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Smoky Mountain Arts and Eats Itinerary

Shopping in highlands nc

Beyond the stunning views of the Smoky Mountains, you’ll find western North Carolina has an incredible cultural arts scene. Combine that with delicious farm-to-fork dining options and you’ve got yourself the makings for a perfect extended weekend vacation. Need some inspiration on what to do? Here’s a three-day itinerary to help guide you during your trip to the Smokies.

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

Day 1 – Cherokee

You’ll want to start your trip in the heart of Native American arts and food. Head over to the Oconaluftee Indian Village to watch skilled artisans making traditional arts and wares. Then explore the neighboring Museum of the Cherokee Indian to see original artifacts. The museum store has some fantastic collectibles crafted by modern-day Cherokee.

Grab lunch at Native Brews Tap and Grill. The owner is a granddaughter of one of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians’ last recorded medicine men. Order the Warrior Burger topped with a fried green tomato with a side of Sasquatch Fries, and wash it down with a cold Flaming Arrow IPA.

native brews tap and grill in cherokee
Native Brews Tap and Grill

After lunch, visit Traditional Hands Native American Jewelry & Art Gallery for high-quality sterling silver jewelry, crafts, and carvings. 

Then, after an afternoon pick-me-up of espresso and hand-dipped chocolate at Heavenly Fudge Depot, head over to the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, showcasing traditional arts and crafts of over 250 members. Don’t miss its Permanent Collections Gallery!

For dinner, do as the locals do and eat at Paul’s Family Restaurant. You must try the Indian Tacos, made with “fry bread (bread dough rolled and deep fried), or a traditional Native American protein, like a buffalo ribeye or pheasant breast.

Joe Waldroup Woodworks in Hayesville

Day 2 – Brasstown and Hayesville

Today, you’ll embark upon Blue Ridge Craft Trails, an initiative of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. You can design your own itinerary to visit area artists and their studios on this website, but we have a few favorites of our own.

The first itinerary is the Far West Mountains: Brasstown and John C. Campbell Folk School. The trail begins at the folk school, where the public is invited into the school’s Craft Shop for examples of the best of mountain crafts.

Then head to the Silva Gallery featuring fiber and clay pieces and Pine Needles and Things, showcasing intricate pine-needle basketry. For a fun, interactive experience, build your own “face mug” at Smoke in the Mountains.

For some of the tastiest and most interesting eating in the area, look no further than Carlotta’s in neighboring Hayesville for lunch. Order an authentic New Orleans po-boy; it’s divine!

amazing assortment of sandwiches from Carlotta's in Hayesville nc
Carlotta’s in Hayesville, NC

Hayesville has its own talented artist community that can be followed by following the Blue Ridge Craft Trails itinerary for Far West Mountains: Hayesville. Joe Waldroup Wood Turning and Sculpting is the place to find beautiful, intricate wooden bowls – perfect for a unique, hand-crafted souvenir.

The highlight of this day will be spending an hour or so at Goldhagen Art Glass Studio. This is where David Goldenhagen, a masterful glassblower, showcases his gorgeous sculptural and functional pieces for purchase.

Dinner is an easy choice with The Copper Door offering fine dining in a warm atmosphere, right down to a cozy fireplace. Pair an aged steak or fresh seafood with a selection from the carefully cultivated wine list.

WNC Pottery Festival in Sylva, NC
WNC Pottery Festival in Sylva, NC. Photo courtesy of Nick Breedlove, Jackson County TDA

Day 3 – Cashiers, Cullowhee, Dillsboro, and Sylva

On your final day, we recommend the Blue Ridge Craft Trails itinerary for Far West: Discover craft and more in the mountain towns of Jackson County. Because Jackson County is composed of several small towns very close together, this trail permits you to visit many quaint towns together.

Fuel up for your day with a hearty breakfast from City Lights Cafe in Sylva. Start with a Giddy Up medium-roast (bottomless!) drip coffee. Then dig into the Arriba Breakfast Burrito made with eggs, black beans, salsa, and guacamole. If you miss breakfast, they are also open for lunch!

In Cashiers, visit Mountain Mist Gallery showcasing paintings and fine photography from regional artists. The exceptional Wofford Sculpture Studio, located in a 2000-square-foot barn, hosts a gallery, a mold shop, and examples of past creations.

In nearby Cullowhee, visit the Fine Art Museum at Western Carolina University, featuring 4 galleries brimming with 2000 modern and contemporary works of art. For an in-depth exploration of an authentic blacksmith’s forge in action, look no further than Rogers Metals Studios.

Just around the corner in Dillsboro, spend an hour or two at Dogwood Crafters, displaying old-time Appalachian craft traditions, and at Tunnel Mountain Crafts “where a kaleidoscope of arts and crafts collide.”

In Sylva, visit Gallery 1 to personally meet the local talent while perusing the gallery. Barkwood Studio is also a unique place to see artist Gayle Woody’s ceramic tiles, printmaking, and bookmaking.

Meal at Lula's on Main in Sylva NC
Lula’s on Main in Sylva, NC. Photo courtesy Jackson County TDA


After a long day of exploring, relax with an outstanding meal at Lulu’s on Main. Mick’s Meatloaf Patty Melt with caramelized onions, 1000-island dressing, and Swiss cheese on rye is a local legend. Vegetarians will love the Chipwich, with marinated tofu or tempeh, sauteed peppers and onions, house-made kimchi, and Szechuan sauce.

IMPORTANT – Some galleries and workshops are only open by appointment, so be sure to contact them in advance.