A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Unrivaled east of the Rockies, the Great Smoky Mountains surrounding Haywood County are known for their beauty in the fall. But many mountain lovers believe that technicolor leaves are just

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Unrivaled east of the Rockies, the Great Smoky Mountains surrounding Haywood County are known for their beauty in the fall. But many mountain lovers believe that technicolor leaves are just

6 Ways to Experience Winter Wonder in Haywood County

Unrivaled east of the Rockies, the Great Smoky Mountains surrounding Haywood County are known for their beauty in the fall. But many mountain lovers believe that technicolor leaves are just the opening act. When winter takes center stage, bare trees offer a peek at stunning new angles and panoramic vistas that remain hidden for most of the year.

Haywood County incorporates 46 miles of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, and in addition to its Great Smoky Mountain views, the area is defined by its culture — rich with arts, crafts, and award-winning music that come alive in the winter. As a tribute, bluegrass and acoustic group Balsam Range adopted the name of the mountains surrounding part of their home in Haywood County, where the Great Smoky Mountains meet the Blue Ridge — the Great Balsam Range.

“The mountains are the backbone of the county, and we want to celebrate our heritage,” says fiddler and lead tenor Buddy Melton, who agrees that winter is the time to take in his hometown’s beauty. “There’s snow on the slopes, beautiful hiking trails, unique shops, and galleries to explore.”


Hit the slopes in Cataloochee Valley

If you have the itch to ski or snowboard, check the snow report and get ready to hit one of the 18 trails at Cataloochee Ski Area, the only independently-owned ski area in the region and the first ski area in North Carolina. Entering its 61st season, Cataloochee has 50 acres of skiable areas and, at an elevation of 5,400 feet, is planning for a winter full of snow.

“From the top of the slopes, there are breathtaking views of so many mountain peaks; it looks like waves of the ocean going on and on forever,” says Sarah Davis with the Cataloochee Ski Area.

Cataloochee also has some of the world’s best snowmaking technology, which allows it to open early in the season and close later than other ski areas in the region. A regular snow season for most of the area’s destinations runs from early November through late March. “When the temperature drops, we will seize the opportunity; and be ready to make snow,” Davis says.


Not skiing- or snowboard-inclined? You can still rush the slopes at Tube World in Maggie Valley. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Go snow tubing at Tube World in Maggie Valley

Just four miles from the Cataloochee Ski Area, located on U.S. Highway 19 at the west end of Maggie Valley, Tube World offers winter adventures. Here, prepare to glide and bump your way down a groomed, snow-covered run atop an inner tube starting in late November.

A food truck is often available so you can refuel at lunchtime. Insider tip: Riders must be 42 inches tall; tickets are recommended.


Attend Waynesville’s Night Before Christmas

For two Saturdays in December, Waynesville, once called the “Gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” hosts A Night Before Christmas, turning the downtown area filled with galleries, gift shops, and restaurants into a festive wonderland.

Wander along streets lit by luminaries as the sound of carolers singing holiday classics fills the air. Meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, view a live Nativity and stay to take in the rest of the vibrant downtown.

After enjoying the festivities, stop for a bite to eat farm-to-fork fare at Frogs Leap Public House, or enjoy a meal at the Sweet Onion, which offers regional favorites, including Southern fried chicken and fresh mountain trout.


Pick your perfect Christmas tree at a local farm in Haywood County. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Visit a Christmas tree farm

Beginning in mid-November, families bundle up and head to Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm near Waynesville to cut their own Christmas trees. On the drive up the mountain, you’ll see seemingly endless rows of Fraser firs with breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop.

Boyd Farm has been in the family for more than 100 years, planting their first Fraser fir — North Carolina’s official state Christmas tree — in 1984. Since 1999, the farm has offered a choose-and-cut experience. Children frolic among the evergreens while their parents take in the fragrant smell of Fraser firs and revel in the magic of the mountains before taking home their perfect tree.


Take a winter hike in Canton

Part of Pisgah National Forest and the Shining Rock Wilderness, Sam’s Summits Loop offers impressive landscapes and stunning views; a winter hike will leave you in awe of the bright skies shining overhead.

Get your caffeine fix at Paper Town Coffee in downtown Canton. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Sam’s Summits offers six trails that can be hiked independently if you’re looking for a short walk or combined if you’re up for a 9.5-mile loop. Two trails are worth a winter hike. The first is a portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which you can access from the trailhead parking area just below Beech Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway. This hike extends to Devil’s Courthouse and back. The second option is the Flat Laurel Creek Trail, which runs to the cascades along Flat Laurel Creek.

Before heading out for your hike, stop into Papertown Coffee on Main Street in Canton for a cup of freshly-brewed drip coffee, a pour-over, or a handcrafted espresso beverage.


See the Balsam Range Art of Music Festival’s namesake band perform at Lake Junaluska. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Visit the Balsam Range Art of Music Festival at Lake Junaluska

During the first weekend in December, Lake Junaluska becomes a music lover’s paradise when the Balsam Range Art of Music Festival begins.

Not only does the Art of Music Festival put on shows at night, but it also gives participants the chance to take part in musical workshops and instrument showcases during the day. “On Saturday, attendees can join Balsam Range for an organized jam session,” Melton says.

Started by Balsam Range, the festival brings together bluegrass and acoustic musicians. This year, its 15th-anniversary festival includes performances held in the historic Stuart Auditorium. Melton believes it’s a capstone for Haywood County’s rich music culture. “This is truly a celebration of the art of music, from bluegrass to country to jazz.”

This story was published on Nov 10, 2022

Lane Russell

Lane Russell is a writer based in Raleigh.