the Smokies at sunset in Western North Carolina

If you’re itching for an adventure in the great outdoors, the Western North Carolina (WNC) side of the Great Smoky Mountains is like hitting the jackpot. It’s where the wild meets the wonderfully serene. Let me tell you, it’s a place that’ll stick in your memory like that catchy tune you can’t shake off. Let’s explore a few of the most popular things to do in Bryson City, Cherokee attractions, and Fontana Dam, NC.

Bryson City trains

Things to Do in Bryson City, NC

Hey, adventure seekers and relaxation enthusiasts! Ready to explore Bryson City, NC? This little town is a hidden gem bursting with charm and fun activities. From historic train rides that whisk you through the scenic wilderness to mysterious roads leading to… well, you’ll see! Bryson City is your ticket to a world where every day is an opportunity for a new experience. Let’s dive into what this quaint mountain town has in store for us!

famous trains of Bryson City, NC

Enjoy A Train Ride

Choo-choo! All aboard for a delightful journey on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City. Imagine yourself aboard a majestic steam-powered or modern diesel locomotive. The rhythmic chug of the engine harmonizes with the gentle sway of the cars. The stunning Smoky Mountain vistas roll by your window.

As the train snakes through the lush landscapes, you’ll find yourself on a path that twists and turns through the heart of the mountains. It’s a glimpse of nature’s artistry you can’t find anywhere else. You have options to explore. The Tuckasegee River Excursion invites you to discover a different side of the Smokies. Opt for this journey, and you’ll find yourself on an adventure to the Tuckasegee River. The river offers a peaceful retreat in stark contrast to the outside world. As the train travels, it gives you a unique perspective of the river’s course.

The Nantahala Gorge Excursion is just as beautiful. The Nantahala Gorge Excursion provides views of Fontana Lake as you set off towards the Nantahala River. It’s a haven for those who find peace in the gurgling sounds of a river carving its way through the terrain.

The Road to Nowhere, Bryson City, NC

The Road to Nowhere

Step into a storybook as you discover The Road to Nowhere, a path shrouded in mystery and history in the heart of Bryson City. This 6-mile journey through the mountains culminates at a mysterious tunnel, a structure that abruptly ends, leaving you at the threshold of wilderness. It’s a roadway that was once meant to be a lifeline, connecting communities. Still, due to environmental concerns and unresolved debates, it now stands as a monument to what could have been.

The Road to Nowhere is an ideal spot for those who love to blend their love for hiking with a bit of historical intrigue. Once you reach the tunnel, it’s like stepping into a different world. The cool, echoing space contrasts the open skies and towering trees you’ve just passed through. It’s a place that ignites the imagination and is one of the more peculiar things to do in Bryson City, NC.

an elk grazes in Cherokee, NC

Cherokee, NC Attractions

Discover Cherokee, NC attractions where the storied past of the Cherokee people and the breathtaking beauty of the great outdoors dance together. Each Cherokee attraction offers a unique glimpse into a natural world steeped in tradition. Get ready for the captivating allure of the Cherokee people and their scenic lands!

Cherokee History

In Cherokee, NC, history is not just told; it’s felt. Every corner of this community breathes the stories and traditions of the Cherokee people. Visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indians for an enlightening experience. Artifacts and displays bring to life the resilience and richness of the Cherokee culture. Then, explore the Oconaluftee Indian Village. In this living history museum, you can witness reenactments and learn about the daily life of the Cherokee ancestors.

Mingo Falls

Mingo Falls

Explore Mingo Falls, a spectacular natural wonder outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located in the Qualla Boundary land trust of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, this towering waterfall stands nearly 120 feet tall. The falls cascade over rock formations in a symphony of water and light, creating a breathtaking sight. The hike to Mingo Falls is a rewarding trek. Each series of steps leads you closer to the beauty of the water.

elk watching at Oconaluftee Visitors Center

Elk Watching at Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center

For a spectacular wildlife experience, head to the fields around the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for elk watching. These majestic creatures were once nearly extinct in the region. They have made a remarkable comeback and now grace the meadows of the Smokies with their presence. The best times to view them are early morning or late evening when they are most active. 

Bring your binoculars and camera, and witness the elk as they graze, play, and interact in their natural habitat. The visitor center also offers educational exhibits and programs about the elk and their role in the ecosystem. The viewing experience is a learning opportunity that brings you closer to understanding the wildlife of the Smokies.

Lake Fontana boat rentals

Fontana Dam

Welcome to the majestic Fontana Dam. This area is a playground for those who love the water and the thrill of the great outdoors. At Fontana Dam, you can cast a line in the serene waters, explore the lake on a boat, or drive one of the most exciting roads in the nation. Fontana Dam has it all!

Lake Fontana Boat Rentals

Set sail on the sparkling waters of Lake Fontana with a boat rental adventure.  A diverse fleet of Lake Fontana boat rentals is available for every level. Choose a leisurely pontoon boat, perfect for a family outing or a relaxing day of drifting and basking in the sun. Canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards are for the more adventurous souls. They provide an intimate way to explore the nooks and crannies of the lake. Glide over crystal-clear waters and discover hidden coves! With the backdrop of the Smoky Mountains reflecting on the lake’s surface, each moment on the water is picture-perfect.

Fishing at Cheoah Lake

Anglers, prepare for a day of fishing that’s the stuff of legends at Cheoah Lake, a deep and cold lake. Located just below the majestic Fontana Dam, Cheoah Lake is a haven for some of the biggest catches. Home to record-breaking muskie and walleye, it offers the perfect setting for a peaceful day of fishing, with the added thrill of a potential big catch.

Tail of the Dragon

The Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap is your ultimate adrenaline-pumping destination. With 318 curves in just 11 miles, this legendary stretch of road offers one of the most exhilarating driving experiences in the nation. Perfect for motorcyclists and car enthusiasts, the Tail of the Dragon is a winding rollercoaster of a road. It provides unmatched thrills with each twist and turn. As you navigate this iconic route, the stunning natural beauty of the Smokies will surround you. It makes for a thoroughly captivating ride.

things to do in Bryson City & WNC

Find More Things to Do in the WNC Smokies

Oh, the adventure doesn’t stop here! The Western North Carolina Smokies are like a treasure chest, just waiting to be opened. For those hungry for more, the Swain County Tourism Development Authority is your golden ticket. They’re like the local wizards of fun, showing you a buffet of additional activities, hidden spots, and local events that you might otherwise miss. From cozy bed and breakfasts to thrilling outdoor adventures, their insights will help you uncover even more gems in this mountain paradise.

So, there you have it, folks – a peek into the Western NC side of the Smokies. It’s a place where each turn on the trail (or the road) brings a new surprise. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or just someone looking for tranquility, this side of the Smokies promises an adventure as big as the mountains. Pack your bags, charge your camera, and prepare for a trip that’ll make your heart sing like a Carolina wren at dawn!

Content on this page is subject to change. Please contact the locations mentioned to see if promotions, hours, pricing, etc. are still valid.

About Andy Rowe

Andy Rowe is an experienced Writer and Content Designer with a passion for storytelling. He earned his Masters of Business Administration while living abroad in Taiwan and has spent the past 6 years honing his skills in copy writing, social media content, and thought leadership. Andy has a talent for research and the ability to adapt this writing style to different audiences. When he’s not writing, Andy enjoys traveling, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and reading.

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