In a cemetery overlooking the town is the gravesite of Horace Kephart, author of Our Southern Highlanders, generally considered to be the definitive book on early Appalachian life. Kephart — somewhat the John Muir of the Smokies — was an outsider who adopted the Smokies and devoted his life to learning its ecology and culture. He fought hard for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Today, travelers looking for a home base from which to explore the mountains use Bryson City as a prime location. The town is close to the Qualla Boundary where visitors will find cultural celebration of native Cherokee heritage juxtaposed against Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
And while the town of Bryson City itself is small, it boasts a surprisingly large amount of activity in the summer months. Look for stage productions by The Smoky Mountain Community Theater troupe, art gallery exhibit openings, fine dining, live music, a brewery, and, of course, the distinct whistle of trains riding in on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
• Calhoun Country Inn — In the heart of Bryson City, the Calhoun Inn is said to be one of Horace Kephart’s favorite places. He and friend Granville Calhoun, whom he met upon moving to the mountains in 1904, spent time talking and rocking in chairs on the inn’s front porch. Today, the inn features period antiques, handmade quilts and the original pine floors. Located at 135 Everett St. 828.488.1234.
• Cooper Creek Trout Farm — This catch-your-own trout farm offers a pay by the pound system and is great place for kids to get their first experience with a hook and line. Unlike wild waters, here no license is required. Located off U.S. 19, four miles east of Bryson City. Turn off U.S. 19 onto Cooper Creek Road. 828.488.2500.
• Nantahala Brewing — Celebrating its fourth year in operation, the large warehouse brewery is right across the street from the train depot in downtown. Featuring an array of craft beers, Nantahala also offers seasonal releases, tastings, tours and live music. 828.488.2337.
• Darnell Farms — A true agri-tourism business, the property offers pick-your-own seasonal produce, most notably strawberries during the early summer months. In addition to fruits and veggies, the farm offers live music on the weekends and the occasional fiddlin’ or pickin’ competition. An old-fashioned corn maze opens on the farm in late August. Located just outside of Bryson City on U.S. 19 heading toward Cherokee. 828.488.2376.
• Fontana Dam — At 480 feet, the dam that created Lake Fontana is the highest dam in eastern America. Several marinas and boat landings provide water access. The dam generates hydroelectric power and tours of the facility are available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. www.tva.com.
• Fryemont Inn — Overlooking the National Park, this rustic inn remains rooted in a bygone era of enormous stone fireplaces and gleaming hardwood floors. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s also full service dining and a cozy bar for outside visitors. Located at 245 Fryemont St. 828.488.2159.
• The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Depot — Located off Everett Street in downtown, the depot is the railroad’s transportation center. A variety of tours and packages are available for those looking to jump aboard. As trains are waiting to leave, take a few minutes to speak to one of the conductors about life on a mountain railroad. 800.872.4681 or www.gsmr.com.
• Smoky Mountain Trains Scenic Model Railroad Museum — With its 7,000 engines, cars and accessories, this museum boasts the largest collection of Lionel trains in the Carolinas. Train collectors can purchase new gear or souvenirs here without admission to the museum. Located adjacent to the depot. 800.872.4681.
• Nantahala Outdoor Center — Featuring an array of rafting and freestyle kayaking options, the NOC is one of the top whitewater centers in the country. The center also features lodging, restaurants, bars, outfitters and live music. A short drive from Bryson City, it’s located on U.S. 19 West in the Nantahala Gorge. 888.905.7238.