There is something very special about the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Some say it’s the majestic rolling mountains and their beckoning call to be explored, while others say it’s the down-home friendly folks who give you the feeling like you’ve known them for years. Or perhaps it is the time-honored traditions that are soaked to the bone in rich southern Appalachian heritage. There is just something about Haywood County and its five welcoming towns of Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Canton, Clyde, and Lake Junaluska that guarantee you’ll find an authentic experience unlike anywhere else. Like the rivers and streams that originate high in our mountains and flow out, you take that feeling with you beyond Haywood County and keep it with you throughout your travels. That “something” is why folks keep coming back, time after time. So, the next time you find yourself amidst the rolling Appalachians of Haywood County, check out these five authentic “Must-See” attractions.
Visit the Birthplace of the Great Smoky Mountain Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Hundreds of years ago, the majestic elk population once roamed freely across Southern Appalachia but due to over-hunting and loss of habitat they disappeared entirely. But that is no longer to the case thanks to the reintroduction of the elk in 2001 to Cataloochee Valley. The pristine valley, located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has become the home to hundreds of elk that thrive and roam freely in the valley. Here you can witness these marvelous creatures in their natural habitat, which can be seen most prominently at dawn and dusk. But the elk aren’t the only draw to Cataloochee Valley. Once a pioneer settlement, the valley is dotted with historic sites and preserved buildings to explore, including a pristine creek and multiple hiking trails to enjoy. Want to get the most out of your experience? Take a private eco-tour with Cataloochee Valley Tours.
Meet the Official North Carolina State Dog
The Plott Family, who settled here in the early 1800’s, developed and bred the Plott Hound for over 200 years. Known for their big game hunting skills, they are known as strong, courageous dogs and loyal companions.
The popularity of the Plotts led to the creation of “The Plott Dog Trail in Maggie Valley”. This loop trail traces the history and heritage of the Plotts with 18 stops throughout Maggie Valley. The trail, which has been combined with the Mountain Heritage Trout Waters map, provides visitors and locals with a unique activity exclusive only to Haywood County.
There is also a brand new hiking guide available exclusively in Haywood County – The Blackrock Mountain Guide – which takes you on an adventure through the Plott Balsam mountain range, named for the very family who left such a lasting legacy with their dogs. You can pick this beautifully illustrated guide up for free at the Haywood County Visitor Center.
Enjoy the “Art” of Hiking
In addition to the Blackrock Mountain hiking guide, you can also explore Sam’s Summits Loop Trail, in a way you can only experience in Haywood County. These maps were created by the very same certified naturalist, Ken Czarnomski, who created The Blackrock Mountain guide. Sam’s Summit borders the Blue Ridge Parkway and offers an abundance of summer wildflower blooms, native wildlife, historical significance, and incredible scenic views. Ken’s artistic passion for hiking helped him create uniquely illustrated guides that are available exclusively in Haywood County. His desire to share the joys of hiking with the general public fueled the project and inspired many to discover the ease and enjoyment of hiking for the first time through this special map. The guide, which also doubles as a work of art, provides an experience unlike any other in the area. Free maps are available at the Haywood County Visitor Center in Maggie Valley or by request at 1-800-334-9036.
Traverse one of the Southernmost Ski Areas in the Southeast
It may be summer, but it’s never too early to start planning your winter ski getaway! Historically one of the first ski areas to open in the Southeast (November 1 or before) and one of the last to close for the season, Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley is in a category of its own. Don’t let the fact that it is one of the southernmost ski areas in the southeast fool you. With an elevation of 5,400 ft and 18 slopes and trails ranging from beginner to expert, the ski area provides challenging fun for the entire family. Even if you aren’t a skier but still love a fun winter adventure, Tube World, will bring back memories of sledding as a child or create them for your own little ones. Visit www.cataloochee.com for more information and to plan your trip.
Visit the Scariest (Sounding) Points on the Blue Ridge Parkway
They may sound scary, but don’t let the names fool you. Located within just a few miles of each other on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County, Devil’s Courthouse and Graveyard Fields are anything but a spooky experience.
Located at milepost 422, Devil’s Courthouse is believed to take its name from both its sinister rock formations and the legend that the devil held court in the cave that lies beneath the rock. Local Cherokee lore believes the cave is the private chamber of the slant-eyed giant, Judaculla. A short, 20-minute uphill hike will take you to the overlook summit at 5,720 feet, where you will find some of the most long-range scenic views on the parkway, including views of South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Located just north at milepost 418 is Graveyard Fields, which is surrounded by much speculation on how its name came to be. One belief is it developed from a tremendous windstorm that uprooted the spruce forest that left behind stumps that gave the area the appearance of a graveyard. Another theory believes that logging in the early 20th century left tree stumps resembling gravestones. However, due to massive forest fires in the last century, the stumps were destroyed and the soil scorched enough to render it sterile. Despite this, it remains one of the most popular hiking areas on the parkway due to easily accessible waterfall features and incredible flora and fauna, including abundant blackberry, gooseberry and blueberry bushes throughout. For help planning your Blue Ridge Parkway experience visit www.blueridgeparkway.org.