Many of us vacation in hopes of experiencing peace and quiet away from the bustling cities and crowds. If you’re looking for this type of getaway, the Western NC mountains of Jackson County, NC, offer just that from winter to early spring! During this timeframe, we’ve coined our ‘secret season,’ our towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva come alive with a wide array of hidden benefits.
Within driving distance of many of the Southeast’s biggest cities, Jackson County is full of activities for every kind of traveler, including winter hiking to frozen waterfalls, scenic drives through the rolling mountainsides, eclectic shopping, and award-winning dining. Winter – particularly midweek – is the ideal time to enjoy the best of winter travel without the crowds and with the most affordable accommodations. Experience the warm side of winter by cozying up in a hot tub or enjoying clear views for miles along your favorite trails. In fact, the Blue Ridge Mountains shield us from harsh winter weather. Take in the beauty of crisp weather without getting stranded by tons of snow, and relax with the downtime you deserve.
Your adventure awaits
When visiting Jackson County during secret season, you’ll be able to take advantage of the front-row view at our scenic overlooks, and you’ll have the best photo backdrops all to yourself for a selfie! You can also grab the best seat in the house at the county’s most popular dining spots. Traveling during secret season allows visitors to try the best eats in the county without the hassle of busy wait times.
Another bonus? The potential of a snowy vacation – but not too snowy. Jackson County experiences an average of only about 9 inches of snow a year, unlike other mountain regions, which typically get much more. If you’re lucky enough to time the trip perfectly with the weather’s wishes, you might experience the magic of a light snowfall. Other times, you may enjoy the snow or flurries from a distance when the snow caps the mountaintops rather than the valley floor, providing a picturesque backdrop for your vacation photos without worrying about getting stuck.
Get more bang for your buck
A vacation to Jackson County during secret season means you get more ‘mountains for your money’ and every dollar stretches much further. In fact, secret season boasts the best prices found in the area all season long. From January to March, visitors can enjoy the best accommodations in the North Carolina mountains at unbeatable prices. And, best of all, a range of options to meet the needs of every group size and budget. Check out this secret season lodging specials page with all the best bargains.
Snowsports for Beginners
Jackson County has the most family and beginner-friendly ski slopes in the state at Sapphire Valley. Located five minutes from Cashiers, this resort offers an on-site ski school for beginners and snow tubing. After a day on the slopes, hit up some Sapphire Valley restaurants, including Slopeside Tavern, Mica’s, or The Library Kitchen + Bar.
Spot a bear, shadow that is…
Jackson County is home to one of the region’s most unique fall spectacles, and you can see it during secret season, too. Known as the Shadow of the Bear, this natural phenomenon only comes out of hibernation twice a year, and in mid-February through early March, the Shadow of the Bear makes an appearance for just 30 minutes on sunny days at 5:30 p.m. Catching it during is a lesser-known time to provide an unobstructed view as a small dark shadow at the bottom of the valley grows until it finally evolves into the awe-inspiring bear. Make sure to bring your camera to capture this spectacular view as the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain.
Soak in the solitude
A visit to Jackson County during secret season allows visitors to unplug and unwind from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. Thanks to no traffic and peaceful surroundings, you’ll have found your own mountain oasis.
Take this feeling further by embarking on a winter hike unlike any other. Discover unobstructed views of snowcapped mountains along the 7-mile Pinnacle Park Trail, which ascends more than 3,000 feet in elevation. This advanced trail is located just 10 minutes from downtown Sylva and is a favorite for seasoned hikers. Make sure to fill out a free permit before you venture up. Likewise, along the Panthertown Valley Trail, you’ll find picturesque winter scenes of frozen waterfalls, scenic trails, and panoramic views in what is known as the “Yosemite of the East.” This backcountry wilderness area comprises over 6,400 acres, so we always recommend getting a map before you venture out, whether online or at the Highland Hiker in Cashiers. Enjoy the crisp, clean, and cool mountain air during our mild winters.
Hiking during secret season can be less strenuous, however. The Tuckasegee River Greenway offers a flat, one-mile paved path perfect for families. Similarly, in Cherokee, the Oconaluftee River Trail traverses the peaceful riverbanks of crystal-clear waters. Keep your eyes peeled along this trail, as elk can commonly be seen in the forest or the fields parallel to the path. Check out the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center to learn about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park while there, a family favorite!
Pack your sweaters – and some savings
During secret season, you can choose from several lodging options to truly experience the most for the least, just one of the many ways visitors can benefit from a Jackson County getaway. Cozy up in a warm mountainside cabin and take in the area’s hidden magic and peaceful nature while discovering a winter wonderland full of possibilities.
To help you plan your secret season escape to Jackson County, download our visitor’s guide here or check out our Trip Planner. Book your stay from convenient hotels to boutique inns, stunning resorts, and more, and enjoy your secret season retreat in the NC mountains.
Header image courtesy of @madalone_