Thinking of a visit to Asheville, NC? Wait, before you book anything, look into Bryson City, NC. It’s about 3 hours west of Asheville, so you’ll still get to experience the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, but it is a little more laid back and outdoorsy. The center of town is the classic picture of mom ‘n pop stores, antiques shops, family-owned restaurants and ice cream parlors. It’s refreshing on a whole new level. Actually, locals and visitors alike repeatedly said that Bryson is what Asheville was 10-12 years ago before all the magazine write-ups, Top 10 lists and so on.
The Tuckasegee River is the focal point of downtown and is the heart of all outdoor activity in Bryon City. Kayaking, rafting, tubing, fishing…the list goes on and on. If you’d like to take a break from hiking the surrounding mountain trails for a day but still crave outdoor adventures, you won’t be bored. There’s so much to do. We spent the afternoon walking on the river rocks with Stella. She’s not a water dog by any means (she avoids water when she can), and even she seemed to enjoy hopping around on them.
We rented a cabin about 10 mins outside of town, up in the mountains. It took us a good 2 hours (yes, I know, pathetic city girls) of being lost to find it but, just look at it. It’s like something out of a travel brochure. (Well, this picture doesn’t do it justice. Unfortunately, my camera was on its last legs that weekend and discoloring/overexposing/blurring everything. Grrr.). I admit, I’ve never stayed in a cabin in the woods before. Uhh, it was fun? Ok, pros and cons – I didn’t like the bugs. Man, I really didn’t like the bugs. Big flying things called bumbles kept trying to get inside. One did and we spent an hour freaking out. BUT, it was soooo peaceful there and I loved hearing all the strange wildlife sounds and seeing a gazillion stars in the night sky. BUT, it was not fun trying to find the cabin and certain weekend pastimes like playing bocce ball were a little hard when you’re on a mountain. The balls never quite stopped rolling.
The only good place to play was the dirt road leading to the cabin so the balls kept rolling right back down the hill.
Oy vey. Wellll, that game certainly didn’t last long.
Bryson City also has the distinguished honor of being where the huge train crash scene from the Harrison Ford/Tommy Lee Jones’ hit movie, The Fugitive, was filmed. The crew left the bus and train behind when filming wrapped and, although they’ve rusted over time, they’re still there for you to reminisce about how great that film was.
Then there’s the The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. You can choose which destination you want to visit (Nantahala Gorge or along the Tuckasegee River). We opted for the Tuckasegee River excursion which lasted 4 hours, with plenty of time allotted for visiting the town of Dillsboro. Our guide on the excursion was fantastic. He grew up deep in the mountains so he taught us the correct way to pronounce “Appalachia” (it sounds just like apple-at-cha). I highly recommend setting aside time to ride the railroad.
Things to know before you go…
1. We all like to take holiday weekend getaways and often worry how crowded smaller towns get, but that’s not the case with Bryson City. Yes, there are more people milling about town but, even during a holiday weekend, Bryson City is not over-crowded. We visited Bryson for 4th of July, and then visited Asheville for Labor Day. Hands down, I’d go back to Bryson. It’s a more enjoyable experience. No long lines, parking is plentiful, and people aren’t hurried or stressed out.
2. Tickets to the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad excursion can be a bit to swallow – it’s $51 for adults and $29 for kids 2-12 yrs old – but I thought it was worth every penny. I recommend booking a ticket in an air-conditioned train car, especially if you’re visiting during the hot summer months. Even though Bryson City is in the mountains, it still can get very humid at times during the summer.