The fall season ushers in crisp, cool weather and cascades of color, and there’s no better place to experience autumn’s beauty than Bryson City, N.C. Tucked between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala National Forest, Bryson City is one of the premier spots in the country to see fall foliage as vibrant hues sweep across the Smokies. From mid-September to early November, this Carolina mountain town celebrates autumn among the scenic splendor of the surrounding mountains with fall festivities like hayrides, pumpkin patches, corn mazes and more. While Bryson City is a great destination all year round, fall in the Smokies is an experience everyone should add to their bucket list. From leaf peeping and fall festivals to cozy mountain cabins, you won’t want to miss these nine amazing ways to celebrate fall in Bryson City.
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Stay in a Cozy Mountain Cabin
Immerse yourself among the mountains this fall and call a cozy cabin your home away from home while on vacation. These mountain cabins and lodges can accommodate families and groups, and some are even pet friendly. In the mornings, sit on the porch with a hot cup of coffee to enjoy the crisp fall air. At night, cozy up by the fireplace to roast marshmallows as the sun sets over the fiery red hues of fall leaves that paint the mountains. If cabins aren’t your style, Bryson City has plenty of bed and breakfasts, hotels and vacation rentals where you can unplug and get away from it all. Bryson City is nestled in the middle of western North Carolina’s mecca of outdoor adventures, so no matter where you stay, it will be a perfect central location to call home while exploring the region. Find the perfect mountain cabin or accommodations for your fall getaway here.
Take a Leaf Looker Train Ride
Wind through the mountains on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for breathtaking views of western North Carolina’s colorful countryside. See the fall scenery from open-air or climate-controlled railcars on a 4-hour Leaf Looker excursion. Board the train at Bryson City’s historic depot and travel to the Nantahala Gorge where the trees explode with color in October. Families looking for more fall fun can join Charlie Brown and Snoopy aboard the Peanuts Pumpkin Patch Express, a specialty train ride with games and a visit to the pumpkin patch. Whether you’re a leaf looker or a kid-at-heart, a fun fall foliage train ride is sure to give you that fall feeling — not to mention amazing photos.
Fall Festivities at Darnell Farms
Fall simply isn’t complete without a hayride or corn maze, and the folks at Darnell Farms throw a fall festival that’s full of fun for the whole family. From mid-September through October, locals and visitors can get lost in a corn maze, enjoy a hayride with the kids and pick out the perfect pumpkin from the patch. There’s even a haunted barn during the week of Halloween. In late-October, Darnell Farms hosts its annual Plow Day and Harvest Festival complete with live music, food, crafts, and farm demonstrations in addition to the other festivities that run throughout the fall. Don’t forget to support local growers and grab some fresh produce to bring home. Be sure to check the dates and times for this fall’s festivities at Darnell Farms.
Oktoberfest at Nantahala Brewing
Trade your pumpkin spice latte for a fall-inspired craft beer at Nantahala Brewing Co., which brings a bit of German tradition to the Smoky Mountains with its own celebration of Oktoberfest. This Bryson City-based brewery offers German fare, fun family games and beer, of course, to kick off the beginning of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival. Each fall, Nantahala Brewing releases its seasonal Rivers End Oktoberfest brew. The deep gold color of this malty festbier is reminiscent of the changing leaves and is a great way to welcome the new season — plus tasting local craft beers is a fun way to explore a new destination like a local. You can taste more of Nantahala Brewing’s craft beers in the tap room or take a six-pack of your favorite brew back to your vacation rental to enjoy during the rest of your trip.
Elk Watching in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A truly unique experience to the area is hearing the bugle of the Smokies Elk. During the fall rutting season, herds can be seen in multiple places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The elk gather in the Cataloochee Valley and Cherokee near Bryson City year round. Catch a glimpse of the elk grazing in the fields next to the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in Cherokee or in the lowland fields along US 441 in the National Park. It’s a great idea to bring along binoculars for a better view or a telephoto lens to capture some amazing nature photos. The elk are not fearful of humans, but are still wild animals so be sure to view them from a safe distance.
Scenic Drives on Curvy Mountain Roads
With Bryson City as your home base during your mountain vacation, you’ll have access to some of the most scenic roads in the country. Take a drive from Bryson City for breathtaking views of the fall colors sweeping across the majestic peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains. Western North Carolina is famous for its curvy mountain roads and spectacular vistas, and it only gets better in autumn. The most-well known paths will take you through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Nantahala area and the Blue Ridge Parkway — all perfect places for leaf peepers to pull over for that perfect photo op. However, the infamous tunnel on the “Road to Nowhere” is an Instagram-worthy spot and “The Dragon” is a curvy road most motorcyclists enjoy cruising — just be sure to pull over before snapping a selfie on this scenic highway.
Soar Through Colorful Treetops
Want an even better view of the fall foliage? Try the treetops! Adrenaline junkies can do a little leaf peeping while soaring through the colorful treetops on a zip line. Take in unparalleled views from above as you glide through the mountaintops. Frolic through the foliage on the eight sky bridges and 13 zip lines at Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours. Thrill seekers can take to the treetops on the region’s longest zip line at Nantahala Outdoor Center’s Mountaintop Zip Line Tour, perched on the rim of the Nantahala Gorge with 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly treetop tour, try KidZip Nantahala. This course offers an adventure park and zip lines for kids ages 4-12 years old where they can take in fall’s scenic splendor in a fun and safe setting. This kind of aerial adventure makes for a great day trip and is the perfect way to enjoy the crisp fall air.
Whitewater Rafting on the Nantahala
Head to the Nantahala Gorge for some family fun this fall on the Nantahala River. This region explodes with color in autumn and riding the rapids on a whitewater rafting adventure is a great way to explore the area. Several outfitters offer guided trips through the river’s exciting whitewater and placid pools, offering scenic fall views alongside an unforgettable adventure. For even more fall fun on the Nantahala, check out NOCtoberfest — a free fall event on Oct. 26 hosted by the Nantahala Outdoor Center. NOCtoberfest includes pumpkin decorating, a costume contest and live music. The highlight of the event is the Great Pumpkin Pursuit, a free-for-all dash through Nantahala Falls where participants race to collect as many numbered pumpkins as possible. Whatever the adventure, the Nantahala Gorge is a must-see destination in the fall.
Stecoah Harvest Festival
Celebrate all things fall at the Stecoah Harvest Festival in Stecoah Valley during the third weekend of October. This two-day festival showcases the quintessential fall activities in the mountains with music and dancing, handmade crafts, and demonstrations on corn grinding and butter churning. Included in the festival is a country fair that features competitions and exhibits of jams, jellies, pies, cakes, quilts, needlework, photography and more. It’s a great way to support the local community and you’re sure to find something unique to bring back from your mountain vacation.
From fall foliage and harvest festivals to zip lines and train rides, Bryson City, N.C., will have you falling in love with autumn all over again. Whether you prefer to curl up cozily by the fire in your cabin, get lost in a corn maze, or take a scenic drive down a winding mountain road, this western North Carolina town has all that and more to make for a fall getaway you won’t forget. There’s even an event for the dogs — The Great Bacon Chase, where participants dress in a bacon costume while pups chase them down the street. Afterward enjoy craft beer from Mountain Layers Brewing and bacon-inspired dishes from local vendors, and the proceeds all go to Bryson City’s local animal rescue PAWS. Check out all the fall activities in this area and plan your fall-inspired mountain vacation to Bryson City soon.