Historic Tapoco Lodge: A Secluded Nature Retreat

Down a winding section of NC Hwy 129 with the rushing rapids of the Cheoah River on the left and the towering mountains on the right just before the 90 degree angle in the road that takes you over the Cheoah Dam to the Dragon’s tail, is the Historic Tapoco Lodge, a comfortable sanctuary nestled along the water. It is a perfect retreat in Robbinsville, NC, just three hours easy drive from Atlanta. 

Historic Tapoco Lodge: A Secluded Nature Retreat

The Tapoco Lodge started its life at the turn of the century as a company town for the workers building nearby dams. With the dams complete, the property became a hunting lodge for Andrew Mellon, former US Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin Roosevelt.

You can still see photos of this bygone era in the common areas of the lodge and the stone foundations of the buildings on the property. 

Today, the lodge is a melting pot for an eclectic group of visitors that include motorcycle riders, sport car clubs, kayakers, hikers, fisherman,  birders and locals. They all come together on the back porch of the lodge sipping drinks from the bar or noshing on a brick oven pizza from the Tavern.

The food is good and the service friendly, but the main draw of the patio is the rushing Cheoah River. Come during one of the many dam releases and watch the kayakers in their multicolored crafts navigate the rapids just feet away.

Historic Tapoco Lodge hiking trails
Historic Tapoco Lodge: A Secluded Nature Retreat
Historic Tapoco Lodge hiking trails

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

We did several hikes during our stay at Tapoco Lodge, but my favorite is about 20 minutes away and a perfect stop on the way to or from the Lodge.

We visited the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest on our way there. It’s an easy 2 mile round trip hike consisting of an upper and lower loop through an old growth forest with towering trees hundreds of years old.

Seeing how the forest is repairing itself after a 2016 forest fire makes it all the more magical because you can see through the trees to the forest floor which is blanketed with different shades and textures of green.

Hikes from the Historic Tapoco Lodge

There are 15 hikes on the map of the Tapoco Lodge property you receive on check-in. A few notable ones:

The Bear Creek Loop Trail: This hike begins at the Lodge and takes you along the rushing waters of the Cheoah River until you reach Bear Creek Falls, then it’s an upward climb to either reach the loop and head back to the lodge or continue to the Belding Trail further up the falls. On our way back to the Lodge, we came across wild turkey on the path – I love seeing wildlife!

Cheoah Dam Overlook Trail: This hike also begins at the Tapoco Lodge and goes past the cabins, as well as the old barracks ruins, between the two tennis/pickleball courts to a steep trail that ends with a stunning overlook of the Cheoah Dam. 

Yellow Creek Falls Trail: This hike is a short distance by car from the Lodge and is a short hike along the yellow creek to the falls at the end. It’s a good place to splash in the mountain water if you are so inclined. 

Historic Tapoco Lodge: A Secluded Nature Retreat

More Things to do at the Historic Tapoco Lodge

There’s more to Tapoco than just hiking. As I mentioned they have two tennis/pickleball courts. We brought our tennis racquets but rain made it too wet to play.

On the way to the tennis courts is the Tin Can Theater where movies are shown and other events held. Tapoco also offers in-room spa services and yoga by appointment. 

The Laurel Lodge is the place for a night cap or just a game of checkers. This cozy bar area also has tables to lay out one of the many puzzles or games available. 

My favorite location at the Tapoco Lodge is the fire pits, complete with all the wood you could want and free fire starters from the front desk – smore kits are available for purchase. There are two fire pit areas, one tucked under the trees and the other next to the river.

We had a great time chatting with the groups that came to sit. One couple was visiting for the week from Nashville. Another was from Boca Raton Florida. A third was from Detroit on a guys motorcycle trip.

Accommodations at Tapoco Tavern

There are two types of accommodations at Tapoco, the Inn, where we stayed and the cabins. The couple from Nashville had been to the Lodge several times and said the Overlook cabin was their favorite because of its location and view of the river. 

We stayed in the Hemlock room at the Inn, a spacious nicely appointed room with a perfect view of the river with some unique touches – my two favorites were the yoga cards and the binoculars. 

I’m a wannabe yogi, and enjoyed thumbing through the cards. Had I stayed longer, I probably would have tried the yoga class – the grounds are such a perfect spot for meditation and mindful stretching. 

The binoculars are yours to use during your stay to view the many birds that make their home in the area. In fact, as we walked into our room I heard them – the clock had a setting that played bird songs. 

In the bathroom you’ll find Melia bath products, you can  pick up these and any of the other touches in the Lodge gift shop, which also has a nice assortment of upscale gift items. 

Dining at Historic Tapoco Lodge

There are two dining rooms at the Tapoco Lodge, the Tavern and the Cheoah Room. Both open up to the river and have decks that, in nice weather, are in demand real estate for spectacular views of the river.

This isn’t just a destination for Lodge guests, we saw lots of locals and those just stopping in, but as a Lodge guest you can make a reservation, which is advisable, especially on busy weekends. 

We had dinner at the Tavern and breakfast on the deck of the Cheoah room. The Tavern is a typical bar menu with a lot of choices from salads to burgers and even  brick oven pizza.

The sides were the standout for me. The house fried chips were nice and crispy and my superfood slaw with kale, cabbage, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries was unique and delicious. 

I appreciated the self-serve coffee and tea station during breakfast in the Cheoah room – it was nice to just walk up and refill. We tried the house specialty hashbrown casserole which I thought tasted like a treasured family holiday dish, my husband wasn’t a fan, I’m thinking he didn’t care for the sour cream (at least that’s what I think I tasted), but that’s what made it good to me. To each his own. 

There is a good selection of beers on tap, but the wine was limited. I’m not a sophisticated wine drinker, but if you are, you might want to venture into the Laurel Lounge where they had Caymus bottles – or skip wine and choose a cocktail instead.

Taming the Tail of the Dragon

One of the biggest draws for this area, other than the natural beauty and the river, is the undulating highways that draw motorcyclists and car enthusiasts.

The Tail of the Dragon is an 11-mile section of Highway 129 that was built to connect the area after the dams were constructed. Since we were there, we had to drive it, but we found an unusual and pretty cool surprise. 

About mile six, there is a non-descript pull off in the cradle of a curve in the road – blink and you’ll miss it. Up the hill you’ll find the grave of Bas Shaw. Bas was a Union soldier captured by Confederates. The headstone tells a brief story of his demise and that of his family. 

If you are looking for an escape truly away from everything, and want a cozy, comfortable home base for endless amazing hikes, consider The Historic Tapoco Lodge.

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Historic Tapoco Lodge: A Secluded Nature Retreat