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Top 6 North Carolina Attractions near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For hometown hospitality, Native American culture, and scenic excursions, spend time on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This quieter side of the park offers relaxing, natural vacations away from the crowds. When you can tear yourself away from the scenery, hit these local attractions.

1. Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Cherokee

The sculpture honoring Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, outside the Museum of the Cherokee Indian was cut from a single sequoia tree log.
The sculpture honoring Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, outside the Museum of the Cherokee Indian was cut from a single sequoia tree log. Gloria Wadzinski
Exhibit at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C.
Exhibit at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C. Gloria Wadzinski

Start here to learn about the Southeast’s largest Native American tribe, then let their soaring spirit lead you to other sites on the Cherokee Heritage Trails. Be sure to ask which restaurant is serving “Indian dinner” while you’re in Cherokee. (cherokeemuseum.com)

2. Cataloochee Ranch, Maggie Valley

Guests at Cataloochee Ranch exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park on horseback.
Guests at Cataloochee Ranch exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park on horseback. Photo by Bill Russ courtesy of VisitNC.com

You can come here for a memorable stay, a family-style meal or a guided horseback ride, but the best part of any visit is listening to the daughters and grandchildren of Tom and Judy Alexander, who started the guest ranch in 1938. Its history is tied directly to that of the national park. (www.cataloocheeranch.com)

3. Wheels Through Time, Maggie Valley

Motorcycles at the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, N.C.
Motorcycles at the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, N.C. Photo by Bill Russ courtsy of VisitNC.com

The motorcycle bug bites here, home of the world’s premier collection of rare American motorcycles. The place, which has the feel of an old garage, also houses memorabilia, roadsters and other rare vehicles. (www.wheelsthroughtime.com)

4. Whitewater Rafting

Rafting the Nantahala River with the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Rafting the Nantahala River with the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Photo courtesy VisitNC.com

Paddlers have their pick of rivers and rapids, from the gentlest on the Tuckasegee to the wildest on the Cheoah. The Bryson City area is a hub for it all with half a dozen outfitters leading trips on the Nantahala River. (www.greatsmokies.com/rafting.php)

5. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City

Take a Raft-and-Rail excursion - half scenic rail excursion, half rafting trip on the Nantahala River. Photo courtesy Wildwater Adventures and Bryson…
Take a Raft-and-Rail excursion – half scenic rail excursion, half rafting trip on the Nantahala River. Photo courtesy Wildwater Adventures and Bryson City / Swain County NC Chamber of Commerce

For another take on history and scenic mountain views, try an excursion on this historic rail line. Packages combine rides with rafting and zip line excursions, wine and moonshine, and child-centric events. (www.gsmr.com)

6. Brewery Trails: Waynesville and Sylva

Bearwaters Brewing, one of four breweries in the mountain town of Waynesville, N.C.
Bearwaters Brewing, one of four breweries in the mountain town of WaynesvillePhoto courtesy of Haywood Tourism Development Authority

Less than 20 miles apart, these small towns have seven breweries between them. Mix and match to explore two of North Carolina’s classic mountain towns.

visitncsmokies.com/restaurant_categories/local-spirits/

www.discoverjacksonnc.com/food-drink/type/breweries/

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For more information about attractions:

Visit NC Smokies Visitors Center(800) 334-9036
1110 Soco Road, Maggie Valley, NC 28751
visitncsmokies.com

Bryson City Visitor Center & Swain County Heritage Museum
(800) 867-9246
Bryson City Courthouse, 210 Main Street, Bryson City, NC 28713
www.greatsmokies.com

North Carolina Travel and Tourism
www.visitnc.com