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Bryson City, NC, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, may be a small town, but there is plenty to do here, especially for nature and outdoor adventure lovers. Although its biggest claims to fame are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, there are also opportunities to go whitewater rafting, tubing, ziplining and mountain biking. And, after you’ve had a full day of adventure, the quaint town of Bryson City offers a variety of restaurants to relax at for a real home-cooked southern meal and a craft beer.
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Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
No trip to Bryson City would be complete without a ride on the famous Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Located in the heart of the town, this family-friendly attraction offers scenic train rides through the beautiful countryside of western North Carolina. Choose from the Nantahala Gorge Excursion that travels 44 miles along the Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers to a relaxing stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or the Tuckasegee River Excursion that will take you 32 miles to the historic town of Hillsboro, as well as through the famous Cowee Tunnel and past the site of the famous crash scene from The Fugitive. You can also select from various classes of seating including both indoor and outdoor and several dining options from boxed lunches to full course meals. For an extra treat, try one of their special packages like the Moonshine Experience or Uncorked, an adult, First-Class experience that includes a four course meal and wine tasting.
Have an Outdoor Adventure at the Nantahala Outdoor Center
Outdoor and adventure enthusiasts will feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. This massive complex is the largest outdoor recreation company in the country and offers over 120 different activities on both the water and land. Among the many things you can do here are go whitewater rafting on several local rivers, take a world class paddling lesson, go ziplining and mountain bike on nine miles of trails, as well as enjoy a meal at a riverfront restaurant and shop at the Center’s flagship Outfitter’s Store.
Take Flight on a Canopy Tour
For more outdoor adventure, try the zipline canopy tour offered by Wildwater. It was the first canopy tour in the Nantahala Gorge Region and as the longest ziplining course in the area, offers spectacular views of both the Gorge and Fontana Lake. Tours include 11 different ziplines and 7 sky bridges that takes you through the forest and past various ecosystems, native plants, hardwood trees and waterfalls. They also have a specially-designed zipline area for children ages 4 to 12 where they can climb and play in the trees on a series of three different courses.
Enjoy a Cold Brew at Nantahala Brewing Company
Located in a large, rustic building in downtown Bryson City, Nantahala Brewing Company is a craft brewery that mixes fresh hops and whole grains with clean water from the Smoky Mountains to make award-winning brews. Pull up a stool in their tap room, where they have over 32 taps featuring both their own brews, as well as guest beers. For just $15 per person, you can do a full tasting which includes a flight of up to six beers, as well as a souvenir pint glass. Tours of the craft brewery and barrel-aging cellar are also available, although tickets must be purchased in advance. For a bite to eat, try The Warehouse, a farm-to-table craft beer restaurant located just down the street from the taproom, which offers an upscale southern menu.
Visit the Swain County Heritage Museum
The Swain County Heritage Museum in Bryson City celebrates the area’s mountain culture with educational exhibits about the Scotch-Irish immigration, the natural history of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the inhabitation of the Cherokee Indians, mountain life during the Great Depression and the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In addition to cabins and demonstrations from each of these eras, you’ll also find numerous displays on blacksmithing, wagon making, moonshining, quilting, basket weaving, canning, storytelling and more.
If you’re looking for something unique to do in Bryson City, check out the Road to Nowhere. This scenic highway travels six miles through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at the mouth of a tunnel called Lakeview Drive. Originally, the highway was supposed to continue on through the tunnel and on for another 30 miles to the city of Fontana, but an environmental issue caused construction to stop and the road was never finished. Now, the “Road to Nowhere” tunnel is accessible by walking and horseback riding only and connects on the other side to walking trails including Lakeshore Trail, Forney Creek and Goldmine Loop.