Good things come in small packages. Western North Carolina has a little treasure, surrounded by mountains, that serves as the perfect destination to relax and enjoy nature. Bryson City has small town spirit, kind people, and a quiet downtown, but still, has an impressive range of activities to fill an itinerary for weeks. From hiking and mountain bike trails to fishing and water sports, it is an outdoor paradise, par excellence.
However, Bryson City’s history and identity provide attractions filled with culture, as well. Discover the best things to do for a magical trip into the heart of the Smoky Mountains and get ready to fall under the spell of this North Carolinian gem.
1. Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Considered among the best train rides in the United States, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad provides amazing, scenic excursions through the natural beauty of the mountains, in Western North Carolina. The ride travels across tunnels, rivers, lakes, gorges, and valleys and can be taken in a diesel engine train and in a restored steam engine, as well.
They have different tours and excursions and it is recommended to book your tickets in advance, since it is a very popular attraction. You can purchase packages that include other activities, like rafting, or arrange a lunch menu. This is one of the best ways to experience North Carolina’s spectacular scenery, as well as its rich history.
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Address: 45 Mitchell Street, Bryson City, NC 28713
Website: Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
2. Nantahala Outdoor Center
Are you ready for adventure? National Geographic Adventure has rated Nantahala Outdoor Center as “One of the Best Outfitter’s on Earth”, and you will surely love it, too. As the largest outdoor recreation company in the United States, they provide more than 120 different river and land-based activities, that can please everyone, from families to adrenaline junkies.
You can try whitewater rafting, take a world-class paddling lesson or go lake kayaking. If you are not into water sports, you can rent a mountain bike or visit their leadership institute, for wilderness medicine and river rescue training. Nantahala Outdoor Center provides guidance and gear, so you can have an unforgettable experience.
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Address: 13077 Hwy. 19 W., Bryson City, NC 28713
Website: Nantahala Outdoor Center
3. Smoky Mountain Gold & Ruby Mine
Located 20 minutes away from Bryson and a favorite among children, the Smoky Mountain Gold & Ruby Mine gives the chance to return home with some precious souvenirs from North Carolina. With free admission, you will choose from a variety of bags and buckets and look for emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts, garnets, topaz, and more. Remember to visit their gem, gift, and rock shop: they have a nice selection of items to add to your findings.
Smoky Mountain Gold & Ruby Mine
Address: Highway 441 North, Cherokee, NC 28719
Website: Smoky Mountain Gold & Ruby Mine
4. Smoky Mountain Trains Museum
After your ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, you can visit the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum, a very nice way to continue your adventure on rails. It displays a collection of 7,000 Lionel™ engines cars and accessories that delight kids and adults, alike. Admission is free if you have train tickets, but it is also open to the general public, with a fee.
Smoky Mountain Trains Museum
Address: 100 Greenlee St, Bryson City, NC 28713
Website: Smoky Mountain Trains Museum
5. Swain County Heritage Museum
If you are interested in learning about the history of the area, you should head to the Swain County Heritage Museum. It is a place where the story of Swain County and its people is told through exhibits, photographs, and videos. The museum is located on the second floor of the 1908 historic courthouse, in downtown Bryson City, and the admission is free.
Make sure to stop by the information center and the bookstore, that are in the same building, for directions, maps, and additional information on the area.
Swain County Heritage Museum
Address: 2 Everett Street, Bryson City, NC 28713
Website: Swain County Heritage Museum
6. Nantahala Brewing Company
Thirsty? The Nantahala Brewing Company is the perfect solution. This microbrewery produces award-winning, unfiltered ales and provides a friendly atmosphere in which to hang out after a day of sightseeing, yet, their most popular choice is their beer to go. They offer tours and tastings in their taproom on Fridays, a wonderful option where you can try up to eight different beers.
Nantahala Brewing Company
Address: 61 Depot Street, Bryson City, NC 28713
Website: Nantahala Brewing Company
7. Cooper Creek Trout Farm
This is the perfect place to spend an afternoon or even the whole day. Cooper Creek Trout Farm raises 750,000 rainbow trout, annually and offers a public pond so that visitors can catch their own fish. They provide fishing equipment and picnic facilities, as well as guided tours. Their location includes access to hiking trails and waterfalls.
Cooper Creek Trout Farm
Address: 3365 Coopers Creek Rd, Bryson City, NC
Facebook: Cooper Creek Trout Farm
8. Deep Creek Recreation Area
One of the most beautiful areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Deep Creek is 5 minutes away from Bryson City. If offers lots of outdoor activities to enjoy, such as trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The most popular routes are the ones that pass by Indian Creek, Tom Branch and Juney Whank Falls, some of the loveliest sights in the park.
You can also spend the day fishing and there are plenty of stops perfect for a picnic. Another great activity available is tubing: access is free and tube rentals are about 5 USD a day, from companies on West Deep Creek Road.
Deep Creek Recreation Area
Address: 1090 W Deep Creek Rd, Bryson City, NC 28713
Website: Deep Creek Recreation Area
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The border between Tennessee and North Carolina holds the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States. This stunning place is also the largest protected area in the Eastern United States, at 522,419 acres (211,415 hectares). From waterfalls, camping areas, shelters for backpackers, to black bears, reptiles, other animals and unique flora, the park has everything you need to guarantee you get the best out of North Carolina.
Before your visit, it’s a good idea download the Smokies Trip Planner, an official free guide, with lots of priceless information about the park, available on their website.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Address: US-441, NC 28719
Website: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
10. The Road to Nowhere
With so much to see in Bryson City, your visit won’t be complete without a trip to…nowhere. That’s right: this scenic mountain highway was started as an alternative route to replace an old road, buried under the waters of Fontana Lake, as a result of a dam, but was never finished. So now, Lakeside Drive, known to locals as the Road to Nowhere, serves as a lane that goes six miles (9.7 km) into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at the mouth of a tunnel, offering stunning views of the mountain and lake.
You can drive to the park and leave your car in the parking area after Nolands Creek, from where you will have a short walk to the tunnel. It’s a destination with an interesting story and many beautiful views to offer.
The Road to Nowhere
Address: Lakeview Dr E, Bryson City, NC 28713
Website: The Road to Nowhere
11. Darnell Farms for hay rides, fun and fresh food
Darnell Farms is a family-owned farm where family fun and the freshest food is uppermost in their minds. The farm is wonderful for kids, as there’s a hay ride. Adults enjoy it too. Fish, sit by the stream or sing and dance on the stage. The Darnell family is friendly and knowledgeable.
Food is fresh and they manage to keep it seasonal. There are strawberries in summer and pumpkins in fall. As they don’t use chemicals on their fruit and vegetables, the produce is better for you. If you’re passing by, stop in for some jams, country veg, and other goodies.
Address: 2300 Governors Island Rd, Bryson City, NC
Website: Darnell Farms
12. Meet the artist, browse the artwork at The Charles Heath Gallery
The Charles Heath Gallery is full of different types of art from photos to paintings and more. There are even paintings done on rocks. You can meet Charles if he’s in. Buy a bottle of wine with one of his labels on it. There’s bound to be something that will appeal to you. Take home a memento of your Bryson City vacation.
Browsing art is always a fun way to pass an hour or so. The studio is neat and there are many different mediums of art to choose from. Visitors enjoy going back because Charles is helpful, knowledgeable and friendly.
The Charles Heath Gallery
Address: 175 Everett St, Bryson City, NC
Website: The Charles Heath Gallery
A mountain dream
Bryson City is one of the best destinations to explore the Smoky Mountains but it has gained a value of its own, by providing a beautiful little town to enjoy. Take your time to stroll down its streets, to discover lovely shops and craft galleries, while you choose among all the exciting adventures this jewel has for you. Look up to the sky, breathe in the fresh air and relax: Bryson City’s got your back.
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