NOTE: We are not advocating mass travel during this time, but we do want to continue to support the incredible businesses and destinations that make North Carolina so amazing. In the meantime, we encourage you to virtually travel through our articles and plan your visits for when it is safe to do get out there. Finally, while we do work hard to keep our posts updated, some activities and places may not be accessible at this time.
After visiting, you'll know that these are some of the best things to do in Bryson City!

14 of the Best Things to Do in Bryson City (Trains, Hiking, Whitewater, and More!)

Bryson City sits on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, near the Smoky Mountains, just 70 miles from Asheville. Simply put, this a quaint and adorable town with a lot to offer.

Look deeper and you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Bryson City, including world-class whitewater rafting, scenic train rides, breweries, waterfalls, and much more.

Above all, Bryson City is one of the best places for families, outdoor enthusiasts, and romantic getaway seekers alike. Inside our guide, we’ll cover these things to do in Bryson City and even more to help you plan your stay!

This post is part of our series on all the awesome things to do in Western North Carolina, with a specific emphasis on Bryson City and Swain County.

Things to Do in Bryson City

If you’re looking for specific things to do in Bryson City, here’s how we’ve organized this guide:

  • Downtown
  • Outdoor Things to Do
  • Where to Stay
  • More Things to Do in Bryson City (Related Posts)

Downtown

We start downtown, with some of the best-known Bryson City attractions.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

The GSMR is one of the most popular things to do in Bryson City, especially in winter!

Whether you’re traveling as a family or without kiddos, riding the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad is one of the best things to do in Bryson City! Diesel and steam engines chug down this historic route with a variety of different cars for all audiences—including beer and whiskey tastings for the adult-only cars.

There are 53 miles of railroad track that wind across bridges and through the beautiful North Carolina mountains. Expect your trip to take several hours. Round-trip excursions that range from 3.5 hours to a full day of fun.

The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad also has incredible events throughout the year. Enjoy the fall leaves and hop on the PEANUTS™ Pumpkin Patch Express in October.

From November through the first week of January, Bryson City comes alive with thousands of visitors for the Polar Express Experience.

Smoky Mountain Trains Museum

Continue your train-loving experience at the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum! With a wonderfully curated collection of Lionel trains and interactive exhibits for children, this is a great family excursion.

Admission is included with your Great Smoky Mountain Railroad ticket or individual tickets can be purchased.

Swain County Heritage Museum

Swain County Heritage Museum Bryson City NC

Also right in the middle of downtown Bryson City is the Swain County Heritage Museum. This historic 1907 courthouse has been turned into a museum telling the story of the local community.

Inside, you’ll find displays for a one-room school, a restored log cabin, an 1887 church organ, and memorabilia from the early settlers of Swain County. This is a must-see if you’re in Bryson City!

Drink Beer in Bryson City

What better way is there to get to know the area than through a pint glass? With two local craft breweries, sipping hops and enjoying the mountains is our favorite way to travel.

Order a burger (or some barbecue) and a pint from Nantahala Brewing or head to the rooftop beer garden overlooking downtown at Mountain Layers Brewing and enjoy the taste of local beer.

Outdoor Things to Do in Bryson City

These fun outdoor attractions are a big part of why people take day trips from Asheville and other bigger cities to reach Bryson City and Swain County.

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City NC

Nantahala Outdoor Center (also known as NOC) is a 500-acre facility in the middle of the Nantahala Gorge. They offer rafting, kayaking, zip-lining, biking, and hiking!

In addition to these outdoor sports options, there are also two riverside restaurants and a gear shop.

NOC is a great place to get your adrenaline on, featuring eight miles of Class II rapids and the Class II Nantahala Falls. Paddling down the river is one of the most refreshing things to do in Bryson City!

As if the NOC couldn’t get any better, the kids have another fun attraction to enjoy—the riverside Treetop Adventure Nets! For ages three and up, this fun outdoor climbing structure was the first 100 percent net-based aerial playground in the United States.

It suspends 20 feet above ground and offers hours of fun for kids while the parents enjoy a beer in front of the rapids.

Fishing at Cooper Creek Trout Farm

Looking to escape to babbling brooks and crystal clear creeks? Head to Cooper Creek Trout Farm to enjoy 70 acres of beautiful North Carolina mountains. Fish in the pond or hike to Little Creek Falls.

The Cooper Creek Trout Farm is a year-round outdoor activity for the whole family!

Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians

Even if you’re not into fly fishing, you definitely need to visit the independently owned Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians. Detailing the history of fly fishing as well as the evolution of rods and reels, knots and gear, there is something here for everyone to learn, even pros!

Deep Creek Trail

Deep Creek Trail Juney Whank Falls 1
Juney Whank Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina.

Just three miles from downtown Bryson City is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance for the Deep Creek Trail. From this entrance, you can follow a 2.4-mile loop that leads to three spectacular waterfalls.

This is a very easy hike and has plenty of spots for picnics, fishing, and even tubing!

Note: Dogs are not allowed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Road to Nowhere

Road to Nowhere near Bryson City NC

The Road to Nowhere is a tourist destination with an intriguing past. In the 1930s, when the Federal Government built the dam to create Fontana Lake, the nearby communities, lying at what is now the bottom of the lake, were displaced.

The road that allowed these towns access to their family cemeteries went underwater, so the government promised they would build a new road to allow access to these gravesites. Construction of this new road was halted due to an unusual environmental issue.

Today, Lakeview Road ends at a quarter-mile tunnel now known as The Road to Nowhere. Visitors can walk through the dark tunnel or continue on to hike through several trails that start from the tunnel.

Fontana Lake

During your drive toward The Road to Nowhere, you will pass Fontana Lake. The dam, the highest east of the Rockies, is a major attraction, as you can walk or drive across it.

This 480-foot tall dam, a crossing point along the Appalachian Trail, is equivalent to a 50 story building. There are 238 miles of shoreline at Fontana Lake, but much of it is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest.

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower near Bryson City NC

The highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Clingmans Dome, also the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi River after Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig in Yancey County. Its namesake observation tower on the North Carolina side of the Tennessee border is an incredible outdoor activity near Bryson City!

From the tower, you can enjoy stunning expansive views of the mountain peaks and on clear days, to nearby towns.

Reaching this observation tower is a steep, paved half-mile walk. On clear days, you can see more than 100 miles, but the elevation results in unpredictable weather, so visiting in the early morning is advised.

Search for Elk (Oconaluftee and Cataloochee)

Oconaluftee Vistor Center near Bryson City NC

At the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for some oversized visitors. The Oconaluftee Visitors Center is a well-known area for the elk who roam the Cataloochee Valley.

One of the northbound lanes into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is often blocked off to allow visitors to park and watch the elk safely from their cars, usually in the early morning or at dusk.

Note: It is NOT safe to approach the elk. While they are used to visitors, they are still wild animals and they can attack.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Named for the poet Joyce Kilmer and located in the Nantahala National Forest, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is a rare collection of old-growth trees unique to the Appalachian Mountains.

With trees that stretch over 100 feet tall and a circumference of 20 feet, the 3,800-acre property boasts 400-year-old poplar, hemlock, oak, beech, and sycamores. Hike the easy two-mile nature loop to see these magnificent trees!

Ziplining for Kids

Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours offers a fun experience for both adults and children! The Nantahala Kid Zip is for children aged 4 to 12 and offers three courses for kids to choose from.

This is the only zip-line course in Nantahala for young children and definitely a fun experience! Children can do the course as many times as desired within a two hour period.

Prices are reasonable and you can even bundle a zip and raft together for a full day of fun!

Where to Stay in Bryson City

Caboose on a creek Airbnb in North Carolina
Photo Credit: Airbnb

If you’re looking to spend the weekend (or more), there are some great places to stay in Bryson City. Some of the coolest AirBnbs in North Carolina are here and our favorite in Bryson City is a refurbished caboose that sits along the creek.

It’s perfect for families with train obsessed little ones!

If you are wanting to stay and play in the same place, the cabins at Nantahala Outdoor Center are absolutely beautiful and can accommodate (nearly) every group size.

We also thought this modern romantic cabin along the Tuckaseegee River was adorable and is just minutes away from Bryson City. It’s incredibly easy to access the Deep Creek entrance if you want to beat the crowds with an early morning hike!

Ready for These Fun Things to Do in Bryson City?

We recommend staying for at least a weekend and making it an annual trip to Bryson City. Why? Because no matter what you decide to do, there’s always going to be more to explore here and elsewhere in those breathtaking Smoky Mountains nearby!

This is the perfect escape for couples, families, and outdoor lovers. Whether you are hitting the rapids in a raft, hopping on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, or just soaking up the views from Clingmans Dome, there are so many fun things to do in Bryson City.

Have you ever visited this awesome part of the state? What are your favorite things to do in Bryson City? If you haven’t been yet, we’d love to know what you’re doing first!

More Things to Do in Bryson City

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