Bryson City, North Carolina is nestled in one of the many valleys of the Great Smoky Mountains. This charming small town is not far from Carolina Outfitters white water rafting on the Nantahala River. When winter approaches, this little town amps up the holiday cheer, and is a beautiful place when blanketed with snow. Be sure and visit the town at night, when all of the lights are lit, to experience a whimsical, old-fashioned Christmas not found to such an extent in larger cities. During the day, enjoy other winter activities. Cold weather doesn’t mean you have to stay locked up at home all season long. Below are a few things to do in Bryson City in the winter.
Image by Widjai Lachan from Pixabay
Winter in the Nantahala National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains is a perfect time to watch animals in their natural habitat. On a warmer winter day, throw on a coat, and head out into the woods. Stick to trails so that you don’t get lost! Ever so often stop and listen for the sound of deer moving through the forest. If you’re lucky, they will stop and graze, and you’ll catch a glimpse of one. If you remain perfectly still and quiet you can observe a deer for much longer. Watch squirrels scurry up into their nests. Listen to birds flit from one tree branch to another. Though racoons spend most of winter sleeping in their dens, it’s not unusual to see them waddling about in the forest this time of year. Spend some time in the Great Smoky Mountains and come away with a peaceful heart and renewed spirit.
Image Source: Margaret Marr
Take a walk on train tracks. Just a walk, nothing more. Bask in the beauty of a winter day and enjoy the solitude. You might even imagine a simpler time when you and your friends walked the tracks, with fishing poles in hand and a bucket of worms, headed to a favorite fishing hole. This section of tracks is located across a swinging bridge along the Nantahala River in the Nantahala Gorge. Make sure the swinging bridge isn’t icy before crossing over. Once on the tracks keep an eye and ear out for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad train. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of room to get off the tracks if your walk coincides with the train’s schedule. Think of it as a bonus adventure. You get to see the train rushing by you as you wave at the passengers.
Image Source The Yard on Facebook
More of a city person? The Yard Ice Rink is a fun winter activity in downtown Bryson City, North Carolina. People of all ages can enjoy skating on this synthetic ice rink. It opens about mid-November and runs through the holiday and winter seasons. Food trucks park nearby and a full-time bar with snacks is also available. It’s a great place to hang out with friends, shop between skates, and have a good time.
Image Source: Tripadvisor
If you love beer, and like to sample different kinds, then a brewery is the place for you. Bryson City offers two breweries to choose from, or you can visit both of them. Mountain Layers Brewing Company is an award winning brewery on Everett Street just across the bridge over the Tuckasegee River. Mountain Layers features an outdoor deck where you can look out over the town while you drink and have a bite to eat. Nantahala Brewing Company is a microbrewery and burger bar located in the historic RC Cola Bottling Plant on Ramseur Street in Bryson City.
Image Source: Swain County Chamber of Commerce
Museums are an interesting and informative way to spend some winter 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, and you can even fish in the winter, along the Nantahala River and Tuckasegee River, if you can brave the cold. 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 Great Smoky Mountains and Nantahala National Forest.
Image Source (Indian Creek Falls, Deep Creek): Swain County Chamber of Commerce
In or near Bryson City are many waterfalls to visit, and if you catch them just after it snows (and the roads are clear to get there) you can view them in a beautiful winter setting.
Bryson City Waterfalls
Deep Creek boasts three waterfalls with short hikes, and it’s a short drive from Bryson City. Juney Whank, Tom Branch, and Indian Creek. If there is snow on the ground, Juney Whank Falls is a mostly uphill climb so it may be too slippery to hike. Use caution if you attempt it.
Mingo Falls is located on Big Cove Road on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. At 120 feet this makes Mingo Falls the tallest in Southern Appalachia. Travel 11 miles west of Cherokee on US highway 19 for Soco Falls. This waterfall boasts a dual cascade and can be viewed from a safe platform, or down a steep trail for a better view. The steep trail is not recommended for most individuals to travel down. All others would need to use caution if attempted, especially during the winter.
Nantahala Gorge Waterfalls
Upper Nantahala Cascades is just off the road in the Nantahala Community. You can view it from the road or walk down and stand on the rocks, however it’s not recommended if the area around the creek is covered in ice. It makes the rocks a slippery hazard. Once again, use caution! Findley Falls is located on Ledbetter Creek in the Nantahala Gorge. Park just off the road on US 19/74 area with picnic tables. Use your GPS to locate the area as there is no signage to point you in the right direction. Findley Falls is a series of waterfalls worth seeing! For more information on area waterfalls, visit Explore Bryson City.
Image Source: Swain County of Commerce
Take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad train leaving the Bryson City Depot (check the schedule). The Polar Express runs through December spreading holiday cheer. The Tuckasegee River (Diesel) excursion runs on weekends through January. If you’re not a fan of large crowds, riding the train along the Tuckasegee River in winter is perfect for you. The train takes you back to earlier times, looked upon with nostalgia, when trains were a mode of transportation from one city to another.
However you choose to spend your winter activities, get lost in the past and breathe in peace and breathe out stress during your Great Smoky Mountain winter vacation!