Zip-lining, hiking, white water rafting, exploring on foot and by train…there are many amazing things to do in Bryson City, NC.
We recently took our granddaughter Alice on a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and discovered that Bryson City was a perfect base from which to explore the area. We discovered so many fun things to in Bryson City!
In fact, there are so many activities in Bryson City, NC that you might find it hard to find the time to experience all the this wonderful area has to offer. We were there three days and definitely wish for more time!
Bryson City is not just a great place to base for fun in the Great Smoky Mountains it is a wonderful destination all on its own! Wondering what to do in Bryson City? Read on!
Table of Contents
Fun Things to do in Bryson City, NC!
Explore the town of Bryson City:
This is an enchanting little town with a population of about 1,500. Bryson City, North Carolina is situated just on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Old buildings line the main street, well tended flowers are liberally sprinkled around, and it is surrounded by the blue-green Smoky Mountains.
Take a walk through the downtown area. Go into the shops and look around. Visit with the friendly locals and shop owners.
Climb on the caboose in front of the train station. Walk across the bridge and check out the meandering Tuckasegee river. Get a deep fried deviled egg at one of the food trucks. Yes, Bryson City has a food truck scene!
This charming small mountain town is the perfect place to base your stay in the area!
It is a relaxed and beautiful place. I wondered aloud if the locals ever take for granted the beauty of their surroundings. I hope not.
Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour
While you are exploring Bryson City you might want to take a self-guided walking tour. Stop by the visitors center and pick up a map that will guide you around the town and tell you a bit about the historic buildings.
Swain County Heritage Museum
The Swain County Heritage Museum is also the visitor’s center in Bryson City. You can’t miss the imposing white building which was the 1908 historic courthouse in downtown Bryson City, North Carolina.
You can get all kinds of information from the kind people in the visitor center and through the museum you will learn the history of Swain County and it’s people. Through photos, exhibits and video you will learn about the life of early settlers; and how the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Fontana Dam rewrote the landscape and changed lives.
It is really a well done little museum and is one of the musts on a list of Bryson City things to do.
Murals, Street Art, and Painted Fish
The artists of Bryson City have been hards at work adding pops of color to the town. Bryson City has a walkable street art and mural trail in its downtown.
The murals often celebrate the connection of the railroad to the town.
There are also whimsically painted trout statues that represent the abundance of trout in the local waters. There are 6 so far…can you find them all?
You will also find quilt block patterns on various buildings.
Have an Ice Cream at Soda Pops:
You will know you are at Soda Pops when you see the happy crowds. This old fashioned ice cream place has red and white checked floors, walls painted in shades of green, coca cola memorabilia, red and silver booths…you will feel like you have stepped back in time when you step into Soda Pops Ice Cream Parlor.
Indulge in a cone or a shake or a malt or a float – it’s all good! This place can get crowded but there are benches and chairs just outside the shop where you can relax and gobble down your mint chocolate chip before it melts.
I’m pretty sure we stopped by at least 3 times in our 3 day stay in Bryson City. Hey – that’s what grandparents are for!
This is a must-do activity in Bryson City!
Visit The Chocolate Shoppe
You will likely be drawn into The Chocolate Shoppe by the delicious scent of chocolate wafting down the streets of Bryson City. At least we were! You will often find someone inside mixing up some type of wonderful concoction.
They have delicious homemade confections here! Chocolates and fudge are a must, but they also offer specialty popcorns, a variety of delicious barks, and different kinds of gummies.
The Chocolate Shoppe is a sweet lovers paradise.
Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians
The Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians is a small, non profit, privately owned museum in Bryson City. Through exhibits and videos you’ll learn about the history of fly fishing in the Southeast as well about the evolution of rods and reels, the fish in the area, the way flies are tied, the gear used, and so much more.
On their website they say that the purpose of the museum is, “to capture and preserve the history of fly fishing in the region, since it is being lost daily as our ‘old timers’ pass away and as modern methods and new generations of anglers move fly fishing forward through technology.”
I will be fascinating for those who enjoy fly fishing and I found it interesting even though I am not a fisherwoman! Fly fishing fly making is truly an art.
Drink a Brew in Bryson City
This area of the world has been brewing and stewing beverages from the time of the moonshiners to present day craft beer production. One of the reasons is the clear and sparkling mountain water.
Experiencing some wonderful beer is definitely one of the best things to do in Bryson City.
Mountain Layers Brewing Company is on Everett Street right in downtown. They have a lovely open-air roof top bar where you can sit and watch the world go by as well as a downstairs covered bar. It is a perfect place to relax and try a “new to you” beer.
Nantahala Brewing Company sits just across from the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Here you can sample their award winning beers as well as take a tour of the brewery. They also have music on certain weekends so you will want to check that out!
Bryson City Outdoors is not a brewery, but it is a combination outdoor store, beer garden, and community hub. They have a nice patio and serve a wide variety of local brews on tap as well as other craft beers and local ciders. Often they have food trucks out front so you can get a bite to eat to go with your beer.
Ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
One of the main attractions in Bryson City, NC is the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.
Our second day in Bryson City looked to be a bit rainy so we decided to take a ride. You will find that you have various options of destinations and the type of train ride.
Some of the cars are actually child-free while others are geared towards families. There are diesel engines or steam engines available along with a variety of types of cars with different amenities at different price points…check out all the options for the class of service and various packages on their website.
Some of the excursions include beer tasting or whiskey tasting so that might be a fun option if don’t have children with you!
TIP: Buy your tickets in advance. We bought the day of and some of the options weren’t available.
We road in a coach class car which was nice. We had plenty of space to spread out. The bathrooms were spacious and clean and there was a dining/snack car available.
Honestly, I think Alice’s favorite place on the train was the snack car!
Tip: There were no healthy options in the snack car. They served things like soft drinks and pizza, nachos and popcorn, ice cream and beer. It was the kind of food that you might find at a minor league baseball game. Bring your own snacks if this is not something that you want to eat.
Tip: The various destinations have different stops that they make which might help you decide which ride to take. Our ride stopped at the Nanatahala Outdoor Center.
We all enjoyed the train ride and are glad we did it.
Here are some things to be know if you choose to do this Bryson City activity.
- The ride was long! Longer than we expected. We left at 10:30 and returned about 3:00 or 3:30.
- Except for the hour stop it is mostly riding and looking at scenery. Perhaps not a great activity for an active toddler.
- It is pricy. Even the cheapest option is $29 for children and $51 for adults and that doesn’t include a meal.
Check out the Smoky Mountains Trains Museum.
This fun little museum is right by the depot in the middle of Bryson City.
It houses a cool collection of Lionel trains that are set up and running on a large track decorated with buildings and hills and trees and towns and people. There are some interactive exhibits for children as well.
If you ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad admission to the museum is free. Otherwise you can pay to see the exhibits.
Fishing or Fly Fishing in the Waters Around Bryson City, NCVisit the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians
NOTE: You will need a valid North Carolina or Tennessee fishing license to fish here.
The waters around Bryson City, including Deep Creek and the Nantahala River, are famous for their trout population. In fact, Deep Creek has one of the highest trout per mile counts in the Smokies.
Fontana Lake has one of the most diverse fish populations in the US. Here you will find northern fish such as walleye and muskie, but you can also fish for smallmouth or largemouth bass in beautiful Fontana Lake.
If you are interested in hiring a fishing guide check out the Bryson City Fly Shop and Guide Service.
Visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City
The Nantahala Outdoor Center is just outside of Bryson City and they offer a bit of everything! You could easily spend a day here partaking of their offerings.
The NOC has a couple of dining options, lodging options, and even a little bit of shopping.
You can set foot on the Appalachian trail which passes just by the NOC. You will see the signs pointing to the trail.
You can watch the kayaking and rafting activity on the river and even you can sign up for your own whitewater rafting adventure or take a paddling course here. By the way the Nantahala river is the coldest white water stream in the southeast. The temperature barely reaches 50 degrees!
The NOC has all kinds of activities but we took advantage of a giant children’s ropes playground. This allowed Alice to burn off some energy and even make a friend.
Hike to the Waterfalls at Deep Creek
One of the best Bryson City things to do is visit Deep Creek.
Deep Creek is just outside of Bryson City, NC and just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can see three beautiful waterfalls with a short and mostly easy hike on a wide, well trodden path.
There is a parking area just by the trails which is also where you will park for tubing. You will walk past the metal gate meant to keep vehicles off the trail and only a short distance in you will see a sign on your left marking the trail to Juney Whank Falls.
This little spur is short, only about 1/4 of a mile, but STEEP!
Yes, it’s totally worth it.
After viewing Juney Whank Falls go back down the steep hill and continue walking on the main trail about 1,000 yards and there you will see Tom Branch Falls tumbling into Deep Creek. This is a stunner!
We were there in the morning before the hikers and tubers had arrived in full force. The sun was streaming in beams through the trees and it was simply glorious.
Continue on down the trail. You will cross a wooden pedestrian bridge on your left. (This is also the put in point to tube the lower and slower part of Deep Creek.)
The trail will start to curve to the right and go up a hill. You will see a sign on your left for a little spur that points to Indian Creek Falls. Go down the hill and there you are!
That’s it! Just head back to the parking lot and now that you are sweaty and hot from hiking maybe it’s time to…
Tube on Deep Creek
Just outside the entrance to the National Park there are numerous places to rent tubes. The tubes were inexpensive and they are yours for the day. We saw lots of families who had packed picnics and were making a day of being on the creek and tubing.
We had not brought anything with us but were wishing we had!
Park in the same lot as for the hikes and walk up the same trail carrying your tube. The upper part of the creek is a wilder ride and better for older kids. The lower part is smoother and more gentle. We stayed on the lower section.
Alice did tumble out of her tube at one point but the water is shallow and she was able to gain her footing and quickly stand up.
Tip: Children will go faster than adults on the float so if you are with a younger child and you want to stay with them you might want to tie your tubes together.
Tip: Bring a cooler with drinks and snacks. Learn from our mistakes!
Tubing was great fun, we all loved it! I would go back even without a child in tow.
The Nantahala Kid Zip is for kids ages 4-12. You’ll be surprised at how high and long the rides are even for this age group. They will allow an adult to go on the course with the child we but were told that most seven year olds go on their own.
Yikes! Really? Ok. I hate heights and maybe I was projecting but I truly thought Alice would be too afraid to do this. I was SO wrong. She had about a second of fear and then was totally on her way. Alice LOVED this. She told us that this was her favorite activity in Bryson City.
I was very impressed with the Kid Zip and the employees. They were patient and helpful and explained all the rules in a way Alice could understand. I felt that everything was well maintained and safe. The cost was $39, and there are three courses for the kids to choose from. They can zip as many times as they want for 2 hours and I assure you we stayed the entire 2 hours.
Zip-lining is one of the great Bryson City things to do!
By the way, there are plenty of places for parents and grandparents to sit and to watch from the ground although we spent most of our time running back and forth following Alice as best we could while taking photos.
Visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee
The town of Cherokee is only about a 15 minute drive from Bryson City, NC. The Oconaluftee Indian Village is a living history museum. You are taken on a guided tour of various demonstrations that show the way the Cherokee people lived and hunted and created.
It is VERY interesting, the crafts people are talented, and the guides do an excellent job of explaining and leaving time for questions.
After your tour you can explore replicas of the types of houses that the Cherokee Indians lived in throughout the years as well as the sweat houses and the council house.
There is also a live show. While we were there the show was called “A Time For War.” Our granddaughter had a moment where she this was a little scary for her. The show depicts a time when the village was attacked. The actors fight and yell, there is a lot of running around, and you hear the sound of a gunshot…take this into consideration if you have a particularly sensitive child.
Visiting a swimming hole in the mountains of North Carolina is something that you should do if at all possible. Deep Creek has a nice swimming hole that you will enjoy. You can take a break from tubing or just go there to swim.
Ask around and the locals will give you some tips about the best swimming holes.
There are also some nice beach areas at nearby Fontana Lake.
Lake Kayaking and Stand up Paddle-boarding in Bryson City
Nearby Fontana Lake is a great spot for lake kayaking as well as stand up paddle boarding.
Another fun thing to do in Bryson City is to paddleboard on the Tuckasegee River which runs right through town. Check out Bryson City Outdoors for kayak and paddle board rentals.
Go White Water Rafting near Bryson City, North Carolina
If you are an adults or you have a group with older kids you will find lots of options for white water rafting! Some of the best are the Rolling Thunder River Company as well as the Wildwater Nantahala Adventure Center.
If you are traveling with younger children you will find that many of the rafting companies don’t allow children under 8 years old. You might want to check out Wildwater rafting, they have a gentle float on the lower pigeon river that will allow kids ages 4 and up.
Relax in a Soaking Tub Overlooking Lake Fontana
All that zip-lining, hiking, and white water rafting have your muscles sore? Try a relaxing soaking in a large, private soaking tub over looking the wooded hillsides and Lake Fontana.
Honestly, this is one of the best things to do in Bryson City, NC!
The Treetop Soaking Cabanas offers places to stay, but you can also reserve a soaking tub that is covered but open to the elements. If you are in Bryson City for a romantic get away I can’t imagine anything better!
You can choose to just soak in the water and soak up the views, but they also offer massages and spa treatments.
Hike The Road to Nowhere
The Road to Nowhere drive and hike is one of the best known in the area. You will drive 6 miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a road that ends at the mouth of a tunnel. It is a beautiful drive that overlooks Fontana Lake and gives you access to several hikes.
The road has an interesting and somewhat sad history. The short story is that after the building of Lake Fontana flooded old Highway 288 the residents of the area were promised another road. It was started but never finished for a variety of reasons.
After you park at the tunnel you can choose to walk straight through – it can be pretty dark so might want to bring a flashlight! (If old tunnels aren’t your thing there is a bypass path.) After you pass through the tunnel there is a loop hike that you can take which is 3.2 miles.
Go Horseback Riding
Check out Carolina Bound Adventures for some of their guided horseback riding adventures. If you are a lover of horses I’m sure that riding through the mountains would be a highlight of your trip.
There are so many fun things to do in Bryson City, NC! We enjoyed all of the activities, but best of all was the opportunity to get to know Alice better and to learn more about who she is. She is quirky and funny and intense and smart and has never met a stranger. It was a joy to spend time with her. I can’t wait until her little brothers are old enough to take along!
Thanks so much for stopping by! Hope you enjoyed this post about all the fun things to do in Bryson City, NC!
Where to stay in Bryson City
We stayed at Land’s Creek Log Cabins which was the perfect place to base for our stay in Bryson CIty. I definitely recommend them!
You might also want to look at this list of amazing Airbnbs that we have discovered in and around Bryson City.
If you are looking for another perfect gateway town to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park check out all the great things about Townsend, Tennessee!
If you love small southern towns you might also want to check out my post about a visit to Laurel, Mississippi which is the home town of HGTV’s show Home Town. I have also written a travel guide to Greenwood, Mississippi which is where the Viking Cooking school is located.
Thanks for stopping by!