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.
Although big cats no longer prowl the 6,295-acre swath of the Nantahala National Forest dubbed Panthertown Valley, it’s still easy to imagine the namesake predators roaming the sylvan trails. One of the most stunning and ruggedly wild tracts of the massive national forest is Panthertown Valley—a place that has been referred to as the Yosemite of the East and one that is home to an unimaginably varied backcountry loaded with craggy granite cliffs, plunging ravines, soaring 4,000-foot peaks, and waterfalls spilling into private plunge pools. The recreation area is open to hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, fishing, and horseback riding—and despite increase popularity in recent years, Panthertown’s rugged trails are still steeped in solitude.
In a corner of the state inundated with undulating mountain chains and punctuated with soaring summits that include a generous number of 6,000-foot peaks, Yellow Mountain is far from western North Carolina’s loftiest summit at 5,127 feet in elevation. However, scaling this pinnacle of the Cowee Mountain chain involves one of the most punishing—and thoroughly rewarding—ascents in the southern Appalachians.
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.
Families looking to rekindle an old holiday tradition can visit Jackson County, NC. where the experience of selecting your own real tree from one of several tree farms in the area, replacing the artificial tree from the store.
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.
Western North Carolina is a land of waterfalls. Countless cascades punctuate the waterways braiding the vast expanses of forest and lofty Appalachian peaks dominating the western corner of the state, lending the landscape an undeniably enchanting quality. Some of the falls are accessible only after delving into wild pockets of backcountry, while others are just steps from the state’s tree-lined byways. With the abundance of waterfalls, narrowing down a short list is a formidable of challenge, but these are among the most stunning cascades adorning the western part of the state.
From wood-fired to traditional Cherokee pottery, face jugs to raku beads, Jackson County, North Carolina, is saturated with potters that channel the beauty of the Western North Carolina Mountains into their work. The potters that call Jackson County home are masters of their craft. Below, we would like to introduce you to a few of the personalities that can be found throwing the wheel or firing the kiln around the towns of Cashiers, Cherokee and Dillsboro.