Whatever your outdoor activity of choice, your options abound in Western North Carolina. With treasures like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala River Gorge, the area is a paradise for paddlers, bikers, hikers, craft-beer lovers and those seeking beautiful surroundings and fun with like-minded folks. Here are a few of our picks of where to go and what to do.
Rafting and paddling: Nantahala Outdoor Center is home to a world-class paddling school and offers rafting trips on seven rivers throughout the Southeast. You can also eat, shop for gear and stay at the 500-acre main campus, located where the Appalachian Trail meets the Nantahala River in Bryson City. Schedule a guided trip, or rent a raft or ducky for a self-guided adventure on the Class II/III namesake river. For flatwater paddling and stand-up paddleboarding, head to nearby Lake Fontana, which can be accessed from Tsali Recreation Area.
Mountain biking: Tsali Recreation Area features challenging hard-packed, single-track trails, with several long loops that wind along the lake shore and two overlooks providing views of Fontana Lake and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Trails alternate between mountain biking and horseback riding depending on the day of the week, but two of the trails are always open to mountain bikers. There is a $2 fee to use the trails for a day.
Hiking: Find the perfect picnic spot with a view at Andrews Bald, the highest bald in the Smokies and a wildflower lover's delight. Park in the Clingmans Dome visitors' center lot and take the access trail located near the paved trail to Clingmans Dome, then make a left onto Forney Ridge Trail, and follow it 1.8 miles to Andrews Bald.
Place to eat: The High Test Deli & Sweet Shop is the place to stop in Bryson City for sandwiches, hot dogs, chili and other quick bites. Try the High Test, the deli's namesake Cuban sandwich topped with Cuban pork, Genoa salami, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and spicy mustard hot-pressed on authentic Cuban bread.
Place to drink: Bryson City Outdoors is a gear store on one side and craft beer bar on the other featuring pet-friendly outdoor seating, food trucks and a well-curated craft beer selection.
Place to sleep: Open April through the end of October, Turkey Creek Campground is close to Tsali Recreation Area, several river outfitters on the Nantahala and Lake Fontana. Many sites back up to Turkey Creek, and a hiking trail on the property leads to views of Lake Fontana. Ice and firewood are available on-site, and free Wi-Fi is available on the covered porch open to campers. RVs are welcome but may have trouble accessing the campground because of the winding roads you must take to get there.