Outdoors enthusiasts and train lovers will want to visit.
Published: June 29, 2021
By: Carol Muse Evans
This may be a place you’ve never heard of – Bryson City, North Carolina. This small town is conveniently situated near Cherokee, North Carolina, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as well as Asheville, North Carolina. But it is also a destination unto itself that families will love, especially those who love trains and the outdoors. You can enjoy its quiet and small-town flavor while being near to all sorts of great attractions.
Located in Swain County, Bryson City is home of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (www.gsmr.com). There are several fun excursions you can take (so be sure to plan ahead, make reservations and pick out the trip that looks fun for your family), but we took a 4-hour trip to Nantahala Outdoor Center (noc.com/), where we deboarded the train and visited for about an hour, then headed back to Bryson City. This Gorge Diesel features several different car choices, including inside travel and an all-adult car. We took the Open-Air Gondola on a spring May day and it was fantastic, getting to experience the wind, smells and sounds of train travel. The train company provided boxed lunches, or you could have lunch at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Prices for a train ride vary based on the train engine, time of year, and even the car you are riding in. Tickets can be as low as $56+ for an adult in a diesel train and $65+ for an adult in a steam engine. Children’s tickets run approximately $32 and $42 respectively; infants 0-23 months are free in open-air gondola and coach. Adults only in Adult First Class and Premium Open-Air Gondola. There is an additional charge for a boxed lunch. (Learn more at www.gsmr.com.)
As you exit the train, hop into the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum (www.gsmr.com/smoky-mountain-trains-museum/ and gift shop, where you will see amazing, huge and detailed toy train exhibits, along with a multitude of fun souvenirs in the gift shop. This is lots of fun for all ages.
Bryson City has so much small-town charm. If you go, set aside some time to enjoy this non-touristy town of 1,400 with boutique shopping, breweries and restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and some cute gift shops, especially around the depot. Everything is in walking distance from many of the places to stay.
An hour west of Asheville, two hours from Chattanooga and three hours from Atlanta or Charlotte, Bryson City is secluded, but close to everything. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are a little more than an hour’s drive, too, should you want to explore but use the quiet, quaint town of Bryson City as your “home base.”
In addition to riding the train, you must see Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/deepcreek.htm) right next door, featuring hiking trails from moderate to easy, three gorgeous waterfalls, fishing, tubing, biking, horseback riding, ziplining, camping and picnicking (www.greatsmokies.com). Take the Road to Nowhere, a scenic mountain highway going six miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at the mouth of a tunnel. You might see elk!
As you drive in from Birmingham/Chattanooga, you’ll go past the Nantahala Outdoor Center (along with what seems like dozens of tubing and whitewater rafting companies). You could spend a few hours or a day here, depending on what you desire to do. Sign up for all sorts of activities here – kayaking, white water rafting, tubing, ziplining and more – or sit at River’s End Restaurant and enjoy the beautiful views while dining on fresh trout, and where every seat has a view of the river.
For more information and to see all the things to see, do and explore, visit www.greatsmokies.com.
Carol Muse Evans is publisher and editor of Birmingham Parent.
WHERE TO STAY:
Bryson Village Luxury Vacation Rentals
(walk everywhere in town!)
We stayed in one of the Bryson Village Creekside cottages, “Magical Memories,” and they were amazingly comfortable, luxurious and well apportioned. Each one has a special name and each offer one or two bedrooms. Ours was a one-bedroom with sofa sleeper, large bathroom, full kitchen stocked with everything, washer and dryer, internet, television and a beautiful deck with a view and a hot tub. It was very child-friendly, but could be great for a couple’s or friends’ getaway! These cabins are in a gated area and within walking distance of everything in Bryson City. Bryson Village also offers group lodging and rustic log cabins. Prices for cottages and cabins start at $109 per night and can go up to $159 per night, depending on the season. The Bryson House starts at $169 and runs to $239.
WHERE TO EAT:
River’s End Restaurant at Nantahala Outdoor Center
828-488-7172 – Closed Monday evenings and all day Tuesday.
Check out the eclectic menu online. In addition to fresh trout, there are a number of vegetarian offerings.
Downtown Bryson City
Closed on Tuesdays
Amazing Italian food, pizzas and more. This is a great, casual atmosphere with affordable choices. See their menu online.
Appalachian Rivers Aquarium/Fly Fishing Museum
828-488-7857 | Open Thursday-Saturday
The aquarium is part of the Fly-Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians. It is a one-of-a-kind discovery place to learn about the diversity of nature in the streams, rivers and other waters of North Carolina.
TSALI Recreation Area – Nantahala National Forest
For mountain bikers, horseback riders. There is a multitude of whitewater rafting and tubing companies in the area. Check online for the one that is right for you.