Off the Beaten Path: Insider’s Guide to Jackson County

Thanks to its location in the Western North Carolina mountains, Jackson County overflows with natural beauty and attractions. While the region is full of popular hikes, waterfalls and breathtaking scenic views, it also is home to some incredible off the beaten path experiences that many visitors are unaware exist.

To help you uncover these hidden gems, here’s an insider’s guide to Jackson County, NC.

Elusive Fame

Although Sylva recently served as the backdrop for the hit movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jackson County has a long history of serving as a movie set for Hollywood Blockbusters. In fact, when Harrison Ford recreated the character of Dr. Richard Kimble from the TV show “The Fugitive,” for the 1993 movie of the same name, the movie crew headed to Jackson County.

One of the pivotal scenes in the movie involved a collision between a train and the bus transporting Kimble. Those who want to see the actual crash site from this scene can take the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Tuckasegee River Excursion, where they will have a great view of the site. Otherwise, they’ll be out of luck, as the crash site can’t be accessed by driving or hiking.

 A Look at History

It is no secret the area is rich with Native American Culture and is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Judaculla Rock, a massive soapstone rock covered with Native American symbols, is believed to have been etched thousands of years ago and to have served as a landmark for the hunting god. The rock, which is located just outside of Sylva, has been studied by researchers across the world, but no one has ever deciphered the bizarre petroglyphs on the stone or figured out who made them.

Trekking Through the Valley

When it comes to discovering Jackson County’s many fantastic hiking trails, you don’t want to miss Panthertown Valley, also referred to as the “Yosemite of the East.” Covering 6,295 acres of the Nantahala National Forest, Panthertown Valley provides hikers with a wealth of adventure: varied terrain for challenging hikes, backpacking, fishing and horseback riding, to name a few. However, this rugged territory is not for the novice. You will need a map to find your way around safely.

During your exploration, make sure you visit Frolictown Falls. At first, this 15-foot waterfall doesn’t stand out among the area’s other waterfalls. But look closer, and you’ll see the water is orange-brown in color; this unique hue is thanks to the tannic acid of the local soil.

For those more interested in an overview, rather than an in-depth excursion, make your way to Salt Rock Gap. From this overlook, you can enjoy panoramic views of the entire Panthertown Valley. You can reach the overlook by hiking in from the West Entrance parking lot, approximately one-quarter mile in length.

A Sweet Spot for Fishing

The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail® is an inclusive list of top spots for landing a variety of trout in the N.C. Trout Capital®. But it is spot Number 5 between Panthertown Creek and Greenland Creek that is tailor made for this list. Although it requires some hiking to get there, it’s ideal for those seeking brook trout. Plus, in between casts, you can enjoy the gorgeous scenery that surrounds the area.

Pick up a free, water resistant WNC Fly Fishing Trail Map® at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce or the Cashiers Area Chamber of Commerce, or download a copy from

Pushing Your Limits

For experienced hikers looking for a half-day adventure, set your sights on the Pinnacle Park Trail. This strenuous seven-mile roundtrip trek is tough, but leads to incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Along the way, you’ll ascend more than 3,000 feet in elevation. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy, along with plenty of water. When you reach the top, trek through the hidden tunnel at the end to reveal panoramic views.

Time to Refuel

After a day exploring the unexplored side of Jackson County, settle in for a meal at one of the many incredible non-chain restaurants that you won’t find anywhere else.

Relax with your favorite tea at Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro while enjoying a tasty soup, salad, sandwich or wrap as well.

In Dillsboro, you’ll find another hot spot for soups, sandwiches and salads at The Well House. On Thursday and Friday nights, you also can sample the prime rib, a local favorite.

For an elevated dining experience, Table 64 offers a menu of locally sourced cuisine paired with an extensive wine list. Sample menu items include lobster salad, Wagyu sirloin, duck confit egg rolls and buttermilk fried pork belly.

Those searching for good food in a relaxing environment will enjoy just that at Randevu Restaurant. In a barn-like setting, you can have top-notch meals like bone-in rib eye steaks and red snapper, or opt for something simpler, like the Wicked Fish Wrap.

Of course, no good meal is complete without dessert, and Jack the Dipper answers the call. Featuring hand-dipped ice cream, milkshakes, malts and banana splits, your sweet tooth will not go unsatisfied.

For a true local experience, look no further than The Coffee Shop in Sylva. Since 1926, this nostalgic diner has served much more than just coffee. Think country fried steak, chicken and dumplings, or Salisbury steak, all served with mashed potatoes, green beans and corn.

As you can see, there’s much more to Jackson County than may be readily apparent. Come explore the area during your next getaway and enjoy the area like a true insider. With a variety of accommodations available, everything from hotels to cabin rentals, there’s something for everyone and every need. To help you plan your trip, get your free Visitor Guide today.

Feature photo courtesy of @daniel_howell14 




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