Spend a fabulous day or two in Bryson City and the Great Smokies with waterfalls, hiking, rafting, food, and shopping. Since this jewel of small town America offers so much to do, it's one of our top "Cool Mountain Towns" in western North Carolina. Located about 70 miles southwest of Asheville via a freeway, this is a paradise for outdoor and nature lovers since much of the county is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It's a whitewater rafting mecca, with the Nantahala River cascading through the Gorge and Nantahala National Forest. ABC’s Good Morning America’s “Vacationland” series named the Nantahala River the number one place to spend a wet and wild vacation in the U.S. In fact, the Smithsonian named Bryson City as one of the "20 Best Small Towns to Visit."
Bryson City is extra magical during the holiday season! Each November and December, 90,000 people climb aboard the Polar Express at the Depot and travel to the North Pole. (Click here for Polar Express details). Before or after your train ride, find many nearby shops and restaurants - see why it’s one of our Top Christmas Towns. The town is decked out with garland and holiday lights, with a 50 ft Christmas tree in the town square. At the Visitor Center (255 Main St) kids can enjoy cookies and hot cocoa while they write letters to Santa. Go to their website for more details.
Throughout the rest of the year, take a scenic train ride on the extremely popular Great Smoky Mountains Railroad along rivers and Fontana Lake (buying advance tickets highly recommended). For much more info, go to our GSM Railroad Guide.
Your first stop should be the stately historic courthouse (12 Everett Street). Downstairs, get plenty of advice about things to do at the County Visitor Center and buy souvenirs at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Store. Upstairs, browse the interesting Swain County Heritage Museum for a quick overview of local mountain living. All free to visit and open every day, 9 AM-6 PM.
Downtown Bryson City is small town America with a variety of shops with friendly owners. Many shops showcase area artisans who create chocolate, handcrafted jewelry, hand-turned wood objects, and pottery. For a small town of only 1,500 residents, there is a surprising number of nice restaurants and two breweries. Take a selfie in front of the caboose! We give only a sampling of things to do... for much more, go to the Bryson City Great Smokies website.
Stand Up Paddleboard with dog Lager the Tuckasegee River in the middle of town with Bryson City Outdoors (169 Main St).
Bryson City 25 Things to Do
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Take a scenic train ride on excursions along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers, over the mountains, across valleys and through tunnels. Choose from a variety of train adventures departing from… read more
Yellow Rose Rentals, Bryson City
Find a variety of cabins scattered throughout the small North Carolina mountain towns that surround the Great Smoky Mountains, including Bryson City, Cherokee, Nantahala River and Fontana Lake.… read more
Nantahala Outdoor Center
NOC's big Nantahala River campus offers rafting, zip lines, treetop adventures, paddleboards, kayaking, hiking, biking, fishing and more for the entire family. It's like Disneyland for lovers of… read more
Indian Lakes Scenic Byway
This 60-mile drive takes you by Fontana and Santeetlah Lakes in far western North Carolina, through the historic communities of Stecoah and Robbinsville, in rural Graham and Swain counties.
Tom Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls and Juney Whank Falls
See three waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Deep Creek area with a two-mile hike. It is also a popular tubing and camping spot each summer. Near Bryson City.
Fishing in the Smokies, Bryson City
Discover one of the most diverse fishing habitats in the world with four rivers and dozens of mountain streams throughout the Great Smoky Mountains, and the deep, cold waters of Fontana Lake. You… read more
Bryson City Outdoors
This well-equipped outdoor store in downtown Bryson City has everything for your adventure. Services include kayak, paddleboard and gear rentals, a hiker shuttle, and guided tours! Their craft… read more
Road to Nowhere Hike
(3.2 miles, moderate) This loop hike in the Smokies includes a 1,200-ft. tunnel at the end of Bryson City's Lakeview Drive, known locally as the "Road to Nowhere." Lakeshore Trail starts here too… read more
Swain County Heritage Museum
Located on the second floor of the historic courthouse in Bryson City, see photos, exhibits and video about the early settlers in the Great Smoky Mountains, including a restored log cabin porch.… read more
Bryson City Lodging: Cabins, B&Bs & Hotels
Find a wide variety of lodging accommodations in Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains, including log cabin rentals, boutique hotels, bed and breakfast inns and campgrounds.
Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tour
Enjoy a half-mile of airtime with three sky bridges and six transfer bridges, 13 zip line sections and 20 scenic and unspoiled acres of flying area, all within the heavily wooded setting of the… read more
Nantahala River Rafting Guide
The most popular river for whitewater rafting and kayaking is about 12 miles west of Bryson City in the beautiful Nantahala River Gorge. The site of the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships,… read more
Clingmans Dome Trail
(1 mile round-trip, moderate) At 6,643 ft., this is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An uphill, paved trail takes you to the top for panoramic views from the… read more
Bryson City Restaurants
For a small town, you'll find a nice variety of restaurants, ranging from southern home cooking to a brewery and gourmet dining. A nice reward after a day of exploring the Great Smokies and… read more
Mountain Farm Museum, Oconaluftee Visitor Center & Mingus Mill
Located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, see historic farm buildings in an open-air museum and get plenty of great information from rangers. Nearby you can… read more
Deep Creek Tubing
Rent a tube and float down Deep Creek on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City. Float by one waterfall and hike to two others.
Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians
Through exhibits and videos, learn about past fly fishing legends, the evolution of rods and reels, basic knots, fly-tying, types of gear, types of gamefish, regional fishing waters and the… read more
Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center
Tucked away in small village near Fontana Lake and Nantahala River is an amazing gallery that showcases the work of 180+ area artists and hosts a great summer concert series. Many artist studios… read more
Oconaluftee Indian Village
This living history outdoor village portrays eighteenth-century Cherokee life on the mountainside above the town. Interact with villagers as they hull canoes, make pottery and masks, weave baskets… read more
Great Smokies Bryson City Travel Guide
Order a free 96-page vacation travel guide (or download a digital version) for the Bryson City area with things to do, dining and lodging for the Great Smoky Mountains. Includes the "All Aboard"… read more
Great Smoky & Tsali Mountain Biking, NC
Find mountain biking heaven in the Nantahala National Forest with 40 miles of trails overlooking Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains. Located near Bryson City, where you can find bike… read more
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Top 30 in NC
Explore the most visited national park in the country! See our top places and things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina side near Asheville. Four entrances to the Park are… read more
Fontana Lake & Dam
Located in the Great Smoky Mountains, enjoy fishing, boating, camping and swimming in this beautiful lake. Drive or walk across the highest dam east of the Rockies and stop by the Visitor Center… read more
Top Events & Festivals
Polar Express Train
Ride to the North Pole on the Polar Express Train at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad to pick up Santa. It's fun for all ages. Departs from Bryson City. See our guide for all the details.
Experience an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration and street festival in Bryson City with a 5K, crafts, food, contests, live music, and the best fireworks show in the Smokies.