Covering 494 square miles of the Western N.C. mountains, the towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva are home to some of the best hiking, fishing, backpacking and other nature pursuits. The area is also ideally located to many of the Southeast’s top visitor attractions. Thanks to its central location in the middle of two of the most popular National Park Sites, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Jackson County makes an ideal and affordable home base for all adventures in this beautiful part of the state.
Located just under an hour’s drive from Sylva and Dillsboro, this 8,000-acre estate includes America’s Largest Home® and an award-winning winery, making it worthy of a day trip to nearby Asheville. Insider tip: Save $10 if you book at least seven days in advance online.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Located just 20 minutes from Sylva, the No. 1 most-visited and most popular national park in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses 520,000 acres in Tennessee and N.C. Visitors can explore the park’s 850 miles of trails, learn its history at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in nearby Cherokee or look for wildlife while driving one of the scenic drives. The North Carolina side of the park has less traffic than the Tennessee side of the smokies, so rather than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, spend more time exploring the outdoors! Other activities inside the park include fishing, camping, horseback riding, picnicking and ranger-led programs. Admission to the park is free.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Western N.C., the popular Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles with 45 miles running along Jackson County’s northwest border. Although scenery along the drive is gorgeous, visitors should stop at several of the overlooks to truly take in the views. Some overlooks are right off the road, while others are a short hike from the roadside parking lot. All are worthy of a visit. At an elevation of 6,053 feet, Jackson County’s Richland Balsam overlook is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Insider Tip: Many of the overlooks have picnic tables, so pack a picnic to enjoy along with the views. Waterrock Knob view pictured above.
Elk in Cherokee
Just 45 minutes northwest of Jackson County in Cherokee, elk roam near the Oconaluftee visitor center at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance. A good viewing area for spotting elk is the parking area as you exit Cherokee, before entering the national park. Many visitors catch sight of elk here in the spring, particularly in the morning, late afternoon and early evening. Elk breeding season, which stretches from mid-September through late October, is also a great time to catch a glimpse of these majestic animals.
Fire Mountain Trails
Mountain biking continues to be a popular pastime for visitors to our area and the surrounding communities. At Fire Mountain Trails in Cherokee, mountain biking enthusiasts will love the multi-use trail system that covers more than 10 miles. Fun berms, changes in elevation and more than 20 switchbacks in a single run combine to provide all-day action and entertainment. Cyclists of all skill levels can enjoy Fire Mountain Trails.
Just 20 minutes from Sylva, Franklin, N.C. has been a mining destination since 1870, when mining began for ruby and sapphire. Those looking to find their own unique souvenirs can do so at Old Cardinal Gem Mine, Gold City Gem Mine, or Mason’s Ruby & Sapphire Mine. These attractions offer visitors of all ages the opportunity to search for their own gems, whether in prefilled buckets or by digging in the dirt themselves.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino
In nearby Cherokee, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino welcomes visitors to try their luck at a variety of gaming, including video poker, slots, blackjack, craps, roulette and more. Beyond the casino floor, visitors can dine at one of 11 restaurants, indulge in some pampering at the Mandara Spa or take in a concert at the event center.
North Carolina Arboretum
Head northeast toward Asheville for about an hour, and you’ll come to the North Carolina Arboretum, home to some of the most botanically diverse plants in the region. Visitors can stroll through 65 acres of cultivated gardens, including a Bonsai Exhibition Garden, or set out on more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. Additional activities range from self-guided rotating art, science and educational exhibits to nature explorations and geocaching.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Who doesn’t love a scenic and relaxing train ride? A trip on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad provides a unique vantage point of Jackson County for riders that are not accessible by other means. Just 20 minutes from Sylva and Dillsboro, the Bryson City Depot serves as the departure and return point for the 4.5-hour roundtrip excursion. During your journey on the Tuckasegee River Excursion, you’ll make a stop in downtown Dillsboro, with time to poke around in the one-of-a-kind shops, grab a bite to eat, or enjoy a brew at Innovation Station.
With so much to see and do in and around Jackson County, why not stay in the center of the action? Whether in a hotel or a cozy cabin, there’s no shortage of accommodations to suit your wants and needs. Order the new 2019-2020 Visitor Guide today to learn more about the adventures in and around Jackson County and to start planning your trip today to enjoy all that the beautiful Western NC mountains have to offer.
Top photo used with permission from The Biltmore Company, Asheville, North Carolina