Bryson City, North Carolina is a laid-back mountain town in the Great Smoky Mountains. It offers unique shopping opportunities, a rich sense of local history, and easy access to outdoor activities, which includes boating, fishing, and horseback riding. An abundance of area attractions are within easy driving distance of many vacation rentals in Bryson City. Immerse yourself in the natural majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the splendor of the Fontana Dam. Check out this list of things to do to fill your Bryson City vacation days with fun.

busy city street under the mountains
Source: Flickr/Jim R Rogers

1. Take a Scenic Train Ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

A train ride is a perfect way to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery in every season. Watch the glorious leaf show in the fall, the snow misting the pines in the winter, and the vibrant colors of fields of wildflowers in the spring. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad boards right in downtown Bryson City and offers rides of with different themes throughout the year.

2. Sample Local Brews at Innovation Brewing Company

Look for Innovation Brewing Company near the train depot in downtown Bryson City. This tavern specializes in local finds and offers over thirty house-made brews including ginger ales for the non-beer drinkers in your crew. Sit in their outdoor seating area to enjoy a view of the creek and watch the trains come in while you sip your beverage of choice.

3. Tap Your Toes to Regional Favorites at Riverside Park

Three seasons of the year, Bryson City hosts musical entertainment in Riverside Park on the weekends. From rock-and-roll to old-time country, the musical groups represent the area’s diverse talent. Bring along your own chairs or a blanket for relaxing on the grass, or rent one of the chairs provided by the local Chamber of Commerce. Parking is nearby, and there are restrooms for your convenience.

4. Watch a Local Artist at Work at the Charles Heath Studio Gallery

Step into the Charles Heath Studio Gallery for a glimpse at the work of artist, Charles Heath. With an eye for nature, Heath uses a variety of media, including oil, acrylic, watercolor, pen and ink, and photography, to portray the beauty of the Smoky Mountains area. If you are lucky, you might find the artist at work, painting or drawing while you watch his vision come to life. Heath offers both prints and original works for sale at his studio-gallery, so look for something great to bring home to remind you of your stay.

5. Visit the Fly-Fishing Hall of Fame

After trying your own hand at fly fishing in one of the nearby trout streams, head to the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians to learn about the history of the sport and hear stories about the legendary hall-of-fame inductees. The museum has exhibits profiling stream blazers, rod and reel designers, fly tyers, and more. Bring your kids along and let little ones explore the kid’s corner. Older kids enjoy completing the museum’s scavenger hunt.

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6. See History in Action at Mingus Mill

Originally built in 1886, Mingus Mill is a working, water-powered mill just off of U.S. Highway 441 north of Bryson City. Follow the path along the millrace, where the water is diverted towards the turbine, and then step into the miller’s workspace to watch the power of water turn corn kernels into corn flour. The cornmeal produced is sold in an onsite shop along with mill-themed merchandise.

7. Delve Deeper Into History at Mountain Farm Museum

Just a half mile from Mingus Mill is Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of historic buildings that have been relocated from different areas around Smoky Mountain National Park. Peek inside a log house, a historic barn, an apple house, a springhouse, and a smokehouse. Rangers are on hand to answer your questions about the buildings, helping you learn about how people lived over 100 years ago. The site also includes a working blacksmith shop, livestock, and historical gardening and agricultural areas.

8. Savor the View from the Top of Fontana Dam

Located just north of Bryson City, the Fontana dam is the highest dam in the Eastern United States. Stop by the visitors’ center, and pick up a pamphlet for the self-guided tour and then start exploring. In addition to the dam, there are walking trails around the reservoir, picnic areas, and places to fish, so consider packing a lunch at your vacation home and spending the day at the dam.

9. Sample Local Wines at Great Smoky Mountains Winery

Offering fine foods and wines in an inviting, casual atmosphere, Great Smoky Mountains Winery is an awesome place to relax after a busy day visiting local attractions. Order a cheese board, and ask about their wine and craft beer specials.

10. Search for the Perfect Souvenir at the Appalachian Mercantile

Bryson City offers a variety of shops in its downtown area perfect for an afternoon of shopping. Start at Appalachian Mercantile and browse specialty foods, decorative items, books, and toys while enjoying the shop’s rustic ambiance. Next head to the Loose Moose for a selection of Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains themed clothing and knickknacks. If you’re looking for something handmade head for The Cottage Craftsman, or HomeGrown and RockSolid.

11. Ride Into the Mountains on Horseback with Nantahala Village Riding Stables

Guided trail rides are a fun way to experience the natural beauty in the Bryson City area. Nantahala Village Riding Stables offers family-friendly riding excursions suitable for ages five and up.

12. Plan an Adventure with Carolina Outfitters

Make your vacation a little more memorable by adding a day of adventure. Carolina Outfitters offers white-water rafting trips, fly-fishing floats, and gem-mining experiences to add some wow-factor to your trip. Try your hand at something new, or challenge yourself by rafting a difficult stretch of river.

13. Sign Up for the Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tour

Canopy tours are one of the most exciting things to do in the Bryson City region. The Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tour includes 12 zip lines and eight sky bridges plus viewing platforms with gorgeous views. Guides give you information about the ecosystems you pass through, and kids need to be at least 10 years old to participate.

14. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at The Chocolate Shoppe

Take an evening walk along Everett Street while you graze through the wide variety of sweet treats offered by local businesses. Stop in at The Chocolate Shoppe for hand-poured chocolates, homemade nut brittles, and creamy fudge. Grab a package of their specialty chocolate nutcracker popcorn to enjoy with a movie back at your vacation rental, or opt for a scoop of their premium ice cream to enjoy while you walk. Just a few doors down is The Heavenly Fudge Depot and Chocolate Lounge with its own fudge and chocolate specialties as well as warm drinks and a fireplace for chilly evenings. Also on Everett Street are La Dolce Vita Bakery and the Sweet Shop making it the sweetest street in town.

15. Experience Appalachian Culture of the Past and Present at the Swain County Heritage Museum

Start your journey into local culture at the Swain County Heritage Museum on the south side of town. Take your time browsing the many exhibits housed in the upstairs portion of the building, and then pick up some reading materials about Appalachian culture downstairs in the Chamber of Commerce offices. Next head across town to The Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians. There you can feast your ears on samples of the area’s musical and oral heritage.

 
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