We recently filled a weekend with things to do in Bryson City, NC. It was our first visit (only about 90 minutes north of Blue Ridge,) but will not be our last. 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.
Ride the 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, put the GSMR on your list.
GSMR events you’ll love
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 will love an October packed with opportunities to ride the PEANUTS™ Pumpkin Patch Express, with campfire marshmallows, coloring stations, hayrides and more. Each kiddo will also select their own pumpkin from The Great Pumpkin Patch to take home.
You also don’t want to miss event put on by the Smoky Mountain train in Bryson City: 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.
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.
GSMR packages you’ll love
We enjoyed the Zip & Rail package (available April-October) which allowed our family to ride the train through the Smoky Mountains, along Fontana Lake and through the Nantahala Gorge. We ate a boxed 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. 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!! (We have a full review coming soon, with video!) After our adventure, they took us back to our car at the train depot! It was great!
Other adventures on the train include rafting the Nantahala, taking a waterfall Jeep tour (I soooo want to do this!) and enjoying a locomotive cab ride where you learn just what it takes to be an engineer.
Take a Wildwater adventure
Enjoy a number of excursions from Wildwater as part of your train ride, or separately. 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.
Hike the Waterfall Loop at Deep Creek in the GSMNP
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.
The Great Smokey Mountains is one of Trekaroo’s favorite hikes. See their post on more great national park hikes.
Nosh on Pizza and Beer at Anthony’s and Nantahala Brewing Company
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 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.
On the radar for our next Bryson City visit
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.
The Road to Nowhere
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!
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
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.
Cherokee Indian Reservation
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. My kids will definitely enjoy seeing Cherokee, where traditional arts and crafts and Native American culture are respected and preserved for coming generations.
Disclosure: Thank you to Lands Creek Log Cabins, GSMR, Wildwater and Bryson City for hosting my family and me. It did not sway our opinions at all – we love this place!
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.