The Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina
This vast mountain range straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee is teeming with wildlife, wild flowers and wild vistas. Nicknamed “the Smokies” because of the natural fog that hangs like smoke over the mountains, the region exudes history, mystery and beauty. From death-defying roads to abundant animals, you will find adventure around every corner.
Trout Swims Here
Mountain trout fishing is the main sport in the region and with thousands of miles of streams and rivers, anglers and fly-fishing enthusiasts will find the trout biting anytime. Check out the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, the first fly-fishing trail in the country.
Wildflowers and Wooden Structures
Great Smoky Mountains National Park entices explorers with its world-famous wildflower preserve, boasting more than 1,500 flowering plants. Also abundant are opportunities to see wildlife like black bears, white-tailed deer, elk, woodchucks, turkeys and other mountain critters. Estimated at 187,000 acres, the largest stand of old-growth forest east of the Mississippi grows here.
Mists of Time
Wander back to the past at Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill and see a 19th-century farm complete with log house, barn, church, springhouse, apple house, a working blacksmith shop and original water-powered turbine gristmill.
The scenic Nantahala River, designated as one of the best paddling rivers in Blue Ridge Outdoors, is listed as a Class II and III whitewater rafting river. Outfitters will help you get on a raft and shoot down a turbulent stretch of whitewater. Don’t worry — expert guides will bring you to your destination safely. The Nantahala River Gorge joins Fontana Lake, east of Bryson City, where ample boating and fishing is available. While here, take a tour of the Fontana Dam, the tallest dam east of the Rockies at 480 feet. Bring your hiking boots, because the Appalachian Trails crosses the dam.
Itching for some trout? Great Smoky Mountains National Park has thousands of miles of streams and rivers for flat or fly-fishing. Jackson County is the North Carolina Trout Capital, with a fly-fishing trail that encompasses 15 locations perfect for hooking rainbow, brown and brook. The Cherokee Tribal Waters are stocked annually with 400,000 trout offering an abundance of secluded spots along with “trophy waters.” If you prefer sightseeing to fishing, you can thrill to the rushing cascades of the double Soco Falls, 120-foot Mingo Falls and secluded Mouse Creek Falls.
Satisfy your need for speed with the thrill ride of your life at Deals Gap, where the Tail of the Dragon begins. Popular among motorcycle and sportscar devotees, this 11-mile stretch of asphalt has 318 sharp curves, living up to its diabolical name. Another great daredevil road is Moonshiner 28, once used by mountain bootleggers to escape revenuers. For a more sedentary ride, explore the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley. Nicknamed “The Museum That Runs,” it’s home to the world’s premier collection of classic American motorcycles, one-off vehicles and vintage automobiles.
Riding the Smoky Rails
In 1883, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad was constructed, stretching from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Dillsboro, North Carolina, before reaching Andrews in 1890. Nowadays, the railroad is one of the region’s top tourist attractions. The distinctive steam-powered trains depart from the historic depot in Bryson City and traverse the fecund valleys and river gorges of western North Carolina. Special BBQ and Brews trains welcome passengers to enjoy slow-cooked barbecue and beers from local breweries. Travel along river gorges, through mountain tunnels and across breathtaking valleys onboard steam- or diesel-powered trains and get a feel for the region’s history.
Autumn is the most magical time to travel the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains, where hundreds of deciduous trees paint the hills and valleys in a stunning autumn palate. Travel one of the best-kept-secret pathways when you step out on the pet-friendly Oconaluftee River Trail. It’s an easy 3-mile round-trip walk or bike ride along the river, over bridges, through alleys of trees ablaze in shades of red, yellow and orange, and past the historic Mountain Farm Museum. For breathtaking views from the road, motor up U.S. 441 toward the Oconaluftee Valley Overlook, where the mountains are awash in rust and crimson hues.
The Cherokee Culture
Experience a time when the Cherokees roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains. At the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, explore the ways of life of the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian cultures through the 1700s to the Trail of Tears. Called “a model for museums” by Disney Imagineering, this interpretive site tells the story of the Cherokee tribe through exhibits, artifacts, narration and animation. Video and exhibits convey a moving history.
Living Cherokee History
Visit the Cherokee Indian Reservation and learn about this indigenous culture firsthand. Walk through the Indian Village and then experience the outdoor drama, “Unto These Hills,” which chronicles the story of the Cherokee people. The play starts with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s and extends to nation’s eventual reemergence following the Trail of Tears in the 1800s.
Play Me Some Mountain Music
Listen as the strings of the fiddle meld with the strum of the banjo at the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival, evoking memories of another time. Held at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, this late-August event brings together the best southern Appalachian mountain fiddlers, banjo players and string bands along with harmonicas, dulcimers, bagpipes, jew’s harps, spoons and saw musicians. Ballad singers and folk ensembles sing of the mountain’s people while square dance teams, cloggers and buck dancers kick up their heels.
For More Information
Great Smoky Mountains
North Carolina Department of Tourism