In western North Carolina’s Jackson County, the Blue Ridge Mountains tumble into the Smokies in a series of soaring peaks. Featuring both the Great Balsam and Plott Balsam mountains—two of the loftiest ranges in the entire Appalachian chain—Jackson County is a peak-laden paradise for summit seekers, loaded with southern ‘sixers’ (summits over 6,000-feet in elevation). Here’s a list of the mountain-adorned county’s loftiest summits—and how to tackle them.
Meandering 469-miles through Virginia and North Carolina, from the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway snakes though some the East Coast’s most stunning scenery. For the last 40-miles—the loftiest stretch of the wilderness-shrouded thoroughfare—the parkway coils around the high peaks of Jackson County in western North Carolina, showcasing everything from wildflower-flecked Appalachian balds to dense evergreen forests to soaring, cloud-swirled summits. The options along the iconic roadway are abundant, but here are a handful of highlights along the parkway’s highest stretch.
Jackson County, North Carolina, features a varied landscape is a veritable buffet for backpackers. Nestled at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, overlaid by the Plott Balsam and Great Balsam mountains, and loaded with strings of soaring 6,000-foot peaks (sixers) amid a massive expanses of forest—the trip options are almost endless. Jackson County’s diversity of trails provides something for backpacking enthusiasts of all stripes, from gear gurus to altitude-immune peak-seekers to cautious car campers striking out into the backcountry for the very first time. So load up the pack, seek out the starry-skied campsites of Jackson County, and spend some time exploring western North Carolina’s wildest spaces.
Just 20 miles from the southern edge of the Smokies, the western North Carolina town of Sylva provides a strategic launch point for exploring one of the country’s most beloved natural wonders—the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The national park, spread between North Carolina and Tennessee, is the most visited in the country, boasting 16 peaks above 6,000-feet and 850 miles of trails. Even better, the park is best accessed from Sylva courtesy of a lofty stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the iconic motorway linking the Smokies with Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.
Filled with sylvan streams winding through vast swathes of contiguous wilderness and crowned by the cloud-swaddled peaks of the southern Appalachians, Jackson County, North Carolina, is awash with natural wonders. Beyond the stunning backdrop, the mountain-nestled county is also peppered with inviting towns loaded with bountiful farmers markets, inventive craft breweries, farm-to-fork eateries, and boutiques showcasing locally produced artisanal crafts. Adventures are abundant in Jackson County, but here’s a shortlist of recommendations for an idyllic weekend escape.