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Sylva Exploration Guide – Top Things To Do

Sylva Mural

Part of the charm of exploring the Great Smoky Mountains is found in the small towns tucked into the mountain landscape. Sylva is one such town, located in the heart of Jackson County (population approximately 2,500). It’s central location in Western North Carolina makes it a perfect base camp to explore the region, but you don’t have to travel far to be immersed in natural wonders.

Top Things To Do In Sylva

Greening up the Mountains festival. Downtown Sylva.
Greening up the Mountains festival. Image courtesy of Jackson County TDA.

Sylva has a walkable downtown area that includes a collection of delicious eateries, breweries, and shops. Visit the historic Jackson County Courthouse and take a stroll through Freedom Park, all with a beautiful mountain backdrop.

Enjoy antique shopping excursions at any of the five antique shops in town, plus you can find all you need to read at one of the three bookshops.

Several festivals take place throughout the year celebrating arts, heritage, live music, and nature. Check the Discover Jackson County NC events calendar to see what’s happening during your trip.

Dining options in Sylva are eclectic and delicious! Visit Lulu’s on Main, named Southern Living’s Favorite Restaurant in the Region, for an edgy, retro flare and fabulous cuisine. Guadalupe Cafe seats visitors from across the country at their unique farm-to-table restaurant.

Guadalupe Cafe, Sylva, NC
Guadalupe Cafe. Image courtesy of Jackson County TDA.


Jackson County Ale Trail
Image courtesy of Jackson County TDA.

Thanks in part to the quality of the mineral-rich, soft water flowing through the Smoky Mountains, this region has become a hot spot for craft breweries. Grab a pint, or a flight, at one of the breweries in town. There are four to choose from – with plenty of locally crafted brews on tap!

  • Innovation Brewing
  • Nantahala Brewing
  • Lazy Hiker Taproom
  • Balsam Falls Brewing

Check out the Jackson County Ale Trail if you want to explore more breweries in the region. If beer isn’t your thing, then there’s also wine and cocktails bars available.

Sylva’s Outdoor Adventures

Bear Trap Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Bear Trap Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo by Robert Stephens

The mountains surrounding Sylva are full of opportunities for outdoor exploration. Take a stroll through the town’s Tree Walk, which features more than 50 different tree species, or explore some of the more adventurous trails throughout the mountains.

Popular Hiking Spot

For the adventurous spirit, Pinnacle Park has hikers climb over 3,000 feet in elevation along a 7-mile hike. It’s a long journey, but worth it to find amazing panoramic views of the Smokies. Pack a picnic and plenty of water for this hike.

For an easier challenge take a hike at Bear Pen Gap, located off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 427.6. Here you can take a 2.5 mile out-and-back trail to a mountain bald. From Sylva, head north on US-74 to Balsam, and then head north on the Parkway. You’ll find parking at the overlook and the trailhead is on the furthest left hand side.

Fishing and Boating Expeditions

Jackson County NC Fly Fishing
Image courtesy of Jackson County TDA.

If you’re looking for a more relaxing activity, fishing is Sylva is second to none! Jackson County is designated as North Carolina’s Trout Capital, and Sylva is a large part of the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail. Reel in trout on Scott Creek, which runs right through downtown Sylva!

In nearby Tuckasegee you’ll find Wolf Lake, which is popular with anglers and boaters.

Tuckasegee River is another popular spot for fishing, swimming, and tubing. It’s mostly a lazy river, but does have some class II rapids, which are fairly easy to navigate – even for the younger ones.

What’s Nearby?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Mary Anne Baker.

In Sylva, you’re only a short drive away from nearby towns like Dillsboro, Waynesville, Cashiers, all of which make exciting day trips for you and your family.

Only a twenty-minute drive from downtown Sylva is the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Balsam, the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.

Additionally, Cullowhee, home of Western Carolina University, is only a ten-minute drive from downtown Sylva. Enjoy a basketball, football, or baseball game at WCU and cheer on the Catamounts!

Book Your Stay in Sylva

The Laurel Bush Riverfront Cabins in Sylva feature rustic cabins for families of all sizes! Laurel Bush cabins offer the perfect vacation getaway plus a small-town feel that you can’t find anywhere else.

If you prefer to stay at a campground, Moonshine Creek Campground is exactly where you want to be. Enjoy the great outdoors in this cool, secluded, traditional campground!

Of course, there are also plenty of hotels nearby where you and your family can kick back and enjoy modern conveniences!

Header image of Sylva mural courtesy of Jackson County TDA.