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Free Things To Do in the Smokies for the Budget-Minded Traveler – Part 2

Downtown Bryson City in the NC Smoky Mountains

Bryson City Edition

This is part two of a five part series that will help stretch those vacation dollars a little further by exploring free things to do in the Smokies of North Carolina.
  • Part one Waynesville, Maggie Valley, and Sylva Edition
  • Part two – Bryson City Edition
  • Part three – Franklin & Highlands Edition
  • Part four – Fontana, Robbinsville, and Lake Santeetlah Edition
  • Part five – Pisgah Forest and Cherokee Edition

Going on vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are our top picks for exploring one of our favorite mountain towns, Bryson City, without spending a dime.

Outdoor Adventure Near Bryson City

Bryson City is a popular destination filled with outdoor fun for those visiting the Smokies. You’ll want to start your exploration in the glory of Mother Nature on one of the 53 trails that traverse the area. The 1.3-mile, easy Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail tops everyone’s list for its 360-degree view of the Smokies and beautiful Spruce Fir Forest. Also from the Clingman’s Dome Trail parking lot, you can hike the moderately difficult, 1.8-mile out-and-back Andrews Bald Trail. Watch for abundant plants and wildlife along the rocky terrain. You won’t have to travel far to reach some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Just a few minutes from downtown Bryson City, you’ll find Deep Creek where you can hike, tube, and camp. Explore along the rushing falls of Tom Branch, Indian Creek, and Juney Whank. The 2.4-mile, easy Waterfall Loop Trail takes you past all 3! The first falls you come to on the trail are the Juney Whank Falls. A wooden bridge spanning the 90-foot waterfall offers stunning views of both the upper and lower sections of it. Tom Branch Falls appear next, offering thundering cascades surrounded by spectacular autumn foliage every fall and a bounty of brightly colored blooms every spring. Relax and take in the view from one of the wooden benches at the base. Your final stop on the loop trail is Indian Creek Falls, the smallest at only 25 feet tall. What stands out most about these falls is the graceful beauty with which it flows over the smooth rock face. Bryson city activities include the NOC and the Smoky Mountain Railroad

No-to-Low Cost Activities Around Town

When it’s time to head indoors, the Appalachian River Aquarium, a small, native-species aquarium located on the banks of the Tuckasegee River, is fun for the whole family. Here you will find over 15 different species of freshwater fish and see terrariums featuring crustaceans, amphibians, and reptiles, including the endangered Eastern Hellbender Salamander. The aquarium offers numerous free-admission days listed here. Next, venture over to the Appalachian Mercantile to wander through yesteryear. Vintage games, old-time candy, cookbooks, antique glassware, novelty wind chimes, and stained glass are just some of the items to explore, even if you don’t buy a thing. The fun part is the discovery of what’s around the next corner. For a sweet treat in the afternoon, stop by the Chocolate Shoppe for hand-dipped. chocolate-covered caramels and dark-chocolate bark. Enjoy free samples for over 60 different items offered every day! With the cool jazz piped in and free chocolate, why would you ever leave? Bryson City is renowned for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad with its historic train depot as a gateway to all of the places you can’t see by car. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the Nantahala National Forest, the Tuckasegee and Nantahala Rivers, and historical buildings and lush forestry are just outside your train car window. Check their Hot Deals page to learn about their specials. Spend some time chatting up the locals. Nearby farms are the primary source for the stores and restaurants that rely on them for homegrown, farm-fresh produce, jams and honey. Visit the Smoky Mountain Farmers and Artisans Market in downtown Bryson City to meet some good folks and sample the freshest products available. Or go directly to the source at Darnell Farms, a true agro-tourism experience for the whole family along the banks of the Tuckasegee River. As a second-generation family farm, they produce strawberries, pole beans, squash, pumpkins, sweet corn, tomatoes, and more. We highly recommend visiting during one of several festivals throughout the year.