Few things in life embody freedom quite like the great American road trip. America’s favorite past time since the invention of the automobile, road trips allow the wanderlust to feed the need for travel while remaining close to home. With road trips temporarily on pause due to the current travel landscape, travelers near and far are dreaming of our country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes and are ready to hit the highway again soon.
With the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopening, the possibility for a much needed road trip to the Western North Carolina Mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva may be closer than you think. Take advantage of the lowest gas prices in 20 years and enjoy the grandeur of the Western North Carolina Mountains all from the comfort and safety of your vehicle.
Mountain Must Dos
Imagine a motorway with endless scenic overlooks, majestically layered mountains, and boundless views at every stop. In Jackson County, you’ll find that and more along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The BRP encompasses over 469-miles of road traversing the Appalachian Mountains and was the first of its kind designed specifically for leisure travel. More than just scenic stops, the BRP offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and multiple pull-offs with parking and picnic benches. Its southernmost terminus (mile marker 469) can be found in Cherokee, and over 70-miles of the Parkway is located within Jackson County’s borders, making it the largest stretch anywhere.
The best portion of the BRP runs from Balsam Gap (mile marker 442.2) to the end of the BRP in Cherokee (mile marker 469). Along this stretch, you’ll find over 20 scenic overlooks perfect for enjoying a picnic. Make sure your vehicle is fueled or charged up, as there are no gas or charge stations along this route. A must stop during your journey along the Parkway is Waterrock Knob. Located at mile marker 451.2, Waterrock Knob offers a multitude of amenities, including ample parking, picnic benches, and plenty of room to spread out. Visitors will enjoy nearly a 360-degree view of all the major southern mountain ranges including the Great Balsams, Great Smokies, Cowees, Nantahalas, Blue Ridge Mountains, Newfound Mountains, Blacks, and Craggies. Hikers will enjoy the Waterrock Knob Trail that elevates atop the 6,292-foot summit and is among the highest points along the Parkway. Make sure to pack a picnic to enjoy during sunset as Waterrock Knob is the perfect place to end the day as the sun makes its final descent over the surrounding mountains.
Continue along the Parkway to its southernmost point and depart onto U.S. 441 South. You’ll be greeted immediately to the right with a lush green wide-open field in front of a forested backdrop. Keep your eyes peeled, as you will likely encounter a herd of elk grazing the fields of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. These majestic creatures can grow to be over 10-feet tall, weigh up to 1,000 pounds, and are a sight to behold. Make sure to leave them some space, as it is illegal to approach an elk closer than 50-yards.
Ready to get out and stretch? Although the Oconaluftee Visitor Center remains closed, their restroom facilities, Oconaluftee River Trail, and Mountain Farm Museum remain open. Get out and enjoy the crystal clear Oconaluftee River which flows from the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Continue on U.S. 441 South and enter the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This federally protected oasis is rich in endless wonder and spans between North Carolina and neighboring Tennessee. The North Carolina side is the substantially less crowded side of the Park, allowing you to spend more time exploring away from the crowds, and less time stuck in traffic. Before you head out for the rest of your adventure, make sure to check out Newfound Gap Overlook along the way. Newfound Gap is located right along the state line and amenities include open restrooms, ample parking, and wonderous views of the Great Smokies.
On Two Wheels
If you’re taking a two-wheel trip, make sure to check out our Motorcycle Guide. Not only does the guide feature the above routes, it also gives riders an authentic “off-the-beaten-path” experience. Routes extend throughout the heart of Jackson County following lesser-known and traveled back mountain roads. Make sure to heed posted road signs and always wear a helmet as NC law requires riders and passengers to wear helmets.
Insider Tip: If exploring on four wheels is more your style, rest assured these routes are great for car trips also!
Pack a Picnic
No matter where the road takes you, make sure to grab takeout from one of our non-chain and locally sourced restaurants. Jackson County’s restaurants are taking extra precautions for your health and safety so that you can dine with peace of mind. You can pick up a plate, hit the road, and head to one of the scenic stops mentioned above. If you find yourself getting hungry and just can’t wait, head to downtown Sylva’s Bridge Park, where you’ll find pleasant picnic benches in the heart of downtown. If you’re near Cashiers, don’t miss the Village Green. This 13-acre pristine park is centrally located near the crossroads where you’ll find multiple covered picnic benches with plenty of room to spread out.
Hit the Road, Jack!
Are you ready to hit the road? We’ve got you covered! Jackson County’s Mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva serve as the perfect hub for your motoring adventures in the NC Mountains. With a wide variety of carryout dining options and convenient amenities, Jackson County’s central location is your gateway to road tripping in North Carolina. In everyday life and when you’re ready to take a road trip, please make sure you continue to practice social distancing guidelines to ensure your safety and the safety of others.
Rest assured knowing our lodging, dining, and attraction establishments are taking extra precautions in order to continue to keep your health and safety top of mind for when you’re ready to stay with us again. Make sure to check out our FREE Visitor Guide so that you can get inspiration for your next trip to the NC Mountains. We can’t wait to see you soon!