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!
More than a dozen popular waterfalls are readily accessible on short hikes, and some can be seen right from the side of the road. Check out our guide to the top waterfalls in the North Carolina Smokies.
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.
To the southeast, U.S. Highway 64 earns its nickname “Waterfall Byway” by winding past 200+ distinct waterfalls on its 98-mile route. For a quick trip, check these four favorite falls in Macon County.
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.
Hit the trail this spring and explore the forests and peaks of the N.C. Smokies. With easy, moderate and difficult trails available, you’re sure to find the right adventure for your visit. See beautiful mountain views, or sneak a peek at some local wildlife. Spring is an excellent season for birdwatching amid the new forest leaves. Multi-use trails also welcome mountain biking and horseback riding.
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.