If you're looking for a quintessential charming town to ride, bike, and hike your way through without the massive crowds that other towns in the Smokies bring during the fall months, look no further. This fall, discover Bryson City, the North Carolina gem that exudes relaxation and offers outdoor splendor and activities.
By Chris Martin
Bryson City is a laid-back, small mountain town, bordering the southern side of the famed Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the main North Carolina entrance to the park. This alluring destination is an easily strollable, walkable, hikeable, rideable town full of must-sees, including arts and crafts galleries with working artisans, a bike shop, two fly fishing shops, a historical museum, a fly-fishing museum, an aquarium, an excursion train, two breweries and not to mention a functioning steam train and depot. Fall colors appear first at the highest elevations and work their way down over a 5-6-week season. The town itself puts on a natural spectacle of fall color, and the seasonally decorated streets add to the charm and alluring nature of the area during this time.
“To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches, and rivers, to see life.” ~ Agatha Christie
Once fall colors start to make their appearance, the mountain town transforms into a kaleidoscope of color. One of the best and most unique ways to experience the vibrant landscape in Bryson City is aboard the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The rail excursions will take you through tunnels, rivers and lakes, mountain valleys, and a deep river gorge. They also feature onboard dining options. In the fall, enjoy color from one of the coach cars or the open-air car during daily “Leaf Looker” excursions to the Nantahala Gorge.
“Walking is a man’s best medicine” ~ Hippocrates.
Those looking to hike through the color in search of the best views head to the highest peak in the Smokies – Clingmans Dome. The 54-foot observation tower allows for a 360-degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its 2,144-mile journey.
Another popular hike is at Newfound Gap. At 5,046 feet, the gap is the lowest drivable pass across the mountains – 3,000 feet above Bryson City.
For a more leisurely stroll, enjoy leaf-peeping through Deep Creek Recreation Area, where guests can hike among the trees along trails to three cascading waterfalls, ranging from 25 to 90 feet tall. You can even jump in the car and head to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which begins in nearby Cherokee, and offers equally beautiful fall scenery along every turn with plenty of turn-offs to stop get the perfect Insta post.
“The day I learn to fly, I am not coming down” ~ Unknown.
For the more up beat adventure-seekers looking for a fully immersive fall experience, zip through magnificent colorful canopies via zip lines. Channel your inner Tarzan and explore the beauty of the national parks and forests by swinging or zipping through the treetops. Carolina Bound Adventures has 2 miles of mountain zip line with panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park & Fontana Lake. The best part is a half-mile-long mega zip line taking almost 1 minute to complete above the forest floor. You can also experience the Nantahala Gorge and Smoky Mountains at NOC. They offer a variety of itineraries at the 500-acre Bryson City campus.
Where to Stay
Bryson City boasts many themed glamping options, cabins, boutique hotels / B&Bs and Airbnbs to complete your fall retreat.
1965 Restored Vintage Camper: Step back in time in this completely restored vintage camper with an added full bathroom that includes a shower/tub and toilet. This camper has immense charm for a small space, including the original light fixtures and cabinets. Have tea or coffee on the porch in the morning or relax in the hot tub.
Nantahala Tiny Homes: Wake up and fall asleep to the sounds of rushing water right outside the door of this pet-friendly tiny house. Cozy up at the fire pit and make s’mores for the ultimate creekside glamping experience. Soak up the sun and head to the nearby Nantahala Gorge for whitewater rafting, zipline, and riverside dining.
Yurts: Glamping is made easy with a stay in Wildwater’s Falling Waters Yurt Village. Eight yurts are scattered across 22 acres in the scenic mountains of Western North Carolina. Enjoy your private deck, comfy bed, and domed skylight to watch the stars. Relax to the sound of running water on the waterfall deck, enjoy the outdoor seating looking over the pond, and gather around the picnic tables, where you can plan your next adventure.