The Adventurer’s Guide to Western North Carolina

two dogs in the nc smokies

There’s no denying it: Western North Carolina was made for adventurers. After all, this land is the Gateway to the Smokies. It’s where the meandering Blue Ridge Parkway carves through the scenic Great Smoky Mountains National Park, opening up its valleys, ridges and waterways to be uncovered by eager explorers. In other words, if you’re looking for outdoor recreation in the mountains, you’ll find everything you’re dreaming of here. With so much to choose from, we know it can be overwhelming to start planning a trip. So, we complied a comprehensive list of our favorite activities that we recommend you try, too.

Hiker admiring a view of the Great Smoky Mountains.

This is a given, right? No matter where you find yourself in Western North Carolina, you’re never more than a few miles from an easily-accessible trailhead that will lead you to a view that’s totally worth the effort. Follow these family-friendly hiking itineraries to discover spectacular landscape views of the Smokies, picture-perfect picnic spots and hidden waterfalls.

Horseback Riding
Horse geared up for a ride.

It’s one thing to see the Smokies through the car windows on a road trip. It’s a whole different experience while you’re on horseback. This way, you can see trails and ridges you couldn’t see from the backseat of a car—kind of brings a whole new meaning to “Hay Now,” doesn’t it?


In an effort to encourage trout fishing as a heritage tourism activity, Maggie Valley and Waynesville joined other local governments as Mountain Heritage Trout Water Cities, providing public access to trout streams running along Soco Road. Take a look at these fishing spots to get a jump-start on planning your trip. We only ask that you comply with all North Carolina fishing regulations.

Motion blur of a mountain biker riding down a trail.

The bike-friendly Blue Ridge Parkway is a favorite among cyclists who visit the region, especially Asheville travelers. The best mountain biking in Western North Carolina is only a short drive from us, where you can find trails for all skill levels that take you on a journey through the wilderness! Pisgah’s Beginner’s Loop is perfect for those looking to take a leisurely cruise while working up a light sweat. Cherokee’s Fire on the Mountain is bit more of a challenge, with new trail systems and some really terrific mountain views. The Black Mountain Loop, east of Asheville, is a tough trail that will test your abilities the whole way through. All of these trails are close to the adventure you can find in Haywood County!

Motor Tours
Slingshot cruising through a Haywood County road.

Looking to inject some more horsepower into your cruise along the Parkway? Our winding roads are perfect for motorcycle and Slingshot rides! If you just asked yourself, “What in the world is a Slingshot?” it’s basically a three-wheeled motorcycle that weighs less than 1,800 pounds and sports a 2.4 liter inline four engine. Translation: it’s fast—and it’s fun. You can rent one at Slingin’ in the Smokies or Smoky Mountain Slingshot Rentals.


While you won’t find rapids here, a wild whitewater adventure is only a short drive away in North Carolina and Tennessee. There’s no better place to set up your home base for a rafting trip than Haywood County.


tubing on the pigeon river

Paddle-powered water voyages more your style? We’ve got you covered. Lake Junaluska offers more than spectacular views—these calm waters make for the perfect place to kayak or paddleboard adventure amongst the mountainside scenery. Or you could let Mother Nature do the work for you and tube down the Pigeon River in Canton, NC. Which will you choose?

Hot air balloons
Hot air balloons.

This isn’t a typo—you can really go for a hot air balloon ride in nearby Candler, NC! Watching the mountains in Pisgah National Forest shrink underneath you from 2,000 feet up is a seriously special, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Be sure to add this adventure to your itinerary while you’re in town.

Swimming holes
sunburst swimming hole

Natural swimming holes don’t require the upkeep (or chemicals) that most backyard pools do. Lucky for you, the Smokies carved out some pretty special places to make a splash.

Sunburst Swimming Hole is one of the easiest to get to and even has some beachy areas to relax on.

A short hike from mile marker 417 on the Blue Ridge Parkway will take you to Skinny Dip Falls, another place to cool off in the summer heat. Although the name suggests otherwise, we’d still advise you to wear clothes if you visit this particular spot!

Another unique place to make a splash nearby is at Sliding Rock, a naturally-formed waterslide that cascades “riders” into a 7-foot deep pool at its end. This is one of the only sites where you’ll find lifeguards, so keep that in mind as you explore other swimming holes.

Smoky Mountain Glamping

The cherry on top of your Smoky-Mountain-adventure sundae should be an awesome place to stay. For you folks looking for a unique way to spend your nights in Haywood County, check out the creekside glamping tent in Waynesville. If you prefer something more traditional, no worries. We’ve got the right place for you to rest your head while you’re staying with us.

See? There’s a whole lot to see and do while you’re with us in the Smokies. Share your adventures with the world using #haynow and tag us @visitncsmokies!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Stay Connected

Sign up for our eNewsletter.