Trying to plan a trip that the whole family will enjoy is next to impossible.
Fortunately, with easy-to-access waterfalls, fishing, outdoor concerts, locally-sourced dining options, and a range of family-sized affordable accommodations to act as a home base, the towns of Jackson County, NC will make planning your next family vacation a breeze.
From Cashiers to Sylva, Jackson County in Western North Carolina is a unique place to spend a family getaway, full of one-of-a-kind opportunities that every member, no matter what the age or interest, will enjoy. Throughout the year, the county features special family-friendly events and festivals that add to the experience of the trip. From the unique and popular Outhouse Races in the winter, where participants build their own outhouses with crazy themes and race down the ski slopes on skis, to free concert series in the summer on the creek or the green, check out the updated event schedule online to find the best fit for your family. Follow the itinerary suggestions below to make the best out of your family-friendly getaway.
Reconnect in the great outdoors
Quality uninterrupted family time is hard for most to fit in these days. Experiencing the amazing sights and adventures that these mountain towns offer is the perfect opportunity for you and your loved ones to reconnect with nature and with each other. Hike, bike, raft or explore the area with your loved ones and uncover the many gems that await. Planning a family trip can rack up the credit card bill, but the best part of outdoor recreation is that it is a gift that is free of charge! Here is a list of free adventures to experience while visiting the area.
Hike your way through the county
The area boasts countless hiking trails, whether you are going on your first hike, or you are a true trailblazer, the trails are perfect for all skill levels. The free hiking map, which can be picked up at one of the local Visitor Centers or downloaded online, will be the perfect guide to finding the hike that is the best fit for your family’s expertise level. With trails going over the mountains and through the woods, each hike offers a unique experience, stunning scenery and sense of accomplishment. A few recommendations for family hikes include:
- Whiteside Mountain, one of the oldest mountains in the country. The moderate two-mile loop at Whiteside Mountain takes you on a trek over rocks that are estimated to be 390 to 460 million years old. The ridgeline features a number of overlooks where hikers can stop to take in scenery or take a family photo with the incredible views from Georgia to North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains in the background. Kids will enjoy watching the peregrine falcons soar above the mountain top, which are often visible in photos taken from the summit.
Insiders Tip: From mid-October through early November, and from mid-February to early March, visitors to Whiteside will experience a true fall phenomenon. Visible only in Cashiers, The Shadow of the Bear is an annual phenomenon that takes place on the side of Whiteside Mountain. An enormous “bear” casts its shadow for 30 minutes (starting at 5:30pm) and appears to walk along the tree tops below. The best place to view the shadow is off Highway 64 at Rhodes Big View Overlook but be sure to watch out for traffic when entering and exiting the overlook.
- Wet Camp Gap is known as a popular local blueberry-picking destination and is an easy, family-friendly hike with about 60 feet in total elevation gain.
- Perfect for an outdoor family adventure, Richard Balsam is the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway! The trail is an easily navigable loop that winds through spruce forests and the summit greets hikers with a spectacular view no matter what time of year.
- Panthertown Valley is known as the “Yosemite of the East” and hosts more than 30 miles of backcountry trails in its 6,295 acres of the Nantahala National Forest. The Panthertown Valley Loop is a popular choice for families and will take you through various outdoor scenes ranging from valleys, creeks and some of the county’s most popular waterfalls:
Schoolhouse Falls, Granny Falls, Frolicktown Falls and Wilderness Falls. Visit www.panthertown.org to learn more and to plan your family’s hike.
Discover the area’s many waterfalls!
Who doesn’t love getting to experience a majestic waterfall up close and personal! Throughout the county, visitors will discover more than two dozen waterfalls. Many of Jackson County’s waterfalls are just short treks from the parking lot and offer scenic beauty that all ages can admire. Kids who have never seen a waterfall in person will stand in awe when looking up at , Whitewater Falls, which at (411’), stands as one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains. In Panthertown Valley, easy hiking trails lead to more than a dozen waterfalls, with one of the largest being the 18-foot Schoolhouse Falls. In the warmer months, be sure to pack a swimsuit to take a dip in some of the swimming holes that await under select falls. Silver Run Falls and Cashiers’ Sliding Rock are some kid’s favorites. For more details on how to find these hidden gems, click here, or pick up a waterfalls map from one of the Visitor’s Centers.
Lounge on the lake
One of the best kept secrets of the Western NC mountains, Lake Glenville is also one of the highest-elevation lakes east of the Rocky Mountains. The lake features 26 miles of shoreline, seven islands and three gorgeous waterfalls. Pines Recreation Area is the perfect place to take your family for a swim in the clear mountain water. Relax on the sandy beach, fish from the pier, or enjoy a family picnic amongst a picturesque mountain backdrop. You don’t need to worry about rip tides or sharks at this beach!
Clear water and an abundance of fish will keep the whole family busy as they cast a line in the fresh waters of the lake. Dream Catcher Guides lead half-day trips, which are the perfect length of time to learn the basics and a hook a few fish, whether it’s a kid’s first catch or a dad’s 100th. An added perk- a 15 percent discount is given to seniors 65 years and older, so bring along grandma or grandpa to teach everyone a thing or two.
The lake creates the perfect, calm, uncrowded atmosphere for your family to try out some new water activities. Stop by Signal Ridge Marina where you can rent pontoon boats, tubes, paddleboards, skis, wakeboards and kneeboards. For something a little faster paced, Lakeshore Marina offers Ski-Doo rentals.
Head up to Sapphire for some family fun
Sapphire Valley is a haven for family fun! Experience an exhilarating zip across the Valley on the Vordach Zip Line. This zip canopy tour includes 16 platforms, two bridges and 12 zip lines. Enjoy viewing the rich history of the Sapphire Valley Resort from a unique perspective during this two-hour tour. Kids eight-years-old and up are welcome to join in on the fun! During the winter months, guests will enjoy a snow day on the slopes at Sapphire Valley Resort with skiing and snowboarding on the 1,600-foot main run with a vertical drop of 200 feet. Ideal for a day of family fun, take a lesson from the mountain’s professional instructors, and save money with rentals included in lift ticket prices. Sapphire Valley Resort also features Frozen Falls Tube Park, where tubers can slide down the 500-foot run with a vertical drop of 60 feet, and the moving sidewalk makes it easy to get to the top for another ride down.
Raft down mom-approved rapids
Jackson County is also home to three whitewater rivers: Tuckasegee, Chattooga and Oconaluftee Rivers, which offer rapids ranging from Class I to Class IV. With rapids gentle enough for the whole family, rafting on “The Tuck” is the perfect adventure for even the smallest members. Several local companies rent rafts, canoes, kayaks and tubes from May 1 – September 30. Choose from a solo or guided trip with a seasoned rafting expert.
A notable highlight of your family getaway will be exploring the area’s private trails on horseback. The area’s stables all offer unique and special experiences with views are incredible no matter what time of year. Smokemont Riding Stables has various tours that take you through the private trails that wind along streams and through the woods of America’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountain National Park. For an even more scenic experience, be sure to book the waterfall ride. Riders must be five years or older, however wagon rides are available and suitable for all ages! Experience a bit of history on both Native American trails and historic logging roads with Whitewater Equestrian Center. On the trail you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the animal and plant life, as well as some local history. Arrowmont Stables hosts a number of rides throughout the year, including a lunch ride in the summer where riders will enjoy a picnic during the tour.
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
All aboard for a day of fun on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. The train excursion will take you and your family through the scenic countryside of Western NC. The train departs from the depot in Bryson City, which is just a short drive from Jackson County. Rated as one of the top fun things to do in North Carolina for families, the train excursion offers families a variety of ride options from dining in a first-class car with a private attendant, or in an open-air gondola. Book your train adventure today!
Local eats, brews and sweet treats
No matter the meal, Jackson County offers restaurants for any appetite, from locally-sourced, farm-to-table fare, to soups and sandwiches, pizza, Greek and gastropubs. Many restaurants feature kid’s menus, while still giving parents and grandparents the option to explore new flavors and cuisines. If you are in Sylva on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, Mad Batter Food & Film is a must! This family-friendly restaurant is in the historic Lyric Theater and shows free flicks while you eat. Their menu features hand-tossed pizza, burgers, steak, sandwiches, vegetarian options and homemade ice cream and dessert. Local ice cream and chocolate shops are a sweet treat for all, and feature artisan chocolates, cookies, ice cream and more. All of Jackson County’s breweries are kid-friendly and offer a house-made soda on tap, so parents can sip brews while kids sip on birch beer, ginger ale or root beer. Several snacks and meals are available at the breweries.
Lodging for the entire family
When looking for a place to stay in Jackson County, most rooms can be found for less than $100 a night. Larger family gatherings can book vacation rentals that fit anywhere from 8 to 20 people, or hotel suites fit a family of four comfortably. Those with pets can find more than enough options. From cabins to luxury resorts, vacation rentals to favorite hotel chains, find accommodations here.
With so many outdoor recreation opportunities available in the area, families will spend less time planning what to do next and more time getting out and about, trying new things and making new memories.