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Know Before You Go

Know Before You Go

Are you Jackson Ready? Check out our safety and tips checklist!

We want you to have an enjoyable, memorable, and, most importantly, a safe trip to the North Carolina Mountains. Below are many tips to help you make the most of your trip.

Recreate Responsibly+

We’ve partnered with RecreateResponsibly.org to highlight the best practices of exploring our great outdoors. We believe in the importance of responsible recreation for all of our visitors and residents alike. Keep your and our communities’ wellbeing top-of-mind by following these seven principles:

Know Before You Go – Check the status of the place you want to visit. If it is closed, don’t go. If it is crowded, have a backup plan.

Practice Physical Distancing – Keep your group size small. Be prepared to cover your nose and mouth and give others space. If you are sick, stay home.

Plan Ahead – Prepare for facilities to be closed, pack lunch, and bring essentials like hand sanitizer and a face covering.

Play it Safe – Slow down and choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury. Search and rescue operations and health care resources are both strained.

Explore Locally – Limit long-distance travel and make use of local parks, trails, and public spaces. Be mindful of your impact on the communities you visit.

Leave No Trace – Respect public lands and waters, as well as Native and local communities. Take all your garbage with you.

Build an Inclusive Outdoors – Be an active part of making the outdoors safe and welcoming for all identities and abilities.

Leave No Trace Seven Principles +
  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

Click here for an easy reference sheet with the Leave No Trace Seven Principles.

© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.

Waterfall Safety +

Even if you have seen other people enjoy playing around waterfalls, be aware they have been lucky to escape unharmed. Waterfalls are constantly changing with varying water flows and erosion of the rocks around them. The current from one place to the next may be faster than you anticipate and the arrangement of rocks or other debris such as logs in the plunge pool is ever-changing. Take no chances, only photographs for memories.

  • Follow instructions posted at all Waterfalls and Trails.
  • Stay on developed trails, observation decks and platforms.
  • Do not jump off waterfalls or dive into pools. While a pool might seem deep, there could be large rocks not visible from the surface. Rocks and logs can be hidden beneath the surface of the water. Often waterfall pools have swirling water or currents that can drag and keep you underwater.
  • Do not climb on rocks above waist height.
  • Do not swim or wade upstream near a waterfall.
  • Watch your footing. Dry rocks can be just as slippery as wet ones, especially those covered with algae.
  • The top of any waterfall is the most dangerous. do not lean over a ledge at the top of falls.
  • Watch children and pets at all times.
  • Make sure you are in a safe, solid location before taking pictures or selfies. Do not go around barriers, fences or out of a safe area to get a better shot. This can prove deadly. 
  • Never visit waterfalls or hike alone.
  • Bring your cell phone in case you need to call for assistance. 
  • Always let people know where you are going and when you expect to be back. In remote areas, there is not always cellular service. 
  • There are waterfalls that are in Jackson County that we do not list on our website because they do not allow for a safe experience. We recommend you stick to the waterfalls we list on our website for the best experience. 

Source: WaterfallSafety.com and JCTDA

Rock stacking in and around water: Do not create stacked rocks or cairns in or around water. While on a trail they can prove useful to show the route, in a river they destroy the ecosystem. Plants and animals make their home under the rocks and moving them destroys their habitat. Learn more.

Hiking Safety +
  • Stay on the trail – while taking a shortcut might seem like a good idea, we are home to the most biologically diverse ecosystem on the planet. To protect species which live here, stick to the trail. 
  • Stay on the beaten path to avoid creatures and snakes that may be in the brush. We are home to both Copperheads and Rattlesnakes, and most bites occur when someone ventures off the main trail into the woods. 
  • Always let people know where you are going and when you expect to be back. 
  • Dress in layers for higher elevations as temperatures can drop as you reach the summit. 
  • Bring an extra battery pack for your cell phone if you’re going on an extended trek. 
  • Bring a topographic map or download an offline topo map app to your phone in areas you might not have service. There are many free apps like Offline Top Maps or All Trails which will save the maps to your telephone even when you don’t have service.
  • If you’re planning an all-day trek in an unfamiliar area, take extra food and water, an extra cell phone battery pack and any other items you might need such as a headlamp if you may be hiking out after dark.
  • Adequate footwear – many of our trails vary from paved paths on the parkway to small rocky boulders on more natural trails. Having proper hiking shoes provides for good ankle support on different terrains.
  • Water – bring extra water, more than you think you’ll need. Bring it in a reusable bottle, and never litter used bottles along our trail.
  • The Cashiers plateau in Jackson County receives a good bit of rainfall annually. Pack a lightweight raincoat just in case.

Panthertown Valley: Before you visit Panthertown Valley, also known as ‘Yosemite of the East’ you should purchase a map. It’s mandatory for navigating the 6,295 acres of waterfalls, trails and vistas. Maps can be purchased at local outfitters like Black Balsam Outdoors in Sylva or Highland Hiker in Cashiers. Additionally, they can be purchased online at www.PanthertownMap.com.

Camping Safety +
  • Know in advance how to properly hang your food away from a bear’s or other animal’s reach.
  • Store odorous food in airtight odor-concealing bags or containers.
  • Take away any items you bring in with you.
  • Ensure you check the weather forecast before you head out and wear appropriate layers and clothes.
  • If building a campfire, follow these simple safety tips.
  • Don’t camp out before a large snowstorm. While it might seem like a cool idea to wake up and take photos in a snowy-landscape, experienced hikers have done this before and ended up entirely disoriented because everything was covered in white and they could not find the trail and had to be rescued.
  • In Sylva’s 1,000+ acre Pinnacle Park, there are three designated campsites. The permit to camp is free, but you must camp at one of three designated sites.
Wildlife Safety +
  • When viewing wildlife, keep a safe distance from the animals. Do not approach them, only take photos from a distance. 
  • Elk viewing: willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces elk, is illegal in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Violation of this federal regulation can result in fines and arrest. Do not enter fields to view elk—remain by the roadside and use binoculars, telephoto lens, or a spotting scope to view the animals.
  • Don’t feed animals. This could alter their natural behavior which could expose them to harm and other predators.
  • For information on Black Bear Safety, click here.
BearWise +

Stay Alert & Stay Together

Pay attention to your surroundings and stay together. Walk, hike, jog, or cycle with others when possible. Keep kids within sight and close by. Leave earbuds at home and make noise periodically so bears can avoid you.

Leave No Trash Or Food Scraps

Double bag your food when hiking and pack out all food and trash. Don’t burn food scraps or trash in your fire ring or grill. Leaving scraps, wrappers, or even “harmless” items like apple cores teaches bears to associate trails and campsites with food. 


Keep Dogs Leashed

Letting dogs chase or bark at bears is asking for trouble; don’t force a bear to defend itself. Keep your dogs leashed at all times or leave them at home.

Camp Safely

Set up camp away from dense cover and natural food sources. Cook as far from your tent as possible.

Do not store food, trash, clothes worn when cooking, or toiletries in your tent. Store in approved bear-resistant containers OR out of sight in a locked vehicle OR suspended at least 10 feet above the ground and 10 feet from any part of the tree.

Know What To Do If You See A Bear

If you see a bear before it notices you, don’t approach. Stand still, enjoy, then quietly move away.

If a bear sees you, back away slowly. Never run; running may trigger a chase response.

If a bear approaches, hold your ground, wave your arms and yell “Hey Bear” until it leaves. Always stay with your group. If it keeps approaching, use bear spray.

If a black bear makes contact with you, do NOT play dead; fight back aggressively.

Visit Bear Encounters to learn more.

Carry Bear Spray & Know How To Use It

Bear spray is proven to be the easiest and most effective way to deter a bear that threatens you. It doesn’t work like bug repellent, so never spray your tent, campsite or belongings.

Snakes +

When visiting our mountain region, it’s important to understand and respect the local snake population for your safety.

Most snakes are not a threat to humans or pets and are beneficial in controlling pests. In Jackson County, only two snakes are venomous – the Copperhead and Rattlesnake.

To avoid conflicts with snakes, be vigilant about your surroundings and never venture off an established trail. A good rule of thumb is always making sure you can see your feet while hiking.

If you encounter a snake, maintain a respectful distance, do not disturb it, and keep pets tightly leashed. Remember, snakes are a natural and important part of our ecosystem.

Paddling/River Safety +

Paddlesports and recreational river activities such as tubing are great ways to enjoy a day on the water. However, some safety considerations need to be recognized before venturing out.

1) Wear a properly fitted life vest – United States Coast Guard approved, appropriate for whitewater, and in good condition.

2) Know where you go – check water levels, weather forecasts, and river difficulty information. Use an appropriate watercraft and stay within your skill level.

3) Go with a group and stay within eyesight of each other. Do not go on water alone!

For best paddling practices, click here for a guide by the American Canoe Association.


Permits +

Permits are required to fish in Jackson County. To learn more about permits, check out the ‘permits’ section of our Fishing Page.

Voluntourism +

Voluntourism is a thing! We believe in leaving everything a little better than you found it. Many of our trails are pristine, but a few people will discard a plastic bottle or waste along the trail. If you want to give back, bring a grocery bag with you and on the way back to the car, collect any debris you find on a trail to help keep them clean for others. Tag your photos #TrashTag and pay it forward! (the founder of global movement known as #TrashTag lives in Jackson County!)

Best Time to Visit +

The North Carolina Mountains have been a summer vacation hotspot for decades and is known for its gorgeous fall foliage. We think our ‘Secret Season’ (January-March) offers spectacular views, when the crowds thin out and you have trails, vistas and attractions all to yourself. Not to mention, lodging rates are far lower and there’s no wait at your favorite restaurants.

Pet Safety & Pet Friendly Trails +

Pet Safety

Be sure to keep your pet leashed near waterfalls and on hikes along steep drop-offs like Whiteside Mountain. Our mountains are home to native wildlife like deer, raccoons, bears, snakes, and others, which may injure or scare a pup who isn’t on a leash. It is also best to avoid placing your pup in a scenic location that they’re unfamiliar with and could lead to an accident.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times. The leash must not exceed 6 feet in length. Dogs are only allowed on two short walking paths—the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Pets are not allowed on any other park trails.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Yes, dogs and other pets are allowed on the Parkway, but must be on a leash (not to exceed six feet) and under your physical control.

U.S. Forest Service Lands (Whiteside Mountain, Panthertown Valley, etc)

Pets are allowed in all national forests, but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times while in developed recreation areas and on interpretive trails. Most other areas within the National Forests do not require dogs to be on a leash, but they should be under control at all times.

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