A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

It’s normal to pick favorites at Winchester Creek Farm — everyone does. It might be Sam or Gary, Milton or Muriel, perhaps even Penelope. Tucked in a Waynesville valley with

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

It’s normal to pick favorites at Winchester Creek Farm — everyone does. It might be Sam or Gary, Milton or Muriel, perhaps even Penelope. Tucked in a Waynesville valley with

Forests, Swimming Holes, and Festivals: A Summertime Guide to Haywood County

It’s normal to pick favorites at Winchester Creek Farm — everyone does. It might be Sam or Gary, Milton or Muriel, perhaps even Penelope. Tucked in a Waynesville valley with panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains, the farm’s surroundings are stunning. But ultimately, it’s the golden-doodle, pygmy goat, sheep, Suri alpaca, and mini Juliana pig that, respectively, folks really come to see.

Founded in 2019, Winchester Creek Farm is home to a gaggle of friendly alpacas and a variety of mini farm animals, such as horses, cows, and donkeys. Not just for young guests, the 20-acre site is popular among all ages. “We get seniors who grew up on a long-gone family farm and children who’ve only seen these kinds of animals in books or on television,” says owner Gayle Woodis. “It’s such a joy to watch the animals and the visitors connect, and it’s no wonder people often say, ‘This is my happy place.’”

Meet friendly farm animals, including donkeys, at Winchester Creek Farm. Photography courtesy of Haywood County Tourism

Gayle and her husband, Ken, were each raised with a love of the land and a special fondness for animals. Gayle’s childhood summers were spent in Wisconsin, where her Uncle Frank bestowed both a knowledge of and respect for all creatures. After decades of living in Minnesota, it took one trip to western North Carolina for the Woodis family to fall in love with the mild winters, majestic mountains, and welcoming locals.

Only a mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 45-minute guided tours end with an opportunity to picnic, play, or peruse Granny’s House Gift Shop, where alpaca fiber products, gourmet goodies, and locally made crafts stock the shelves of what was once the farm’s main home. While there, don’t miss the chance to eat ice cream as you rock on the porch.

Sound idyllic? That’s just the start of Haywood County’s appeal. Cradled between protected forests and comprised of five distinct mountain towns — Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton, and Clyde — this western North Carolina county is a proverbial playground of outdoor options. And while each season has something uniquely special to offer, read on to see how summertime really shines.


Take a stunningly beautiful horseback ride through the Cataloochee Valley. Photography courtesy of Haywood County Tourism

On The Move

Along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than a half-million acres and 150 official trails known particularly for plant and animal diversity.

Grab a parking pass, and set off to hike, bike, ride, or roam under a verdant tree canopy. Cataloochee Valley, a remote section of the park, feels like a pocket of traditional Appalachian culture preserved in time, with 1900s homesteads, fishing streams, and loads of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for elk grazing in the summertime fields — it’s growing season for these regal creatures who were reintroduced to the valley in 2001.

Horseback riders are welcome to trails like Rough Fork (12 miles) and Little Cataloochee (10 miles). Meanwhile, outfitters like Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley lead guided horseback outings.

Explore the backcountry trails at Chestnut Mountain Nature Park. Photography courtesy of Haywood County Tourism

Northeast of the national park, Pisgah National Forest’s 500,000 acres are known for recreation. The Art Loeb Trail, named for a local conservationist and hiker, is considered one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, backpacking hikes in Haywood County. At just over 30 miles, the Pisgah trail is often taken as a multi-day trip. Much less of a commitment, and great for families and leashed dogs, Black Balsam Knob features spectacularly sweeping views, treeless balds, and connections to other looped trails accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

For another popular path, climb Devil’s Courthouse to see South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee in a 360-degree vista, achieved via a 20-minute hike along a partially paved trail.

Just east of Canton, the 450-acre Chestnut Mountain Nature Park is a conservation-friendly, community-centric recreation area that attracts adventurers to its multi-use backcountry trails. Adrenaline junkies brake for Berm Park and its free public mountain-biking course that hosts a variety of trails with differing skills, from jumps and drops to high-speed gaps.


On a hot day, discover the perfect watering hole at Sunburst Falls. Photography courtesy of Haywood County Tourism

Water Works

Need a cool down? Water-loving adventurers discover this region is rife with options for whitewater rafting, tubing, fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking. When you stay in Haywood County, you’re centrally located to great recreation rivers like the Pigeon and French Broad. Pigeon River Outfitters specializes in relaxing tubing, while Lake Junaluska Outfitters has canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards perfect for leisurely lake days.

Winding hikes of varying lengths and skill levels lead to pure headwater rewards at refreshing natural swimming holes like Sunburst, Graveyard Fields, Skinny Dip, and Midnight Falls. Brave the brisk water for the chance to chill out among boulders, waterfalls, wildflowers, and other fun-loving families.


Maggie Valley hosts a Fourth of July event each year on their festival grounds. Photography courtesy of Haywood County Tourism

Save the Dates

Festivals make vacations even merrier, and the Haywood County community knows how to throw a bash. Motorcyclists arrive in droves for Thunder in the Smokies rallies, which take place three times a year. The summer weekend happens June 30 and includes nightly concerts, games, and, naturally, scenic rides. Just a few days later, Maggie Valley, Lake Junaluska, and Waynesville host community Fourth of July events full of patriotic entertainment like fireworks, food trucks, dances, a parade, and more. Lake Junaluska’s Independence Day is a multi-day event and includes a floating wish-lantern display.

Music lovers migrate to Canton’s Lake Logan each August when the family-friendly Cold Mountain Music Festival brings an acclaimed lineup of folk, indie, and bluegrass talent to town. The retreat center is 300 acres with a mile-long lake as its focal point. Then, when the calendar turns to September, say farewell to summer at the Canton Labor Day Festival. Since 1906 this event has honored western North Carolina’s manufacturing legacy with bands and breweries.

Sure, in a blink the trees will start turning and cooler winds will roll in, but for now, it’s still summer we’re loving in Haywood County.

This story was published on Mar 22, 2023

Lauren Eberle

Lauren Eberle is a writer and editor based in Winston-Salem.