Content Produced in Partnership with Visit NC Smokies

St. George, Utah, Yellowstone National Park, the Adirondacks: Some places in the United States are just natural breeding grounds for adventure. Consider Haywood County, North Carolina one of those places. Situated directly between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway in the western corner of North Carolina, Haywood County is like the older, quirkier cousin of Gatlinburg, Asheville or Pigeon Forge — and you’ll be amazed at what you can find once you start looking. Its five mountain towns — Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton, and Clyde — are brimming with adventure opportunities that outdoor enthusiasts of all ages can appreciate. Whether you’re dreaming of a quiet camping trip in the mountains or an epic motorcycle ride along the Parkway, there’s no doubt there’s an adventure waiting for you in Haywood.

Photo courtesy Haywood County Tourism

Backcountry Delights

Nestled along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the eastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Haywood County hit the backcountry jackpot for scenic overlooks, hiking trails and mountaintop views. There's an air of mystery floating around these parts too. As you explore Waterrock Knob, Graveyard Fields or Devil’s Courthouse (the rumored home of the devil himself), be sure to keep an eye out for the Boojum. Rumor has it that this half-man, half-bigfoot wanders through the Smokies drinking moonshine and looking for gems. If you can’t find Boojum in any of our favorite scenic overlooks or on a hiking trail, consider toasting him from afar with a drink from one of the county's many local breweries.

Photo courtesy Haywood County Tourism

Elk Watching

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to head out West to see elk in the wild. After the eastern herds were nearly wiped out due to overhunting, 52 elk were reintroduced to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in early 2001. Today, you can go to Cataloochee Valley for a chance to see one of the 150 elk that call the valley home. Come in the fall during rut to witness the mighty male elk bugling for a mate, then stop back in the spring to see the product of all that hard work in the form of new calves grazing in the fields alongside their herd. No matter when you come, just remember: elk are beautiful to look at, but they’re still wild animals. It might be a good idea to brush up on your elk-watching etiquette before setting out on your adventure to see them.

Photo courtesy Haywood County Tourism

Miles of Open Road

Whether you prefer a traditional horse or one of the iron variety, you’ll be happy in Haywood County. The climb up to Cataloochee Ranch makes for a relaxing afternoon horseback riding along the endless ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Meantime, those more inclined for a motorcycling adventure can tear through the mountains for a wilder ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 46 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway span through Haywood County, most of those miles are considered to be the best and most scenic parts of the entire 469-mile ride. Just round milepost 420, you'll come across the photo-worthy Black Balsam Knob. Along the way, consider a stop in Maggie Valley to check out the vintage motorcycles at Wheels Through Time, then slip through the back door to the Maggie Valley Inn’s hidden tiki bar, one of the most popular fueling stations in the country.

Photo courtesy Haywood County Tourism

Waterfall Hikes

This corner of North Carolina has more than a dozen waterfall hikes available, making it a real treat for waterfall chasers of skill levels. The seemingly natural waterparks of Sliding Rock Waterfalls and Skinny Dip Falls are family favorites during the summer months, while the more adventurous will find the 8-mile round trip hike to the highest waterfall within Great Smoky Mountains National Park well worth the effort — and the bragging rights. Motorcyclists and road trippers criss-crossing through the county will want to check out the Waterfalls Ride, which traces 12 waterfalls across a 180-mile stretch of twisting, winding roads. Rest assured: no matter your adventure style, you can easily seek out a waterfall in Haywood.

Photo courtesy Haywood County Tourism

Starry Nights

Escape from it all with a gaze at the night sky in Haywood County. Some of the clearest night skies in the United States can be found far away from the city lights deep within naturally protected dark spaces like the country’s national parks or high atop the mountainsides that line Maggie Valley. One of the best viewing of the dark skies in Haywood County comes from atop Purchase Knob, a popular hiking trail home to one of the National Park System’s 32 research learning centers. Set at 5,000 feet, Purchase Knob frequently hosts stargazing events throughout the year. Locals and visitors also rave about the viewing opportunities in around Canton, where you can pull up a chair at one of the local restaurants or breweries to admire the night skies as you bask in the smell of the nearby paper mill. Haywood County was in line of complete totality for the Total Solar Eclipse that crossed the country on August 21st — and that was just the beginning. Mark your calendars for the big celestial events still to come in 2017: Venus and Jupiter appear in November and the Geminid meteor shower happens in December.

Photo courtesy Haywood County Tourism

Cool Weather Adventures

Winter is the secret season in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, and you won't want to miss this one. Meteorologists are predicting that 2017 just might be one of the best cold seasons in years, which is only good news for Cataloochee Ski Area. With 18 slopes and elevations upward of 5,400 feet, the southernmost ski resort in the United States has a slope for skiers and snowboarders of any skill level plus plenty of rental equipment to help you get started. If you want to feel like you’re on your own personal mountainside, consider a midweek visit for less-crowded slopes, but know that on Fridays you can take a break to enjoy live bluegrass music while sipping through the bar’s excellent craft beer selection.