With summer fading into fall, it’s time to plan your adventures for arguably the best season in the Smokies. Look no further than Bryson City, NC, the Outdoor Adventure Capital of the Great Smoky Mountains. This hidden gem is home to six access points to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nationally recognized mountain biking, sections of the infamous Appalachian Trail, the world-class Nantahala River, and much more. We’ve compiled just a few of the adventures available to get you outdoors this fall and catch gorgeous autumnal color.
Saddle Up for Fall Mountain Biking
Bryson City is a mountain biking hotspot for all ages and skill levels. A local favorite is Tsali Recreation Area, where you can enjoy expansive views of Fontana Lake. Tsali has long been considered a top destination for mountain biking in Western North Carolina and beyond. Containing nearly 40 miles of trails in a system with four loops, it has been rated one of the top 10 places to ride in the USA. And, fall is a premier time to hit the trails! You can even rent bikes locally or book a guided tour.
Local Tip: Make it a mountain biking vacation by pedaling into the Nantahala Gorge to enjoy views of the Nantahala River. Then, jump over to Cherokee to hit the Fire Mountain trails for ten more miles of multi-use trail.
Cast Your Line in the Smokies
Fall is a coveted season for prime fishing in Smokies. Both the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers are great for float fishing or wading in key sections. The Nantahala is ideal for catching rainbow trout and the occasional monster brown trout. The Tuckasegee (known locally as “the Tuck”) is perfect for brim, red eye bass, smallmouth bass, or spotted bass. If lake fishing is more your speed, head to Fontana Lake for some of the best fishing of the year as water temperatures and levels begin to drop.
Local Tip: Bryson City has some of the most experienced guide services in the Southeast. Try Fly Fishing in the Smokies, Tuckaseegee Fly Shop, or Endless River Adventures to guide you to the right spot for the type of fishing you want to enjoy.
Hike to Magnificent Fall Views
Hiking is one of the best ways to get unobstructed views of magnificent fall color in Bryson City. Deep Creek Loop is excellent for all skill levels to catch fall color AND see three waterfalls, all on a 2.5 mile trail system. A favorite for expansive views is the hike to Wesser Bald Lookout Tower. This 2.8 mile round trip hike boasts 360 degree views at its summit, thanks to a fire lookout tower and observation deck. Majority of this trail is along the Appalachian Trail, so you can mark hiking a portion of this legendary trail off your bucket list!
Local Tip: Mountain bikers can also take advantage of the Deep Creek area as it is one of the few Great Smoky Mountains National Park areas where bicycles are permitted.
Paddle Out on the Nantahala River or Lake Fontana
Just because summer has winded down doesn’t mean that water sports are over! Rafting outfitters in the Nantahala Gorge continue trips until early-mid October. Fall temperatures in the Nantahala Gorge can greatly vary–it could be a 70 degree day or true fall temperatures. If you catch the latter, most outfitters provide paddling jackets and wetsuits to rent. On Fontana Lake, launch your own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard or take a guided tour to see fall color from the water and even catch a glimpse of the infamous Great Smoky Mountains Railroad scenic passenger rail line crossing over the lake.
Local Tip: Already rafted a couple rivers and want to level up? Rent duckies from an outfitter for a DIY experience. Duckies are inflatable kayaks that are more stable than a traditional kayak and allow you to experience the Nantahala’s class I, II, and III rapids more intimately than in a raft.
Catch the Elk Rut Season in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Witnessing the elk graze in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a sight to behold at any time of year, but fall is your best opportunity to spot bull elk. September and October is “the rut” (or mating season) when bulls gather cows into large herds for mating. You also might hear the bulls bugle. Keep in mind that male elk are a lot more aggressive during this season so it is very important to keep your distance while marveling at these incredible animals. Close to Bryson City, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum are popular spots to find large numbers of elk.
Local Tip: Keep your eyes peeled in the morning or evening for elk around Kituwah Mound right outside of Bryson City heading towards Cherokee. Kituwah Mound was the center of the village, according to Cherokee legend, and occasionally there are elk grazing in the field there too.
Zip Through Fall Foliage
Want to get up close and personal with the beautiful changing leaves? Ziplining is a great, adrenaline-pumping activity that goes well into the fall season. Zip through the tree tops and explore new heights, while jumping out of your comfort zone with family or friends.Local Tip: Have a child not ready to zip? There are options for kid zips and ropes course style obstacles that may be the speed of your child, for ages 4-12.
Find more outdoor adventure in Bryson City, NC during any season!