It’s easy to overlook the small northwestern towns of North Carolina for the larger well-known cities in the neighboring state of Tennessee. Today, we’re going to talk about the small town of Bryson City, North Carolina, and what it has to offer. You just might be surprised at what you’ve been missing out on if you’ve skipped over this small town. Let’s take a look.
Charming and Quaint: Bryson City, North Carolina
Located just south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Bryson City. It’s known as the gateway to the national park. Only about 1,500 people call Bryson City home. Don’t be fooled, though; this tiny town has a lot to offer.
What Is Bryson City, North Carolina, Known For?
Nature surrounds Bryson City, North Carolina. To the north is the most visited national park in the United States, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To the south are the Cowee Mountains and the boundaries of the Nantahala National Forest.
Bryson City is a nature lover’s paradise due to its proximity to natural beauty and outdoor recreation. Those who enjoy white water rafting regard it as a mecca of sorts for the sport due to the Nantahala River.
11 Remarkable Things to Do in Bryson City, North Carolina
What could a tiny town possibly have to offer? You may be surprised to learn that the city is full of unique experiences. Let’s check out why you might want to call Bryson City, North Carolina, your home base while visiting the Smoky Mountains.
1. Smoky Mountains Train Museum
The Smoky Mountains Train Museum will make you feel like a kid again. If you loved trains as a kid, you’ll renew that love with this train museum. There’s a collection of 7,000 Lionel engines, cars, and accessories. You’ll also find a functioning train traveling the tracks. You can drop the kids off at the children’s activity center for playtime too.
After you’ve finished exploring the museum, head over to the gift shop to take some of the fun home with you. Admission to the Smoky Mountains Train Museum is free for children under 3, $5 for ages 3-11, and $9 for visitors 12 and up.
2. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Whether you’re looking for a romantic date night or a family-friendly activity, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is ready to provide you with a great experience. You can enjoy a four- to 4.5-hour train ride depending on if you choose the Nantahala Gorge Excursion or Tuckasegee River Excursion.
During your train ride, you’ll experience beautiful mountain terrain with the option to enjoy a meal and drinks. Those who choose first class or premium tickets have meals included, while more budget-friendly tickets make meals optional. For an extra special ride, visit during the fall for a foliage trip.
3. Hike Deep Creek Trail
Those feeling adventurous will enjoy hiking Deep Creek Trail. This 4.9-mile loop is rated as moderate and has an elevation gain of 895 feet. It’s accessible year-round. Dogs aren’t permitted on this trail.
Those who hike Deep Creek Trail will enjoy a waterfall as well as a creek. While this trail is a bit longer, those who have hiked it say it was relatively easy. The trail is in good condition, with several fun creek crossings.
4. Head to the Road to Nowhere
Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the county of Swain, where Bryson City, North Carolina, sits, gave up most of its private land to the government. They did so to help with the creation of Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The federal government agreed to replace the old highway, Highway 288, which was destroyed in the process.
Sadly, construction halted due to an environmental issue. The road ends at a tunnel and remains unfinished. The residents of Swain County gave the unfinished road the unofficial name “The Road to Nowhere.” You can explore this unfinished but scenic road yourself. Visitors can use the road to hike, but it’s also popular with runners and bikers.
5. Learn History at the Swain County Heritage Museum
Swain County Heritage Museum is full of exhibits giving you a snapshot of the history of the area. You’ll learn about the life of early settlers and how the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Fontana Dam changed the lives of residents. There’s a restored log cabin porch, an 1887 church organ, and a one-room schoolhouse to help you visualize life as it was. There’s no admission charge, but you can make a donation.
6. Visit Darnell Farms
For a fun farm experience, be sure to visit Darnell Farms. There’s a giant 20-foot riverside swing set and playground area that kids will love. There are seasonal activities, including a corn box, hay pyramid, and tunnel slide.
While the farm is available year-round for fresh produce and fun, fall is a must-see at Darnell Farms. Adventure through the six-acre corn maze with family and friends. You’ll have a blast seeing who can make it out first! Pick your own pumpkin straight out of the field for an authentic fall farm experience.
7. Take a Whitewater Rafting Trip with Wildwater Nantahala Adventure Center
If you’re looking for a thrill, consider taking a whitewater rafting trip with Wildwater Nantahala Adventure. Children as young as seven can take on mild to moderate rapids. You can choose between a guided adventure or a self-guided tour. Trips are approximately 3.5 hours and include the raft, paddle, PFD, and paddling jacket.
Wildwater Nantahala Adventure trips leave from Bryson City, North Carolina, and take place from April-October. There are group rates available for a group of 10 or more.
8. Visit the Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians
The Southern Appalachians have a rich history worth exploring. Visit the Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians to get an up-close look at the history through storytelling. The center aims to tell the tales of the people and land through Southern Appalachian art and culture. While here, you’ll experience exhibits that promote the musical and oral heritage of the area.
9. Visit Nantahala Gem Mine
Spend some time hunting for treasure in Bryson City, North Carolina. Stop by Nantahala Gem Mine to find gems to take home. The gemstone material is found in remote and hard-to-reach locations but brought into the Nantahala Gem Mine so you can experience the thrill of the hunt. Search for a wide variety of gemstones such as rubies, sapphires, garnets, amethyst, moonstones, rose quartz, and more. Afterward, bring your treasures to the mine operator for free identification so you can learn more about what you’ve found.
10. Visit the Appalachian Rivers Aquarium
The Appalachian Rivers Aquarium is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free, but donations help keep the aquarium running. Here you can see various non-game and game fish found in the region. Fourteen tanks hold more than 4,000 gallons of water. You can also spot several amphibians and reptiles, including frogs, turtles, and salamanders.
One special feature is the mountain stream exhibit. It’s a three-tank exhibit that includes a waterfall that flows from the second floor down into a tank containing both northern and southern strains of brook trout.
11. Nearby: Oconaluftee Indian Village
The Oconaluftee Indian Village is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and closes seasonally at the end of October. From the moment you step onto the trails, you walk into the 1760s. During the guided tour, you will witness craft demonstrations, meet historical Cherokee people, and view shows throughout the season.
Tickets are $16 for adults (12+), $10 for children (6-11), and 5-years old and under are free. You won’t want to miss the chance to see what life was like for the people in this area during the 18th century. If you’re looking for a great place to learn the history of the Native Americans in this area, this is a fantastic opportunity to do just that.
While Bryson City, North Carolina, may be small, there is so much to explore here. Did you know just how much there was to explore just south of the highly visited national park? What adventures would be most likely to entice you to visit Bryson City?