9 Amazing Things To Do in Bryson City NC for Outdoor Lovers

We love the outdoors and we recently filled a weekend with tons of things to do in Bryson City, NC. It was our first visit, but will not be our last to this western North Carolina mountain town.

Photo courtesy of Bryson City.

Bryson City is only about 90 minutes north of Blue Ridge. I was in awe of the lake, the rivers, the trees and more. It’s my #1 choice for fall vacation ideas this year. Here’s a summary of what we did (and what we want to do on our next visit!) in this awesome North Carolina town.


Courtesy of Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.

The best family fun vacation spots are often just up the road. We recently opted for one of our favorite weekend getaways with kids right over the GA border at Bryson City, NC. We had the BEST time while visiting, but the impetus for our trip was a Bryson City train ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, and boy was it worth it. If you’re looking for a weekend getaway from Atlanta, this small town should be on your list.


Our family visited at the end of September. Hints of fall were in the air, and I knew immediately that we needed to come back for the Fall Foliage ride.

Kids and adults alike won’t want to miss the Polar Express. Tens of thousands of people enjoy this special event, which begins in November and extends beyond Christmas into the first week of January.

The 1¼ hour round-trip passenger excursion comes to life as the train departs the Bryson City depot for a journey through the quiet wilderness for a special visit at the North Pole

Your Polar Express package includes a heated compartment, visit with Santa, cookies and cocoa, music and stories and so much more! This is a very popular event, so be sure to plan ahead for the Polar Express. Bryson City, NC offers so much that this is the ideal time to grab a cabin and make it a weekend.

They also offer events that are perfect for adults too! Such as Uncorked, where passengers can enjoy a full service All-Adult First Class ride with a private attendant and dining seating. A narrator will accompany the ride to present each pour to guests and share knowledge and history of the wines selected. Passengers on this specialty car will enjoy an exclusive sampling of cheeses and a surf and turf meal prepared fresh.


The package we chose was the Tarzan Trail, which is available April-October. This train and canopy package allowed our family to ride the train through the Smoky Mountains, along Fontana Lake and through the Nantahala Gorge.

This gliding experience, naturally fueled by a gradual elevation change, takes you through multiple ecosystems, past hemlocks, into hardwoods and through a deciduous forest packed with native flowering plants. 

While there are plenty of lines for adults here, we focused on the kids and let Cooper ride the Adventure Park KIDZIP. He was in heaven! After our adventure, they took us back to our car at the train depot! It was great!

The package also included a delicious style deli lunch (BBQ sandwiches, chips, a cookie and a drink) on the train to make sure we were fueled up before hopping off at the top of the line. Wildwater‘s Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours picked us up and took us a short drive to their zip line facility.


Bryson City Waterfall

Enjoy a number of excursions from Wildwater as part of your train ride, or separately.

This full-day guided adventure starts with a Wildwater staff member greeting you at the train depot, followed by a scenic train trip, deli lunch with all the fixings, and a Nantahala River whitewater trip with a guide in every boat. Hot showers and a photo show follow immediately after your 8 mile Nantahala River trip

We took the train into Nantahala Gorge and then jumped off for a few hours of zip line fun. With their new KidZip, kids as young as 4-years-old can enjoy zip lining through the trees in 13 different sections.

Other fun experiences at Wildwater that we are anxious to try in the future include Nantahala Yurt Village. Yurts here include REAL beds not futons. The yurts sit on the water, with plenty of activities to choose from (yeah, I’m dying to stay here!!) When we return, I’m signing us up for the Nantahala Jeep Tour. Spend two hours on back forest service roads, exploring the mountains, lakes and waterfalls.


Things to do in Bryson City NC

The North Carolina mountains and begging to be explored and Bryson City, North Carolina is a great spot to explore.

The Deep Creek entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just 3 miles from main street in Bryson City. Parking is just within the entrance, where you can also enjoy a picnic area, clean restrooms, fishing and more. The draw for us was Three Waterfalls Loop. An easy 2.4-mile hike allowed us to enjoy the forest and the river, and see three gorgeous waterfalls. I can’t even begin to imagine how breathtaking this area is in fall! Great for leaf-peeping.

Traveling with your four legged friend? Note: Pets are NOT allowed on hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are allowed in Deep Creek campground, picnic areas, and along roads, but must be kept on a leash.  

The Great Smokey Mountains is one of Trekaroo’s favorite hikes. See their post on more great national park hikes. 


We dined at Anthony’s Derailed – there’s great pizza, pasta and such. But a friend told us about Nantahala Brewing Company. There’s great beer, live music and an over-all fun place to hang with the locals. Kids are welcome! But they don’t serve food. So here’s the local’s secret: Get a to-go pizza from Anthony’s and walk it down to the Brewing Company. Grab a pint and enjoy your feast!


Bryson City Cabin Rentals

If you are looking for weekend getaways then consider a Smoky Mountain vacation with Lands Creek Log Cabins, your peaceful respite in the southern Appalachian Mountains. This beautiful log cabin resort sits on a secluded 80-acres just 3 miles from Bryson City, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and Deep Creek Park in the Smoky Mountains.

The Smoky Mountain cabins at Lands Creek include 19 cabins in four perfect settings: Creekside cabins sit along Lands Creek, Ridgetop cabins include a beautiful vista views, Woods cabins are affordable options on the hillside and the Lodge is an extra-large cabin of six bedrooms, perfect for a wedding, reunion or large family looking for weekend getaways ideas.

We stayed in Raccoon Retreat, one of the Creekside cabins in Bryson City, NC on one of our weekend trips from Atlanta. Here are the details about our amazing hideaway.


Our cabin was a one bedroom/one bathroom, but also included an open loft with four twin beds, perfect for the kiddos. The master suite was on the main floor, with a queen bed.

The bathroom included a tub/shower combo and offered plenty of towels and washcloths. It sat next to the master suite, not inside the room, so it was easily accessible to everyone.

The loft area was very spacious, with a window and lamp, and large overlook to the bottom floor. The twin beds were genius, if you ask me! They are built on rollers!! The carpeting keeps them from rolling around easily, but the wheels make it easy to arrange them to your liking.


The kitchen was spacious, with plenty of workspace for cooking.  It also opened to the living area, making it easy to entertain and interact with the family as I cooked, though a table and chairs were available in the kitchen, as well.

It was fully appointed with a full-size fridge, stove, dishwasher, microwave, and coffeepot.  It included dishes, glasses and stemware, pots and pans, cooking utensils, and everything we needed to make dinner (except the groceries-haha.)  As a note, there is a charcoal grill available, if you prefer to cook that way.


The living area of the cabin included a sofa, rocking chair, satellite TV and extra tables. We also loved the gas log fireplace even though it wasn’t yet cold enough to try it out.


The cabin included a wonderful wrap around porch overlooking the creek…which sounded amazing, by the way, with a perfect selection of rocks and boulders that eased away all my stress with the way it spoke to me from the porch rockers.

Our favorite cabin experience was building a fire by the creek, roasting s’mores and drinking wine. Lands Creek Cabins offer plenty of firewood for superb night time fun.


The cabins are located about 3-miles from downtown Bryson City, where you’ll find restaurants, museums and the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. It’s important to state however, that it feels like a million miles away, which is something we enjoyed. We loved how secluded it seemed, yet how close it was to Bryson City’s attractions.


Our cabin was perfect for our fall vacation getaway from Atlanta. We loved the flexible sleeping arrangements of the loft, the clean and open cabin layout, the fully equipped kitchen, the sound of the creek as we sat by the fire….this is where we want to be whenever we are in Bryson City. I highly recommend a stay at Lands Creek Log Cabins.


With only a weekend and so much to do, we just couldn’t fit it all in. In addition to the yurt and Jeep adventures I mention above (with Wildwater,) here are a few more excursions we hope to pack in on another visit.


We want to tour The Road To Nowhere, with majestic views of the mountains over about 6 miles. It ends in a tunnel that you can tour (bring a flashlight,) or you can hike beyond the tunnel if you’re up for it!


This is about 3,800 acres of “virgin forest” named in memory of Joyce Kilmer who penned the poem Trees. The trees at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest are old-growth…some of them are over 400 years old, 20 feet in circumference and 100 feet tall! You can’t drive through here, but an easy 2-mile hike will offer breathtaking reward.


You might know Cherokee for Harrah’s, though I’m not too much of a gambler. There are also cultural attractions, waterfalls and a fly fishing museum showcasing the history of fly fishing. My kids will definitely enjoy seeing Cherokee, where traditional arts and crafts and Native American culture are respected and preserved for coming generations.


Originally a courthouse, it was built in 1907. It served as courtroom and county offices. In 1984, these services moved to a new location and the property sat vacant for many years.

Grants were obtained by the county to refurbish the building, which opened in June 2014. It now serves as a visitor center and Great Smoky Mountains Association bookstore on the first floor, with a Swain County Heritage Museum on the first and second floor.

There is no admission charge, donations are greatly appreciated and there is a scavenger hunt available for everyone. 


Learn the history of fly fishing as well as the arts, the sciences, the crafts and the skills of fly fishing. The purpose of the museum is to capture and preserve the history of fly fishing in the region, since it is being lost daily as our “old timers” pass away and as modern methods and new generations of anglers move fly fishing forward through technology.

Bryson City is a fly fisherman’s paradise where the Tuckasegee River runs right through downtown. The ‘Tuck’ runs some 60 miles through Western North Carolina before flowing into Fontana Lake Dam.


Indian Creek Falls and Toms Branch Falls is an easy 1.6 mile roundtrip hike with two beautiful waterfalls in the Deep Creek area. Walk Deep Creek Trail 0.7 mile to the junction with Indian Creek Trail. On your way you can view the elegant, 60′ high Tom Branch Falls located on the far side of Deep Creek. 


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9 Amazing Things To Do in Bryson City NC for Outdoor Lovers