Our ‘Secret Season’ Is Whispering to You

Jackson County, NC has a secret – one that’s well worth sharing. A visit to the area between winter and early spring offers benefits you won’t find any other time of the year. From lower lodging rates to clear mountain views to amazing dining and winter sports experiences, you’ll find it here, during our serene “Secret Season.” Here are our top suggestions for taking full advantage of it!

Lower Temps = Lower Rates

Let’s start with pricing. As the temperatures fall, so do the rates for lodges, hotels, cabins and cottages. Simply put, you’ll get more mountains for your money!

Additionally, many properties offer seasonal specials. Consider the iconic High Hampton Resort, which offers its lowest rates of the year during January and February. Or the 20% discount when you book three nights at Hotel Cashiers, a pet-friendly mountain inn. In Whittier, close to the national park, Outland Chalet & Suites Great Smoky Mountains also offers a discounted rate for stays of three nights or more.

Cozy Cabins and Cottages

Speaking of lodging, let’s talk about how wonderful it feels to snuggle next to a crackling fire with views of snow-capped mountains on the other side of your window. No other time of year offers the same feelings of coziness and relaxation.

Whether you prefer a log cabin, historic lodge, charming cottage or unique hotel, it’s waiting for you in Jackson County. Select a property with a hot tub, fireplace or fire pit and create that perfect mountain moment. Pick up a bottle of your favorite vino from one of the quaint wine bars in the area and add a book from one of the local bookstores such as Sylva’s City Lights to complete your serene scene.

Wide Winter Views

Want to see true views of the mountains’ ridges and valleys? How about a dusting of snow or frost to top it off? If so, then winter is your season. During this time of year, hikes can become winter wonderlands, with clear, long-range views of the mountaintops and icy cascades from area waterfalls.

(Jackson County experiences an average of about nine inches of snow each year. So, while there is a chance you’ll see falling flakes, it’s unlikely the weather will delay your travel and adventure plans.)

Whether you’re seeking a gentle winter walk or an adventurous hike, you’ll find your trail in Jackson County. The Tuckasegee River Greenway in Sylva offers a relatively flat, paved riverside stroll. Enjoy the rippling sounds of “The Tuck” as you take in deep breaths and mountain views. For more of a challenge, head to Panthertown Valley (with a map). With two trailheads – one in Glenville and another near Sapphire – Panthertown offers a variety of hikes, many of which lead to gorgeous waterfalls and breathtaking views.

Another Secret Season bonus: Less traffic on the trails and clear photo backgrounds for your selfies!

While hiking, always remember the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace®:

1 – Plan ahead and prepare.

2 – Travel and camp on durable surfaces.

3 – Dispose of waste properly.

4 – Leave what you find.

5 – Minimize campfire impacts.

6 – Respect wildlife.

7 – Be considerate of other visitors.

Please note: The experience of hiking in winter is not without some risk, so take precautions as you explore. Be aware of slippery rocks and trails. And remember: Take no chances, only photos for memories.

Your Table Is Ready

With acclaimed chefs and restaurants offering a variety of unique dishes, Jackson County is a culinary destination. And this is the time of year to enjoy them without the hassle of long wait times or a full house!

While seasonal schedules may vary (so do call ahead), many restaurants stay open during the winter months, including those most celebrated.

When it’s chilly outside, nothing feeds the soul better than barbeque. Named among the 25 Best Places for Barbecue in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure, Haywood Smokehouse in Dillsboro regularly garners accolades for its old-fashioned smoking process, which creates mouth-watering, specialty meats. Don’t sleep on its brisket, ribs, cobbler or Brunswick stew!

At The Library Kitchen & Bar, Chef Johannes Klapdohr isn’t reserved when it comes to experimenting with fresh, unique ingredients or sharing his culinary approach. This Sapphire restaurant is where you can find sauteed octopus, risotto with flambeed North Carolina shrimp and a bisque featuring sea urchin and lobster custard. While you’re there, take in the impressive art collection on the walls.

The Finest Fly Fishing

Trout like it cold. Fly fishermen and women like it uncrowded. Come to Jackson County, home of the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail®, during Secret Season and find both!

Here, you’ll find all three species of the most touted trout – brown, rainbow and brook – along with plenty of fishing guides and outfitters. An accessible river stocked with fish, the Tuckasegee is the heart of the fly-fishing trail. Check out our complete Fishing Guide, which includes maps, license information and the area’s Weekly Fishing Report, and plan to cast away!

girls skiing the slopes of sapphire valley in jackson county


Family-Friendly Snowsports

Did you know Jackson County is home to one of the best slopes in the region for learning to ski or snowboard? Thrillist recently named the resort among its 10 Notable Ski Resorts for Beginners.

Located about five minutes from Cashiers, Ski Sapphire Valley has been in operation since 1964, offering family fun for generations. It offers lessons in small groups (for ages five and older) or one-on-one. The ski resort is small by comparison, creating a safe environment where family members can stay close together.

Adjacent to the slope is Frozen Falls Tube Park, with a vertical drop of 60 feet and an easy “moving sidewalk,” making it easy to get to the top.

Après ski with a bite or drink at Slopeside Tavern at the foot of the slopes or stroll across the street to Mica’s Restaurant and Pub. Just across from the resort on U.S. Hwy. 64 East and newer to the mix of Sapphire eateries is The FIX Restaurant Bar & Lounge, ideal for sports watching and upscale bar food.

Plan Your Visit!

Your winter wonderland awaits. Experience “Secret Season” in Jackson County by making your reservations for lodging and start planning your trip today!


Photos courtesy of @jeffreylukesutton @highhamptonnc @trevoronthetrail @ librarykitchenandbar @tuckflyshop and Nick Breedlove.