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On the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you'll find some fantastic small towns that are perfect basecamps for your vacation and adventures in the Smokies. While there are no hotels or restaurants inside the national park, find many lodging options nearby. Also find plenty of restaurants, attractions and things to do in these towns.

The Great Smoky Mountains Expressway connects Asheville to the national park for easy driving. The 4-lane highway begins at Exit 27 on I-40, west of Asheville, and runs 43 miles to the Nantahala Gorge. Along the way, it takes you by Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Sylva, Dillsboro, Cherokee and Bryson City.

From these towns, find five entrances into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

  • Newfound Gap Road, US Highway 441: The most popular entrance to the park on the North Carolina side begins in Cherokee, home to many family motels, cabin rentals and Harrah's. Find museums, restaurants and plenty of souvenir shops.
  • Deep Creek: Home to popular river tubing, waterfall hikes, campground and more, it's just 3 miles from downtown Bryson City - home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, brewery, outfitters and plenty of cabin rentals.
  • Lake View Drive: Also 3 miles from downtown Bryson City is the Lake View Drive entrance to the national park - better known as the Road to Nowhere since the six mile road was never completed. Read more.
  • Fontana Lake: To reach the most remote areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, rent a boat on the big and beautiful Fontana Lake. From Robbinsville, you are about 20 miles from either the Almond or Fontana Village Marinas.
  • Cataloochee Valley: This more secluded cove is home to elk, camping, historic buildings and hiking trails. The entrance is near the towns of Maggie Valley and Lake Junaluska.

See our Great Smoky Mountains Vacation Guide to play your trip.

Great Smoky Mountains Small Towns NC

Sylva

In Jackson County, Sylva is home to NC's most photographed courthouse perched on a hill overlooking the historic Main Street. Find fantastic restaurants, breweries, general stores, shops, and festivals in this city, home to the terminus of the WNC Fly Fishing Trail—the only fly fishing trail in the country.

Bryson City

Find much to do! Ride the train on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad before you explore their downtown shops and galleries, or paddleboard down the river. Nearby Deep Creek in the Smokies features camping, hiking, trout fishing and the ever-popular tubing. Raft the Nantahala River. And that's just the beginning!

Dillsboro

This artsy village is just a few miles from Sylva. On the banks of the Tuckasegee River. Dillsboro has been a tourist stop since the late 1800s. This artisan village is home to an impressive mix… read more

This artsy village is just a few miles from Sylva. On the banks of the Tuckasegee River. Dillsboro has been a tourist stop since the late 1800s. This artisan village is home to an impressive mix of specialty shops and galleries representing many local artists. Go to many art festivals. 

Maggie Valley

This longtime mountain resort town has kept much of its local charm with vintage motels and plenty of gift shops with arts and crafts. Tour Wheels Through Time collection of classic cars and… read more

This longtime mountain resort town has kept much of its local charm with vintage motels and plenty of gift shops with arts and crafts. Tour Wheels Through Time collection of classic cars and motorcycles. Ski at Cataloochee. Festivals include Hillbilly Jam and Elk Fest.

Cherokee

Home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee, NC offers a variety of ways to experience the cultural heritage and long history of the tribe. Tour the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and… read more

Home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee, NC offers a variety of ways to experience the cultural heritage and long history of the tribe. Tour the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Oconaluftee Indian Village. Watch "Unto These Hills." Shop for local crafts, see their painted bears, attend a pow wow or try your luck at the huge Harrah's Casino. It's also a major gateway to the…

Lake Junaluska

This beautiful lake town near the Great Smoky Mountains is home to trails, boat tours, golf, gardens and a big variety of lodging options, including lakefront hotels and cabin rentals for a… read more

This beautiful lake town near the Great Smoky Mountains is home to trails, boat tours, golf, gardens and a big variety of lodging options, including lakefront hotels and cabin rentals for a Methodist church retreat.

Franklin

This town is known as the "Gem Capital of the World." Downtown is home to the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum in a 19th Century jailhouse. Attend one of the country’s best known gem shows, the… read more

This town is known as the "Gem Capital of the World." Downtown is home to the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum in a 19th Century jailhouse. Attend one of the country’s best known gem shows, the Macon County Gemboree. Tour the Macon County Historical Museum and the Scottish Tartans Museum.

Great Smoky Mountains NC Travel Guide

Order the free 115-page Great Smoky Mountains North Carolina Travel Guide that includes activities and adventures in seven counties that surround the national park, published by Smoky Mountain… read more

Order the free 115-page Great Smoky Mountains North Carolina Travel Guide that includes activities and adventures in seven counties that surround the national park, published by Smoky Mountain Host.

Robbinsville

This tiny town of 600 residents is big on things to do in Graham County, home to Fontana Lake, Lake Santeetlah, Stecoah Arts Center, Cherohala Skyway and hikes and waterfalls in Nantahala National… read more

This tiny town of 600 residents is big on things to do in Graham County, home to Fontana Lake, Lake Santeetlah, Stecoah Arts Center, Cherohala Skyway and hikes and waterfalls in Nantahala National Forest. 

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