By Jane Izard

Bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Western North Carolina, Bryson City is a laid-back, non-touristy town where ones does not have to worry about what to wear or having a set of concrete plans. It was named in 2016 by The Smithsonian as one of the “20 Best Small Towns to Visit.” The town offers so much for visitors to explore with waterfalls, hiking, rafting, fishing, shopping, the Cherokee Indian Reservation and much more. Bryson City is the perfect place to spend a long weekend.

Downtown Bryson City consists of two main streets — Everett Street, which continues to the National Park, and Main Street (U.S. Hwy 19), which continues east to Cherokee. Karen Wilmot of the Bryson City Chamber of Commerce notes that, “with only 1,400 residents and more stop signs than stoplights, it’s an easily stroll-able town with local bookstores, galleries with working artisans, a historical museum, two breweries and a surprising variety of restaurants.” Many shops showcase area artisans who create one-of-a-kind musical instruments, handcrafted jewelry, hand-turned wood objects and pottery. For a special treat, take a ride on the train. The Smokey Mountain Railroad is located at the Bryson City Depot and offers a variety of excursions throughout the year including the Wizard of Oz Train and the Polar Express.

Roughly 40 percent of the Great Smokey National Park is located in Swain County, which makes Bryson City the perfect spot for exploring one of the most visited national parks. This International Biosphere Reserve is home to rugged mountains (many peaks in excess of 6,000 feet), historic homesteads and 100,000 different types of plants and animals. One entrance to the park from Bryson City is “The Road to Nowhere” (or Lakeview Drive on a map). It is the scenic mountain highway that leads one six miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at the mouth of a tunnel. The Road to Nowhere offers beautiful views (especially in the fall) of Fontana Lake as well as access to some of the best backcountry trails and fishing.

The park’s streams and creeks offer one of the most diverse fishing habitats in the world. There four rivers, dozens of mountain streams throughout the Smoky Mountains and the deep, cold waters of Fontana Lake that all offer natural populations of brook, brown and rainbow trout. Dubbed “the fishing mecca of the Southeast,” trout are the most common in the county’s four rivers — the Nantahala, Oconaluftee, Tuckasegee and Little Tennessee. Two of those, the Tuck and the Little T, offer much more, including bass, crappie, walleye and the fierce muskie. The Tuck is one of the largest trout streams in the Smokies. The 2.2 mile section running through downtown is designated “Delayed Harvest Trout Waters” and the catch and release policy keeps the trout population strong. Another prize of Swain County fishing is Fontana Lake; many believe it’s one of the best smallmouth bass fishing lakes in the country.

The opportunities for family fun are endless in Bryson City and the month of October offers an abundance of events. Here are a few worth noting. With leaf season in full swing, the Smokey Mountain Railroad is offering various excursions to experience the foliage. For a family fun train ride, Peanuts and Gang are back offering rides themed after Charles M. Schulz’s classic story “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” On Saturday October 7, the Smokey Mountain Fly Fishing Festival is happening downtown. The event features vendors to display and demonstrate all types of fly fishing equipment — rods, fly tying, apparel and accessories, fishing kayaks and more. If one is looking for a way to heat up their fall getaway, the annual Chili Cookoff is October 21. There will be handmade crafts, live music and lots of chili!

Bryson City’s tagline is to “have a big vacation in a small town.” With the copious adventures to be had in and around town, this is one WNC “city” worth checking out.


Jane Izard is a freelance graphic designer, writer and photographer; she grew up in Charleston and may be reached via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:


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