We don’t know about you but staring at the same four walls for the past few months has only made us crave outdoor adventure even more. Luckily, Haywood County is full of fresh air, open spaces, and one of the prettiest national parks in the entire country. If you’re ready to get out and explore again, we’re here to help. Start with our list of things you can do to reinvigorate your spirit in the Smokies.
Take in Cataloochee Valley
We don’t know if you’ve heard yet, but we’ve got a pretty famous herd of elk that call our mountains home. If you’re lucky, you can catch them wandering throughout our local mountain towns, but most of the time you’ll be able to see them in Cataloochee Valley. In the Summer, this bunch will be in the midst of their growing season, where bulls are “in velvet” and calves are bulking up for winter. Before you go, it’s a good idea to refresh yourself on best practices for watching the elk to keep both you and your family safe!
Take a Dip in Midnight Hole Falls
Big fan of hiking? How about waterfalls? Love swimming holes, too? Check off all three with a trek to Midnight Hole Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This natural swimming hole is truly one of the most scenic destinations anywhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The water is crystal clear. The hike is an enjoyable excursion into the wilderness. And at roughly 1.5 miles on Big Creek Trail, this one is just long enough to make Midnight Hole’s chilly water a welcome experience.
Canoe, Kayak, Paddleboard at Lake Junaluska
The calm waters of Lake Junaluska make for a perfect way to soak up the outdoors at your own speed. This charming lake even provides spectacular views of the surrounding mountain peaks for an added relaxation bonus. For just $10/hour per person, you can glide along these tranquil waters in a rented canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard. When you’re done, take a calming stroll around the Rose Walk so you can say you’ve truly experienced Lake Junaluska from every angle.
Cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway—also known as America’s Favorite Drive—has a glorious 46-mile stretch right here in Haywood County. Simply riding along this scenic road for a day can fill your outdoor adventure meter—along every curve awaits a new breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, its deep valleys, and its colorful countryside. There are several pull-offs where you can stretch your legs, snap a photo (tag that with #HayNow and we might just feature it), or simply bask in awe. To combine the drive with a quick hike, pull off at Waterrock Knob (milepost 451.2) and follow the paved trail toward the end of the parking lot. Pro tip: the trail doesn’t stay paved for long, so take a good pair of shoes with you.
Make a Splash at Sunburst Swimming Hole
End your stuck-at-home era with a splash at Sunburst Swimming Hole. This relaxing spot in the Smokies has two main swimming areas, both kid-friendly and filled with refreshingly chilly mountain water. Looking for an adventure twofer? Take a quick, five-minute drive north along 215 to Lake Logan for a day of canoeing, disc golf, or fishing.
Float down the Pigeon River
This next adventure requires a pretty simple skillset: 1. Kick your feet up and 2. Take a load off. At Pigeon River Outfitters in Canton, you can spend around 2 hours of your day floating through nature and down the clean waters of the Pigeon River. Pick up some snacks and grab some drinks—you can also rent an extra tube for your cooler. If tubing isn’t your jam, you can kayak, canoe, or paddleboard down the river, too. One thing’s not up for debate: this is the perfect way to conquer a hot summer day in the Smokies.
Picnic at Max Patch
Take a dash of hiking, combine it with a heap of Smoky Mountain views and you’ll get Max Patch. After making a short climb up an incline from the parking lot, you’ll enter into a wide-open mountain bald that offers up unobstructed, 360-degree views of the Smokies from 4,600 feet. The scenery here pairs nicely with a to-go dish from one of our flavor-packed, locally-owned restaurants. Just order ahead from your favorite spot, pick it up, and make your way to Max Patch for one of the most memorable meals you’ll ever enjoy. For even more adventure, head here after the sun sets for out-of-this-world stargazing.
Explore Soco Falls
One of the most photographed spots on our local Instagram feed, Soco Falls is a magical double waterfall that sits right between Maggie Valley and the Cherokee Indian Reservation. To find these falls will require only a short hike right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, but you’re welcome to enjoy them for as long as you want. You can even venture down to get a closer look, but make sure you use the ropes and practice caution—the rocks can get a little slippery.
Hike the Boogerman Trail
Are you a passionate hiker looking for a nice, long trail to get your groove back? We’ve got you covered. Boogerman Trail, in addition to having one of the best names ever, is only around a mile from Cataloochee Valley in Haywood County. This 7-ish mile loop hike is loaded with some easy stretches along with some challenging areas—just enough of a range to keep things interesting. With an elevation gain of only around 1,000 feet, you’ll be able to do more gasping-at-views than gasping-for-air.
If it’s been a while since you’ve felt the crunching of a gravel trail beneath your feet, we’d love to welcome you back to the Smokies for your fill of cool mountain water, jaw-dropping views, authentic flavor, and dawn-to-dusk adventure. We hope the explorations listed above serve as a good jumping-off point! If you have any questions regarding the operations or accessibility of anything we’ve mentioned, please contact our Visitor Center at 828-944-0761—we’d be happy to help.