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

Last Updated on September 27, 2022

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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 mountain 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, great breweries, amazing 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!

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

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

Read More: Places to Visit in Western North Carolina

Things to Do in Bryson City (Downtown)

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

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Things to Do in Bryson City

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.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

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.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad Bryson City

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.

Read More: 50+ Great Things to Do in Asheville (Downtown, Biltmore, and More!)

Smoky Mountain Trains Museum

Things to Do in Bryson City Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Train 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.

Read More: The Best North Carolina Museums

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!

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!

Read More: The NC Museum of History in Raleigh (+7 Things We Love About It!)

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.

Read More: The Best North Carolina Breweries

Outdoor Things to Do in Bryson City

Drive Scenic Roads

Things to Do in Bryson City Cherohala Skyway NC
Cherohala Skyway.

Many outdoor things to do in Bryson City can be accessed from North Carolina’s great scenic roads. The Blue Ridge Parkway ends near Bryson City (Milepost 469), and you’ll see why you should spend some time near that road’s terminus.

The easiest scenic road to access near Bryson City is US-74, known as the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway. The named portion of this road runs for 43 miles between Bryson City and I-40 (Exit 27). It connects you to the mountain towns of Sylva, Waynesville, and more.

Read More: Day Trips from Asheville

Waynesville North Carolina
Waynesville, North Carolina

Continue west on US-74 through Nantahala National Forest and you’ll pass the Nantahala Outdoor Center as part of the Nantahala Byway. Follow that road through the Nantahala Gorge until you reach Andrews in Cherokee County.

Instead of continuing west on US-74, you can split off to NC-28, which is known as the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway. Highlights of this road include Fontana Lake, Fontana Dam, Santeetlah Lake, and Santeetlah Dam.

The Indian Lakes Byway eventually intersects with US-129, which is also the south end of the famed Tail of the Dragon.

Another great scenic road nearby is the Cherohala Skyway (NC-143), which is accessible via the town of Robbinsville in Graham County. This high, curvy road is shared by North Carolina and Tennessee and the 18 miles of it in our state is better, in our opinion.

Read More: The Wonderful NC Waterfall Byway (+ 15 Awesome Stops!)

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. Along with the Nantahala Outdoor Center, this has to be one of the most popular outdoor things to do in Bryson City.

From this entrance, you can follow a 2.4-mile loop that leads to three spectacular waterfalls. Deep Creek Trail 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.

Read More: The Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina

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.

Read More: Spring Break Destinations in North Carolina

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!

Read More: 20+ Kid-Friendly Waterfalls In NC (Easy Hikes And Swimming Holes!)

The 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. The 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.

Read More: Colorful Fall Hikes in North Carolina (+ 20 Beautiful Places to Explore!)

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.

Read More: The Best NC Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes

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!

Relax at Lakeview at Fontana

Lakeview at Fontana is a not-so-secret hidden gem. The resort sits atop a mountainside with stunning views of Fontana Lake and features two treetop soaking cabanas.

With a variety of packages and soaks, book your tub and relax soaking up the views and vibes!

Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake

During your drive toward The Road to Nowhere, you will pass Fontana Lake. There are 238 miles of shoreline at Fontana Lake, and much of it is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest.

Fontana Dam

Fontana Dam

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.

Read More: National Parks Sites in North Carolina

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.

Read More: Things to Do in Burnsville and Yancey County

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Named for the poet Joyce Kilmer and located in Nantahala National Forest (just before the Cherohala Skyway’s start), 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!

Read More: How to Visit Land of Oz (10 Essential Tips Before You Go!)

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!

Read More: 15 Great Things to Do in Beech Mountain (+More Nearby!)

Ready for These Fun Things to Do in Bryson City?

lakeview at fontana 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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