Incomparably beautiful mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers surround Bryson City, North Carolina, on every side. To the north are the Great Smoky Mountains with their ever-changing colors and diversity of wildlife. To the south and west is the Nantahala National Forest with its deep gorges, rushing rivers, and pristine wilderness areas. To the east is the Plott Balsams mountain range, a part of the southern Appalachians. Everywhere you turn, you find great natural beauty and an abundance of recreational opportunities. Here are some of the best places to look for your perfect Bryson City vacation rental.

1. Bryson City, North Carolina

small island
Source: Flickr / wes hill

Bryson City lies along both banks of the Tuckasegee River. In the river’s channel is Bryson City Island Park, where you can spend some relaxing time picnicking, bird watching, and fishing. Downtown Bryson City is ideal for a stroll, with its rustic galleries, bookstores, museums, and restaurants. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which offers a scenic tour through the mountains, begins in Bryson City. Nearby Fontana Lake is an excellent area for hiking, swimming, boating, and fishing.

2. Cherokee, North Carolina

river and trees
Source: Flickr / David Hamill

Vacation rentals at Cherokee have access to the eastern entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Beautiful nature trails originating in Cherokee take you to Mingo Falls, Soco Falls, the mountain known as Devil’s Courthouse, and towering Mount Guyot. You can also stroll along the Oconaluftee River Trail, picnic at Oconaluftee Islands Park, and go tubing along the river. The renowned Museum of the Cherokee Nation provides a fascinating look at the history of the Cherokee people.

3. Dillsboro, North Carolina

butty sky
Source: Flickr / Matthew Paulson

Dillsboro is a rustic mountain town southeast of Bryson City. It’s known for its local community of artists and craftspeople, and as you stroll Dillsboro’s historic Main Street, you can peruse their work in its galleries and gift shops. The Tuckasegee River runs right through the town, and you can kayak and fish along its banks without wandering far from your vacation rental.

4. Sylva, North Carolina

white house
Source: Flickr / Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Sylva is a historic small town nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Its picturesque Main Street hosts craft breweries and unique restaurants. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery, its vacation rentals provide convenient starting points for exploring the area’s many hiking trails. The Tuckasegee River offers great opportunities for whitewater rafting and fishing. Entertaining annual events in Sylva include Greening Up the Mountain and Concerts on the Creek.

5. Cullowhee, North Carolina

blue lakewater
Source: Flickr / Joe Flood

The town of Cullowhee, located in a scenic valley along the Tuckasegee River south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hosts Western Carolina University. Spacious Jackson County Recreational Complex has walking trails, playgrounds, picnic shelters, and sports facilities. Nearby is Lake Glenville, a lovely recreational area surrounded by hills, forests, and waterfalls. It’s an ideal place for hiking, swimming, boating, and fishing.

6. Robbinsville, North Carolina

stones covered with moss
Source: Flickr / Marshal Hedin

Robbinsville lies west of Bryson City in the Nantahala National Forest. Vacation rentals make ideal bases for exploring the nearby Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. This beautiful expanse of towering hardwood trees gets its name from Alfred Joyce Kilmer, who wrote the famous poem “Trees.” A scenic hiking trail takes you through an amazing wonderland of 500-year-old trees, wildflowers, and butterflies.

7. Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

potted flower
Source: Flickr / Lesley Looper

The town of Lake Santeetlah sits on a peninsula jutting out into its namesake lake. The surrounding area has scenic hiking trails through the pristine forest, and areas for picnicking and swimming are scattered around the lake. Activities on the lake include kayaking, canoeing, and jet skiing. The town’s full-service marina is a perfect jumping off point to fish for lake trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, and other lake fish.

8. Nantahala, North Carolina

kayaker riding in strong waters
Source: Flickr / Roger Smith

Nantahala is a town that sits on the Nantahala River in the midst of Nantahala National Forest. The area is famous for its whitewater rafting and kayaking along its swift-flowing river. Various sections of the river classify as different difficulty levels for rafting, and local businesses offer guided tours with professional white water rafters. The river and nearby Nantahala Lake are excellent locales for fishing. For the adventurous, zip line tours race along forest canopies. One of the most breathtaking flies above Nantahala Gorge.

9. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

sunset over a thick forest
Source: Flickr / Wang Jiacheng

Gatlinburg lies due north of Bryson City along with a highway through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This popular resort city is set in scenic foothills surrounded by towering mountains. Its downtown area is full of shops, galleries, and restaurants for you to discover. The River Walk along Little Pigeon River is the perfect place for a stroll. Vacation rentals in Gatlinburg offer convenient access to hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, and other activities in the national park.

10. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

grassland
Source: Flickr / Steve Harwood

Its proximity to the western entrance makes the mountain resort town of Pigeon Forge a great place to base out of while you explore Great Smoky Mountains, National Park. Pigeon Forge is also full of great family-friendly activities. Dollywood amusement park has rides and other entertainment with an Appalachian Mountains theme. Splash Country is a huge water park with numerous slides and pools. The Island is an extensive shopping mall that also has rides, games, live music, and other attractions.

11. Wears Valley, Tennessee

butty sky over thick forest
Source: Flickr / Christina VanMeter

The town of Wears Valley lies in a quiet, peaceful location surrounded by spectacular mountains. Numerous hiking trails connect the town with the forests, meadows, rivers, and waterfalls of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can also follow cycling trails around the valley and go fishing in the nearby streams and rivers.

12. Sevierville, Tennessee

covered bridge
Source: Flickr / Allen Forrest

Sevierville is famous as the hometown of country singer Dolly Parton. Its proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park gives you easy access to opportunities for hiking, fishing, canoeing, rafting, and other outdoor activities. Nearby, you can tour the Forbidden Caverns, underground caves full of stalagmites, stalactites, grottos, and streams that continue for half a mile into the heart of a mountain. The kids will love viewing the animals at Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo. The whole family can satisfy their need for speed at the NASCAR Speed Park.