A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Dave Angel, the proprietor of Elevated Mountain Distilling in Maggie Valley, recently invited visitors to pin their hometowns on a map in his distillery. The results were startling: In one

Madison County Championship Rodeo

Dave Angel, the proprietor of Elevated Mountain Distilling in Maggie Valley, recently invited visitors to pin their hometowns on a map in his distillery. The results were startling: In one

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Dave Angel, the proprietor of Elevated Mountain Distilling in Maggie Valley, recently invited visitors to pin their hometowns on a map in his distillery. The results were startling: In one

Maggie Valley’s Outdoor Adventures

Dave Angel, the proprietor of Elevated Mountain Distilling in Maggie Valley, recently invited visitors to pin their hometowns on a map in his distillery. The results were startling: In one year, more than 30 countries and every state but Wyoming was marked. Indeed, for its small size (population 1,257), Maggie Valley hosts an impressive variety of guests.

This idyllic mountain town, situated where the Blue Ridge Parkway hugs the Great Smoky Mountains, is full of surprises. “Some people think they’re still in Tennessee,” chuckles Angel. “They come through the Smokies and are surprised to find out that they’re in North Carolina when they reach Maggie Valley.”

The town’s spectacular location, outdoor activities, shops, restaurants, and music venues offer visitors endless opportunities for adventure. Whether you want to hike, fish, ski, slide, shop, eat, or be entertained, you’ll be overwhelmed by options in Maggie Valley.



Get acquainted with the wildlife

If you’re looking for an unusual encounter, take a drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see the Manitoban elk. These majestic animals were successfully reintroduced into the mountains of western North Carolina in 2001. Male elk can weigh more than 700 pounds; females weigh around 500.  Locals say that elk have begun to wander into Maggie Valley, but you’re more likely to spot them at dawn or dusk in the Cataloochee Valley, just inside the park.

From Maggie, take U.S. Highway 19 North to U.S. Highway 276 North, then follow Cove Creek Road up and over the graveled hill — don’t be alarmed by the Big Foot statue — to proceed into the park itself. Stop alongside the fields (four-wheel drive is strongly recommended) and you just might hear male elks blaring their “bugles,” the high-pitched screeches they use to summon their mates or display their dominance, or see females ambling about in the brush. Rangers caution visitors to keep a safe distance and recommend that you stay in your car or on the road.

If you have time to explore the trails, you may also spot bear, deer, or one of the 30 salamander species that live in the Smokies, known as the “Salamander Capital of the World.” Salamanders can be found in all shapes and sizes, from the petite ruby red salamander to the massive muddy Hellbenders (delightfully nicknamed “snot otters”) that can reach an impressive 29 inches long. Some species hibernate, but others, like the marbled salamander, lay their eggs in the winter.

For a different angle, try fishing the Mountain Heritage Trout Waters. Maggie Valley is one of 17 North Carolina cities in the program, and you can explore Jonathan Creek, where brook, brown, and rainbow trout are stocked. You’ll need to purchase a fishing license ahead of time, but anglers can borrow rods and reels if needed. Check ncwildlife.org for more information.

Try fishing the Mountain Heritage Trout Waters. You can explore Jonathan Creek, where brook, brown, and rainbow trout are stocked. photograph by Visit NC Smokies

 

Ski (or slide!) down the slopes

If you want to hit the slopes, visit Cataloochee Ski Area or Tube World. “Snow tubing is an activity everyone can do,” says Chris Bates, president of Cataloochee. “It’s a great ride — a sledding experience on a tube.”

The season begins as soon as it gets cold, and activities continue through the end of March or April, depending on the weather. Cataloochee has slopes for all ability levels and prides itself on being an excellent ski school for beginners. The ski area also features a restaurant and full-service bar and day lodge.

For a fun ride that everyone can do, try snow tubing. photograph by Visit NC Smokies

 

Take the trail less traveled

For one of Maggie Valley’s most scenic views, drive west on Soco Road (U.S. Highway 19 South) for about 10 minutes to reach Soco Falls. Be prepared to drive past the parking area, and find a safe turning spot so you can park on the left shoulder of the road. There’s a viewing platform at the end of a short, steep path where you can see the twin falls cascade. 

More intrepid hikers can brave the network of ropes and tethers that lead to the bottom of the falls, and find a rewarding quiet at the base. A fine mist keeps the trail slick and cool, so bundle up and proceed carefully. The view is worth the effort: Silvery ribbons shimmer down, catching glints of sunlight as they fall. Birches glow in the shadows, while soft celadon moss creeps up their trunks. Ferns blanket the blue-gray rocks, and scarlet berries brighten bare branches.

In addition to transforming the woodland scenery, wintery weather may cause road closures on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But these cooler conditions also offer hikers a unique opportunity: Foot traffic is allowed on the parkway when cars are not, which means that hikers can enjoy unobstructed vistas without hurry. In the fall, the landscape opens, and hikers can take their time as they admire the rolling ridges of the mountains in shades of emerald, ultramarine, and violet. (Check the Blue Ridge Parkway website for road closure details.)

Take in the scenic views along the Blue Ridge Parkway or Soco Road. photograph by Visit NC Smokies

 

Experience a little mountain history

If you want to take a sip of history, sample the moonshine at Elevated Mountain Distillery. The Discovery Channel recently filmed an episode of “Moonshiners” documenting Maggie Valley’s most notorious native son, “Popcorn” Sutton. Popcorn was a moonshining genius who once famously boasted, “Jesus turned water into wine, I turned it into likker.”

Angel, who knew Popcorn (and has one of his stills), learned how to make moonshine the old-fashioned way from a one-armed man in the mountains. He returned to his Maggie Valley roots to found Elevated Mountain Distillery, and he describes the distilling process as both science and art. “Chemistry drives the process,” he explains, “but the art makes it special.”

The water Angel uses for his distillery has an extraordinary source. Haywood County, he notes, is one of very few headwater counties in the whole country, which means that all the water begins there and flows out.

Elevated Mountain focuses on whiskey, vodka, craft cocktails, and flavored moonshines, but it also doubles as an event space for the community. In addition to doing tasting tours, they host live music, local food trucks, and reunions. An ordained minister, Angel has “done his share of weddings” in the distillery and has even officiated at funerals for people who want to “make it more of a celebration, to come and have fun.”

Take a sip of history at Elevated Mountain Distillery, which focuses on whiskey, vodka, craft cocktails, and flavored moonshines. photograph by Visit NC Smokies

 

Take a break to shop, eat, and explore

Need some ideas for fun with the whole family? Head to Market Square in the heart of town. Sample Jelly Bellie’s ice cream and candy, get hot chocolate or coffee at Sippers in the Valley, or stop for a meal at Café Italiano or Guayabitos. Guests can wander from store to store to find an assortment of treasures, from swords at Papa Rosa’s Little Knife Store to ski apparel at Maggie Valley Skis and Tees to herbal supplements at Wild Market.

Other local establishments include Maggie Mountaineer Crafts (founded in 1950), Joey’s Pancakes (serving breakfast since 1966), and Maggie Valley Festival Grounds. The Festival Grounds is an excellent spot to catch a show, but other venues like Stompin Grounds and Valley Tavern host music all year-round.

Dale’s Wheels Through Time Museum is home to the world’s premier collection of rare American vintage motorcycles. It’s worth a visit, even if you aren’t into motorcycles. The museum, a family-run nonprofit, is home to a priceless collection of motorcycle memorabilia, including the bike that Evel Knievel used for his final three jumps.

Luckily, in Maggie Valley, you’ve got options. And no matter which shops or restaurants you visit, whether you hike, ski, or sip moonshine, this way-off-the-beaten path mountain town is sure to charm.

Dale’s Wheels Through Time Museum is home to the world’s premier collection of rare American vintage motorcycles. photograph by Visit NC Smokies

This story was published on Nov 22, 2021

Alysia Yates

Alysia Yates is a writer, editor, and outdoor enthusiast. She lives with her family in Raleigh, where you can find her on the Greenways or in her favorite coffee shop.