A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_173835" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] Head to the wide-open meadows of the Cataloochee Valley at dawn or dusk for your best chance of seeing elk.[/caption] Swain County Bryson City • Cherokee

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_173835" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] Head to the wide-open meadows of the Cataloochee Valley at dawn or dusk for your best chance of seeing elk.[/caption] Swain County Bryson City • Cherokee

A 7-County Guide to the Smokies

Head to the wide-open meadows of the Cataloochee Valley at dawn or dusk for your best chance of seeing elk. photograph by DONNIE JONES/180 DEGREE PHOTOGRAPHY AND DESIGN

Swain County
Bryson City • Cherokee

Cataloochee Valley — Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Before the land became part of the country’s most visited national park, the picturesque Cataloochee Valley was home to an Appalachian farming community where elk roamed freely. Due to overhunting, the last of the elk disappeared in North Carolina in the late 1700s, but thanks to a reintroduction program in 2001, more than 150 of the animals once again wander through the valley and other parts of the park.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers trips ranging from a few hours to all day on Steam of the Smokies, a steam locomotive that dates back to World War II. photograph by Tim Robison

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad — Bryson City

All aboard! The GSMR runs through some of the prettiest mountain landscapes in the state — the tracks were carved out of the mountains in the 1880s — especially when fall foliage is at its peak. Board the Steam of the Smokies for a Nantahala Gorge or Tuckasegee River excursion.

45 Mitchell Street
(800) 872-4681

Folkestone Inn — Bryson City

From its broad front porch looking toward the mountains to its well-appointed guest rooms (most with a balcony or deck), this bed and breakfast preserves its 1920s farmhouse charm. In the morning, a three-course breakfast begins with sweet homemade breads and fresh fruit before main course specialties like sweet potato hash with poached eggs.

101 Folkestone Road, No. 7891
(828) 488-2730

More than a million people visit Nantahala Outdoor Center annually to experience all that this facility and the river have to offer. photograph by Jack Sorokin

Nantahala Outdoor Center — Bryson City

For the past half-century, NOC has been a go-to destination for adventure. Ready to flex your skills — or learn new ones — on a whitewater rafting trip on the Nantahala River? Before navigating the thrilling Class III whitewater of Nantahala Falls, rafters have eight miles of practice on straightforward Class II rapids.

13077 U.S. Highway 19 West
(828) 785-5082

Everett Street Diner — Bryson City

If you’re craving Southern classics, stop by this diner for breakfast or lunch. For the former, try the Southern Fried Biscuit Breakfast. For the latter, you can’t go wrong with a piled-high sandwich — just don’t leave without a slice of homemade blackberry cobbler.

126 Everett Street
(828) 488-0123

Swain Heritage Museum — Bryson City

Before it was converted into a museum nine years ago, the 1908 building that houses the Swain County Heritage Museum was used as the county courthouse. Through photos, exhibits, and videos, learn about the lives of early settlers and how the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Fontana Dam impacted the landscape and the surrounding communities.

2 Everett Street
(828) 488-7857

Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles — Cherokee

At this classic family-owned breakfast joint, refuel with fluffy blueberry pancakes, biscuits and gravy, corned-beef hash, and country ham.

1384 Tsali Boulevard
(828) 497-5116

From the saddle of one of their 60 or so horses, riders with Smokemont Riding Stables see Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a different perspective as they ford the Oconaluftee. photograph by Tom Moors

Smokemont Riding Stables — Cherokee

On the banks of the Oconaluftee River, Smokemont offers the only guided trail rides in the North Carolina section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Enjoy short hourly rides, longer excursions to waterfalls, or a wagon ride on one of the area’s earliest roads.

135 Smokemont Riding Stables Road
(828) 497-2373

Catch a sunrise from Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. photograph by Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Clingmans Dome — Great Smoky Mountains National Park

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take in awe-inspiring views of North Carolina and Tennessee from the concrete observation tower at the summit — where eastbound hikers begin the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. For those who make the effort to rise early, the peak also offers a spectacular sunrise experience.

At Foragers Canteen, try the Canteen Bennie or the Spanish Goat Omelet — with a side of eggs and hash browns, of course. photograph by Tim Robison

Jackson County
Cashiers • Dillsboro • Sylva

Foragers Canteen — Dillsboro

Chef Kevin Faini’s farm-to-table restaurant offers dishes inspired by his Southern and Italian heritage but rooted in the freshest local ingredients from nearby farms. Diners reach for their cameras when lunchtime favorites like tacos made with sweet tea-brined fried chicken and fried deviled eggs arrive at the table.

42 Depot Street
(828) 631-4114

Stock up on sweets at Dillsboro Chocolate Factory. photograph by Tim Robison

Dillsboro Chocolate FactoryDillsboro

Using single-origin Venezuelan cacao instead of a blend of beans, this chocolate factory crafts truffles, chocolate-covered espresso beans, almond bark, and more. Try their pecan and cashew turtles, which, instead of messy globs of chocolate, nuts, and caramel, come shaped like actual turtles.

28 Church Street
(828) 631-0156

High Hampton Resort — Cashiers

Situated on more than 1,400 acres near Nantahala National Forest, this 101-year-old retreat with a spectacular view of Chimney Top and Rock mountains features old-school, rustic charm and modern luxuries.

1525 Highway 107 South
(828) 547-0662

Richland Balsam Overlook

Soaring to more than 6,000 feet, this overlook is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Reach the summit via a 1.5-mile, self-guided loop trail that passes through a spruce-fir forest.

Milepost 431.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Canton

See a stunning view of Sylva and the mountains beyond from the Jackson County Historic Courthouse. photograph by Tim Robison

Jackson County Historic Courthouse — Sylva

At the west end of Sylva, the hilly front lawn of this historic courthouse beckons people to climb the 107 steps to the top for a spectacular view. With the Blue Ridge Mountains as its backdrop, the 1914 landmark is renowned as the most photographed courthouse in the state.

401 Grindstaff Cove Road
(828) 631-6400

Dillsboro Inn — Dillsboro

Comfortable suites and spacious decks provide breathtaking views of the Tuckasegee River at this rustic inn, which is just steps away from the rushing water and a short walk from downtown restaurants and shops.

146 North River Road
(828) 586-3898

Admire fine art at The Bascom in Highlands. photograph by Tim Robison

Macon County
Franklin • Highlands

The Bascom — Highlands

At this visual art center’s sprawling six-acre campus, take art classes, wander a sculpture trail, or watch pottery demonstrations at the Dave Drake Studio Barn. Three galleries host permanent and temporary exhibitions featuring works by local artists and masters.

323 Franklin Road
(828) 526-4949

Take a stroll behind Dry Falls. photograph by ERIC SYDELL

Dry Falls

Take winding, narrow U.S. Highway 64 through the Cullasaja River Gorge, and you’ll pass several dramatic waterfalls. Keep an eye out for Dry Falls, which you can admire from a viewing platform off a parking lot or from behind the cascading water via a short stroll along a paved path. Yes, you’ll stay dry — mostly.

U.S. Highway 64 near Highlands

Downtown: Highlands

At an elevation of more than 4,000 feet, this refined mountain town has long served as a cool summer respite for vacationers. Today, visitors come during every season — like when the leaves burst into color — to explore an upscale downtown surrounded by natural beauty. First, suit up at Highland Hiker, which has been outfitting visitors with adventure-ready gear for more than 35 years. Need something fancier for an elegant dinner at Madison’s or Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Wine Bistro? Head to TJ Bailey’s for sweaters, jackets, and accessories. When you’re ready to wind down, check into Highlander Mountain House, an 18-room inn located in an 1885 clapboard farmhouse, or get a taste of posh mountain charm at Old Edwards Inn & Spa.

Franklin’s first brewery is popular among hikers for its refreshing beers, like the Trail Mate Golden Ale and Slack Pack IPA. photograph by Tim Robison

Lazy Hiker Brewing Company — Franklin

Toast to your adventures at Franklin’s first craft brewery amid locals, visitors, and thirsty thru-hikers from the nearby Appalachian Trail.

188 West Main Street
(828) 349-2337

Franklin Gem & Mineral Museum — Franklin

A visit to the Gem Capital of the World wouldn’t be complete without learning about the town’s long mining history. This museum, located in the 1850 Macon County Jail, offers free admission to tour eight rooms filled with the gemstones, fossils, and historical treasures that earned the town its nickname.

25 Phillips Street
(828) 369-7831

Rhodes Big View Overlook has something special in addition to a view of fall foliage — the mystical phenomenon known as the “Shadow of the Bear.”  photograph by Dave Allen Photography

Rhodes Big View Overlook

When the autumn sun dips behind Whiteside Mountain, seasonal magic occurs: A shadow cast onto the fall foliage evolves into a phenomenon known as the “Shadow of the Bear.” From mid-October to early November, visit this overlook at 5:30 p.m. to watch the bear emerge.

U.S. Highway 64 between Highlands and Cashiers

Shop and explore in downtown Waynesville. photograph by Tim Robison

Haywood County
Maggie Valley • Waynesville

Downtown: Waynesville

Surrounded by the lofty peaks of the Great Balsam Range, Waynesville is known as the gateway to the Smokies. During a day of exploring, treat yourself to daily specials like chicken pot pie at Clyde’s Restaurant, or reward yourself at the end of the day with Dad’s Tomato Pie at Birchwood Hall Southern Kitchen and a craft beer on the banks of Richland Creek at Frog Level Brewing. Find curated gifts and home goods at Robin Blu, culinary gadgets at The Kitchen Shop, and nature-inspired art and fine crafts at Twigs & Leaves Gallery, which features the works of more than 120 artists, most of whom live in Southern Appalachia.

photograph by Tim Robison

Route 19 Inn — Maggie Valley

Formerly the Rocky Waters Motel from 1948 to 2009, Route 19 was reimagined with nostalgic, mid-century mountain style in 2020. Colorful rooms are decorated to make guests feel like they’ve checked into a motor lodge from the ’50s.

4898 Soco Road
(828) 944-0476

Mud Dabbers Pottery & Crafts II — Waynesville

This multigenerational family-owned studio and gallery features the works of local artists — including its owners — and is a fixture in the Appalachian arts community.

20767 Great Smoky Mountains Expressway
(828) 456-1916

Waterrock Knob — offering views of the Scott Creek Valley, Plott Balsam Mountains, and Cowee Mountains — is best visited at sunrise or sunset. photograph by Tom Moors

Waterrock Knob

At an elevation of 5,820 feet, this is the highest visitor center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The parking area alone offers stunning vistas to both the east and west, but take a moderate, 0.6-mile climb to the overlook for a magnificent view to the south. On a clear day, you’ll have 50-mile views of the Smokies and Maggie Valley.

Milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville

The Copper Door is is more than 580 miles from New Orleans, but the flavors of Cajun Country have found a happy home in the mountains of Clay County. photograph by Eric Haggart

Clay County
Brasstown • Hayesville

The Copper Door — Hayesville

When Chef Dennis Barber, who grew up in Louisiana, opened this fine-dining restaurant in 2007, he brought a piece of the French Quarter to Hayesville, blending Southern ingredients, Cajun flair, and traditional French cuisine in dishes such as shrimp Creole with stone-ground grits.

2 Sullivan Street
(828) 389-8460

Explore mountain traditions at John C. Campbell Folk School. photograph by VisitNC.com

John C. Campbell Folk School — Brasstown

This folk school, established in 1925, offers weekend and weeklong courses rooted in Appalachian traditions. Explore the Craft Shop to browse the works of more than 150 regional artists, sign up to pick up a new skill at one of 17 studios, and visit the History Center to learn about the 270-acre campus.

1 Folk School Road
(828) 837-2775

Lake Chatuge

Framed by mountain peaks and surrounded by Nantahala National Forest, this pristine lake, which straddles the North Carolina-Georgia border, was formed when the Tennessee Valley Authority built the Chatuge Dam across the Hiawassee River in 1942. Its 132 miles of shoreline and hidden coves are ideal for paddling, swimming, and fishing.

During the growing season, music is played 24/7 for the grapes via speakers mounted on posts throughout Eagle Fork Vineyards. photograph by Tim Robison

Eagle Fork Vineyards — Hayesville

In addition to the babble of a mountain stream, you may hear the melodic sounds of pianos, cellos, and violins during a tour among the vines at this winery — classical music is played for the grapes to keep bugs away.

8 Cedar Cliff Road
(828) 389-8466

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway dips and rises, curves and coasts past mountain views that (almost) never end. photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council

Graham County
Fontana Dam • Robbinsville

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway

The road connecting Robbinsville to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, is a favorite among leaf peepers, and for good reason. Offering 43 miles of stunning vistas, the skyway winds through two national forests and past waterfalls, hiking trails, and mountain views, rising to more than 5,300 feet at its highest point. Pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the mile-high overlooks.

NC Highway 143
Robbinsville, NC 28771

Yellow Creek Falls — Robbinsville

A 10-minute, 0.3-mile trail rewards hikers with cascades along the way and beautiful falls plunging into a pool at the end — a hidden gem just off the road.

9041 Tapoco Road

Hunting Boy Wood Carving — Robbinsville

For more than 30 years, Billy Welch has used wood from the surrounding forest to hand-carve masks and other art that reflect his Cherokee heritage. At his workshop in the Snowbird section of the Qualla Boundary, visitors can watch him bring his pieces to life.

2793 Massey Branch Road
(828) 479-9554

Fontana Dam was built in record time, starting just three weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Photography courtesy of the North Carolina County Photographic Collection #P0001, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, Unc Chapel Hill

Fontana Dam

At 480 feet high, the dam is the tallest east of the Rockies. Its construction, which took 36 months for the Tennessee Valley Authority to complete, was driven by the increased demand for electricity during World War II. Stop by the visitor center to learn about the concrete behemoth, and climb the observation tower for a bird’s-eye view.

NC Highway 28

Layers of wilderness cocoon the Joyce Kilmer forest, giving it a primeval hush: Its 3,800 acres are part of a larger wilderness area within Nantahala National Forest. photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest — Robbinsville

One of the largest contiguous tracts of old-growth forest in the Eastern U.S. is home to some of the oldest trees in Southern Appalachia, including ones that date back more than 400 years. The forest’s largest trees can be found in Poplar Cove via a two-mile figure-eight loop trail.

5410 Joyce Kilmer Road

River’s Edge Treehouse Resort — Robbinsville

Sleep among the treetops at this wooded escape perched above the banks of the Cheoah River, where six luxurious tree houses with spacious decks are sure to fulfill your childhood dreams.

195 Old U.S. Highway 129
(828) 735-2228

Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center — Robbinsville

This cultural arts hub showcases local arts and crafts, plus bluegrass, folk, and old-time mountain music during an annual concert series. Find a souvenir in the Artisans Gallery.

121 School House Road
(828) 479-3364

Snowbird Mountain Lodge blends seamlessly into the landscape. photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council

Snowbird Mountain Lodge — Robbinsville

Since 1941, this cozy retreat set on 100 acres off the Cherohala Skyway has celebrated the wilderness that’s all around with breathtaking views of the Smokies and a dedication to helping guests explore the great outdoors right outside their windows.

4633 Santeetlah Road
(828) 479-3433

On the lower level of the Cherokee County Historical Museum, discover a whole section dedicated to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. photograph by Tim Robison

Cherokee County
Andrews • Murphy

Cherokee County Historical Museum — Murphy

Discover an extensive collection of more than 2,000 Native American artifacts and exhibits on early mountain life — including antique farm implements and vintage household items used by early pioneer settlers in the county.

87 Peachtree Street
(828) 837-6792

Hoppy Trout Brewing Co. — Andrews

In addition to beers like Mountain Haze and Blonde Ambition, this brewery is home to a Sicilian-style brick oven and specializes in delicious pizzas. The secret to the pizza is twofold: fresh ingredients and owner Tom Rodeck’s homemade dough.

911 Main Street
(828) 835-2111

Try a massive sandwich at Red Brick Deli. photograph by Tim Robison

Red Brick Deli — Murphy

This New York-style deli is known for its overstuffed sandwiches. If you’re feeling extra hungry after a hike, challenge yourself to The Mountain: a two-pound pastrami-and-corned-beef sandwich. Finish it in one sitting, and you’ll earn your place on the Wall of Fame.

89 Tennessee Street
(828) 837-9090

Fly-Fishing on the Hiwassee River

The Hiwassee River is a year-round fly-fishing destination for brown, rainbow, and brook trout. Set out on your own at the Mission Dam area between Hayesville and Murphy, or cast a line with a local guide.

This story was published on Sep 21, 2023

Tamiya Anderson

Tamiya Anderson is a Concord-based writer and former Our State intern who is proud to call The Tar Heel State home.