Resolve to Explore the N.C. Mountains in 2024

Life is short. You only live once (or YOLO). No matter how you say it, the notion that time and opportunities pass quickly is not new. January offers us a brand-new year and the perfect time to make resolutions and plans. So, make it your 2024 New Year’s resolution to visit Jackson County, N.C.!

To help plan the perfect getaway and cross off those “bucket list” items no matter what time of year you visit, we’ve created this Jackson County, N.C. Guide to its Must-See Sites Each Season.

Winter: Clear Views to Clear Your Mind  

It’s happening now. From December through early April, our mountains offer quiet solace, fewer crowds, open views – and the chance of a snow flurry or two. Without the leaves, it’s your chance to see how the mountains rise and fall.

This is a great time to hike the trails that usually see more foot traffic. Pinnacle Park tops this list and comes with a special designation: the state’s only Certified Nature Forest Therapy Trail. Located in Sylva, Pinnacle offers more than 1,500 acres of unspoiled natural beauty and contrasting options for trail experiences.

Looking for a challenge with a great payoff? Then, choose its seven-mile West Fork Trail that ascends more than 3,000 feet in elevation from the edge of the Plott Balsam mountain range. Here, you’ll find “the pinnacle” for which the park is named – a sharp-topped ridge perched above 5,000 feet. Its panoramic view is the exclamation point at the end of your journey. You’ll see Sylva, Scott Creek Valley, Blackrock Mountain, the neighboring Smoky Mountains and other peaks in the far-distant horizon.

As you hike, don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the sights and sounds of Fisher Creek and other streams, most visible during the winter months. A favorite feature of Pinnacle Park is its Split Rock – a huge boulder located about one-half mile from the trailhead.

If solitude is what you’re seeking, then Pinnacle can help there, too. Almost the antithesis of its trail to the summit, the Bridge Loop Trail begins at the same trailhead but crosses the water several times before looping to the West Fork Trail. This is the ideal place to practice Shinrin-Yoku, the ancient Japanese art of Forest Bathing which offers an array of health benefits. Click here to find an audio companion for your walk. You’ll hear the voice of Dr. Mark Ellison, a certified nature and forest therapy guide.

Pro Tips: The West Fork Trail is a former logging road with rocky terrain. If you plan to hike it, be sure to wear sturdy, supportive hiking shoes or and dress in layers. Plan for a full day of hiking and pack a picnic lunch (but remember to Leave No Trace ® as you exit). 

Spring: Greening Up the Mountains

Spring is when nature awakens, and witnessing the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains emerge from their winter slumber is a special sight. The mountains “green up” from the valleys to the peaks, displaying new buds and blooms to applaud the new season.

To honor this time of year, Sylva hosts a celebration: the Greening Up the Mountains festival. Appalachian art, craft, music and food vendors – along with thousands of attendees – will be found along Main Street and in Bridge Park on Saturday, April 27, 2024. Now in its 26th year, this heritage arts festival has grown to feature 150 vendors.

Pro Tip: Festival weekend is a popular time in Sylva, so book your accommodations well in advance.

Summer: School’s Out, Schoolhouse Falls Is In

What better way to cool off in the summer than in the pool of a mountain waterfall? Jackson County is filled with falling water, and for this particular experience, we recommend Schoolhouse Falls.

A beautiful waterfall, Schoolhouse Falls snuggles within Panthertown Valley, known as the “Yosemite of the East.” It is best accessed by a two-mile, round-trip hike beginning at its Cold Mountain Road trailhead in Glenville.

At 3,660 feet elevation, Schoolhouse is known for its wide, shallow pool, the views of its 20-foot drop and the peaceful sounds of nature. Plan time to wade, wander and wonder as you take in this special waterfall.

Pro Tip: Because its trail system is extensive, taking a map is highly recommended when exploring the backcountry of Panthertown. Learn more about navigating Panthertown here.

Fall: All Aboard!

Autumn’s abundant mountain hues can be enjoyed many ways – by car, by foot or even by train!

Departing from its depot about 25 minutes from Sylva, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers two excursions, one of which terminates in the village of Dillsboro. The Tuckasegee River Excursion takes passengers through the quiet mountain countryside, traveling 32 miles round trip and passing where a pivotal scene in “The Fugitive,” starring Harrison Ford, was filmed.

You’ll spend about an hour and a half in Dillsboro, Sylva’s neighboring town, and home to more than 50 shops, restaurants, a brewery and country inns.

Pro Tip: Explore the options of classes of service before you book. From assigned seating within an air-conditioned dining car to an open-air gondola, there’s a style and price point for everyone. Tickets go quickly, so book far in advance!

Plan Your Visit!

Jackson County, NC is an amazing place to get away from it all – any time of year! So, make it your resolution to start planning your trip today!

And please remember, while hiking and exploring, to abide by 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.

Always take precautions as you explore. Be aware of slippery rocks and trails. Remember: Take no chances, only photos for memories. Enjoy!  


Photos courtesy of @anxiousmissadventures, @went_wandering, @everylittlething647, @stephen_ozcomert, and Nick Breedlove. 

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