A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_172627" align="alignnone" width="1140"] On Andrews Valley Rail Tours, groups pedal modified carts over railroad tracks that cross over the Valley River and pass through the hand-carved Valley River Tunnel.[/caption]

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_172627" align="alignnone" width="1140"] On Andrews Valley Rail Tours, groups pedal modified carts over railroad tracks that cross over the Valley River and pass through the hand-carved Valley River Tunnel.[/caption]

12 Tar Heel Tours

On Andrews Valley Rail Tours, groups pedal modified carts over railroad tracks that cross over the Valley River and pass through the hand-carved Valley River Tunnel. photograph by RYAN KARCHER PHOTOGRAPHY

Andrews Valley Rail Tours

North Carolina’s first rail bike tour travels around the Andrews Valley on the historic Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Composed of four seats atop a set of wheels with pedals and brakes, rail bikes glide along tracks where steam locomotives once chugged. The bikes have motor-assisted pedals, making this tour accessible for folks of most activity levels. Visitors ride on railway tracks in a 10-mile tour that includes a half-hour pit stop to explore the Valley River Tunnel, which was dug by hand in 1894. Along the way, riders traverse train trellises over streams and wind through the lush valleys and hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. — Emma Shew

345 Locust Street
(828) 557-4021

Boone Brewery Tour

Climb aboard the Boone Brewery Tour bus for a guided journey to some of the High Country’s most popular breweries and wineries. “Dan’l Boone Brosef” — a character inspired by Appalachian State University’s mountaineer mascot, Yosef — is your guide for tours ranging from one to four hours, serving as your personal cicerone, comedian, and historian as you cruise to the drinking establishments of your choice, which might include Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Booneshine Brewing Co., or Lost Province Brewing Company. On certain tours, snacks and alcoholic beverages are served on the bus between stops. — Emma Shew

1382 NC Highway 105

Explore Asheville with Heath Towson in a 1923 Ford Model T. photograph by Tim Robison

Mountaineer Motor Tours

Step back in time with Heath Towson of Mountaineer Motor Tours to explore the “Land of the Sky” with 1920s flair. As an Asheville native and avid history lover, Towson — outfitted in period-accurate attire — offers guided tours of the city in an authentic 1923 Ford Model T. The tours give visitors a “celebrity experience” as they explore the history of downtown Asheville and the Grove Park neighborhood. Towson also offers picnic and photography packages, and works with local vendors to keep the experience hyper-local. “I like sharing an insider’s perspective,” Towson says. Leaving people with a deeper understanding of Asheville’s history “is super rewarding to me.” — Emma Shew

(828) 775-1739

Cast a line with Tuckaseegee Fly Shop. photograph by Tim Robison

Fly-fishing with Tuckaseegee Fly Shop
Bryson City • Sylva • Waynesville

Aspiring or experienced anglers are escorted to the Tuckasegee River to catch brown, brook, and rainbow trout on guided fly-fishing trips with Tuckaseegee Fly Shop. The shop offers both floating and wading trips, as well as fly-tying and casting lessons. Justin Pilat, a guide and manager for the Waynesville location, says that the most rewarding part of leading these fishing trips is spending time with novice anglers: “Being able to see them catch that first fish on the fly and seeing their faces light up, that instant joy, the instant happiness.” — Emma Shew

3 Depot Street, Bryson City
530 West Main Street, Sylva
110 Depot Street, Waynesville
(828) 488-3333

On the campus of Guilford College, the Underground Railroad Educational Trail ends beneath a towering tulip poplar, a peaceful place to contemplate. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Underground Railroad Educational Trail

Guilford College Woods in Greensboro provides an intimate place to reflect on what life was like for individuals escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad. An old-growth tulip poplar stands at the end of a 0.3-mile educational trail, which was created in 2017. Guided tours contextualize how the Underground Railroad was formed, with freedom seekers collaborating with freed and enslaved African Americans, as well as white abolitionists and allies. Visitors are encouraged to meditate on the questions, “What can we learn from our shared histories and life stories?” and “Do we seek to create justice and places of refuge in our own community and in the world at large?” — Emma Shew

Find the trailhead on Nathan Hunt Road near Guilford Lake. library.guilford.edu/undergroundrr/tour

Explore the American Tobacco Campus with Tobacco Road Tours. Photography courtesy of VisitNC.com

Tobacco Road Tours
Durham & Raleigh

In Durham, there’s a baseball stadium, a cathedral, a performing arts center, and the American Tobacco Campus. In Raleigh, there’s the State Capitol building, historic parks, and the state farmers market. Both cities brim with art and culture — so much that it often feels impossible to experience it all. Brad Kennedy and Lynn Lamont, who founded Tobacco Road Tours in 2009, help visitors make sense of all the attractions in Durham and Raleigh on their walking and bus tours, inviting groups of six or more to book ghost tours, bar crawls, downtown strolls, and architectural adventures around both the Bull City and the City of Oaks. — Hannah Kaufman

(919) 371-2653

See modernist abodes like George Smart’s on a Modapalooza House Tour. photograph by Lissa Gotwals

Modapalooza House Tours
Triangle area

The 1954 Eduardo Fernando Catalano House in Raleigh — with its large glass walls and curved roof — was destroyed in 2001. This modernist house was one of the state’s most famous, and its destruction was a loss to preservationists everywhere. Preventing similar losses has been the mission of the nonprofit USModernist for the past 16 years: to document, preserve, and promote modernist buildings, first in the Triangle and now around the world. North Carolina tours occur twice a year, in the spring and fall, and showcase eight houses. In September, the Modapalooza House Tour buses modernism fans around the Triangle to see newer modernist homes and meet architects and builders. People come from all over the state to see these houses, and it’s no wonder why: “Modernist houses are basically livable works of art,” says Executive Director George Smart. “[They] brought in a new way of living for Americans.” — Hannah Kaufman

(919) 740-8407

Go paddling with Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co. photograph by Anagram Photo

The Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co.

Joe Jacob founded The Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co. with the goal of bringing people closer to nature and showing them the joy of being outside. “It’s like being Santa Claus,” he says of his job. “You get to make that [good time] happen.” The company offers both self-guided and guided tours, as well as instructional trips and courses for those looking to learn the fundamentals of paddling. Each month, a particularly popular paddling trip takes place under the full moon. — Emma Shew

The open-air Hummers on Wild Horse Adventure Tours drive right on the beach, where wild horses are sometimes spotted at the water’s edge. Photography courtesy of COROLLA WILD HORSE TOURS

Wild Horse Adventure Tours

In Currituck County, beachgoers can see some of the East Coast’s most majestic animals roaming free. Wild Horse Adventure Tours takes groups to the northernmost Outer Banks beaches in open-air Hummers, which are custom-built with open sides and stadium seats to ensure a comfortable but intense experience, says tour guide Grady “Tree” Cole. “We do our best to find as many horses as we can. We’re spending quality time with the horses but keeping our distance.” Tours are two hours long and stretch over the beach, through maritime woods, and over dunes to reach the wild horse sanctuary, where horses walk among the houses in the dunes. Proceeds from the tour go toward protecting the horses, and each driver shares their own engaging personality and fun facts, educating the public on how humans and horses can coexist. — Hannah Kaufman

(252) 489-2020

Discover a four-acre marine farm on Cape Fear Oyster Company’s OysTour photograph by Matt Hulsman

Cape Fear OysTour
Scotts Hill

On Cape Fear Oyster Company’s OysTour, a 21-foot tour boat takes groups around the company’s four-acre marine farm to see oysters in all their stages: growing in their pods, when they measure less than half an inch; being moved to various bags based on size; and finally reaching maturity at nearly three inches, which is the size of the oysters that end up on your table. Oyster samples are offered right there on the water, and the captain speaks about why these sea creatures are so important to the ecosystems they populate: One oyster can filter 40 to 50 gallons of water a day, says co-owner David Wortman. “Oysters provide such an important part of our environment, keeping our waters clean and pristine. There’s only so much area around the world to grow oysters in, and we’re fortunate enough to live on the coast and have the ability to grow these oysters.” — Hannah Kaufman

(910) 231-9606

Explore the islands and marshes of the Rachel Carson Reserve with Science by the Sea. photograph by Baxter Miller

Science by the Sea

On the Crystal Coast, one woman and her little flat-bottom boat are a real-life textbook on all things maritime. Science by the Sea, run by licensed captain and seasoned tour guide Miriam Sutton, offers three-hour private tours for two adults at the Rachel Carson Reserve, with all proceeds going to her Science by the Sea educational nonprofit. The Rachel Carson Reserve includes 2,315 acres of islands, marshes, and open water, and is named after the late marine biologist for her legacy of conservation work, marine research, and environmental advocacy. On Sutton’s tours, visitors can learn about the reserve’s history, fisheries, and robust ecosystems — even gaining access to places that are generally unseen by the human eye. “I think a lot of [people] are in awe when I get them inside a tidal creek surrounded by the marsh,” Sutton says. “They’ve just never really been inside a marsh like that before, and to be able to pull up alongside the marsh grass and see the oysters and all the things crawling around in the bottom — it’s amazing.” — Hannah Kaufman

(252) 515-0760

Tours of Fayetteville often include a visit to the Market House downtown. photograph by Anna Routh Barzin

Downtown Fayetteville Tours

Did you know that Fayetteville was almost North Carolina’s state capital? That there was a major fire in 1831 that destroyed much of the city? That Gen. William T. Sherman marched through here in 1865? Fayetteville has a rich history, and tales like these are what make Downtown Fayetteville Tours so special. These local walking tours — including a historical tour, a ghost tour, and a bar crawl — cover about two miles over the course of one and a half to two hours. Veteran Andy Iglesias started the company to appeal to the transitory military community around Fort Bragg, and military history in the area abounds. While on the tour, you might even hear whispers from the ghost of the military officer Marquis de Lafayette, Fayetteville’s namesake, who died in 1834. — Hannah Kaufman

(910) 444-0034

This story was published on Aug 31, 2023

Hannah Kaufman

Hannah is a summer 2023 editorial intern at Our State. She is a rising senior at UNC Chapel Hill, and has written for the Daily Tar Heel, INDY Week, Walter magazine, and more.