You Don’t Know JACK(SON COUNTY) By the Numbers
Let us count the ways you can have fun and experience the natural beauty and cultural riches found in Jackson County, NC and its cities and towns including Sylva, Cullowhee, Cashiers, Dillsboro, Webster, Balsam, Cherokee, and Glenville.
360 – 490 million – Years old! That’s how old Whiteside Mountain in Cashiers is estimated to be by some geologists (maybe it should be named great grandfather mountain). Whiteside offers a 2-mile loop trail perfect for an afternoon hike with the family. Atop the highest vertical cliffs in the eastern United States, you’ll witness miles of views stretching into neighboring South Carolina. Be careful not to disturb the wildlife, as Peregrine Falcons are known to nest in Whiteside’s rocky outcrops.
6,311 – Acreage of Panthertown Valley. Known as the “Yosemite of the East,” Panthertown is home to over 30 miles of mixed-use trails, over a dozen waterfalls, and some of the region’s best camping spots. This national treasure is located between Cashiers and Sapphire and is a must-visit for those adventurous in spirit!
6,410 – Feet above sea level is the elevation of the third highest peak in the eastern continental United States. The Richland Balsam Trail is a one-and-a-half-mile loop that will take you through a peaceful spruce-fir forest and get your heart pumping over a 700-foot vertical climb. Enjoy the higher elevation’s cooler temps on a summer day and pack a picnic to eat at the bench located at the summit!
6,053 – Feet above sea level; the Richland Balsam overlook is the highest point along the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s most celebrated motor route. Make sure to snap a photo of your vehicle, motorcycle, or road bike in front of the iconic sign.
3,500 – Feet above sea level sits Lake Glenville. Being Jackson County’s largest lake, Lake Glenville has over 26-miles of shoreline, seven islands, and three hidden waterfalls. If you’re craving a beach experience in the mountains (minus the riptides, sharks, and jellyfish), pack your swimsuits and head to the Pines Recreation Area for a family-friendly, sandy swim beach.
1,529 – Acres of Sylva’s Pinnacle Park. This town-owned and maintained park is one of the largest parks in a small town in America and is full of pristine forest, cascading waterfalls, and stunning panoramic views of Sylva. Head up the West Fork Trail for a challenging hike with a 3.5-mile one-way trip ascending over 3,000 feet! That’s quite a burner! Campsites are also available with a free permit.
494 – Square miles of adventure throughout Jackson County’s borders!
411 – Feet tall; one of the highest waterfalls east of the Rockies at Whitewater Falls. This iconic cascade is easily accessible with only a quarter-mile paved walking path. Whitewater Falls is made up of two falls, with the lower falls at 400 feet for a combined total of 811 feet.
250 – Named creeks and rivers flowing throughout Jackson County
185 – Named summits crowning Jackson County as having the most in the state
107 – Stairs to reach the top of the Jackson County Courthouse. Built in 1914, the courthouse is known as the most photographed in the state. Those who take on the stairs will be rewarded with a breathtaking (literally) view overlooking the town of Sylva below and the surrounding Plott Balsam Mountains.
70 – Miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway runs through our Northwest Border – more than any other county along the Parkway!
43 – Miles of the Nantahala National Forest can be enjoyed while driving the Nantahala Scenic Byway which runs between Jackson County’s own town of Whittier and Marble, NC. Enjoy the scenic views of the gorgeous Nantahala Gorge or stop and enjoy some world-class whitewater rafting, canoeing, and kayaking on the Nantahala River.
1 – There may be 24 “Jackson Counties” across our great country, but you’ll find the best one right here in the heart of the Western NC Mountains.
Shadow of the Bear
Jackson County is the only place in the country where you can witness Shadow of the Bear. This natural phenomenon occurs twice a year, between mid-October-Early November, and Mid-February-Early March, on sunny days. Visible from Rhodes Big View Overlook in Cashiers, the sun casts a shadow over Whiteside Mountain, creating a bear-shaped shadow over the valley below.
Flora, Fauna, and a Rainforest?
Yes, that’s correct! Jackson County is actually situated in a temperate rainforest. This, coupled with its range in elevation from 875 – 6,410 feet above sea level, is why our mountains are home to the most biodiverse ecosystems in the temperate world. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone, there are over 12,000 species of plants, 65 species of mammals, over 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians! The Great Smokies are home to a thriving elk and bear population, with over 1,500 bears that call the Park home. There is one critter, a bit smaller, that the Park is known for. With a thriving salamander population, the Great Smokies have been deemed the “Salamander Capital of the World,” with over 30 species in five families, making it one of the most diverse areas on earth for these adorable amphibians.
Anglin’ Adventure in the NC Trout Capital®
Jackson County is known as the North Carolina Trout Capital®. Home to the first and only fly-fishing trail in the country, The WNC Fly Fishing Trail®, our outfitters & guides are some of the best in the business to help you gear up for your fly-fishing adventure. Check out our free and waterproof Fly-Fishing Trail Map highlighting 15 prime spots to reel in Rainbow, Brook, and Brown Trout.
While you are here for a fishing trip, you have the opportunity to see a relic of fishing history. Humans have been fishing in the pristine, trout rich waters of this region since prehistoric days. One of best preserved Cherokee fish weirs in the Southern Appalachian region is found in the Tuckasegee River (sometimes spelled Tuckaseigee River) in Jackson County’s town of Webster. These V-shaped rock structures, which were built by Cherokee people to herd fish for collection, can still be seen today.
Clean and Green
Jackson County and its towns love keeping our mountains clean and green! In fact, Sylva was named one of the “Top 10 Cleanest Cities in the U.S.” by Expedia, earning a 4.68 out of 5 rating due to its year-round green initiatives, including:
Tuck River Cleanup – The Tuckasegee River Cleanup is the most extensive river cleanup in the country. Organized by Western Carolina University (WCU) this event gathers hundreds of volunteers uniting to keep one of the area’s most precious resources clean.
Jackson County Green Energy Park – The only of its kind in the United States, the Jackson County Green Energy Park (JCGEP) utilizes clean, renewable energy resources to encourage economic development, provide environmental protection, and offer educational opportunities that together will help lead towards a more sustainable future for Western North Carolina. Located in Dillsboro, JCGEP captures methane gas from the old town landfill, then uses the gas as fuel for a series of artisan studios.
Buzzin’ Brewery Trail
We love craft beer! We have more breweries per capita than most small towns in America. There are four breweries in Sylva for a population of 2,600, meaning there’s one brewery for every 650 people. Our buzz-worthy breweries perfectly complement our abundant hiking trails and Fly-Fishing Trail® with our very own Jackson County Ale Trail! Made up of eight breweries with 120 locally-crafted beverages on tap, all our breweries are family and pet friendly, so grab a pint, enjoy some live tunes, and take on the Ale Trail! If you’re not on board with the craft beer scene, Sylva’s Main Street is home to crafty cocktail bars such as The Paper Mill Lounge, Dark Moon, and a wine lover’s dream, the Wine Bar and Cellar. The Wine Bar and Cellar offers a relaxed vibe, with a wide selection of top-shelf wines, tapas by ILDA, and an on-staff sommelier.
Bites and Brews
From crafty cafés to our unique non-chain restaurants, we’re home to award-winning and tasty eateries such as Yelp’s “Top 100 Places to Eat,” Haywood Smokehouse, or Food and Wines’ “Most Romantic Restaurant in NC,” Canyon Kitchen. A staple of Main Street Sylva is the iconic and delicious Lulu’s On Main. Lulu’s chef, Devin McCardle, has earned his fame as an honorary chef for the Julia Child’s Foundation and the American Institute of Wine & Food. Jackson County’s culinary scene is full of tasty bites to satisfy every palate and diet type.
Walking Paths and Trails For Hikers and Mountain Bikers
Jackson County is home to hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, and recreation trails from a leisurely riverside stroll to rugged mountainous treks. For those looking to elevate their hiking game, Sylva’s Pinnacle Park ascends 3,000 feet over a 3.5-mile stretch. Those looking to enjoy a simple stroll should check out the Tuckasegee River Greenway or the Oconaluftee River Trail, each offering a flat path along cool riverbanks. Cyclists looking to ‘send it’ will want to hop on Fire Mountain Trails in Cherokee or Western Carolina University’s Trail System, each with over 15 miles of adrenaline-pumping flow!
Samantha Bumgarner – Born in Dillsboro in 1878, Bumgarner was one of the first female banjo players to record old-time mountain music. In 1924, she recorded with Eva Davis, which were among the earliest Southern string band records ever released. Bumgarner traveled the country playing music and even had a show on a Del Rio, Texas, border station, and played for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the King and Queen of England!
Summer & Bray/Mountain Faith Band – Best known for their appearance on season 10 of NBC’s America’s Got Talent, these hometown folks made it to the semi-finals and gained notoriety among the Bluegrass community. This family band is well known in their hometown of Sylva, and when not performing or recording, they can be found helping on their family farm or working in the family tire shop, High Country Tire.
Michael Bingham – A British Olympic medalist, was born in the quaint mountain town of Sylva, NC. At a young age, he attended The McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before attending college at Wake Forest and transferred allegiance to Great Britain in 2008. He holds a Bronze Medal in the 4 x 400 m relay from the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Nick Searcy – Award winning actor and director was born in Cullowhee, NC. He’s best known for his acting roles in Cast Away, The Fugitive, and the FX Drama, Justified.
Johnny Oats – Professional American Baseball Player, was born in Sylva, NC, in 1946. His playing career lasted from 1970-1981, playing as a catcher for teams such as the Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the New York Yankees. From there, he went on to manage and coach several other MLB teams.
Matt Stillwell – American Country Singer, grew up in Sylva, NC, and attended Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. Before following his true calling to country, his priority in college was baseball, as he was a possible MLB Draft choice in his junior year. Eventually, he followed his passion for music all the way up the country billboard with hits like Shine, Take It All In, and, Right on Time.
David Joy – American author of several critically acclaimed novels including the Edgar Award nominated Where All Light Tends To Go, The Weight Of This World, and The Line That Held Us. Joy is a Western Carolina University alumnus who resides in the Little Canada Community of Jackson County.
Ron Rash – American author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Cove, Serena, and multiple award-winning poems and short stories. Rash is currently a professor at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee and lives in Jackson County.
Franklin D. Roosevelt – Visited Sylva on September 9, 1936. The President traded by automobile from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Asheville, North Carolina, visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Jackson County Journal estimated that a crowd from 7,000 – 10,000 headed downtown to witness the motorcade. In this iconic photo, FDR can be seen extending his hat in the lower right-hand corner and was the only sitting president to visit Sylva. You can learn more about his visit along the Sylva Heritage Walk.
Andrew Jackson – This beautiful county is named for the seventh president of the United States. Jackson was born and raised in the Carolinas and began his career in law as a prosecutor in the Western District of North Carolina (which is now part of Tennessee). Andrew Jackson served as President of the United States from 1829 to 1837. Learn more interesting facts about Jackson County history.
Jackson County has served as a backdrop to several films.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – This critically acclaimed dark comedic drama has racked up more than two dozen awards to date. Primarily filmed in downtown Sylva, the town was transformed during the summer of 2015 into the fictitious town of Ebbing, Missouri. The film’s stars, including Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Peter Dinklage, were often spotted grabbing coffee at City Lights Café right up the street from downtown “Ebbing.”
The Fugitive – This 1983 box office hit, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford, was filmed in Dillsboro along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and at the CJ Harris Regional Hospital. Wreckage from the infamous trail crash scene can still be seen from the eastbound Tuckasegee River Excursions departing from Bryson City.
Dirty Dancing – The original film’s remake had iconic scenes filmed at the High Hampton in Cashiers, NC. The film aired on the ABC Network and stared Debra Messing, Abigail Breslin, Sarah Hyland, and Colt Prattes. Fans will recognize the Inn’s dining room, lawn, and iconic Rock Mountain view throughout this famous storyline’s reboot.
Awards and Honors
- Southern Living
- Food & Wine – “Canyon Kitchen – the most Romantic Restaurant in NC”
- Travel & Leisure – “One of the best places to travel in the US in February: Outhouse Races”
- Golf Digest – Wade Hampton Golf Course is ranked by Golf Digest as one of the Top 25 Golf Courses in the Country and has held its place on the list since 1987
- Washington Post – “ An Asheville alternative for the crowd-weary”
- Expedia – “One of the Cleanest Cities in the US”
- Fodorś – “America’s 25 Cutest Main Streets”
- Country Living – “Top 20 Best Small Mountain Towns for a Summer Vacation”
- USA Today – “10 Best Places for Fall Foliage”
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – have long called the mountains of western North Carolina Home. The town of Cherokee is situated on the Qualla Boundary, a 57,000-acre tract of land purchased in trust by the Cherokee. This land is home to thousands of years of traditions and the rich and vibrant story of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Cherokee Historical attractions include:
- Oconaluftee Indian Village – Experience living history as you are transported into the 1760s. The faint tang of wood smoke wafts by as you are led by a Cherokee cultural expert on an interactive journey through Cherokee lifestyle and history. Your guide will show you the way through the winding paths, flanked with traditional Cherokee dwellings, work areas, and sacred ritual sites. Delight in cultural dances amid the swaying oaks and sycamores.
- Judaculla Rock – This soapstone rock has numerous Native American symbols etched throughout, known as Petroglyphs. It is deeply associated with the Tsukalu or Judaculla legend of the Cherokee. Like most Native American tribes, the Cherokee believed the spirit world influenced things in the physical world and that every man and piece of nature (animals, weather, plants, etc.) exhibited a spirit. The gods of the spiritual world controlled the spirits, and oftentimes, the Cherokee relied on mediation between the physical world and the spiritual world.
Early Appalachian History – Electricity and running water are often unappreciated commodities. Not only did the early settlers of our mountains have to do without, but they also faced many challenges that span far beyond not having the “Wifi Password.”
- Oconaluftee Visitor Center/Mountain Farm Museum – Located in Cherokee at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance, this enriching experience accurately simulates a 19th-century farm, complete with barnyard animals and live blacksmithing and farming demonstrations.
- Mingus Mill – About a mile into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find Mingus Mill. This 18th-century turbine grindstone mill is fully functional and is only a 3-minute relatively flat walk from the parking lot. Tours are free when available, and this family favorite is a must-visit. Learn about how early settlers had to make the trek to the mill weekly to grind their corn for sustenance for themselves and their livestock.
- Cashiers Historical Society/Zachary-Tolbert House – Remaining virtually unaltered for over 150 years, the house and museum offer an exclusive look inside the lives of the pioneer settlers of the Cashiers Valley. Not only is it home to one of the largest “plain-style” furniture collections in the country, but the grounds are also home to Colonel John’s Cabin (one of the oldest standing structures in Jackson County), a 1920’s Kitchen Dependency, walking trails, and an old School House. Live demonstrations and tours are also available.
Jackson County Government Information
To learn about Jackson County’s local government or find contact information for any government department, please visit jacksonnc.org.
To learn even more facts about this area and discover more things to do here during your next visit, please visit the. Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center in Sylva, or the Cashiers Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center in Cashiers.