Many small towns in North Carolina claim to be the gateway to the Smoky Mountains, but Bryson City has a serious argument. Bryson City is the last town before the Nantahala National Forest, and as you’re driving you’ll see that Bryson City pops up out of nowhere in a valley, between some of North Carolina’s most incredible outdoor spaces.
If you are looking for easy access to the Smoky Mountains, and to enjoy a wealth of outdoor experiences, a visit to Bryson City is one of the best things to do in North Carolina.
From visiting The Great Smoky Mountain train line depot from the town center to having a meal at one of the best Bryson City restaurants, there are plenty of things to do in Bryson City to enjoy!
The Best Things to Do in Bryson City
1. Sample Local Wine at the Deep Creek Winery
- Address: 405 Johnathan Walk, Bryson City (GPS)
- Cost of Admission: 6 Taste- $10
Imagine a place where you can kick back on an outdoor patio surrounded by spectacular mountain views with a glass of wine in hand and some local cheese in the other. In Bryson City, there’s no need to imagine because you can do just that at Deep Creek Winery!
This family-owned establishment is where a variety of red and white wines are produced using grapes from all over the world. While at this NC winery, you can also take a tour of the fermentation and finishing rooms.
Throughout the year, a variety of events take place at the winery so be sure to check the schedule before you visit.
2. Sample Local Craft Brews at Mountain Layers Brewing Company
- Address: 90 Everett St, Bryson City (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Saturday: 12:00 am – 9:00 pm, Sunday: 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm
If you’re looking for a place to kick back and relax with some cold ones in Bryson City, look no further than Mountain Layers Brewing Company, a prize-winning NC microbrewery producing local craft beer.
Take a seat in the laid-back taproom or on the rooftop deck with views of the downtown area and nearby mountains and enjoy one of the 12 beers that are on tap at any given time. Well, perhaps you won’t want to just have one!
All beers are made using local ingredients and water from the Great Smoky Mountains.
3. Go Mining at the Nantahala River Gem Mine
- Address: 1107 Wesser Creek Rd, Bryson City (GPS)
- Hours: Monday- Friday: 9:00 am -5:00 pm
If you’ve always wanted to search for gems and minerals, you’ll have your chance at the Nantahala River Gem Mine. The gems you’ll pan for, which include rubies, sapphires, amethyst, moonstones and garnets, come from remote mines. You’ll learn how to search for them the same way the pioneers did centuries ago.
This is one of the best things to do in Bryson City with kids! Bonus – before you leave the site, you’ll have the opportunity to purchase some gems.
4. Oconaluftee Indian Village
- Address: 218 Drama Rd, Cherokee (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday – 9:30 am-4:30 pm, Sunday – Monday: Closed
- Cost of Admission: For ticket information, click here.
When it comes to a mesh of culture and history, the Oconaluftee Indian Village is the top place to visit in Bryson City and in the Appalachian region. The site mirrors a Cherokee village where you’ll learn about how the people lived and the everyday dangers and struggles they dealt with.
As you walk through the site, you’ll see dwellings and experience traditional rituals and dances. You may even witness a canoe being hulled, pottery being sculpted, baskets being weaved or preparations being made for battle.
5. Support the Local Food Industry at Darnell Farms
- Address: 2300 Governors Island Rd, Bryson City (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 8:00 am -7:00 pm
Darnell Farms is a fun place to explore any time of year, especially if you’re interested in learning about the local food and agriculture industry. Its location along the Tuckasegee River means you get to enjoy the stunning scenery as you explore 100 acres of farmland in a beautiful valley.
This family-run farm is one of the most popular attractions in Bryson City and one of the best places to go if you want to support some local industry. Throughout the year, a number of events, including festivals and markets, are held on-site and hayrides, workshops and seasonal activities, such as corn mazes, are just some of the fun things to do here.
Make sure to check their event calendar to see what activities will be taking place during your visit.
6. Take a Hike on the Goldmine Loop Trail
There are many hiking trails close to Bryson City but if you’re looking for one that is fairly easy with only a few steep sections, has fewer crowds and is not too long, the Goldmine Loop Trail is a perfect choice!
At about three miles long, it’ll only take you about three hours to do this hike and along the way, you’ll see a wide variety of plants and trees and pass through a tunnel that’s 1,200 feet long.
7. Explore the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
- Address: 5410 Joyce Kilmer Rd, Robbinsville (GPS)
- Hours: 24 hours
Situated in the Nantahala National Forest, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is an exceptional one when it comes to woodland areas! This section of old-growth trees, some of which are more than 100 feet tall, is quite unique in the Appalachian Mountains region.
A two-mile loop trail passes through the area and as you hike this trail, you’ll see many types of trees including sycamores, hemlocks, oaks and beech trees.
8. Visit the Elizabeth Ellison Gallery
- Address: 155 Main St, Bryson City (GPS)
Elizabeth Ellison’s beautiful work is showcased all over the United States including in her gallery in Bryson City.
Her studio and art gallery features a number of works by herself and other artists with whom she has taught and worked with. The artwork on display was created using traditional techniques.
9. Appalachian Rivers Aquarium
- Address: 117 Island St, Bryson City (GPS)
The Appalachian Rivers Aquarium isn’t your typical aquarium but an aquarium nonetheless! Situated along the Tuckasegee River, it houses a variety of non-game and game fish that are found in the region including trout, sculpin, madtoms, shiners and darters in more than a dozen tanks.
Frogs, turtles and salamanders can also be viewed and there’s a terrarium and a museum that features exhibits about the history of fly fishing.
10. Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians
- Address: 516 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee (GPS)
When it comes to fly-fishing museums, there aren’t that many around but fly-fishing lovers visiting Bryson City are in luck because the town is home to the Fly fishing Museum of The Southern Appalachians.
The original purpose of the museum was to preserve the history of the sport but today, it has evolved into a place where everyone can learn everything there is to know about fly-fishing.
As you explore the museum, you’ll learn about famous fly-fishers and the various gear that has been used over the centuries. There’s even an aquarium with some local fish species. Admission to the museum is free but donations are greatly appreciated.
11. Observe Elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center
- Address: 1194 Newfound Gap Rd, Cherokee (GPS)
Elk are a common sight around the Bryson City area but there isn’t always somewhere safe to observe them without endangering yourself, or the elk, unless you head to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
Elk are spotted so often here that there’s a designated lane for cars to park so people can observe the animals safely. The best time to go there is either very early in the morning or at dusk but be aware that these animals can be dangerous and sometimes do attack so keep a safe distance away from them!
12. Get Active at the Nantahala Outdoor Center
- Address: 13077 U.S. 19 West, Bryson City (GPS)
Situated in the Nantahala Gorge, the Nantahala Outdoor Center is a sprawling outdoor adventure facility where you can enjoy kayaking, biking, hiking, ziplining and rafting along eight miles of class II rapids and falls.
On-site, you’ll also find two eateries and a shop where you can purchase any gear you didn’t take with you. If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll love the Treetop Adventure Net, an aerial playground suspended 20 feet off the ground.
13. Visit the Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians
Visiting museums is a great way to learn about history, but in the Bryson City area, there’s another way to learn about local history and that’s through the animated storytelling by local historian Tim Hall at the Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians.
Mr Hall collects, preserves and promotes local arts and heritage through the stories he tells of living in the Appalachian Mountains. If you happen to be in the area around Christmas, you can watch him carve children’s toys.
14. Go Fishing in the Tuckasegee River
The Tuckasegee River is one of the best places to go fishing in the region surrounding Bryson City and that’s due to the deep pools and other unique features that make this lake a great place to catch walleye, muskie, crappie, white bass and trout.
Just remember that to fish anywhere in the state, including the Tuckasegee River, you need to purchase a North Carolina Fishing License, which costs $32.00 for non-residents.
15. Check out a Show at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts
- Address: 1028 Georgia Rd, Franklin (GPS)
It’s a little bit of a way from downtown Bryson City, but the scenic drive to the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts is just the beginning of a magical night spent taking in some of the area’s best talent.
Throughout the year, the venue hosts a wide variety of shows including concerts, musicals and theatrical performances. The equipment and venue itself are state-of-the-art so you can expect a top-notch experience. A snack bar is available so you can enjoy something to eat during the show.
16. Embark on a Scenic Trail Journey on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
- Address: 45 Mitchell St, Bryson City (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: For ticket information, click here.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad was completed in 1883 and today, this heritage railroad near Bryson City operates a 53-mile tourist route with a variety of train ride experiences suitable for all ages and tastes. Some of the adult experiences even offer beer tastings!
As this is one of the best things to do in the area, you don’t want to miss this one-of-a-kind experience! During your journey, pass through a tunnel and over several bridges and admire views of valleys, river gorges and towering mountain peaks.
After your train ride, be sure to check out the affiliated Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Train Museum. This is where you’ll find an expansive exhibit of over 7,000 model trains. Admission to this museum is included in the price of your train excursion ticket but you can buy a ticket just for the museum as well.
17. Learn about Local History at the Swain County Heritage Museum
- Address: 2 Everett St, Bryson City (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
One of the best ways to learn about a new place is to visit the local museums and in Bryson City, the Swain County Heritage Museum is the best place to start! Situated in the center of downtown, the museum is housed in the historic courthouse that was built in 1907.
Inside, you’ll learn about the history of the town and surrounding communities through various exhibits featuring photos and artifacts that were collected over the years. You’ll also see a church organ from 1887 and displays depicting a one-room schoolhouse and an old log cabin. Admission is free but donations are accepted.
18. Take Home a Unique Gift from Pincu Pottery
- Address: 80 NC-28, Bryson City (GPS)
Handmade pottery is a terrific souvenir and gift to take back home and you can find some beautiful pottery at the Pincu Pottery Gallery. This is where artist Elise Willa Pincu Delfield works hard at her craft and creates beautiful pieces that are inspired by the great outdoors.
19. Check out some of the Area’s Waterfalls
- Address: Juney Whank Falls Trail, Bryson City (GPS)
There are quite a few waterfalls around the Bryson City area but two of the best ones are Juney Whank Falls and Indian Creek Falls. At 90 feet high, Juney Whank Falls is said to be one of the top waterfalls in the state.
This beautiful waterfall features upper and lower sections and can be viewed from a footbridge at the base. The best thing about this attraction is it’s easily accessible via a short trail that runs less than a mile long.
Indian Creek Falls is also accessible via an easy trail that is just under two miles long and the scenery here is stunning as well.
20. The Road to Nowhere
- Address: POB 509, Lakeview Dr. E, Bryson City (GPS)
If you thought the Road to Nowhere was just a name for a unique attraction in Bryson City, you’ll be surprised to learn that it actually is just a road to nowhere. However, it’s not just any road to nowhere; it’s a road with a fascinating backstory.
When several communities were displaced in the 1930s to build a dam, the local people were promised that a road would be built so the families could still access the area to visit old family gravesites.
However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the works were halted and the road was never completed. Today, you can hike through a dark tunnel that leads to the trail that would have been that promised road.
EXPLORE MORE OF NORTH CAROLINA
Hopefully this list of things to do in Bryson City gives you some ideas for your trip! For more exploration in the area, see below: