The social hub of Haywood County, Waynesville is a lively community, one that embodies the culture and heritage of Western North Carolina. The town is filled with art galleries, cafés, farm-to-table and fine dining restaurants, a classic cinema and four craft breweries. Throughout the year, there are numerous evening art strolls and Friday night clogging on Main Street, with tens of thousands flocking to the handful of annual street festivals (Church Street Arts & Crafts Show, Apple Harvest Festival). Adventurers can access the legendary Blue Ridge Parkway just outside of town. Waynesville is also home to Folkmoot USA, the Official North Carolina International Folk Festival, which each summer brings together performance troupes from around the world to share their rhythm and dance styles.
The gateway to the picturesque Cataloochee Valley section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Maggie Valley offers 360-degree mountain views amid a commercial strip of restaurants, hotels and shops. Located at the center of the town, the fairgrounds showcase several weekend festivals, from motorcycle rallies to celebrations of Southern Appalachian culture, up-and-coming country music acts to the rollicking Hillbilly Woodstock. Head over to the Wheels Through Time museum, home to one of the world’s rarest and most extensive collections of vintage motorcycles and antique automobiles. Hovering high above the community is the Cataloochee Ski Area and Cataloochee Guest Ranch, both longtime icons of what it means to truly soak in the essence of fun and family in the mountains.
The face of blue-collar hard work and southern grit, Canton is home to the Evergreen Packaging paper mill, a renowned company that is the heartbeat of the town and an economic stronghold for Western North Carolina. Heading into downtown, you’ll find local businesses, restaurants and shops. Southern Porch is a fine-dining establishment on Main Street, where the social circles of Canton converge. Around the corner is the legendary Colonial Theatre, which presents an annual Winter Concert Series featuring hometown group Balsam Range, the 2014 International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year.”
Take a stroll through downtown Sylva and you’ll bear witness to a small mountain town doing big things in Jackson County. From cafes, restaurants and bookstores to breweries, wine shops and artisan galleries, the nightlife options of this community has made it a hot spot for the curious and intrigued “after 5” crowd. Situated on a high hill atop Main Street in the history Jackson County Courthouse and library, a societal centerpiece with innumerable weekly programs, shows, demonstrations, readings and children’s activities, all aimed at connecting the dots between neighbors, business owners and visitors alike. Jackson County also is the location of the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, the first of its kind in the country, featuring 15 spots of big rivers, small streams, easy access and backcountry hike-ins.
The art and craft capital of Western North Carolina, Dillsboro houses numerous galleries, artist studios and collectives. Running through the heart of the town is the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, which originates in Bryson City and makes frequent stops in the artisan community. Also alongside a handful of downtown restaurants is the historic Jarrett House, an 1884 bed and breakfast inn within walking distance of the craft businesses. A river park in the center of town offers outdoor adventurers plenty of access for whitewater rafting, canoeing or kayaking.
The crossroads of U.S. 64 and N.C. 107, Cashiers is a robust community of recreational outfitters, antique shops, fine dining, golf courses and country clubs. In the summer, folks take to the hiking trails, scenic waterfalls and rock climbing locations, all within vicinity of the Village Green, a town park of greenery and art sculptures welcoming any and all at the 64/207 intersection. In the winter, Sapphire Valley Ski Area comes alive as snow and adventure enthusiasts take to the slopes.
Home to Western Carolina University, a Division I school of 10,000 students, Cullowhee is quickly growing not only academically, but also commercially and socially. Whether it’s weekly art exhibit openings, guest lecturers or onstage performances, the campus is filled with endless opportunities for the public to immerse themselves in world culture. On the fall weekends, throw down your tailgate and get ready for a football game at the E.J. Whitmire Stadium. In recent years, a handful of restaurants have kicked off the business revitalization of Cullowhee, where live weekend entertainment is now the norm. Want to hit the outdoors? WCU also offers miles of mountain biking and hiking trails bordering the property, as well as ample fly fishing opportunities in the nearby Tuckasegee River.
Halfway between Cashiers and Franklin on U.S. 64 is Highlands. Fine dining, art galleries, antique shops and boutiques line the serene downtown. In the center business corridor are hotels, a brewery, playhouse and movie theatre. Within a short drive, one can head for the hills to tackle a hiking trail or spend an afternoon beside a waterfall or tranquil lake. In the summer, there is a weekly concert and chamber music series, while during the fall leaf peepers from near and far flock to see the bright colors of the Western North Carolina landscape.
The county seat of Macon, Franklin is your All-American downtown, where neighbors and visitors congregate in a local brewery, café or restaurant, ready to take on the nearby mountain trails or meander the museums and shops lining the charming, welcoming streets. Down the road is the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts, where acclaimed national music and theatre acts take the stage throughout the year. Want some fresh air? Take a walk down the scenic Little Tennessee River Greenway that snakes through downtown.
Known as last outpost of Western North Carolina before you enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. A small town of around 1,400 residents, it’s downtown is consists of galleries, cafes, restaurants and an award-winning microbrewery. Only a few miles from downtown, the Deep Creek entrance to the national park has river tubing, horseback riding, hiking and waterfalls. It’s also near the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a world-class whitewater rafting and freestyle kayaking facility, which has the Appalachian Trail running through it. Just down the road from Bryson City, on the border of Swain and Graham counties, is the Tsali Recreation Area on Fontana Lake, regarded as one of the finest mountain biking trail systems in the country.
Home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, the town hosts an array of yearly festivals and events that exemplifies the tradition, art, culture and deep history of the tribe. Take a step into the Museum of the Cherokee Indian with its extensive exhibits or peruse the Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual, a Cherokee collective with detailed displays showcasing its dozens of artisan craft members. Visitors can access the Great Smoky Mountains National Park heading north out of Cherokee on U.S. 441, a main route of travel in Southern Appalachia, which you can also hop onto the majestic Blue Ridge Parkway from. In recent years, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort has become one of the largest employers and attractions in Western North Carolina, with its fine dining options, luxury amenities and world-class live entertainment.
The entrance to the spectacular Cherohala Skyway, a National Scenic Byway, Robbinsville plays host to a wide-spectrum of outdoor desires. From its bustling downtown, one can easily escape into the lush backwoods of Western North Carolina. Just north of Robbinsville is the town of Lake Santeetlah, a water wonderland of camping, boating and hiking surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest, and only a short drive to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The halfway point between Asheville and Chattanooga on U.S. 64, Murphy is the county seat of Cherokee. Located at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Valley rivers, the town features plenty of opportunities for water sports, with plenty of fishing and boating activities on Hiwassee Lake. There are annual festivals and fairs, and many outdoor adventures at any of the nearby hiking trails. Just down the road is Andrews, and up-and-coming small mountain town that’s home to two popular breweries and the Calaboose Cellars winery.
Filled with a plethora of mountain biking, hiking and fishing spots, including boating on the tranquil Lake Chatuge, Hayesville and greater Clay County truly embodies the phrase, “getting away from it all.” Downtown contains museums, antique shops and restaurants. The community holds a handful of yearly celebrations, including the always-popular Punkin Chunkin contest every October, where folks use homemade catapults to launch the orange squash high into the Southern Appalachian sky. Of the many points of interest in Brasstown, the centerpiece in the John C. Campbell Folk School, an organization offers innumerable art classes, workshops, demonstrations and live music performances.