Content Produced in Partnership with Jackson County Tourism
When it comes to quirky adventure destinations in Western North Carolina, Asheville normally steals the spotlight. That’s why we’re letting you in on a little secret: There’s a place even better. Just 50 miles west, you’ll find Jackson County, a region so magical parts of it have been referred to as the Yosemite of the East. Why, you ask? Well, it’s chock-full of natural wonders. Because the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountain Ranges converge on the area, Jackson County’s mountain towns and winding roads are a smorgasbord of cascading waterfalls, twisting trails, and craggy cliffs. From epic mountaintop views to secret swimming holes, here’s how to get the most out of your time in Jackson County this year.
A Hiker’s Playground
Technically speaking, a section of Nantahala National Forest known as Panthertown Valley is what nature lovers like to call the "Yosemite of the East." One look at what all Jackson County has to offer, though, and you'll be convinced you that the entire county is actually eastern Yosemite. It’s a natural treasure trove, and the best way to unearth those treasures is to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails. Jackson County holds more mountains than anywhere else in the state and Whiteside Mountain is its premier mountaintop. Not only do geologists consider it one of the oldest in the world, but the two-mile trailhead to the top also has jaw-dropping views of the Eastern Continental Divide and the distinctive, Yosemite-lookalike granite domes in the distance. Of course, you’ll want to spend a few hours or even several days backpacking across Panthertown Valley’s 6,000 acres, too. From simple half-mile hikes to more strenuous eight milers, there are more than 30 miles of trails within the valley ripe for the taking in a protected area that could easily be considered a national park all its own. No matter which corner of the county you choose to explore, we think you’ll find there’s no such thing as a bad hike in this area.
You’d run out of fingers and toes trying to count all the waterfalls dotting the landscape of Jackson County. While the entire county is positively brimming with cascading water, you’ll find the majority — and most spectacular ones — are in the southern part of the county around Cashiers and Nantahala National Forest. If you’re arriving from the east, your first major waterfall hike of the day can be to Whitewater Falls, the second largest cascading waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. The short path is paved, making it ideal for all abilities and skill levels, but there are a number of steps leading to the designated viewing area to be mindful of. As you venture farther into Panthertown Valley, you can take a relatively short hike to the iconic Schoolhouse Falls, one of the highlights of the Panthertown Valley area. If the hike to Schoolhouse Falls is a little too rough (or long) for shorter legs, families staying in Cashiers will have a blast spending a few hours splashing around Silver Run Falls (pictured above), a waterfall located a quarter-mile off the State Highway 107 roadway.
Note: The chances of seeing all the waterfalls Jackson County has to offer during your stay are slim. The Jackson County Tourism Board has a handy list of top must-see waterfalls and how to get there on their website. We’d recommend printing out any directions before you venture out as cell and Internet service is limited in some areas.
Anglers will be keen to note Jackson County has three Mountain Heritage Trout waters — the most in one concentrated area within the entire state. More than 250 creeks and waterways flow through Jackson County, including the mighty Tuck, or the Tuskegee River. State officials ensure that all of those waterways are well-stocked with fish year after year, which means there’s a good chance you can score the catch of the day, every day you’re there. The fishing is so good, it’s been dubbed the Fly Fishing Capital of North Carolina and even has a dedicated Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail. That’s more than 4,600 miles of water for you to enjoy. Don’t have a boat or experience? No worries. There are plenty of public-access wading points and guided tours you can join.
If you’re an outdoorsman that prefers a few of the finer things in life that a campground can’t offer after a day of exploring, Jackson County is the sort of place you’ll want to visit. In the south around Cashiers, you’ll find country club cottages and stunning golf courses, while the northern towns have larger chain and boutique hotel options. Meantime, the locals and the restaurants are just as pleasant as the scenery, ensuring every moment of your stay in Jackson County is memorable. Click here to start planning your adventure in Western North Carolina.