Top 10 Things To Do in Bryson City, NC


Bryson City is a popular adventure small town in Western North Carolina next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It offers a wide range of great outdoor activities. It is surrounded by mountains, lakes, streams, trails and waterfalls. Here’s your curated list of fun-filled “Top 10 Things To Do in Bryson City” to help you plan the best outing. Have fun and let’s go adventure in the Smokies!

Top 10 Things To Do In Bryson City, NC

  1. Ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad steam engine through Nantahala Gorge
  2. Go white water rafting on the Nantahala river. Ages 7+, perfect for first timers
  3. Go tubing and waterfall chasing at Deep Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  4. Stay in a Yurt at the Falling Waters Resort
  5. Paddle Stand up paddle boards (SUP) on Lake Fontana
  6. Go fly fishing for trout in the Tuckaseegee River
  7. Go ziplining through the trees in Nantahala Gorge, special kidZip too!
  8. Sip a fresh cold craft beer at the local brewpubs in town
  9. Go mountain biking at the world class trails at Tsali Recreation Area
  10. Hike up to Wesser Bald Firetower for incredible 360-degree views of the Smokies

1. Ride the steam engine through Nantahala Gorge

Nantahala Gorge Steam Engine

All Aboard! Riding the Steam Engine through The Nantahala George with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is truly a unique experience because there are only two of its kind left in the nation. Rides depart from the Depot in Downtown Bryson City and then you will wind through the mountains and tunnels, taking in scenery like the Nantahala River and Fontana Lake. You can add a lot of awesome adventure to your train outing with a Train & Raft Package, Train & Jeep Tour Package, or a Train & Zipline Package. Since the train ride is an out and back – adding a cool outdoor adventure instead of the return trip is a perfect and happy ending to a great train plus adventure package!

2. Go white water rafting on the Nantahala river

Nantahala Rafting
perfect for first-timers!

This is an absolute gem of a river, tucked into Nantahala Gorge only 20 minutes from downtown Bryson City, NC.  Generations of families and groups have been introduced to the exhilarating fun of white water rafting on the Nantahala’s eight miles of bouncy class I and II rapids. This trip is perfect for first-timers and a beautiful river for even the experienced paddler. Renting rafts or inflatable kayaks (called “duckies”) adds to the challenge for adventurous folks or those with a little paddling experience already! [NOTE: The August 24, 2019 landslides due to extremely heavy rain in a short burst closed the river temporarily, and at least through Labor Day. Plan to Zip, Train, SUP, Hike, Fish, Swim and explore all the OTHER top 10 things to do in Bryson City instead then!]

3. Go tubing & waterfall chasing at Deep Creek

Deep Creek tubing

Deep Creek is a super popular place for Bryson City locals and visitors alike. It’s only 5-10 minutes from the center of town. On your first visit to Bryson City (yes, we are pretty sure you’ll want to come back!) you might miss it without advance information. It’s the Swain County entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There is a ranger station, campground for RVs and tents, trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, incredibly fun tubing on the actual Deep Creek itself, superb fishing, and covered and open picnic areas with grills and bathrooms.

The trails are well marked and have numerous beautiful waterfalls on them, like this one in the picture. The main Deep Creek Trail is an old road bed so its wide and strollers with big wheels can navigate it successfully. Keep your eyes out for majestic great blue herons in the creek and a lot of songbirds.

A great resource about Deep Creek is the Swain County Chamber of Commerce. 

4. Stay in a Yurt at the Falling Waters Nantahala

Falling Waters Yurt

Normal cabin rentals are so last year… the Yurts at Falling Waters Nantahala are a unique, new alternative for mountain accommodations! These yurts, located outside Bryson City in the Nantahala Gorge, aren’t just any old tent. They are the epitome of glamping! All of the yurts at Falling Waters Nantahala have private decks, queen-size beds and ample amenities. You will feel simultaneously spoiled AND immersed in nature. Just imagine having morning coffee on your private deck before a day of adventure, opening up the french doors to be greeted by forest views, or star-gazing through the domed skylight at night while you fall asleep.

Walk to ziplining from your yurt, available for the youngest zippers, too! Check out #7 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Bryson City..

5. Try Stand up paddle boards (SUP) on Lake Fontana

Stand up Paddle Board Lake Fontana

Have you tried the newest paddlesport craze, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, also known as SUP?  Well, here’s your chance in Bryson City on your BIG vacation in a small town! Rent SUP boards right here in town from Bryson City Outdoors. Then, pick up your boards at their rental location at Fontana Lake, about 15 minutes away, with no hassles about having to transport SUP boards yourself! Slip into the water and go cruising around on the lake for as long or short a distance as you like. SUP boards are quite stable, and make fantastic diving boards and play platforms for kids and pups. They also offer a great workout for paddlers and athletes wanting to release some energy.

6. Go fly fishing for trout in the Tuckaseegee River

Great Smokies Fishing

This corner of western North Carolina is fast becoming an angler’s paradise!  The fully stocked Tuckaseegee River runs right though Bryson City. With several great fly shops in and around Bryson City, you have plenty of choices for fishing gear, half and full day guided fly fishing with expert guides who know all the best places to fish.

Stop by the fly shops for your fishing license and updates on what flies are working on which rivers the best. The Tuckaseegee River runs right though Bryson City and you can be on the water making that perfect cast in literally minutes from stocking up on the day’s best flies!

Other nearby great fishing rivers are the Upper Nantahala River and the lower or rafting section of the Nantahala River, through Nantahala Gorge. (Check with the fly shops since the landslides on the rafting section of the river have it closed, at least temporarily, as of August 24 through Labor Day September 1, 2019.)

7. Go ziplining through the trees near Nantahala Gorge

Nantahala Gorge Kid Zip

With a Kidzip available, too!

Ziplining is an awful lot of fun, and requires zero previous experience or skills – so it is a terrific choice for a new outdoor adventure for zippers as young a 4 and as old as, well – as old as they want to be! With a KidZip and a full length Zipline Canopy Tour to choose from, you’re covered with something fun for most ages. Soar through the trees! Cruise along on sky bridges. Take in fantastic views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park way across the valley and Fontana lake. Yep! That’s all possible here!

Learn about what zipline courses are and how to try it out here at the Nantahala Gorge Zipline Canopy Tour.

8. Enjoy local brewpubs

Nantahala Brewing

Every good adventure town is equipped with at least one place to grab a cold, fresh craft beer after a day on the river or out in the woods and Bryson City is no different. The town has embraced the craft brewery industry and now there are three great brewpubs to choose from. The purest of water coming straight from the Great Smoky Mountains makes for brewing some of the best beer around.

Take a sip for yourself and see at Nantahala Brewing Company, Mountain Layers Brewing Company,  and the Bryson City Taproom.  All three microbreweries and taprooms are within walking distance of one another in downtown Bryson City!

9. Ride mountain bikes at Tsali Recreation Area

Tslai Biking

The Tsali mountain biking trails have been famous for decades. Created by avid riders in the “early days” of the late 1980s and early 1990s, these trails offer incredible single track riding for many rider levels of experience. Tsali Recreation Area trails are multi-use trails with alternating schedules for mountain bikers and horseback riders. Trail runners and hikers can use any trail anytime.

There are 40 miles of trails and 4 main loops, with shorter versions of loops.  The trails loop around the peninsulas of Lake Fontana, following the topography in friendly, fast, “flowy” (yes that is a mtn biker term!) trails that are huge fun for bikers. Cool off in the lake after your ride. There is a permit system for riding at Tsali, and compost toilets and a water hose station to rinse off your bike after shredding on the single track.

There is also a campground you can stay at right there in between the trails.  For mountain bike rentals, maps and bike shop services, check out Tsali Cycles. 

Tsali is an easy 15-20 minute drive from Bryson City, following Highway 19 West and then bear right onto Highway 28. You’ll see signs for Tsali Recreation Area and turn right onto the long access road that drops down to the shore of Fontana Lake.

10. Hike up to Wesser Bald Firetower

Wesser Bald Firetower Hikes

The Wesser Bald Firetower is located on the Appalachian Trail and hiking to it treats you to incredible 360 degree views of the Smokies, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge mountains.  There are actually three different hikes you can do to get to this firetower with these wondrous panoramic views. That’s why we like this destination – its got something for almost everyone and many ages.

  1. Blue Tag or Wesser Creek Hike up to Wesser Bald Firetower:  This is rated as a hard hike, about 6.6 miles one way and pretty much all uphill. It’s just over 13 miles round trip, going down is considerably faster than up!  The trail head is at the end of Wesser Creek Road, about two miles from the junction of Wesser Creek Road and HIghway 19 west right before you enter Nantahala Gorge. This is the old Appalachian Trail and is now a spur trail that connects with the Appalachian Trail. This trail is not well-maintained like the AT so be prepared for trees on the trail, washouts, or undergrowth to navigate around in some places from time to time. The beauty of this trail is few hikers are on it and its a favorite of locals for an afternoon power hike or trail run. It follows Wesser Creek most of the way up so your 4-legged friends can get water on the trail, too.
  2. Appalachian Trail North from the NOC to Wesser Bald: The hike starts on the AT at the junction of Highway 19 and Silvermine Road. This is the regular AT trail that all through-hikers pass along on and day hikers enjoy. It is well-maintained and is an 8 mile hike one way (16 miles round trip) from the NOC to Wesser Bald Firetower, traveling south. It is 7 miles to the shelter, and another mile to the firetower itself. It’s a challenging hike with a lot of uphill in this direction.
  3. Appalachian Trail South from Tellico Gap to Wesser Bald:  This is the sweet spot hike for younger or older hikes who still want to bag the incredible landscape views from the top of the Firetower. You can drive up to the Tellico Gap parking lot to start your hike. It is approximately 1.4 miles one way from the parking lot to the firetower. Take either the Appalachian Trail south to the firetower, or walk on the old logging road that is below the trail and also goes to the firetower. This is the old road cut to drive in the materials to build the firetower. Hikers like to hike in on one route and out on the other to mix it up a bit. To get to Tellico Gap, drive all the way through the Nantahala Gorge west and turn left onto Wayah Road – SR 1310, driving past the Nantahala River put-in.  Follow Wayah Road to the intersection of Otter Creek Road -SR1365. Turn left on Otter Creek Road and follow it to the top of – quite literally – Tellico Gap. You’ll know you are there because you’ll see signs for the Appalachian Trail and if you go too far you’ll start down the other side of the mountain into Franklin, NC. It’s a beautiful drive from Highway 19.