Spring has arrived in the North Carolina Mountains bringing wildflower blooms, warmer weather, and longer days. Daylight saving time has begun, giving us an ‘extra hour’ of daylight to spend. From soaking up a golden hour mountain sunset to taking on your favorite trail – the best way to spend your extra hour of sunlight is in the North Carolina mountains of Jackson County. Our towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva, are located less than an hour from Downtown Asheville and are the perfect home base for regional adventure.
Experience a Mountain Sunset
With sunset occurring later in the evening, you’ll have plenty of time to find the perfect vantage point. Make sure to check out these spots for the perfect mountain sunset.
Blue Ridge Parkway – Some of the best sunset views are easily accessible along the Blue Ridge Parkway – no hiking required. Bring along a folding chair and a blanket to enjoy the best show in the Smokies.
Thunderstruck Ridge Overlook (Milepost 454.4) – Located between Soco and Balsam Gap, Thunderstruck Ridge Overlook provides a beautiful southwest-facing view overlooking Cherokee.
Waterrock Knob Overlook (Milepost 451.2) – with a gift shop, restrooms, and picnic tables on-site, Waterrock Knob is a favorite for those who want to experience a golden hour sunset with convenient onsite amenities.
Cowee Mountain Overlook (Milepost 430) – Cowee Mountain Overlook provides a 180-degree panoramic view of Jackson County. This has long been a favorite for viewing sunsets with plenty of space to relax and enjoy the show.
Elevate your sunset with a short sunset hike. Make sure to pack a flashlight, warm clothing, proper hiking shoes, and check your phone in advance for sunset times and weather conditions.
Black Balsam Knob (Milepost 420) – This New England-style bald provides a great viewpoint to enjoy a mountain sunset.
Waterrock Knob Trail (Milepost 451.2) – This hike is steep but short, less than a mile round trip from the overlook. Pitch a hammock and relax while the sunset is displayed in the distance.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – America’s favorite park has several perfect places to watch a Smoky Mountain sunset.
Newfound Gap Overlook – Straddles the North Carolina/Tennessee border. Sunsets can be enjoyed from the comfort of your car, or take a stroll to the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial for a stunning view into the valley below.
Clingmans Dome – Sitting at 6,643 feet above sea level, Clingmans Dome is the third highest point in the eastern United States. Hiking to the top requires a short but very steep vertical climb over a half-mile paved path. Those who take on the challenge are rewarded with one of the best vantage points for a sunset in the Smokies.
Take an Afternoon Hike
Longer days allow for more time on the trail. From simple strolls to rugged ascents, find the perfect hike to enjoy at your own pace:
Panthertown Valley – Located between Cashiers and Sapphire, Panthertown is home to 30 miles of mixed-use trails, a dozen waterfalls, and a wide variety of flora and fauna. Know as the Yosemite of the east, Panthertown is full of natural wonders you won’t want to miss! Make sure to get a map either online or at the Highland Hiker in Cashiers.
Pinnacle Park – Sylva is home to Pinnacle Park, a 1,500-acre natural oasis only minutes from downtown. Heading up the West Fork Trail leads you to the ‘Pinnacle’ atop a 3.5-mile climb ascending over 3,000 feet in elevation – and that’s just one way! At the top, you’ll see the best views of the Plott Balsam Mountains and Sylva. Make sure to check the time and allow for a couple of hours of daylight for your descent and pack a snack, plenty of water, and wear sturdy hiking boots.
Easy & Accessible
Tuckasegee River Greenway – can be found between Cullowhee and Sylva. The shade from the trees and the cool breeze from the river keeps temperatures comfortable year-round. This 2-mile there-and-back trail is a favorite among families, complete with a kids bike park and playground along the way.
Oconaluftee River Trail – in Cherokee traverses the crystal clear Oconaluftee River. Fed by the Great Smokies, the clear blue water shimmers in the sunlight as you stroll along the path. Keep your eyes peeled for elk, as they are known to cross the river and stay cool in the shade of the trees that run parallel to the trail.
Enjoy Longer Days on the Water
Jackson County is home to several pristine lakes. Fish, paddle, and explore these hidden gems on your next trip:
Lake Glenville – is not only Jackson County’s largest lake but also one of the highest elevation lakes east of the Mississippi. Exploring Lake Glenville can take up to a full day with over 26 miles of shoreline, seven islands, and four hidden waterfalls. Rent a pontoon from Signal Ridge or Lakeshore Marina or catch a sunset waterfall cruise with Captain Mark. The Pines Recreation Area is a family favorite as temps begin to warm up. The sandy swim beach is perfect for laying out on a warm day or enjoying some time at the beach without the worry of sharks, riptides, or jellyfish.
Bear Lake – also known as Bear Creek Lake, is tucked away in the secluded Tuckasegee community, about 30 minutes from downtown Sylva. Bear Lake’s public access area includes an ADA fishing pier and a boat dock. Nearby Bear Lake Reserve features several lakeside vacation rentals, a lakeside club, boat rentals, a private beach, a pool, and so much more.
Balsam Lake – one of the ‘Blue Jewel’ lakes of the East Fork, Balsam Lake is hidden in the Roy Taylor National Forest. Lakeside amenities include a picnic pavilion, a day-use area, a lakeside trail, and a fishing dock. Best of all, enjoying Balsam Lake provides peace and quiet due to its remote location.
Tip: Make sure to preload the directions in your GPS or download the offline maps on Google Maps as there is no phone service on this route.
Try New Adventures
Use your extra hour to try something new this spring. From fly fishing to forest therapy, Jackson County is sure to offer a new adventure for your and your loved ones to enjoy:
Fly Fishing – Jackson County is home to the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail®, the country’s first and only fly fishing trail. Made up of 15 prime spots to reel in rainbow, brook, and brown trout, our new waterproof map is one of the best ways to learn about angling in Jackson County. Ready to cast a line? Book a guided float trip with our Outfitters & Guides. These local experts will help you reel in some memories along the way – no gear or experience necessary.
Forest Therapy (Shinrin-Yoku) – One of the best ways to reconnect with nature is booking a forest therapy tour with Pinnacle Forest Therapy. This Japanese meditative experience enables you to relax, unwind, and unplug from the worries and stresses of modern life. Each guided hike ends with a cup of tea made from local ingredients that Dr. Ellison prepares for his guests. For those who want to enjoy this experience in solitude, self-guided tours are now available. Make sure to pick up your free guide at the entrance to the park.
Savor Award-Winning Dining
Jackson County has become a foodie’s paradise. With no chain restaurants in our central downtown corridors, you’re sure to find something for every palate and preference. Make sure to check out these local favorites on your next trip.
Ilda $$ – One of Sylva’s newest restaurants, Ilda was recently named Eater Carolinas “Mountain Restaurant of the Year.” Flavors combine traditional Sicilian recipes with the freshest Appalachian ingredients. Top it off with a crafty cocktail from Bar Director Antoine or pair your meal with a custom wine selection curated by the sommelier, Crystal.
The Library Kitchen + Bar $$ – combines ambiance and flavor for a full sensory experience. Michelin Trained Chef Johannes Kalpdohr brings his love of fresh ingredients and top-notch cuisine to life.
Canyon Kitchen $$$ – Situated at the base of a scenic box canyon, dining at Canyon Kitchen is an experience you won’t want to miss. In Sapphire, NC, Canyon Kitchen was named Food & Wines “Most Romantic Restaurant in North Carolina.” As temperatures warm up, Canyon Kitchen will soon open for the season, and you can enjoy alfresco dining with the scenic backdrop of a warm mountain sunset.
After the Sun Sets
Compliment your ‘extra hour’ of exploring with a locally crafted beverage along the Jackson County Ale Trail. Made up of seven breweries, our Ale Trail has over 120 craft beers on tap. Pick up a FREE souvenir by participating in our Ale Trail Pass. Learn more about the pass here. If you’re looking for crafty cocktails, our selection of Wine & Cocktail lounges are sure to satisfy. Make sure to find the perfect stay for your style, from award-winning hotels to vacation rentals, cabins, inns, and more. Planning hour spring getaway? Make sure to check out our ‘Trip Planner’ for more inspiration.
Header Image courtesy of @j.michaud.photography