Gear Patrol Studios

West of Asheville, you'll find the majestic Great Smoky Mountains in the north and scenic Nantahala National Forest further south. This area is an excellent destination for those who want to escape the bustle of the city, connect with nature and find their way off the beaten path while still being only an hour or two from the nearest airport. During your stay in one of the region's charming hotels, inns or cabins, there are no shortage of options for exploring the area by foot, water or rail.

The Historic Tapoco Lodge is nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and Nantahala National Forest on 120 acres of woodland along the banks of the Cheoah River. This upscale lodge was built by Alcoa in 1930 as a retreat for national executives, so you know you’ll be more than comfortable in their spacious rooms. If you’re looking for accommodation for a larger group, the Nantahala Outdoor Center offers large private cabins on their property where they also have camping options, a restaurant and a pedestrian bridge that overlooks a popular whitewater kayaking spot. Couples might want to venture a little further south and east to Lake Toxaway where they'll find the Greystone Inn, a lovely hotel on the water with an excellent restaurant that's quite romantic. The Greystone Inn is also adjacent to Gorges State Park, which has great hiking and gorgeous waterfalls. If your idea of a perfect vacation involves more pampering, check out the Old Edwards Inn in the Highlands area and be sure to book yourself a treatment in their spa before heading out to experience the bountiful nature that surrounds it.

By Boat

visit north carolina whitewater rafting at nantahala outdoor center with rocks in background
Visit North Carolina
white water
Gear Patrol Studios

The Nantahala River is well-known for its rafting and kayaking, and you don’t need to be a veteran paddler to get in on the action. While not the most challenging whitewater to navigate for more serious paddlers, it's great for families and beginners, features stunning views and is frequented by both locals and visitors alike during the summer months. You can book a day on the waves through a number of rafting outfitters in Bryson City, including Endless River Adventures and the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Whether you prefer to chase a natural adrenaline high with a guided rafting tour or you want to get back to basics with an educational kayaking lesson from a professional instructor, there’s something for every level to enjoy on the water.

By Rail

great smoky mountain railroad train over the tuckaseegee
Chris Council and Emily Chaplin
Gear Patrol Studios

Traveling by car the driver rarely gets to enjoy the same relaxation as the passengers, but if you book passage on the Great Smoky Mountains Railway, everyone gets to sit back and relax while enjoying the beauty of the region. An array of trip packages make it easy to have a truly unique railway experience, with everything from barbecue dinners to wine tastings, as well as raft or zipline adventure packages. While specific event offerings change seasonally, no matter how you choose to enjoy the railway, you'll be able to bask in gorgeous views and excellent company.

By Trail

dry falls edge of trail with people
Jared Kay
Gear Patrol Studios

If you prefer traveling by foot, there is no shortage of hiking options in the area as well. The Appalachian Trail travels through the Nantahala National Forest and the scenic town of Franklin which has playfully been dubbed “trail town” by thru-hikers. From there you can tackle a section of the iconic AT as a day hike, but you can also find more low key trails that offer excellent views, such as the Wayah Bald Lookout Tower. Depending on the season you could be lucky enough to encounter stunning wild flowers or picturesque fall foliage, but all year round there are waterfalls, rolling hills and mountain peaks that belong on a postcard.