Bryson City is the ultimate adventure town in the middle of western North Carolina’s outdoor playground. Surrounded by waterfalls, rivers and lakes, and bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there’s more than one way to enjoy the great outdoors. From riding the rapids on a whitewater rafting tour to casting a line at a world-class trout stream, Bryson City is in the heart of an adventure oasis — and the best part: it offers all the adventure without the crowds. Bryson City is centrally located to hundreds of miles of trails, an epic waterfall loop and a variety of tubing runs and when you return to your cabin after a day of adventure, this quiet town offers a relaxing retreat. Here are eight adventures in Bryson City that ensure you’ll enjoy a big vacation without the big crowds.
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Rafting & Kayaking
Grab a paddle and head out to some of the best whitewater rafting and kayaking destinations in the country just a few miles from Bryson City. The Nantahala River is a popular haven for adventure seekers and families alike who want to conquer the Class II and III rapids while also enjoying views of the Nantahala gorge. While only about 20 minutes from town, the Nantahala is suitable for families yet challenging enough for the U.S. Olympic Kayaking team. Three more rivers in the area also offer your pick from more placid waters on the Tuckasegee to the more challenging waters of the Cheoah and Ocoee Rivers. Kayakers looking to paddle out on two mountain lakes to soak up the surrounding scenery and get a glimpse of the wildlife on Fontana Lake and Cheoah Lake. Whether you take to the lake or river, it’s easy to see why Bryson City is known as one of the best paddling towns in America.
See why Bryson City is considered an angler’s paradise and cast a line at one of the gorgeous mountain lakes, streams or rivers. Fishing is among the top outdoor sports in the NC Smokies and the town’s surrounding waters offer more than 17 sporting species, including trout, bass and muskie. In addition to the area’s four rivers, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers miles of crystal clear streams while Fontana Lake boasts one of the most diverse fish population in the country. If you’re lucky, you may catch a trophy-size trout during your trip, but you’re guaranteed to reel in some incredible memories while fishing in this spectacular spot.
See the Smokies from a different perspective on horseback. About 550 miles of the 800 miles of trails through the national park are open to horses and the Tsali Trails in the Nantahala National Forest near Bryson City are also horse-friendly. You can enjoy scenic guided horseback rides through wooded forests passing wildflowers, rivers and waterfalls as you trot your way through the trails of the Smokies. Everyone from beginners to experienced riders can enjoy an adventure on horseback. Many of the guided tours are one to four hours and some local stables offer overnight camping as well.
Beautiful scenery seems to be around every corner in Bryson City, but tucked in the mountains is a trail of gorgeous waterfalls that simply can’t be missed. Bryson City is home to some stunning falls in the Smokies and is centrally located along Franklin-Highlands waterfall loop. If you want to make a full day of waterfall viewing, you can see up to 14 epic cascades and you’re sure to find that epic Instagram-worthy photo op. Close to town, you’ll find Deep Creek’s trio of waterfalls — the 25-foot Indian Creek Falls, 60-foot Tom Branch Falls and 90-foot-tall Juney Whank falls. Only a half hour away you’ll find the Nantahala cascades in the Nantahala Gorge or drive over to Cherokee to discover the 120-foot-tall Mingo Falls and Soco Falls, a double waterfall on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Eight other impressive waterfalls can be found along the US-64 corridor south of Bryson City, including Bridal Veil Falls, a 120-foot tumbling waterfall you can walk under. Don’t forget to visit Whitewater Falls for an epic sight, as this 411-foot cascade is the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies.
Soar through the treetops for a different view of the Smokies on a mountain zip line. As you glide through the forest, you’ll see views of Clingman’s Dome, Fontana Lake and more from a new perspective — you can’t get views like these on a trail or from your car window! Take in unparalleled views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as your fly from treetop to treetop and cross the towering sky bridges during your aerial adventure. The Nantahala Outdoor Center’s Mountaintop Zip Line Tour offers the area’s longest zip line, with 360-degree views of the national park, and check out the ropes course and adventure nets, too. Meanwhile, Wildwater KidZip Nantahala offers an aerial zip line playground for kids 4-12 years old.
If you’re up for a challenge, then you’ll want to hit the biking trails of western North Carolina. The region’s mountainous landscapes offer the perfect combination of rugged trails and paved paths with incredible views. Bryson City is centrally located near 16 different biking trails, including the world-famous Tsali Recreation Trail System and Fire Mountain Trails. Whether you’re an avid cyclist ready to challenge yourself on the trail or just enjoy cruising a mixture of scenic roads, Bryson City has a lot to offer. While the Tsali trail’s 42-mile network of multi-use trails is consistently rated one of the top 10 riding destinations in the U.S., the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee also offer plenty of options for off-road bikers. If you prefer the paved path, there are plenty of winding country roads that offer moderate to strenuous rides through a variety of landscapes, including flat farmlands and steep mountain grades. A popular route is Lakeview Drive, also known as “The Road to Nowhere,” that takes you six miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you can’t get enough water sports while you’re in town, then you won’t want to miss your chance to go mountain tubing. The crystal clear waters that flow from the springs in the Great Smoky National Park make Bryson City an excellent tubing destination. Adventure seekers have two great tubing runs to choose from: Deep Creek, just a few minutes away from Bryson City, and The Oconaluftee River, about 20 minutes from town. Deep Creek is a popular tubing spot thanks to its incredible mountain views and choice of two runs: the upper whitewater section for a more adventurous ride or the lower section for a more peaceful float. Deep Creek winds through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and passes by a waterfall, giving you plenty of photo ops as you float by. In Cherokee, the Oconaluftee River offers swift, cool mountain water that ranges from rapids to placid pools. This tubing run offers a mix of thrilling adventure as your tube twirls through the rapids followed by a relaxing ride as you drift under the lush canopy of trees.
While stand-up paddleboarding originated in Hawaii, this surf-style water sport is just as popular in the mountains. Instead of riding the waves like you would a coastal town, the two best places to paddleboard in Bryson City are on the Tuckasegee River that flows through downtown and the Finger Lakes area of Fontana Lake. These placid waters make it easy for beginners to enjoy the sport and the surrounding scenery is easy on the eyes too. Paddleboarding is a great way to see the area from a new perspective as you paddle through the mountains — and it’s a great workout too! You can rent a paddleboard, paddle and life jacket from several local outfitters, and this sport is dog-friendly too if your pup likes to paddle with you.
Lace up your boots and get ready to explore one of the best hiking destinations in the nation. Bryson City sits in the middle of a hiker’s paradise and the incredible scenery you’ll find here is worth the climb. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 800 miles of trails and there are even more trails to choose from outside the park, including along the shores of Fontana Lake and the 42 miles of multi-use trails on the world-famous Tsali Recreation Trail system. If you’ve brought your furry friend along for a hike, check out pet-friendly trails on Island Park in downtown Bryson City, within the Nantahala National Forest, or the Oconaluftee River Trail. For a truly unique experience, take a walk among the wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is home to more than 1500 species of wildflowers. These blooming beauties can be seen from late February to September, with the peak season in mid- to late-April. The Deep Creek trails and the River Trail at the Oconaluftee Visitors Center are the best walking trails to take in the wonderful wildflowers.
Bryson City is truly an outdoor wonderland with something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you take to the water or hit the trails, this small North Carolina mountain town sits in the middle of it all and offers all the adventure you can handle without all the crowds. Start planning your adventure getaway to Bryson City!