Bryson City, North Carolina Guide

Bryson City, Great Smoky Mountains

Spend a fabulous day or two in Bryson City, Swain County and the Great Smoky Mountains with waterfalls, hiking, rafting, food and shopping. In fact, since this little jewel of a town offers so much to visitors, we've named it the "Coolest Mountain Town" in western North Carolina. It's just a 90-minute (70 miles) drive southwest of Asheville. This is paradise for outdoor and nature lovers since much of the county is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It's the 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 in 2016."

Bryson City NC Depot

At the Bryson City Depot, hop aboard the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for scenic train rides by rivers and Fontana Lake. Special excursions throughout the year include the Wizard of Oz Train and Polar Express. Downtown Bryson City is small-town America with a variety of shops with friendly owners. Many shops showcase area artisans who create one-of-a-kind musical instruments, 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. 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.

Paddleboard in Bryson City
Stand Up Paddleboard with dog Lager the Tuckasegee River in the middle of town with Bryson City Outdoors (169 Main St).

Bryson City Things to Do

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Ride a scenic train on excurisons through the mountains along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers, across valleys and through tunnels. Choose from a variety of train adventures departing from Bryson City. First class passengers enjoy dining and souvenirs. Many special event trains.
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Nantahala Outdoor Center
NOC's Nantahala River campus offers rafting, zip lines, hiking, biking, fishing and more for the whole family. Whitewater rafting outpost on French Broad River also. See our NOC Feature.
Nantahala Zip Line
Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tour
Enjoy an half mile of air time with three sky bridges and six transfer bridges, 13 zipline sections and 20 scenic and unspoiled acres of flying area all within the heavily wooded setting in the Nantahala National Forest. Fly through multiple ecosystems a deciduous forest packed with native flowering plants. Combine this with a whitewater rafting trip down the river.
Cabin in Bryson City
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, hotels, bed and breakfast inns and campgrounds.
Bryson City Fishing
Fishing in the Smokies
Discover one of the most diverse fishing habitats in the world with four rivers, dozens of mountain streams throughout the Great Smoky Mountains and the deep, cold waters of Fontana Lake - all in the Bryson City area. Greatly enhance your chances of catching that trophy fish by hiring a professional local fishing guide. Find 26 best fishing spots and guide services.
Deep Creek Tubing
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.
Rafting the Nantahala River
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. Site of the freestyle kayaking world championships, find class II and III rapids along with calm sections perfect for a dip. Fun for all ages 7 and over with no experience necessary. Choose from nine outfitters, all offering a variety of options.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Top 15
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Top 15
Explore the most visited national park in the country! With 520,976 acres to explore, where do you begin? See our top places and hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains to visit near Asheville. Four entrances to the Park are within 60 miles of downtown Asheville.
Bryson City Cabin Rental
Stay in a log cabin, cottage or chalet in the Great Smoky Mountains, surrounded by activities such as rafting down the Nantahala, ziplining, hiking, tubing down Deep Creek and riding the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. 25 rentals, from $99/night, weekly rates, hot tubs, campfire pits, mountain views, creekside settings, sleeps 2-10,... read more
Tsali Mountain Biking
Tsali Mountain Biking
Find mountain biking heaven in the Nantahala National Forest with 40 miles of trails overlooking Fontana Lake, located near Bryson City with bike rentals and supplies.
Fontana Lake
Fontana Lake & Dam
Located in the Great Smoky Mountains, enjoy fishing, boating, camping and swimming in this beautiful lake. Or walk the Appalachian Trail across the highest dam east of the Rockies.
Bryson City Restaurants
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 Nantahala River.
Wildwater Ltd. Whitewater Rafting
Wildwater Ltd. Whitewater Rafting
Exceptional quality, safety, and personal service since 1971. Their Raft and Rail Excursion on the Nantahala combines a morning scenic train ride with an afternoon introduction to rafting. See our guides to their adventures on the Nantahala River and Pigeon River.
Indian Creek Falls
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. Deep Creek is also a popular tubing spot each summer.
Yellow Rose Vacation Rentals
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. Vacation rentals range from cozy one bedroom cabins to large 5+ bedroom lodges. 37 cabins, rates from $125 per night, stay 6 nights get the 7th night... read more
Bryson City Outdoors
Bryson City Outdoors
This well-equipped outdoor store in downtown Bryson City  has just about everything to make your outdoor adventure the best possible. Rentals include kayak, paddleboards and camping gear. They also offer guided hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, plus kayak and paddleboard tours on Fontana Lake. 
Road to Nowhere
Road to Nowhere Hike
(3.2 miles, moderate) This loop hike in the Smokies includes a 1,200-foot tunnel at the end of Bryson City's Lakeview Drive, known locally as the "Road to Nowhere." Lakeshore Trail starts here too, a 35-mile long trek to Fontana Lake Dam.
Swain County Museum
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. Free admission.
Home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, find a big variety of ways to experience. Learn the Indian heritage, shop for local crafts, see their painted bears or attend a pow wow, or try your luck at the huge Harrah's casino. It's also the primary North Carolina entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Mountain Farm Museum
Mountain Farm Museum & Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, see historic farm buildings is an open-air museum and great plenty of information from rangers.
Oconaluftee Indian Village
Oconaluftee Indian Village
This living history museum portrays an eighteenth century Cherokee village on a large site on the mountainside above the town of Cherokee. Interact with villagers as they hull canoes, make pottery and masks, weave baskets and beadwork, and participate in their daily activities.
Stecoah Valley Art Center
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 nearby.
Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome
(1 mile roundtrip, moderate) At 6,643 feet, 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 observation tower.
Fly Fishing Museum
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 history of fly fishing in the Southeast. Open Mon-Sat, 9-6. Free admission. 210 Main Street (Chamber of Commerce) in Bryson City

Top Events & Festivals

Bryson City Freedom Fest
Freedom Fest
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
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.
Wizard of Oz Train
Wizard of Oz Train Ride
Friday, July 14, 2017 to Sunday, July 30, 2017
Ride the train down the Yellow Brick Road to meet the Wizard of Oz! The 2.5-hour journey retells the story on board the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Begin with Dorothy in Munchkinland and take her to Emerald City. Help them defeat the Wicked Witch of the West. Friday-Sunday
Fly Fishing Festival
Smoky Mountain Fly Fishing Festival
Saturday, October 7, 2017
This annual festival in downtown Bryson City features vendors to display and demonstrate all types of fly fishing equipment - rods, fly tying, apparel and accessories, fishing kayaks and more. 9 AM-5 PM. At the event you are just a few blocks from the Delayed Harvest section of the Tuckasegee River, which is stocked by the NC State Wildlife Resources Commission.
Chili Cook Off & Fall Festival
Chili Cook Off
Saturday, October 21, 2017
Sample chili ranging from mild to wild and in red, white, and vegetarian recipes at the depot in downtown Bryson City. Also enjoy live music, handcrafted arts and desserts. $5 wristband for sampling. 11 AM-3 PM
Polar Express Train
Polar Express Train
Friday, November 10, 2017 to Sunday, December 31, 2017
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. See our guide for all the details.

Bryson City Downtown
Explore shops, galleries and restaurants along the three block stretch of Everett Street from the Depot to the Visitor's Center

More Bryson City Events
From free live music on many nights each week to big festivals, see the complete Bryson City Events Calendar.

Music in the Mountains: Every Saturday night in June through October, enjoy a free concert at "Tunes on the Tuck" in downtown Bryson City at Riverfront Park (101 Mitchell Street) 7-9 PM with a variety of local and regional favorites. Bring a picnic and blanket for the grassy lawn or bring a lawn chair to enjoy the show. Free parking. Read more and see the schedule.

For much more information, go to the Bryson City Great Smokies website.

For an extra special treat, take the Carolina Shine Moonshine Experience on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, departing in... read more
We love the many historic courthouses in the towns of western North Carolina near Asheville. While many are still in use, others have been repurposed into a variety of uses for the community. These... read more
Deep Creek is our favorite hiking area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a big variety of scenery including three waterfalls. Located just a few miles from downtown... read more
See elk grazing in the meadows (and sometimes walking through town) in Cherokee. After being reintroduced to the... read more
The Mountain Farm Museum and Oconaluftee Visitor Center are located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on U.S. Highway 441 /... read more