stitched Collage,” and “Music: Dance Musicians’ Week.”
Other worthy stops on the trail in Brasstown are Brasstown Carvers; Pine Needles and Things; and Time To Fuse. In Hayesville, you don’t want to miss a visit to the Cherokee Homestead Exhibit; Clay County Barn Quilt Trail; Joe Waldroup Wood Turning & Sculpting; and the Old Jail Museum.
Where To Eat
Some of the best French food you will ever eat can be found in Hayesville, NC. Chef Dennis Barber brought his hometown cuisine of New Orleans to the Great Smoky Mountains of NC, where he opened two outstanding eateries.
Carlotta’s is a casual and fun restaurant with a walk-up counter for ordering. Whether you’re grabbing a quick Po’boy for lunch or a shaved ice “Snoball” for an afternoon treat, Carlotta’s will satisfy your craving. You must try the cornmeal-crusted Fried Catfish Po’boy dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo and served on French bread. Or dig into an icy Snoball with your choice of flavors, like Georgia Peach, Cake Batter, Honey Almond, or Granny Smith Apple. If you’re feeling a little daring, you can even mix up to 3 different flavors!
Chef Barber’s second restaurant, The Copper Door, is a fine dining eatery that offers a sumptuous 4-course prix fix dinner. With dishes like Oysters & Pearls; Strawberry, Watermelon & Burrata Salad; Hanger Steak with Rose Harissa and Kasha Salad; and a White Chocolate Bread pudding for dessert, you’ll feel like you just sat down at a table in the French Quarter. If a 4-course dinner is more than you’re looking for, grab a table in the bar area to enjoy an a la carte menu with options like Oyster Shooters and Crawfish Tortellini.
In addition to an impressive wine list, The Copper Door has an outstanding Whiskey and Bourbon menu with choices like Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon or Booker’s, a small-batch unfiltered Kentucky Bourbon.
Insider’s Tip: The dress code falls between smart casual and formal attire. And they “ask that gentlemen remove their hats indoors out of respect for the ladies present.”
Also worthy of mention is The Crown in Brasstown, NC. The risotto is out of this world, and the outdoor seating offers beautiful views.
Where To Stay
Deerfield Inn on the shores of Lake Chatuge offers 20 well-appointed guest rooms with 2 queen beds. Your room has cable TV and HBO, but you won’t want to be inside watching shows because every room has outdoor seating with a magnificent view of the crystalline lake and the Smoky Mountains. A complimentary continental breakfast is served every morning to get you ready for your day of mountain biking, horseback riding, water activities, and browsing at the quaint shops nearby.
Hinton Center in Hayesville, NC offers so much more than lodging. They describe themselves as a “retreat and conference center… where guests can come to retreat, reflect, and renew.” Hinton Center welcomes individuals and groups to stay in their lodge or cabins, and they also have 9 RV sites available in both 30 and 50 AMP. Their guest services include a dining room under the talents of their executive chef; Wi-Fi; an outdoor Labyrinth and memory garden; massage therapists; yoga instructors; and, of course, glorious views of and access to Chatuge Lake.
The Jackrabbit Trails Campground with 92 wooded sites, each with a firepit, picnic table and lantern post. Some sites allow RVs, although there are no RV hookups. Campers have access to hot showers, flush toilets, and drinking water, as well as a lake-side pavilion for picnicking. Campsite reservations are highly recommended, as same-day availability is not guaranteed.
The campground offers a plethora of day-use activities, including boating, swimming, fishing, and picnicking. Boats can be rented from nearby marinas, or you may launch your own craft from the boat ramp about a ½ mile away. There is a clean and safe designated swimming area with a sandy beach and a separate fishing pier onsite. But most importantly, the trailhead for the Jackrabbit Mountain Trail System is located at the campground with a connector trail, so you can avoid the incoming and exiting cars and RVs.