Escape the urban hustle and bustle with a trip to the North Carolina mountains

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PHOTO | ASHLEY MAHONEY
Kayak along Fontana Lake in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.

Bryson City is the escape you’ve been dreaming of.

The North Carolina city of less than 2,000 is nestled in the Smoky Mountains and serves as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Bryson City, a three hour drive west of Charlotte on US 74 West, has a quaint charm where everyone seems to really care about how your day goes.

Nature surrounds you, and we’re not talking about a hike to Crowders Mountain where you can still smell the residue of city life. Instead, watch the sunrise at Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the third highest east of the Mississippi River at 6,644 feet. Only Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig are higher at 6,684 feet and 6,647 feet respectively.

It takes an hour to get from Bryson City to Clingmans Dome, but as someone with a long losing streak with revivals, it’s worth getting up at 5.30am to make the journey. Make sure you eat something before you go, as no one needs to spend two hours in a car on an empty stomach. Once you arrive, you’ll take a half-mile paved hike from the parking lot to the observation deck.

Don’t underestimate the hike based on distance. It’s steep and difficult, but the 360 ​​degree views at the top are worth it.

It’s best to do Clingmans Dome before 9 a.m. as the two-lane road to it tends to be crowded with visitors.

Deep stream
Five kilometers from the heart of the city are three waterfalls and miles of trails in the national park. You can hike, tube, fish, bike, horseback, or trail run at Deep Creek. The trails are well marked. Animals are not allowed on the trails. If you are visiting during the summer and prefer not to encounter snakes, explore the area before 10am.

The Deep Creek Trail was among the first built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill in 1926 establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee National Park and Shenandoah, Virginia. President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the park in 1940.

Nantahala Outdoor Center
Imagine the US National Whitewater Center in the mountains, and instead of rafting on a man-made river, you get the real thing. Both have very similar atmospheres, right down to the practice slalom for kayaks and dining options. They also serve as a training ground for the Olympians.

The NOC organizes trips and offers rentals on six rivers: Chattahoochee and Nantahala, around which the main campus is located, have guide or rental options, while Ocoee, Chattooga, French Broad, and Pigeon are guided only. It is one of the eight outfitters in the region, but by far the most important.

The NOC also offers mountain biking, aerial adventures such as ziplining, solo wild medicine lessons, calm water kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Fontana. Whitewater rescue training and on-site accommodation and camping can be found on the Wesser campus.

The NOC also introduced its first scholarship for marginalized people to attend a raft guide school, which includes accommodation, training, first aid courses needed to become a guide and essential riverine equipment. . They are interviewed during the guide school.

Fontana Lake
There are plenty of places in Charlotte to kayak, and while Lake Norman and Lake Wylie are lovely, there is nothing quite like the serenity of kayaking on Lake Fontana, surrounded by majestic mountains.

I explored the lake with Carolina Bound Adventures owner Mark Van Osdal who explained that the water looks green from copper deposits, but if you soak your paddle you’ll notice it’s clear. He also recommended a running route in Deep Creek, and his knowledge of the area, as well as the best time to avoid snakes, was very helpful.

For example, Lake Fontana is man-made – around WWII. The Fontana Dam, the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains at 480 feet, opened in 1945 to generate electricity for WWII industries. The Tennessee Valley Authority lowers the lake level by 60 feet between September and November each year to prepare for winter snows and spring rains. The lake is so deep that lowering it from what appears to be a significant amount does not impact fishing or public ramps, which remain open year round.

Let’s eat
Grab an all toasted bagel with bacon and scallion cream cheese on one half and dill cream cheese on the other and a cup of coffee at Mountain Perks (9 Depot St.).
Coming back to town after the Clingmans Dome adventure, a line of people stood in front of Everett Street Diner (126 Everett St.).

The next day, I sat down at the counter and immersed myself in the experience by ordering the famous Diner’s cookie and gravy combo and a banana. The waitress brought me two bananas as I got lost running in Deep Creek and a 12 mile practice run turned into 13.5 miles. Let’s just say that my plates (two cookies and gravy, hash browns, two eggs, bacon and bananas) were completely clean when I left.

Breakfast
Try the Cuban at the High Test Deli and Sweet Shop (145 Everett St.). Take a short walk to the lookout overlooking the river for a scenic meal. For something sweet afterwards, head to La Dolce Vita (191 Everett St.). Try hazelnut chocolate or one of their ice cream flavors.

River’s End (13077 US-19) is a great place to have lunch before heading out on the water. Try the cauliflower bites to start, followed by the tail of the dragon burger. Watch out for the jalapeños covering the burger. They’re delicious, but they can make you breathe fire.

Having dinner
Head to Anthony’s (103 Depot St.) across from the train tracks and grab a bruschetta and pizza to refuel for your hike.

Make a reservation if you want a seat at Everett Bistro. Everyone agreed that they have the best food in town. They also wished me good luck getting a table there. It is attached to the Everett Hotel, a boutique hotel, located in the center of the historic district of the city, right next to the town square. In 1905 it was built as a bank, but enough about the history, let’s talk about the food.

Ordering trout in the mountains of North Carolina is a bit like ordering salmon in Norway, you just have to. Try the trout cakes with Cajun remoulade to start, followed by Carolina mountain trout for a starter and crème brûlée for dessert.


Or sleep
Bryson Village consists of 15 vacation rentals on the outskirts of town, keeping almost everything within walking distance. The cabins have a modern rustic feel, as several are less than two years old, like the one I knew called Magical Memories.

The high ceilings give you a feeling of extra elevation to match the mountain air. A huge walk-in shower welcomes you after a long day of hiking or playing on the water. The kitchen is ready for a home cooked meal, and if you have the vacation mentality that you don’t cook a single thing or wash a dish while you’re on vacation, the fridge is waiting to store the place’s leftovers. where you decided to have dinner that night. . The hot tub on the deck will be nice for a winter adventure.

All aboard!
Charlotte has trains, but not like the one on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, and certainly nothing that takes passengers to the North Pole.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers trips through the Smokies, but the most popular is the Polar Express Christmas Tour. From drop-off decorations in the heart of town to Christmas carols with hot chocolate and Santa holiday treats, to your very own silver sleigh bell, you can see why it’s such a hot ticket. The trip takes less than 90 minutes round trip and runs from November 11 to December 12. 31.

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What is the best time of year to travel to these destinations?
Posted on September 4, 2021


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