Horses are definitely the initial draw at Cataloochee Ranch, Maggie Valley NC. The ranch’s herd is approximately 25 strong steeds, who summer in the rich pastures of the resort, and winter in equally fine quarters in South Carolina. Whether you ride or not, their presence adds to the pastoral atmosphere of this secret mountain getaway.
Get Your Cowboy on at the Cataloochee Ranch
The ranch itself is up a winding mountain off the main road. During our short two day visit, we met folks from all over the Southeast savoring their temporary home on the range; Floridians escaping the summer heat (we needed sweatshirts for the chilly July evenings), Alabama residents looking for family adventure, and North Carolina natives just looking to get out of a routine.
Some had horses of their own, most were occasional riders like us, and several were there to introduce their children to a way of life that is disappearing fast.
Cataloochee Ranch Horseback Riding
The Cataloochee Ranch is a gorgeous place to ride horses. With 950 acres, the trails aren’t out and back, but rather two hours of meandering over mountains and through valleys so lush sections are considered a tropical rain forest. You must be at least 50 pounds and 8 years-old to ride, but younger riders can learn with lead horses.
Punctuating the abundant sea of green at Cataloochee Ranch, are meadows with accents of white Queen Anne’s lace and black-eyed Susan wild flowers, plus a few curious all-black beef cattle that graze on the land that borders Smokey Mountain National Park. And everywhere mountain views to die for.
Cataloochee Ranch Hiking Trails for Every Level
Not everyone that comes to Cataloochee Ranch, NC is here to ride. Hiking is another popular pastime. The ranch has six trails ranging from an easy one mile trek around the pasture ‘bowl’ that includes a Rhododendron tunnel, to a moderate six mile trail called The Swag, through virgin timber that includes an out and back portion into Smokey Mountain National Park and spectacular views from Gooseberry Knob.
We hiked the Walhalla Trail billed as a four-mile moderate trek. It took us past a Chestnut orchard, and through the Rhododendron tunnel where we veered off a bit to see a giant ancient oak tree. All was good until the rain started. We tried to take shelter under the trees, but at some point it was no use. Eventually the rain stopped, but we were still left forging rushing creeks that had formed from the heavy rains. We arrived back at the ranch wet from head to toe, but accomplished.
More Cataloochee Ranch Hiking Trails
The Wagon Trail. An easy 1.5-mile trail that goes by the vegetable garden for the Cataloochee Ranch restaurant.
Devil’s Britches. A moderate 4-mile trail with one of the largest strands of Galax on the mountain.
Hemphill Bald. We did this strenuous five-mile trail on horseback (so not so strenuous for us). It goes through Windy Gap to the edge of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park fence line. From the top are gorgeous long-range views of Hemphill Bald.
Nearby Hiking in Maggie Valley, NC
Soco Falls. Soco Falls is a beautiful waterfall just a few minutes from downtown Maggie Valley. This is an easy hike to a viewing platform. Stop by Moo Mountain Bakery in downtown Maggie Valley on your way back for a sweet treat.
The Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a nice hike to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway that offers stunning views at the top. (The Parkway is 30 minutes from the Ranch).
The Great Smokey Mountains. Of course there are lots of trails to explore throughout the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, which is adjacent to the Ranch.
Hearty Vittles from the Cataloochee Ranch Restaurant
There is no mistaking the Cataloochee Ranch restaurant for a chuck wagon. Many locals visit specifically for the restaurant, one couple we met were celebrating their 44th wedding anniversary. Guests can purchase a B&B package that includes a hearty buffet breakfast that even left my teenager waddling out the door patting his stomach. I mean, why wouldn’t you have breakfast included.
A bell rings through the ranch signaling dinner, which starts with a social hour at 6 pm with beer and wine for purchase, and the meal at 7 pm. Our first evening we enjoyed tender slow cooked brisket, the next evening was a cookout of flame kissed NY strip steaks and mountain trout. The only reason not to include dinner in your stay is if you plan to do day-trips and might not make it back.
My favorite part of meals is the family style atmosphere with assigned seating. This is where we met other guests, making our vacation feel more like a family reunion than a hotel stay.
Lunch is even more relaxed and available each day for purchase. It often involves a cookout. We enjoyed thick hot dogs, delicious cheeseburgers and potato salad just like my mom used to make.
Beyond Horses and Hiking at Cataloochee Ranch
Birding. The birds sing a bit louder at Cataloochee Ranch, probably because it’s part of the NC birding trail. Spring is the best time to see the migratory birds that pass through the area. The Ranch even has special birding weekends ask about dates.
Wilflower Hike. I adore wildflowers, and there are lots of them at the Cataloochee Ranch. Ask the front desk for information on a self-guided wildflower hike on the grounds.
Wagon Rides. The Ranch offers wagon rides everyday, normally at 10 am and 5 pm. During our stay the ride was scheduled for 2 pm, but we pushed it until 3 when the rains stopped. We bumped along the gravel road out to the pastures and back again.
Fishing. Bring your own gear or purchase a cane pole in the gift shop. The trout pond is the perfect place for fishing (and finding frogs the size of an adult’s palm!) The kitchen will even cook your catch for you.
Monster House. Kids will adore exploring around the pond. There are numerous bridges to cross and a monster house – basically a hidden ‘room’ within the trees.
Swimming. Catalochee Guest Ranch has a heated pool on site that overlooks the mountains.
Lawn Games. My husband and son had an intense badminton game going at one point. The Ranch also has balls of every kind and Frisbees. There is also a horseshoe pit. The younger guests however didn’t need any of that. They enjoyed just running around after dinner playing tag on the expansive lawn, stopping every once in a while to swing on the old-fashion tree swing haging from a large oak tree.
Indoor Games. In the loft area of the ranch house are books and games. We played Yathzee with a family from Florida while the rain passed. Worst game of Yathzee I’ve ever played.
Nightly Entertainment. Each night of our visit, Cataloochee Ranch hosted a local entertainer at the Ranch House. Our first night local Rob Gudger brought his wolves and taught us a little about these misunderstood pack animals, even allowing guests to pet her.
The second night William Ritter played his many stringed instruments for us. I especially liked to hear the stories behind the music, and William did a great job of regaling the crowd about origins of the songs and the men and women who wrote and performed them. The fiddle was his favorite instrument, but the banjo got the adults up dancing, while the little ones peeked through the loft railing for a birds’ eye view.
Nothing. My favorite line from the Winnie the Pooh movie is “They say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.” Cataloochee Ranch is the perfect place to do nothing. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of nature. Watch a butterfly flit from flower-to-flower. Or.just.do.nothing.
Things to do in Maggie Valley, NC & Beyond
In addition to activities at the Cattaloochee Ranch, there is a ton to do around the ranch in Maggie Valley NC and the surrounding area. Here are a few you might want to consider during a longer visit.
Cataloochee Ranch and Ski Resort. A mile from the Cataloochee Ranch is Cataloochee Ski Resort. It’s one of the closest ski resorts to Atlanta and has superior snow making abilities for when the white stuff doesn’t make a natural appearance. Cataloochee Ranch and Ski Resort meet my bucket list.
Leap Frog Tours Killer Bees Honey Tour. I want to do this just for the outfit (you dress like a beekeeper) and of course the tasting. Afterward, pour your own souvenir bottle of honey.
Wheels Through Time Museum, Maggie Valley, NC. This quirky museum is home to the world’s premier collection of rare American motorcycles, memorabilia, and unique “one-off” American automobiles.
Elevated Mountain Distilling Co. Find out how your favorite spirits are made with a tour (and taste) at Elevated Mountain Distilling Co. in Maggie Valley. Elevated Mountain makes great Smoky Mountain Whiskey and other premium spirits.
Nantahala Outdoor Center. We met a family from Alabama who had spent the day whitewater rafting on the Nantahala. This is a great family friendly option with Class II and Class III rapids.
Fly-Fishing. That same family also went fly-fishing. They are a fishing family, but July isn’t the best time for fly-fishing apparently, and they didn’t catch anything. If you are trying this for the first time, especially with kids, ask about seasonality before booking the trip.
Tubing. On our way to the ranch, we passed several places to tube. But remember, this is mountain water, it’s probably a bit cold.
Synchronous FireFly Tours. Sometime in June (the exact dates change) Cataloochee Valley Tours leads synchrononus firefly night walks. Of course this was high on my bucket list, but the tours are sold out…for the next TWO YEARS! You can see the fireflies from the Gatlinburg side though, or go on an Elk watching tour on the NC side. It’s no fireflies, but Elk are still pretty cool.
Cherokee Indian Museum. On our way back to Atlanta we stopped at the Cherokee Indian Museum. I was hoping to do the interactive Oconaluftee Indian Village, but they were closed on Sunday. The Cherokee museum does a great job of explaining the plight of the Cherokee through exhibits and audio recordings, but it may be a bit too much reading for small children. For them, I’d plan to wade through Cherokee Creek. Lots of families playing along this very nice park area.
Also close to Cataloochee Ranch and Maggie Valley NC is Asheville NC.
Thank you to the Cataloochee Ranch for hosting me and my family. It was a welcome way to exhale in a gorgeous setting.