A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Scattered around Wildcat Ridge Farm in Haywood County, on the banks of the Pigeon River, 50 or so artists sit at their easels with watercolors and oils, capturing the rich

Madison County Championship Rodeo

Scattered around Wildcat Ridge Farm in Haywood County, on the banks of the Pigeon River, 50 or so artists sit at their easels with watercolors and oils, capturing the rich

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Scattered around Wildcat Ridge Farm in Haywood County, on the banks of the Pigeon River, 50 or so artists sit at their easels with watercolors and oils, capturing the rich

The Mountains Are Calling: Exploring Haywood County

Scattered around Wildcat Ridge Farm in Haywood County, on the banks of the Pigeon River, 50 or so artists sit at their easels with watercolors and oils, capturing the rich blooms of hundreds of peony varieties. On a sunny Saturday in May, this place is a spring wonderland.

“When all the plants go into bloom, it is paradise,” says Ricardo Fernandez-Battini, who owns the farm with his wife, Suzanne Fernandez. Not only does the couple sell peony blooms and plants you can take home to your own garden, but they also have a riverside yurt for rent and catered meals — Ricardo happens to be an accomplished chef — to round out your stay.

Nestled between the Blue Ridge and Balsam Mountains, Haywood County boasts the highest elevation of any county east of the Mississippi, with 19 of the county’s peaks above 6,000 feet. Wildcat Ridge Farm is just one of many destinations that feel like paradise. Read on for locals’ tips for how to experience the county’s soaring heights and breathtaking backdrops.



 

Shop, sip, and dine in downtown Canton. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

One Vacation, 5 Destinations

Haywood County is home to four towns — Canton, Clyde, Maggie Valley, and Waynesville — and two lakes — Lake Junaluska and Lake Logan. And each offers you a different mountain experience.

Rich with history, Canton has remnants of its past scattered throughout downtown. On Main Street, Southern Porch resides in the former Imperial Hotel — don’t miss the deviled eggs and “Black Bear Salmon” in the Queen Anne architectural splendor of yesteryear. In the spring of 2022, Blue Moon Books will open in the old post office next door. And on a short walk to Park Street, you’ll find the renovated Colonial Theatre that dates to 1932.

Lake Logan is a logging town turned lakeside retreat. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Lake Logan, with its interesting history as a logging town turned lakeside retreat, hosts meetings, events, and family gatherings small and large. Swim, canoe, fish, play volleyball and disc golf, and explore trails at Lake Logan Conference Center. Cozy up for the night in a cabin, or pitch your tent at a lakeside campsite.

In Clyde, you’ll find Appalachian heritage on display at the Shook House Museum, believed to be the oldest standing frame-built house in Western North Carolina. After touring the museum, wander the rhododendron garden, orchard, and dahlia collection at Haywood Community College’s arboretum.

In the winter, strap on a snowboard or skis at Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Maggie Valley serves as the hub for year-round outdoor sports in the area. Home of the 18-slope Cataloochee Ski Area, you can get your fill of skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing in winter. But there’s more to the town than snow games. Golfers can book a tee time at the spectacular Maggie Valley Club and Resort, one of five golf courses in the county.

Browse Waynesville’s lively downtown lined with art galleries, boutiques, and cozy shops, like Wall Street Books. “We’re the quintessential little hole in the wall used bookstore,” says store owner Bonnie Owens. She likens rummaging through the stacks of books to a scavenger hunt.

Waynesville is known as the gateway to the Smokies. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

With no guarantee the store will have a particular book or author, the staff has become adept at making recommendations. “We feel like book baristas,” she says with a laugh. “Oh, you like that author — have you tried this author?”

When your stomach starts rumbling, sit down at Birchwood Hall Southern Kitchen. And spend your evening on the covered porch at Boojums Brewery with a Balsam Brown Ale in your hand as the sun dips behind the mountain vistas.

View Lake Junaluska surrounded by mountains from Inspiration Point, steps from the historic Lambuth Inn and its majestic mountain views. Activities here center around the 200-acre lake, including kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, and boat tours. As you might guess, even Lakeside Bistro’s patio overlooks the lake.

 

In warm months, go canoeing on Lake Junaluska. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Chasing Waterfalls — and Other Active Pursuits

Haywood County has endless opportunities for on-foot exploration. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, hike to Skinny Dip Falls near the Looking Glass Rock Overlook or pick blueberries at Graveyard Fields on your way to stunning waterfalls.

Climb into the rugged, untamed Shining Rock and Middle Prong wildernesses, just north of the parkway, for more challenging terrain. Further west, at the highest point on the parkway, hike a trail at Richland Balsam Overlook to a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains.

Trek among the old-growth forest at Boogerman Look Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s Cataloochee Valley. At dawn and dusk, you may glimpse herds of elk grazing in the valley.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, tube, kayak, or canoe down the Pigeon River. Bring lunch and your favorite beverages and make it a day on the water. “After a few rapids, it turns into a lazy river experience, with a couple of islands where you can get out, picnic, and hang out,” says Charles Wells, owner of Pigeon River Outfitters.

After a relaxing float down the river, make your way to shore and grab a cold one at BearWaters Brewery. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Take your time and be sure to stop at the swimming holes and rope swings along the river. Eventually, you’ll drift back to the takeout beside BearWaters Brewery, where you can refresh yourself with a Papertown Pilsner, refuel with honey jalapeño chicken, and while away the evening on the deck overlooking the river.

In April, Chesnutt Mountain Nature Park, a 450-acre outdoor recreation destination, will open in Canton, providing the perfect hub for hiking, biking, and backcountry exploration.

In Maggie Valley, a North Carolina Mountain Heritage Trout City, fly-fishers can cast a line into the three-mile section of Jonathan Creek that flows through town. Hikers can choose from dozens of nearby adventures, like venturing to picture-perfect Soco Falls. And equestrians and horseback riding novices alike can see stunning mountain views from the saddle with a guide from Cataloochee Ranch.

 

Smoky Mountain Elk Fest celebrates the local elk herds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with live music, art and craft vendors, and more. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Artistic Endeavors

Among Haywood County’s highest peaks is Cold Mountain — inspiration for Charles Frazier’s best-selling novel turned major motion picture. In the summer months, you can plan your visit around Cold Mountain Music Festival, Hillbilly Jam, or Smoky Mountain Elk Fest. In December, Balsam Range Art of Music Festival is a must-visit.

Any time of year, follow the Haywood County Quilt Trail to discover unique, colorful quilt blocks adorning buildings throughout the county. End your day with a musical or show at the award-winning Haywood Arts Regional Theatre (HART).

To find the perfect souvenir to commemorate your visit, visit historic Shelton House, home of the Museum of NC Handicrafts, which highlights Appalachian arts and heritage.

 

Provisions and Libations

If food and craft brews are your passions, you’re in the right place. With more than 40 locally owned restaurants, three breweries, and a distillery, there’s something for everyone.

For seasonal farm-to-fork dishes like brie and fig chicken or crispy roasted half-duck, make your way to The Chef’s Table. Stop into Blue Rooster Southern Grill for locally sourced home cooking like their country-style steak, or Low Country shrimp and grits.

At Frog Level Brewing, wash down a Moonshine BBQ Brisket Sandwich with an award-winning Salamander Slam IPA. Or take a tour of Elevated Mountain Distilling Company and sample their hand-crafted mountain whiskey and spirits.

 

Find the perfect Christmas tree at Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Farm Adventures

Seasonal favorites thrive here — summer’s wild blueberries, fall’s crisp apples, and winter’s Fraser firs. Every day in May, bask in the blooms at Wildcat Ridge Farm, and during summertime, lose yourself in the sunflower maze at The Ten Acre Garden.

After taking in the spectacular fall colors, stop by Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm to select a tree. After making memories with your family on the farm, you’ll be on your way to creating a little holiday magic in your own home.

 

Answer the Call

With charming Appalachian towns, hikes to hidden waterfalls, and cabins perched on mountainsides, Haywood County has everything you’re looking for in a mountain retreat. If you’re longing for a weekend getaway or a week of R&R, listen closely and you’ll hear the mountains calling.

This story was published on Feb 21, 2022

Lara Ivanitch

Lara Ivanitch is a freelance writer who resides in Raleigh.