Nestled in the far western reaches of North Carolina where the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge converge, is a scenic county that draws visitors from all over the nation. Jackson County, North Carolina is renowned for its rugged mountain beauty and teeming with opportunity for outdoor adventure. Activities like world-class whitewater rafting and canoeing are common place and the fly fishing is some of the East Coast’s very best. The mountain biking trails are heralded by many, and the hiking is some of the best you’ll find anywhere east of the Mississippi River.
To top it off, this remote county is home to several quaint mountain communities—towns like Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva—that host everything from laid back local breweries, making the kind of stellar craft beer that Western North Carolina is known for, to top notch resorts where five star amenities are par for the course.
It’s also the home county of Western Carolina University, which has handily won our Top Adventure College Contest for three years running. Read on to find out what it is that makes Jackson County so great and to learn how to make the best of 48 hours in one of North Carolina’s best mountain destinations.
Hike or Climb Whiteside Mountain
Arguably one of the most picturesque mountains in the entire Appalachian range, Whiteside is situated near the boundary that divides Jackson and Macon Counties but is wholly contained within Jackson County proper. The mountain itself is a breath-taking site to behold—with 700-foot cliffs that soar above the valley floor below—but a hike to its summit provides sweeping views that stretch far beyond the foothills into the expansive piedmont.
For day hikers, the summit of Whiteside is accessed via a moderate 2.5 mile loop which starts at the Whiteside Mountain Recreation area. To learn more about accessing the trail head for this hike click here.
The sheer 700-foot cliffs that make Whiteside so imposing have also made it a highly sought after destination for climbers from all over the country. More info on climbing Whiteside here.
Visit the Chattooga River Headwaters
Famous as the setting for the classic film Deliverance, the Chattooga River is one of the most iconic waterways in the south. Some of its more famous whitewater flows along the border of Georgia and South Carolina, but the river originates in North Carolina near the remote Ellicott Rock Wilderness. If you want to experience the Chattooga in its earliest, more tranquil stages go for a drive down the scenic Whiteside Cove Road (1107), accessed from Cashiers via Highway 107. Along the way you’ll take in some great views of nearby Whiteside Mountain before eventually arriving at a little white church with a plaque commemorating some of the cove’s earliest settlers.
Park on the side of the road near the church and head through a rhododendron tunnel just off to the right of the church’s front stoop. This trail will eventually connect with the Chattooga River Trail which has an official trailhead a little farther back down Whiteside Cove Road before you reach the church. Follow the trail through a remote gorge all the way down to banks of the Chattooga River and prepare to be amazed.
Hit the WNC Fly Fishing Trail
Situated in the heart of Jackson County, the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail showcases some of the state’s best trout waters. This trail includes 15 separate fisheries and offers anglers an opportunity to catch everything from trophy browns and rainbows on big rivers to willy native brookies on tiny mountain streams. Fisheries featured on the WNC fly fishing trail include Scott Fork, Caney Creek, the West Fork of the Tuckaseegee River, the Whitewater River, Raven Fork, and many more. Click here for more info on the WNC Fly Fishing Trail.
Visit Panthertown Valley
Not far from the town of Cashiers, Panthertown Valley is one of the most prized natural areas in the Southeast. Here you’ll find everything from cascading waterfalls and imposing granite cliffs to lively trout streams that include the headwaters of the Tuckaseegee and the East Fork of the Little Tennessee River. Panthertown is comprised of some 10,000 acres of Nantahala National Forest land and is home to 30-plus miles of trails, all maintained and well marked by the Friends of Panthertown. 21 miles of the 30 miles in Panthertown Valley even accommodate mountain bikers. To learn more about this area, often referred to as the “Yosemite of the East”, visit www.panthertown.org.
Mountain Bike the Wayehutta Trail System
The Wayehutta Trail System was designed for ATV’s and other off road vehicles, but if you’re up to the challenge it makes a great Jackson County mountain biking destination as well. But be warned, this trail involves strenuous climbing for the the first 5 miles. Those willing to push through however will be rewarded with a fast 5-mile decent that includes banked turns, long rock gardens, and rock drops. Always be mindful of other trail users on this one.
Visit High Falls at Lake Glenville
Throughout most of the year, High Falls, located below the dam that forms Lake Glenville on the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River, is little more than a trickling stream flowing over an impressive rock face in the Tuckasegee Gorge. But for a few days each year, when Duke Energy opens the flood gates at the nearby dam to preform annual water releases benefitting whitewater kayakers, the 150-foot waterfall transforms into a raging torrent that rivals some of the most powerful waterfalls in the state.
In previous years High Falls (also known as Cullowhee Falls) was more difficult to access, but thanks to a recently constructed trail, hikers and kayakers can now find themselves at the base of these falls with relative ease. Check out this video shot by Romantic Asheville for a glimpse of what High Falls turns into during these annual release days, and click here for detailed directions to the Lake Glenville trailhead.
The Dillsboro Inn
With seven riverfront suites all located within walking distance of the Tuckasegee River, the Dillsboro Inn is the perfect Jackson County adventure base camp. Conveniently located near historic downtown Dillsboro, the Dillsboro Inn affords visitors quick and easy access to some of Jackson County’s best attractions and outdoor pursuits.
The High Hampton Inn—Cashiers
When the High Hampton Inn was originally built it served as an exclusive mountain retreat for a retired South Carolina civil war general. Today it’s still fairly exclusive, but it also serves as one of the mountain south’s oldest and most exquisitely preserved cultural relics. Whether it be fly-fishing or day hiking, rock wall climbing or paddling, activities at the High Hampton Inn are centred around the out-of-doors, and its proximity to the Nanatahala National Forest, the Ellicott Rock Wilderness, the Chattooga River, and Panthertown Valley make it an outstanding starting point from which to explore all that Jackson County has to offer.
Moonshine Creek Campground
If 5-star mountain resorts don’t fit your budget or your adventure plans, check out the Moonshine Creek Campground just up the road from the mountain town of Sylva. This secluded, back-to-nature style campground features 91 campsites, some of which boast electrical hookups and creekside decks, and offers quick and easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The campground also offer rustic cabin rentals. Learn more here.
City Lights Cafe—Sylva
For a quick bite, a good cup of coffee, or a local beverage from one of the many near-by craft breweries, head to City Lights Cafe in downtown Sylva. The menu at this electric pit stop includes dairy-free and vegetarian as well as hormone-free and organic local options. Learn more here.
Bucks Coffee Cafe—Cashiers
You won’t find a better cup of coffee in Cashiers than at Bucks Coffee Cafe. Actually, you may not find another cup of coffee anywhere in the tiny mountain town Cashiers, but that doesn’t detract from Buck’s quaint charm, the top-notch quality of their brew, or the quick, easy, and delicious breakfast and lunch options that make this little coffeehouse a bonafide local favorite. Don’t skip out on Buck’s if you’re exploring the bountiful public lands that surround the mountain hamlet of Cashiers, North Carolina.
The good folks over at Innovation Brewing in downtown Sylva are fond of saying that they’re committed to “changing the way you think about beer”—hence the name. Experimentation is the name of the game at this tiny Western North Carolina brewery—which produces about 500 barrels of beer a year to wide regional acclaim—but they still cling to the old tried and true styles that no brewery should be without. If you find yourself in Sylva, don’t miss out on Innovation!
Don’t miss out on these other great Jackson County dining options:
Soul Infusion— A teahouse and bistro featuring live music in Sylva
LuLus on Main— The recipient of the Best of WNC award in 2014, LuLus on Main is Sylva’s home for fresh cut steak and North Carolina seafood
Slabtown Pizza— Delicious hand-made pizza in Cashiers with lots of local craft beer to choose from.
Evolution Wine Kitchen—Sylva’s favorite wine bar and wine shop.
Chile Loco— Authentic Mexican food in Cashiers.
The Orchard—Gourmet table fare in a semi-casual setting.
Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley— Farm to table cuisine that reflects the history and culture of the Western North Carolina mountains .
And don’t forget to check out some of our favorite gear and guide options in Jackson County!
Landmark Learning—The leading resource in education and training for the outdoor community of Western North Carolina and the world. Closely affiliated with WMI of NOLS, this is the go-to center for trainings and certifications spanning wilderness medicine, swiftwater rescue and much more.
Brookings Anglers —These guys are experts in their craft. They’re particularly knowledgable about their Chattooga River backyard but proficient in all of Jackson County’s great trout waters and beyond!
Blackrock Outdoor Company—Whether you’re looking to re-up on quality backpacking gear, hook up with a knowledgable guide, or stock up on the latest Orvis products, Blackrock Outdoor Company is your Sylva go-to.
Motion Makers Bikes— If you’re mountain biking in Jackson County and in need of parts, a tune-up, or just a friendly knowledgable local with the skinny on area trails, head to Motion Makers in Sylva.
Dillsboro River Company— Your go-to for whitewater rafting on the Tuckasegee River!
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