It’s time to step away for a while – to get back to nature and enjoy something authentic. Imagine a place where you can be as unplugged as you want and trade the sounds of your home office for the gentle sounds of nature. That place is here, ready for you in Jackson County, North Carolina.
Summer is less than a month away, and now is the perfect time to start planning your escape from the hot, crowded city to the cool, spacious mountains. Located about an hour west of Asheville, our mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva offer an authentic laidback Appalachian experience.
Our central location in Western North Carolina places you within 360º of adventure, or as we like to say, the middle of the most. With our lodging rates about a quarter of the price of Asheville, you’ll be able to stretch your budget even further, especially if you stay during the week. Take a much-deserved 72-hour getaway, and make sure to check out the below options while exploring our region.
On the Trail
Hiking – Kick off your mountain retreat with a trek. Jackson County is home to some of the best hiking trails and outdoor activities in the North Carolina Mountains, ranging from simple strolls to rugged hikes. Sylva’s Pinnacle Park is a great option for a moderate hike. Ascending nearly 3,000 feet over a 7-mile round-trip hike, hikers are rewarded with sweeping views of Sylva and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains from the top. Make sure to pack a snack (or a meal) as this hike is sure to burn some calories! Other great moderate hikes can be found along the Blue Ridge Parkway (Balsam Gap) or in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, both a short drive from downtown Sylva.
Located between Cashiers and Brevard, Panthertown Valley is a hiker’s haven with over 12 waterfalls, 30 miles of mixed-use trails, and sweeping views of the pristine mountain landscape. Nestled deep within the National Forest, you’ll want to make sure you pick up a map, either online or at the Highland Hiker in Cashiers. Also near Cashiers, Whiteside Mountain is a family-friendly option ascending one of the oldest mountains in the world. The moderate 2-mile loop-trail is well marked and maintained by the US Forest Service and has restrooms on-site (just bring along $3 cash for parking). Whiteside’s sheer vertical cliffs will leave you in awe, and you can see miles into neighboring South Carolina. Simple strolls include the Tuckasegee River Greenway and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Check out our easy hikes here.
For those who are looking for an extreme hike, Yellow Mountain Trail delivers one of the most challenging trails in the region. Located on US 64 between Cashiers and Highlands, this 12-mile round-trip hike seems to go uphill both ways. The trail leads hikers to the iconic Yellow Mountain Fire Tower overlooking the surrounding mountains. Pack a lunch to enjoy at the fire tower and take in the fantastic views.
After enjoying a day on the trail, cool off by embarking on another trail – the Jackson County Ale Trail! Your Journey begins at Innovation Brewing at the corner of Mill and West Main Street. Grab an Ale Trail Map highlighting seven local breweries to enjoy while on our trip. We’ve always got good times on tap with over 120 locally crafted beverages and a rotating events calendar. A great way to take in the full experience is by booking a guided Ale Trail tour with Beer Treks. Beer Treks allows you to take a deep dive into learning about the art of craft beer and the people that brew them.
On the Water
Rafting & Kayaking – Pencil in some paddling time on day two and hit the tuck! The Tuckasegee River spans nearly 50 miles through Jackson County and is a paddler’s paradise. The Tuck’s lower portion stretching from Dillsboro to Whittier is famous for providing whitewater adventure with ‘mom-approved’ rapids (more family-friendly than you’ll find along the Nantahala River). Our outfitters and guides can get you the gear you need to enjoy the river or book a guided trip to have an expert show you the way.
Lakes – Lake lovers will want to check out Lake Glenville, Jackson County’s largest lake. Located between Western Carolina University in Cullowhee and Cashiers, this hidden gem has 26 miles of shoreline, seven islands, and three hidden waterfalls to explore and boasts one of the highest elevations east of the Rockies. Families will want to check out the Pines Recreation Area, complete with a sandy swim beach, ADA accessible fishing dock, picnic tables, and on-site restrooms – the perfect formula for a day at the beach minus the sharks and riptides! End the day and sail off into the sunset and explore the lake’s hidden waterfalls by booking a Scenic Waterfall Cruise, or if you prefer, rent your own watercraft at Lakeshore or Signal Ridge Marina and explore the lake for yourself.
Fishing – No trip to Jackson County would be complete without checking out the WNC Fly Fishing Trail®. Highlighting 15 prime spots to reel in brook, brown, and rainbow trout, the trail is a great way to approach adventure from a new ‘angle.’ No gear or experience? No problem! Our expert outfitter and guides will ‘hook’ you up with everything you need to nab the catch of the day.
On the Town
Shopping – Take a day on the town, exploring locally crafted pottery, antiques, boutiques, and more. Dillsboro is an artisan village home to several art galleries, art museums, and shops. Don’t miss Dogwood Crafters, a co-op of over 100 local artists. Take a stroll down Dillsboro’s charming downtown streets to see what shops and treasures you can find!
Elevate your shopping experience (by 3,484 feet) by seeing what lies in store in Cashiers. Cashiers has several shops, each with its own specialty, where visitors will discover original home finds. Shop’s feature reclaimed wormy chestnut and other woods, unique architectural accent salvage, and handcrafted iron and stone works. The shopping scene in Cashiers also includes the home furnishings boutiques of many renowned interior designers.
Sylva’s walkable downtown makes shopping a breeze. Choose from several antique stores, three bookstores, including a rare find bookstore, local boutiques, and more. Need a pick me up? Our local coffee shops are perfect for a mid-day brew.
Local Attractions – Fun things to explore include the American Museum of the House Cat in Dillsboro, The Historic Courthouse, and our calendar of signature events. Jackson County is home to centuries of heritage to explore, from the strength and resilience of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to learning about early Appalachian settlers. Some historic gems to explore include the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Unto These Hills Drama, the Mountain Farm Museum (located at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center), and Mingus Mill. Check out even more here.
Regional Attractions – Staying in Jackson County is a great way to enjoy regional attractions and get the most ‘mountains for your money.’ Take a day trip to Asheville and explore America’s Largest Home®, the Biltmore Estate®, or stroll the grounds of the NC Arboretum to learn about the “Old North State’s” biodiversity. Gamers will want to try their luck at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, while railroad enthusiasts will want to take a ride along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in neighboring Bryson City.
On the Plate
Food & Drink – Jackson County’s culinary scene includes award-winning restaurants with locally sourced foods. Start your day with a bite from favorite brunch spots, including Lucy in the Rye, White Moon, and City Lights Café in Sylva. If you’re waking up in Cashiers, check out the Zookeeper Bistro or the plateaus favorite coffee shop, Buck’s Coffee Café.
Packing a picnic or lunch on the go is a breeze at Front Street Takeout in Dillsboro. If you’re looking to grab a seat, other Dillsboro options include one of the top BBQ joints in the country, Haywood Smokehouse. Check out other tasty options including Forgers Canteen, Boots Stake House, and Rivers and Rails Tavern. Enjoy Al Fresco fare at Guadalupe Café or Mad Batter Kitchen with a large outdoor seating area and patio.
Break out fancy attire and make reservations at Ilda in Sylva or the most “romantic restaurant in the region,” Canyon Kitchen in Sapphire. If you’re looking to stay in your comfy clothes, check out Lulu’s On Main in Sylva or Slab Town Pizza in Cashiers. Hungry for more? Check out our complete list of eateries here.
On to Rest
Lodging – Your vacation is only as good as the rest you get while on it. Sleep in, relax, and take in the sounds of nature by staying in a cabin, vacation rental, or cottage. Rest assured that you’re getting the best rates in the region when you visit here. We’re recognized as the “less crowded side of the Smokies,” with the pristine mountains minus the traffic you’ll get in Gatlinburg. Use some of that saved up PTO and stretch your budget even further by booking a mid-week retreat. Check out our Trip Planner for even more inspiration.
Header Image courtesy of Robert Stephens