The western U.S. states can more than their fair share of attention when it comes to active travel. Places like Colorado, Utah, and Montana are popular destinations for anyone who likes to hike, camp, climb, or mountain bike. But, it turns out there are plenty of places to get your outdoor adventure fix in the eastern part of the country too. In fact, North Carolina's Jackson County may not have mountains quite as tall as those places, but it still has plenty to offer those looking for an adventurous escape.
If you're headed to the region, here are a few things to keep you occupied while you're there.
Go Hiking or Mountain Biking
The Smoky Mountains of North Carolina are an outdoor playground unlike any other. Their endless ridge lines and forest-covered slopes are beautiful to behold, particularly in the autumn when the trees are ablaze in crimson, gold, and orange. Those same mountains provide plenty of opportunities to go hiking and mountain biking, with a number of mixed-use trails available. For instance, head out to Panthertown Valley where you'll not only be able to pursue either of those activities, but have the chance to go horseback riding and camping too. In the winter, those trails are perfect for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing as well, opening up the possibilities for year round adventure in the area.
Need a bike for your off-road adventure? The fine folks at Play On Adventures – based in the town of Sylva – have an inventory of mountain bikes to rent and can even provide guides for hiking and biking too.
Go Fly Fishing
Fly fishing is one of the fastest growing outdoor sports in the U.S., and Jackson County is a fantastic place to give it a go. That's because the region is home to the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, which was established to promote the great opportunities for anglers in the area.
The trail is the first of its kind in the U.S., and features 15 great fishing holes to pull in rainbow, brook, and brown trout. Maps of the trail are available locally at the Chamber of Commerce or can be accessed online here.
If you're completely new to the sport, or just need a guide to show you around, local expert Alex Bell is a good choice. He was instrumental in getting the Fly Fishing Trail established, and owns AB Fly Fishing. Look him up before you head out on the water.
Ziplining has become so popular worldwide that you can pretty much do it anywhere you go these days, and Jackson County is no exception. The Sapphire Valley Resort – located just outside the town of Sapphire – had a fun little zip course that takes you through the trees at more than 60 feet in the air. As with most zip line tours, you'll definitely get a healthy dose of adrenaline along the way. But this is a zip line course that is fun for the entire family, and won't be too much for the little ones – or grandma – to handle.
Go (Foot) Golfing
In addition to the zip line tour, Sapphire Valley has a lovely golf course that includes a foot golf course that runs parallel to the standard version. If you're not familiar with foot golf, it scores in the same way as standard golf but use a soccer ball that must be kicked into an oversized hole instead.
It is a lot of fun, and since the golf and foot golf course run alongside one another, the entire family can play either sport together.
In addition to offering warm weather activities, Sapphire Valley also has a full ski slope for use in the winter too. The resort's facilities have the ability to make plenty of artificial snow if need be, but since the region sees plenty of fresh power each year it typically has a fine natural base. Perfect for beginners or those looking to sharpen their skills, this is yet another good reason to visit North Carolina.
Where to Stay
There are a number of mountain resorts found throughout Jackson County, and of course VRBO is always an option. But believe it or not the local Hampton Inn exudes a lot of charm and comfort. It is also centrally located, affordably priced, and is designed to fit right into the North Carolina mountain aesthetic.
Where to Eat
There is certainly no shortage of great places to get in Jackson County, with some surprisingly tasty options to choose from. For instance, grab lunch at Cornicopia in Cashiers or the High Hampton Inn for some fuel to keep you moving during the day. And at the end of the evening, you'll want to dine at the Canyon Kitchen (open seasonally) in Lonesome Valley or The Orchard in Cashiers. Both have amazing menus that will delight even the most sophisticated palettes.
Where to Drink
Asheville, North Carolina has made a name for itself over the past few years for being home to some of the best craft breweries in the entire United States, but while the city isn't far away from Jackson County you can experience some excellent beer without having to drive there. Head over to Innovation Brewing in Sylva to experience some of the best locally made beers.
When to Go
Jackson County has plenty to offer all year round, although it truly comes alive between spring and fall each year. Summer is when the region is busiest, so if you want to avoid the crowds you may want to visit during the shoulder seasons. Fall is an especially nice time to visit, however, as the surrounding mountain sides are covered in trees that exhibit the colors of the season.
For the truly adventurous, the winter is an option as well. As mentioned, there is skiing in the area, and the many hiking trails can be snowshoed as well. If you don't mind a bit of colder temperatures and plenty of powder, it is a good time to go. Visitors are at a minimum, but the beauty of the area remains. Just be aware that many of the local shops and restaurants close down for the season, although they do re-open in the spring.
For more information about Jackson County and everything that it has to offer, check out the local tourism board's official website. You'll find all kinds of suggestions of things to see and do while there, including more places to eat, a calendar of events, and a broader selection of places to go hiking, fishing, or mountain biking. You'll also find directions on how to locate some of the stunning waterfalls that are located in the area, as well as some information about the upcoming solar eclipse that will take place in August of 2017. Jackson County is one of the best places in the entire country to experience that celestial event.