If seeing elk and other wildlife in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is high on your to-do list, there’s no better place to stay than in Maggie Valley just outside the park.
It’s just a 35-minute drive to the park’s famed Cataloochee Valley where elk, which were hunted to extinction in the mid-1800s, thrive, thanks to a 2001 reintroduction project. If you visit in early summer, you can see calves taking their first steps while early fall offers you the opportunity to see mating season.
Plus, at Maggie Valley, you’ll avoid the crowds that gather at other park gateway towns. Lodging includes something for every taste from one of Maggie Valley’s remodeled vintage roadside motels to a private cabin, a vacation home or a room in a bed and breakfast. (visitncsmokies.com/accommodations/)
“Maggie Valley is not overcrowded like some of the other destinations close to the national park,” says Ashley Rice, marketing manager of Visit NC Smokies. “No waiting in traffic. If someone is looking for a truly peaceful experience, they can achieve it here.”
After a day in the park, relax on the wooden deck overlooking the creek at Bearwaters Brewing Creekside and enjoy a J Creek Blonde Ale, the house beer, or the Stiff Paddle IPA. For something different, try the Lightning Bug Lemonade, a hard seltzer with natural lemon juice and cane sugar. At the brewery, you’ll find The Grey Eagle Taqueria, which offers longtime favorites like pulled BBQ sandwiches and new twists on comfort dishes like the smoked beet reuben, both served with shoestring cut cilantro lime fries.
Don’t miss Maggie Valley Carpet Golf and Dale’s Wheels Through Time Museum.
At Elevated Mountain Distilling Co., you can tour the distillery that produces small-batch spirits and then enjoy the full-service bar with beer, wine and cocktails.
While you’re cruising Maggie Valley, you’ll discover Miss Maggie, the mascot of the town, on everything from signage to rooftops. She’s actually been greeting people for decades. Maggie Valley is named after the daughter of Jack Setzer who successfully requested in 1890 that a post office be built closer to town. But Maggie the mascot is modeled after resident Jennie Reninger who used to surreptitiously pick up trash on the ground in the early morning or evening hours. It didn’t take long before the town honored her as a goodwill ambassador and gave her a uniform that looked like a traffic light.
While Reninger passed away in 2002, her spirit lives on. Her ethic of picking up unwanted garbage is actually a Leave No Trace principle, one of seven actions national park travelers can take to lessen their impacts on the natural landscapes they explore. Follow Reninger’s lead and pick up trash along a trail or parking lot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In the winter, Maggie Valley attracts skiers and snowboarders who carve turns at Cataloochee Ski Area, which is located at the top of Fie Top Road in Maggie Valley. With 18 trails, there are enough gentle slopes to get beginners comfortable and ramps and rail features at the Cat Cage Terrain Park for adventurous snowboarders and skiers.
For more information, visit Haywood County's website visitncsmokies.com.