5 Free Things to Do in Bryson City

by | Bryson City, Nantahala National Forest

Painting of Bryson City by Joshua Charles Marr


You’re on a budget, but you also want to enjoy your vacation without damaging your wallet. A trip to the mountains of Western North Carolina offers a lot of variety that is free or costs very little to enjoy. Make your vacation fun and stress free with these five free things to do in Bryson City, NC.


What’s not to love about hiking? Taking in the great outdoors and breathing fresh mountain air to restore your soul makes hiking a great outdoor adventure, and Western North Carolina has plenty of great trails to choose from. Deep Creek in Bryson City has three trails: Juney Whank Falls, Tom Branch Falls, and Indian Creek Falls. Each is just a short hike from the parking area, with Juney Whank being the more strenuous of the three (some uphill hiking). You can also do the waterfall loop, which will take in all three waterfalls. The Bartram Trail is a moderate hike near Topton, NC. It will take about 8 hours to complete the whole hike, so plan accordingly. You can do some of it or all of it. The Wesser Creek Trail winds back up into the mountains to a fire tower. You can get to it via Wesser Creek Road. Keep going until you reach a gravel parking lot at the edge of the forest. It’s a rough trail, not for the faint of heart, with uphill climbs and takes about 5 hours total to complete. If you want a less strenuous and shorter hike to the Wesser Bald Fire Tower, go in through Wayah Road near Topton, NC. These are just a few of the many hiking trails in Western North Carolina. Always research unfamiliar (to you) trails, and prepare for them accordingly.  

Image source: Margaret Marr


Museums are an interesting and informative way to spend a little free time. The Swain County Visitor Center and Heritage Museum offers a look at the people and heritage of Swain County. Their story is told through photos, antiques, videos, and displays. The Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians is more for those who love to fish. Here you’ll learn everything to know about fly fishing in the southern Appalachian states. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Museum is free with your Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train ticket (otherwise $9), and has over 7,000 items pertaining to trains. They also have a children’s activity center. The Appalachian Rivers Aquarium houses 14 aquariums with the various native fish species of Western North Carolina. Five terrariums contain amphibians, crustaceans, and reptiles all native to the area.


Image Source: Swain County Visitor Center and Heritage Museum

Lakes & Rivers

Spending the day at a lake or river is a peaceful and relaxing way to enjoy some of your vacation time. Western North Carolina has a variety of waterways. Take a swim at Fontana Lake near Almond, NC, and top it off with a picnic lunch. The Little Tennessee River can be accessed from these points: Brush Creek, Sawmill Creek, Rattlesnake Creek, and Wiggins Creek. Its scenic beauty is breathtaking and the river offers an abundance of fish for the fishing enthusiasts out there. The Fontana Dam is about a 45 minute drive from Bryson City, but worth it. This spectacular dam is a must see. You can drive across the dam or walk, taking in the scenic beauty. If you just want a leisure walk or drive along a winding river the Nantahala River Gorge offers picnic areas and riverside trails. Watching rafters play on the river is a fun and relaxing activity.  


Image source: Margaret Marr

Road to Nowhere

The Tunnel to Nowhere, more commonly known as the Road to Nowhere, is a neat little place to visit on Lake View Drive in Bryson City. Take a tough bike ride or drive the road until it dead ends near the tunnel entrance. Walk through the tunnel from a paved road and out the other end into the wilderness leaving the noise of the city behind you. Follow the Goldmine Loop for a short hike and enjoy the scenery along the trail. When the lake levels are low (in late October and November), you can see the last remnants of small towns that dotted the area before they were covered by the waters of Fontana Dam. On the drive back out, you can stop along the way and have a picnic while admiring the views of Fontana Lake, which is especially pretty in the fall.

Image source: Margaret Marr


Parks & Centers

Other free places to visit include the Bryson City Island Park located in downtown Bryson City. Cross a footbridge to access a tiny island where you can enjoy a picnic, birdwatching, and nature. It’s very dog friendly so bring your favorite pooch, or pooches, and relish the outdoors. The Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians brings to life the musical and oral traditions of the Southern Highlands. Listen to Tim Hall tell stories about the people and their heritage handed down through time. During the holiday season you might catch Tim making toys. Explore the exhibits and special events of this unique center, and leave with a better understanding of the Appalachian people. 


Margaret Marr, is a local author of paranormal, mystery, and suspense laced with romance. She has written over 15 books available on Amazon. 


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