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Are you looking for a great getaway in North Carolina? Look no further than the Great Smokies! There are many great things to do in Bryson City, NC, attracting visitors from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and our own North Carolina.
My adult son, Kyle, and I decided to explore the area to give you the full scoop on what to see and do in Bryson City. A three-hour drive from Charlotte and four-and-a-half-hour drive from Durham is all that separated us from Bryson City fun!
This post on the best things to do in Bryson City NC contains affiliate links. For more information, please read our Disclosure Policy.
Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC
Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour
Stop by the Visitors’ Center and pick up some maps for a self-guided walking tour. Learn about the historic buildings in downtown Bryson City.
PRO TIP: Download any apps or maps to your cell phone. Free WiFi is available downtown through the network “BC Free.”
Enjoy a Tall Cool Draft
Fans of craft beer rejoice! There are two local breweries with taprooms and a bottle shop where you can drink. Located across from the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train depot is Nantahala Brewing. Sit on the rooftop of Mountain Layers Brewing Company on Everett Street and watch people walk by. Bryson City Outdoors combines a bottle shop and a taproom, frequently offering a food truck.
Stroll Downtown Bryson City
Walkable downtowns greet visitors and entice them into local shops and eateries. Bryson City is no exception. Between Everett and Main Streets, you can stroll along, peering into windows, sampling chocolate, drinking a cold beer, and generally enjoying this beautiful city!
Meet the Bryson City Artists
There’s something about the mountain air that spurs creativity. Art galleries dot Bryson City’s streets. Visit Gallery Zella to view local artists’ work. Charles Heath Studios offers a mix of mediums as well. We stopped by Lil Blue Boo at One Twenty Main, where we got to see Ashley Hackshaw talking to some of her fans. We loved the space and hope that classes can resume soon!
Taste Freshly Made Chocolate
Walking into The Chocolate Shoppe, the overwhelming scent of chocolate mesmerizes you. Then your eyes are drawn to the cases. And you don’t know where to start! The store’s reputation as a purveyor of fudge, barks, and chocolates, makes them a hit with guests of all ages. And don’t miss trying their delicious scoops and popcorn too!
Enjoy an Ice Cream Scoop or Two
A friendly rivalry exists between The Chocolate Shoppe and Soda Pop’s Ice Cream, each across the street across from each other. Decorated with Coca Cola signs, Soda Pop is reminiscent of an old-time soda fountain shop. While you can get a cone, this is the location to try an old fashioned fountain drink or a fountain float.
Eat Lunch at an Old Fashioned Drive-In
Remember the days when you pulled up to the town’s drive-in and ordered from your car? Bryson City locals know that Nabers serves that kind of home meal. Those in the know recommend ordering the chipped ham sandwich, cherry lemon Mountain Dew, and a hot fudge cake. Yum!
Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Perhaps the best-known attraction in town is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Riders enjoy a five-hour trip along the Nantahala Gorge during the warmer months and the Tuskasegee River during the colder months. Opt for diesel or steam-powered engines. Coach class is the perfect combination of comfort and ability to open windows when the weather cooperates.
PRO TIP: Save yourself some money and only buy tickets. Do NOT buy any extras like lunch, blankets, or souvenirs. Book one of the first cars so that you can avoid too much walking once you arrive at Nantahala Outdoor Center and can get a quick lunch.
Admire the Bryson City Murals
The city recently commissioned two murals featuring the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. One mural featuring the GSMR appears on the side of the train depot. The other painting is visible in the guest parking lot.
Find all the Painted Fish
Honoring the fish found in the nearby rivers that can be caught by fly fishers and locals, the city commissioned local artists six fish at various locations throughout town. Can you find them all?
When the Fontana Dam was built, the federal government agreed to build a road, Lakeview Drive, to replace Highway 288, which was now underwater. An environmental issue came up, which meant that work on the way had to stop after only six miles, instead of the original thirty miles. Locals dubbed it the Road to Nowhere. Since then, walking trails have attracted lots of families and hikers, and it is a fun area to explore.
Best Things to Do in Bryson City for Outdoors Lovers
Ride the Rapids
The Nantahala River offers Class II and III rapids for family-style whitewater fun! Visitors to the area can ride in large capacity boats, kayaks, or double or single duckies. We opted to navigate the rapids in a double ducky without a guide since we had some experience. We selected the Paddle Inn Rafting Company for a more personalized experience. The water was so cold! The good news is that this is an ideal activity even if it rains since you will get wet, guaranteed!
The more adventurous in the crowd can appreciate the Nantahala Gorge from above – by zip-lining! At least four different companies maintain zip lines in Bryson City, often combining tours with other activities, such as whitewater rafting and even the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
Chill in a Tube
Looking for something refreshing and relaxing on a hot summer day? Go tubing on Deep Creek! For just a few dollars, rent a tube from one of several purveyors located along Deep Creek Road. Drive to the base of the trail and walk up to multiple entry points. Bring a cooler with drinks and some snacks to enjoy a day on the river.
Lake Living at its Best
Nearby Fontana Dam created Lake Fontana, an oasis for boaters, swimmers, avid fishermen, kayakers, and paddle boarders. Rent a cabin on the shores of the lake, or even better, rent one of the houseboats on Lake Fontana.
Climb Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reaching 6,643 feet. The paved trail is a half-mile long but is steep, making it a challenging climb. The Dome offers magnificent views of North Carolina and Tennessee. Because of the altitude, the temperature is often 10 degrees colder from that in Bryson City itself, so plan accordingly!
PRO TIP: Getting to Clingmans Dome requires driving through Cherokee. Plan an early morning visit to see the elk feeding in the fields near the Visitors Center.
Hike the Appalachian Trail
The almost 2200 mile long Appalachian Trail crosses through spots of Bryson City. The Trail appears near Clingmans Dome, so if you want to brag that you’ve hiked on the Appalachian Trail, here’s your opportunity!
Drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Covering 469 miles in total, the Blue Ridge Parkway begins in nearby Cherokee, North Carolina. With a maximum speed of 45 miles, a drive on the Parkway is one of the best things to do if you’re in Bryson City.
See the Elk Feed
Near the Visitors’ Center in Cherokee, at the starting point for the Blue Ridge Parkway, lies a field where the elk can be found feeding in the early morning or evening hours. You can’t miss it since you’ll see these giants in the area, but you’ll see lots of cars pulled over taking photos.
Visit the Great Smokies National Park
Along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee lies the Great Smokies National Park. The park offers magnificent views of mountains. The blue mist that hangs around the peaks and valleys in the range gave the park its name. There are so many trails, waterfalls, and lots of areas to camp and hike. It is a beautiful place to explore and commune with nature.
Deep Creek houses three waterfalls within relatively short walks. Fans of waterfalls should enjoy Tom Branch Falls if they’re looking for a quick and easy hike. They are easily accessible, and there are even benches to sit and enjoy the view! A mile later, visitors arrive at Indian Creek Falls. Juney Whank Falls is only one-quarter mile, but it is a steep uphill. A 90-foot waterfall rewards hikers.
Try your Hand at Fly Fishing
Are you fascinated by the majesty of the hand movements required for fly fishing? Bryson City is the perfect place to try your hand at becoming a Stream Blazer. The city even houses the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians!
Where to Stay in Bryson City NC
The newest hotel in Bryson City is an easy walk to all the locations downtown. They currently offer an exclusive deal with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. We spent two nights there and enjoyed the amenities. Each room includes a mini-fridge and microwave.
PRO TIP: If you’re planning on spending the night, save some money by booking a night at the Stonebrook Lodge through the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
This historic hotel offers 37 rooms, many of which interconnect, making it popular with families. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel focuses on a traditional feel of a mountain getaway. Sit on the porch for a minute.
This former bank building has been around since 1908. With only 9-rooms, this hotel offers an intimate setting. The on-site restaurant serves farm-to-table meals.
Or consider an Airbnb! There are some great cabins in the area. I’m fascinated with the caboose from the movie “The Fugitive,” located within walking distance of downtown! If this is your first time using Airbnb, use this $50 coupon!
Where to Eat in Bryson City NC
We only spent two days in Bryson City, so we only tried a few places. We will be back to add more locations in future visits, though!
We enjoyed some fried Brussel sprouts with our beer as an afternoon snack. The brewery also serves more substantial offerings like burgers and steaks. Food offerings focus on farm to table and local flavors.
Located at Nantahala Outdoor Center, Big Wesser Riverside Pub offers fast food and a beer. We ate there twice due to time constraints. The pulled port BBQ nachos were okay but not impressive. However, the grilled chicken salad sandwich and the burger with pulled pork BBQ were both fabulous. If you’re on the train, let them know when you order to tell you if they can serve you before you need to get on board.
While we had intended to eat dinner in the Dining Room, the front desk staff at our hotel recommended that we eat at the Fireside Bar instead. Let me discuss the two options here. Dinner in the dining room is a four-course meal served family-style, with large portions meant to be shared. Hotel stays include dinner. For non-hotel guests, dinner typically costs less than $30. Instead, we ate a lighter meal at the bar, which offered a large selection of foods. Our meals included bread rolls, blackened trout, a side dish, while I opted for the kid-style grilled cheese instead.
Looking for a great breakfast option? Try La Dolce Vita! We believe that these were the best bagels we’ve ever had! Just look at that breakfast sandwich! But maybe skip the coffee.
Best Things to do in Bryson City NC in the Fall
One of the best things about the fall is watching the leaves turn color. Bryson City is ideally situated in the middle of the action. Drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest. The nearby Blue Ridge Parkway and its offshoots provide a fantastic way to drive through all the glorious colors of autumn.
If you choose to do this, book your hotel in advance and be aware that hotel rates increase during the weekends in the fall. If you can take the time away from the office, it is a great time to rent a cabin for an extended period and enjoy the foliage as the temperatures drop.
Fall Train Ride
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad occasionally offers specially themed train rides during the fall, the magic of the fall rides is the combination of leaf-peeping with the train ride. Plan, though, as these dates in October are also popular!
Best Things to do in Bryson City NC in the Winter
Starting in November, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers the Polar Express. Reservations fill early, so plan! Children can meet Santa, drink some hot cocoa, eat a cookie, and sing carols. It is the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit!
Admire the Downton Bryson City Christmas Decorations
Downtown Bryson City goes all out for Christmas! The Visitors’ Center offers a Santa writing station complete with cookies and cocoa for the kids. Or maybe take a carriage ride on the main streets. Top it off with a ride on the Polar Express or a little Christmas shopping for a perfect winter getaway!
Bryson City NC is Worth the Getaway!
There is so much to do in Bryson City, NC, for the lover of the outdoors. Even for those who might not be physically active, the city offers an opportunity to take a breather from the fast pace of life. Bryson City is the perfect getaway to relax and appreciate life in general.
Looking for more North Carolina getaways? Check out these other great posts:
- Western NC getaway: Cashiers
- Western NC getaway: Sylva
- Western NC getaway: Highlands
- NC Lavender Fields You Can Visit
We’d like to thank Bryson City and the Swain County Chamber of Commerce for their hospitality. We paid for everything ourselves, and as usual, all opinions are our own.
Annick, The Common Traveler