TRAVEL GUIDE TO BRYSON CITY AND THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
Places to Visit IN THE SMOKIES
For a Quieter, More Relaxed Smoky Mountains Vacation, Discover the North Carolina Smokies
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park's half-million acres are equally divided between Tennessee and North Carolina. And with roughly forty percent of the Park in Swain County, Bryson City is the ideal spot for a relaxing Smoky Mountain vacation — away from the more carnival atmosphere of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Even though the GSMNP is the nation's most-visited national park, most visitors only experience a small portion of the Park. The most popular areas are along US 441 between Gatlinburg and Cherokee and Cades Cove. But there's a lot more to see and do, particularly in North Carolina's half of the Park. Check out this list of fun, free things do in the Park on the North Carolina side.
Dogs are not allowed on any National Park trails (even on a leash), but there are several of pet-friendly hiking trails.
More Helpful Info About the Park...
1) Most visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have picked up a copy of the 16-page quarterly Smokies Guide at a visitors center. And now you can read it online before your visit to the Smokies.
2) Printable guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the Swain County / Bryson City Chamber of Commerce.3) Nine-minute video tour of the Mountain Farm Museum and Oconaluftee Visitor Center. © GSMA 2012.
USA Today™ has named The Great Smoky Mountains National Park among their "Top Ten Great Places To See Spring Wildflowers" (spring 2012). Noting with more than 1,600 flowering species, some have called this Appalachian area Wildflower National Park. The list was based on a list of favorite spots offered by Bob Gibbons, author of "Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World."
USA Today™ has named The Great Smoky Mountains National Park one of 10 great places in North America to explore geologic wonders. According to the April 2010 article, "the Appalachians top out at less than 7,000 feet, but they once towered as high as the Himalayas. The East Coast range, formed when Africa collided with North America, has been steadily eroding, 'but the rocks there show this great geologic violence.'" — Larry Blelberg, USA Today™ interview with Garry Hayes, Geotripper blog.
Southern Living picked The Great Smoky Mountains National Park as its Number One Weekend Getaway in the Mountains for 2010; and Bryson City as the place to stay and dine while you are visiting the Park.
The place to begin is the Oconaluftee Visitors Center at the Park entrance on US 441 just north of Cherokee. There you'll find displays, maps, dozens of helpful publications and a staff of knowledgeable, helpful park rangers.
|Mountain Farm Museum — In a field behind the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, the Park Service has recreated a late 19th century mountain farm with authentic log structures moved from their original locations throughout the National Park. One of the buildings, the John E. Davis farmhouse, originally stood in the Indian Creek/Thomas Divide area north of Bryson City. View a video elsewhere on this page.|
|Deep Creek — Less than two miles from downtown Bryson City, the Deep Creek recreational area of the Park offers activities for the entire family, including camping, hiking, trout fishing and the area's best whitewater tubing. From this entrance hikers can access the many backcountry trails that wind through the Park, or take a leisurely stroll along the creek bank and picnic by the water's edge. Deep Creek is probably best known for its three waterfalls — Juneywhank, Tom Branch and Indian Creek Falls. All are just a short walk from the parking area. Video|
|The Road to Nowhere — With so much to see and do in the Bryson City area, it is hard to imagine a day when you might have nowhere to go. But should that happen, there is always the Road to Nowhere, a scenic mountain highway that takes you six miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at the mouth of a tunnel. On the map, it is called Lakeview Drive, but to the citizens of Swain County it is The Road to Nowhere — A Broken Promise. (For the rest of this story, click here.)|
|Fontana Lake North Shore — Forney Creek, Eagle Creek and Hazel Creek are three isolated areas accessible only by foot or by boat. Hazel Creek is where the logging town of Proctor once stood, with more than 2,000 residents at the turn of the century. Only a few remnants of that town remain|
|Mingus Mill — A large water-powered mill for grinding corn can be seen in operation from mid-April through October. One-half mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center on US 441.|
|Clingmans Dome — At 6642 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the Smokies and the second highest east of the Mississippi (North Carolina's Mount Mitchell is 42 feet higher). From the parking lot, seven miles west of Newfound Gap, walk the steep half-mile path to the 54-foot observation tower for a 360-degree view of the Park. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its 2,144-mile journey. Normally closed from December 1 through April 1.Video|
|Cataloochee Valley — Once the largest settlement in the Smokies, this valley rivals Cades Cove with its beauty and its many preserved structures. It was there that elk were re-introduced into the Park in 2001 and 2002. The animals are not frightened by humans and can be observed grazing in Cataloochee's fields almost any afternoon throughout the year.
If you don't have time to drive to Cataloochee, you might just spot some elk in the fields near the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in Cherokee or around Cherokee Central Schools on Big Cove Road (off Acquoni Rd. at Saunooke Village). Video
|Smokemont — Trails and horseback riding, just north of Cherokee on U.S. 441. 3 miles above the Oconaluftee Visitors Center; in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.|
The National Park has some great educational and fun programs, from spring through fall. Some are part of the Junior Ranger program, but many are for the whole family.
Summer 2013 programs (pdf)
In summer there are daily programs for Junior Rangers, historic tours, night hikes, river rambles, guided waterfall hikes, wagon rides, storytelling and more.
If you're between the ages of 5-12, you can become a Junior Ranger!
Pick up a Junior Ranger (JR) booklet for $2.50 at any park visitor center or the Bryson City Chamber of Commerce. Complete the activities in the booklet then stop by a visitor center to talk to a ranger and receive your Junior Ranger badge.
You can also become a Web Ranger with the on-line Junior Ranger program. Info
Anyone over the age of 12 can participate in any 3 ranger-led activities and earn a NSJR patch, certificate, and refrigerator magnet. If you attend during a time of the year when we have fewer ranger-led programs (like winter), you can go to one of the Park's visitor centers and we will tell you about alternative things you can do to earn your NSJR status.
The program has been hugely successful and the adults or "Not-so's" as they are fondly referred to by Park staff, really love being able to participate in programs like "You, Too Can Play the Hog Fiddle" (mountain dulcimer)," corn shuck doll making, weaving, Cherokee pottery, and others. Many adults and older siblings participate with their 5-12 year-old JR's and that way the whole family can be involved!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Friends of the Smokies
Main Office (TN)
399 Winnfield Dunn
Kodak, TN 37764
Friends of the Smokies
North Carolina Office
160 South Main Street
Waynesville NC 28786
Great Smoky Mountains Association
Online Bookstore and Gift Shop
All purchases benefit Great Smoky
Mountains National Park.
115 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
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Bryson City - Swain County
Chamber of Commerce
& Visitor Center
210 Main Street
P.O. Box 509
Bryson City, NC 28713
Karen Proctor Wilmot