by ANNE BRALY
BRYSON CITY, N.C. – The term, outdoor playground, doesn’t seem to do justice for a town surrounded by world-class whitewater kayaking, mountain biking, hiking trails, rafting, zip lining and fly fishing. Factor in a growing restaurant scene, spa experiences, boutique hotels and cozy inns and it’s easy to see why Bryson City continuously ranks high among favorites of mountain destinations around the Smokies with its exciting blend of adventure in the great outdoors and a food-and-drink culture that punches far above its weight of less than 2,000 citizens who reside here year-round. Bryson City is a place where people can live life to the fullest. Come for a day or stay for a few and make memories to last a lifetime.
Hike The Trails
Mark Van Osdal leans down to inspect a wildflower, one of many hanging onto the last bit of warm sun before autumn brings on the first bites of cold weather. We’re on one of his favorite hikes through the Deep Creek Recreation Area, one of many found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This trip takes us to three waterfalls along Deep Creek and as we make our way along a well-worn path, it’s hard not to take notice of the magnificent surroundings – the sound of rushing water, the crisp mountain air, the abundant flora that loves the climate found in this ancient forest.
Van Osdal is owner of Carolina Bound Adventures, a guide service and vacation-planning company that specializes in treks through the woods, on the water and even through the breweries that have found the mountain waters perfect for their ales and other brews.
The waterfall hike takes us past Juney Whank Falls, named after a Cherokee chief, Van Osdal explains, and on past fly fishermen, rock hoppers and tubers to Tom Branch Falls, a lovely combination of falls and cascades that spill water into Deep Creek. The last waterfall on this trip is Indian Creek Falls, not one of the biggest, but nice with a pool of water at its base.
“How long do you have? I could stay out here all afternoon.” he says.
And we could have. Van Osdal knows these trails like the back of his hand. He has “hidey holes” for artifacts he’s discovered; its creepy inhabitants – wooly worms, snakes and millipedes – are part of his woodland family.
I’d challenge you to find a better person to guide you through your mountain adventure.
Carolina Bound Adventures is an all-in-one place to find what you’re looking for in a vacation to the Bryson City area. Check out the web site – www.carolinaboundadventures.com – decide what you want to do, whether it be tubing, rafting, zip lining, or a more sedate experience shopping for mountain handcrafts and learning more about the history of the town and its surroundings. Van Osdal will take care of the rest – everything except securing overnight accommodations, though there are links to some excellent places on his website.
Ride The Rails
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers something for everyone from shoppers to leaf peepers to diners and train buffs. It’s a step back in time when railroads were the primary method of transporting people, lumber and other goods in and out of the mountains.
There are two lines that run today, but they both start and end in Bryson City. One runs along the Tuckasegee River and takes about four hours with a stop in the charming village of Dillsboro, N.C., giving you enough time to experience the shops and restaurants, such as the famous Jarrett House, that Dillsboro has to offer. The second Nantahala Gorge trip takes about 4 1/2 hours with a stop at Nantahala Outdoor Center where riders can disembark and have a meal or simply relax by the river.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad also offers special packages that include wine dinners, a Carolina Moonshine Experience, fall foliage tours and more.
For reservations, visit www.gsmr.com
Nantahala Outdoor Center
NOC’s (Nantahala Outdoor Center) campus is a busy one from early spring through fall, filled with adventure seekers out to test the waters of the Nantahala River or fly across the canopy of the stunning Nantahala Gorge on a multi-course zip line. Or, sit by the riverside at River’s End restaurant and watch as the river flows by. You can do it all at NOC.
Zip lining the Nantahala Gorge is not for the weak of heart. It’s a heart-pounding thrill ride across the canopy and gives zip liners an entirely different view of the gorge from as high as 350 feet above. Experienced guides take you on this journey into the skies, You’ll start out on a “bunny slope” to get you accustomed to sip lining and let your guides gauge your ability. Then you’re off, zipping along a few good lines that aren’t so long, letting you get used to the idea of jumping off a structure into the unknown. Then you come to the wild, half-mile line.
“You’ll be going 45 to 50 miles an hour on this one,” says guide Zack Kay. “So cross your legs, tuck your arms in and don’t brake!”
Then away we went, Kay in front, guide Codi Clark bringing up the rear. It was the fastest half-mile ever, but an exhilarating ride that gives you enough time to look down from the treetops and see pockets of the world from a new perspective.
There’s an old song with lyrics that go something like this: Don’t try to beat the Nantahala. But thousands do each year by raft, canoe, tube and kayak – it’s one of the country’s prime rivers for all types of excitement. The trip downriver takes about three hours with a combination of calmer areas for floating and adrenaline-pumping rapids.
Check out NOC’s website at www.noc.com to plan your next adventure to see if you can beat the Nantahala.
Rest Your Head
From sleeping under the stars to cozying up in luxury bedding, there are a wide-ranging choice of overnight accommodations to be found in the Bryson City area.
Here are some suggestions:
- Lakeview at Fontana is smack dab in the center of all the action. It’s nine miles to downtown Bryson City and nine miles in the other directions to Nantahala Outdoor Center, so it’s in the ideal location. There are 15 units in this renovated 1950s-era motel tucked into the mountainside overlooking Fontana Lake. Each unit is different – some single rooms, others one-bedroom suites and still others for the whole family. It’s a beautiful place and oh so peaceful with a deck perched on the side of the mountain with lake views and comfortable seating. There’s no restaurant, but an honor market is stocked with frozen food, snacks and other items you can take back to your suite and prepare in the microwave. Some of the suites also have gas stoves. All have mini refrigerators so you can bring your own food, too. Lakeview is more than a hotel. It’s a spa, so make reservations for a massage or its incredible soaking experience in a treetop cabana. For reservations, go online to www.lakeviewatfontana.com.
- Fryemont Inn has 37 rooms, some in the historic main lodge on the National Register of Historic Places, others in neighboring structures around the property, some with kitchens. The lodge and restaurant close after Thanksgiving until mid-April, but the Fireplace Suites and a two-bedroom cabin, both with kitchen facilities, are open the year round. Reservations and more information can be found at www.fryemontinn.com.
- Everett Hotel is Bryson City’s boutique hotel with nine rooms, all with luxury bedding. Complimentary breakfast and a rooftop gathering place with bar service is offered to overnight guests. For reservations, go to www.theeveretthotel.com.
- Nantahala Outdoor Center offers overnights in cozy mountain cabins; the hostel-like, budget-friendly Basecamp; group camping in platform tents on raised wooden pods; or a motel room at the newly renovated Dogwood Motel with affordable accommodations. Check them out at www.noc.com.
Renew Your Spirit
You’ve done things you never thought you’d do, zipping through the air at amazing speeds, riding the rapids in frigid waters, or scaling rocks not meant for human occupation. All this leaves a mind filled with accomplishments you’d never thought possible, and perhaps a body sore from all the adventure?
Fortunately, Bryson City has an answer to bring mind and body together.
- The soaking experience at Lakeview at Fontana is unique to this part of the Smokies. High above the resort on the mountainside overlooking Lake Fontana, a peaceful oasis awaits. There are two treetop soaking cabanas, each extremely private so guests can go au naturel for 90 minutes of relaxation soaking a water as hot as you can stand it with special salts and herbs mixed in that help sore muscles while gentle, soothing music plays softly in the background. Try to secure an afternoon reservation for you and your mate, take along a bottle of wine and enjoy some of the most calming moments you’ll ever experience. One should not leave the Smokies without a hot soak in a treetop cabana. For reservations, to online to www.lakeviewatfontana.com.
- Renewal Massage Therapy will come to your vacation home and offers single and couple’s massages customized to your specific needs, from pampering to deep-tissue therapy. Contact the studio at 828-736-7360.
- Nurture Wellness Studio and Massage combines a blend of bodywork styles that combines body, mind, spirit and wellness into each massage. For an appointment, call 828-400-9619 or go to www.nurturewellnessstudio.com