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.