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Saddle up: Cataloochee Ranch rides into next chapter

Saddle up: Cataloochee Ranch rides into next chapter

Meandering up Fie Top Road in Maggie Valley, just as your vehicle’s engine is pushed to the limit and it seems you may eventually drive off the edge of the earth, you emerge atop a mountain ridge, a large rustic lodge appearing in the distance — the Cataloochee Ranch. 

“The ranch has an amazing history and it’s always had this unique identity,” said Annie Colquitt. “It’s this special place in Haywood County and has been a draw [for almost a century].”

Alongside her husband, David, the Colquitts recently reopened the beloved Cataloochee Ranch. Purchased by the couple in 2020, the extensive and expensive renovation project itself has taken the better part of the last two years to complete. The official grand reopening ribbon cutting celebration was held in March.

“A hospitality property without guests feels like an empty shell,” Annie said of the renovation process. “It feels so good to be sharing this place again.”

Cataloochee Ranch 3

Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, the Colquitts initially put deep roots down in Haywood County when they acquired The Swag, a highly lauded mountain getaway abutting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in 2018. On the heels of that purchase and rejuvenation of the 250-acre Swag property, word spread from just across the ridge the Cataloochee Ranch might also be for sale.

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“And there were concerned neighbors who wanted the ranch to be the ranch forever — something had to change or it wouldn’t stay,” Annie said. “We started paying attention and thinking about how we might get involved in the ranch, because we really wanted to protect the land and keep it a place for guests to enjoy.”

At the time the ranch hit the real estate market, the Colquitts were still in the midst of a renovation and operating The Swag. But, that didn’t deter them from seeing a great opportunity to not only preserve the ranch property and its history, but also perpetuate its legend and legacy into the 21st century and beyond.

ae Cataloochee David and Annie Colquitt

David and Annie Colquitt. Donated photo

“You want to preserve that sense of place because it’s really an important part of so many people’s stories,” Annie said. “I get messages all the time from folks, that [the ranch] is where their family’s dearest memories are for vacations, marriages or best childhood memories — it’s that special.”

And just as the ink was drying on the Colquitts’ purchase of the Cataloochee Ranch, the 2020 shutdown occurred. This left the Colquitts in a state of limbo and unknowns of how to properly navigate the future and fate of the property in real time.

“What’s happening in the world and what’s the world going to look like?” Annie said. “No one knew what was going to happen, so we didn’t start any renovations projects until about two years ago. And it was almost exactly four years to the day between when we bought the ranch and when we reopened it to the public.”

Coming to fruition in 1933, the Cataloochee Ranch was created by the Alexander family as a place of divine respite and outdoor adventure in the heart of Western North Carolina.  

“The Alexander family worked so hard and poured so much of themselves into [the ranch],” Annie said. “It was this incredible vision and hard work, this labor of love that’s an asset to the community.”

ae Cataloochee Ranch 4

Whether it was horseback riding up to Hemphill Bald, hiking around the vast 700-acre property, evenings eating a hearty home-cooked meal with gusto or storytelling and music around a campfire under a canopy of stars, the Cataloochee Ranch remains an escape hatch from the organized chaos of daily life way down below.

“We want the ranch to be a place that locals love, but also a place that folks come from all over,” Annie said. “And we’ve built this adventure programming, where it can be horseback riding, the ropes course or even taking a watercolor class — adventure is not knowing how the story is going to end.”

For those wondering about the old-time aesthetics of the ranch, almost all of the buildings many are familiar with are still standing and operational. Besides the cozy cabins, there’s also the horse barn, which has now been transformed into The Hayloft event space with The Horseshoe outdoor amphitheater behind it, the numerous ranch horses grazing along the ridge just beyond that.

“Just like with The Swag, I see people come here and rest,” Annie said. “They leave their stress and their to-do list when you get to the top of these mountains — this is a different world.”

But, what about the main lodge at Cataloochee Ranch? Well, the Colquitts preserved the original stone walls of the notable ranch house when they constructed the new lodge. The awe-inspiring building now houses Switchback, a Southern Appalachian and European Alpine themed restaurant. It’s also home to The Hideout wine cellar, Tack Room bar and The Forge al fresco dining space.

“We still have a long way to go figure more things out, to do it better and to make sure the business is strong and healthy as it can be to be a ranch forever,” Annie said. “But, it’s so fun see it actually starting.”

Now that the proverbial horse is out of the barn for the Cataloochee Ranch, the Colquitts and their staff are already in the midst of a busy spring, with an even busier summer just around the corner — the ball is rolling as this next, bountiful chapter of the property is now unfolding in real time.

“When I think about our guests, I believe we’re giving them something that their souls really need,” Annie said. “We’re providing something to people that humans need, something that makes us feel alive — it’s happening, it’s working.”

Want to go?

An iconic Western North Carolina property, the Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley is now open year-round to the public for lodging, lunch, dinner and/or beverages onsite. There are also a handful of outdoor recreation amenities and experiential opportunities available.

To learn more about the ranch and/or to make a reservation, go to cataloocheeranch.com, call 828.926.1401 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Reservations are strongly encouraged.

What to know

With the reopening of the prestigious 700-acre Cataloochee Ranch, below are a handful of facts and notable tidbits about the property and what you can expect upon arrival.

• Member of Relais & Châteaux association.

• Boutique property with 18 unique suites.

• Peak elevation at Hemphill Bald is 4,800 feet.

• Borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cataloochee Ski Area.

• Onsite activities include horseback riding, hiking, adventure course, arts and crafts, archery, axe throwing and fishing. Future planned amenities include a spa, pool, an expansive onsite garden and more.

• Both private and group horseback rides across the ranch and the national park are currently available, ending in a picnic at Gooseberry Knob or a spa treatment at The Swag, a neighboring resort.

• The ranch’s onsite restaurant Switchback, led by Chef Jeb Aldrich, provides a handcrafted menu of Southern Appalachian food with European Alpine influence.

• The Forge, a multi-use, all weather al fresco dining space off the back of Switchback, offers guests full mountain views.

• An expansive wine list and signature cocktails are available in The Hideout wine cellar, Tack Room bar and Switchback.

• The Hayloft event space and The Horseshoe outdoor amphitheater hosted 2023’s popular “Cataloochee Summer Dinner Series” and are available for a variety of events.

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