Local Area Guide

Get Out and Explore!

With so many things to do in the Bryson City area, it's impossible to list them all. Here are a few of our favorite activities and attractions. If you're wondering about other things to do, we're always happy to help with real, local recommendations.

Attraction 1

The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)

The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) is a commercial outdoor guide service and retail store located at 13077 Highway 19 West, Bryson City, NC 28713. It opened in 1972 when Payson and Aurelia Kennedy and Horace Holden Sr. took over the old Tote 'N Tarry Motel. NOC is based in western North Carolina near Bryson City, near the Great Smoky Mountains on the Nantahala River. NOC is surrounded by Nantahala National Forest. The Appalachian Trail passes directly through the heart of the NOC, crossing the Nantahala River on a bridge next to the outfitter. NOC operates whitewater rafting trips on eight Southeastern rivers: the Chattahoochee, Chattooga, Cheoah, French Broad, Nantahala, Nolichucky, Ocoee, and Pigeon. NOC also teaches people to paddle in its canoe and kayak paddling school. They also offer mountain bike rentals, group programs, outdoor retail, restaurants, ropes courses, kayak touring, fly fishing and hiking.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

Harrah's Cherokee opened in November 1997 with video poker as the only gaming option. This followed the opening of a tribal bingo parlor in the early 1990s, which was quite profitable and led to calls for a casino. Since then, the tribe has used its casino revenues to build a new high school, a hospital, and public housing, and to upgrade public safety services on the reservation, such as police, fire and EMS. Part of the casino's revenue is also distributed directly to the Cherokee population, in a form of basic income. The casino has a non-smoking poker room with 20 tables. No-limit hold'em tournaments are run daily, including larger buy-in deep stack tourneys on the weekends. The casino also regularly hosts World Series of Poker circuit events in the Events Center which feature a variety of tournaments and concurrent cash games. The Harrah's Cherokee complex includes a 15,000 sq ft (1,400 m2) conference center, a 3,000-seat events center, the Essence Lounge, a workout room, a lobby cafe, and a food court with four restaurants, Chef's Stage Buffet, Ruth's Chris Steak House, and BRIO Tuscan Grille. Harrah's Cherokee also features the UltraStar Multi-Tainment center, a bowling complex including arcade, restaurant, entertainment stage, and multiple bars. This complex has 24 lanes for bowling, 16 standard and 8 VIP style.

Attraction 2
Attraction 3

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (formerly Railway) began operations in 1988. GSMR owns 53 miles (85 kilometers) of the Murphy Branch, a former branch line of the Southern Railway between Dillsboro and Andrews. The line was completed to Dillsboro in 1883 and reached Andrews in 1890. The GSMR route uses a route which passes through "fertile valleys, a tunnel, and across river gorges" in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. Excursions currently utilize the line between Bryson City and Nantahala (22 miles or 35 km in length), and the line between Bryson City and Dillsboro (16 miles or 26 km in length). In 2004, GSMR debuted its Polar Express train ride, based on the newly released movie and licensed through Warner Bros. This ride has annually been a major economy boost for the railroad and the town of Bryson City. In 2019, GSMR broke all attendance records with over 91,000 people riding the Polar Express excursion alone.

The Tsali Recreation Area

The Tsali (pronounced ” SAH-lee ” ) Recreation Area’s four-loop trail system has become a popular destination for mountain bikers and horseback riders. It’s best known as a challenging mountain bike course. Hikers may travel the trails on any day, but mountain bikers and equestrians-the primary users- are kept separated by alternating days on the trails. Enjoy mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, motorized boating, kayaking or camping at Tsali Recreation Area, all located within steps of Fontana Lake.

Attraction 4
Attraction 5

Downtown Bryson City

Bordering the southern side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City is a laid-back, non-touristy town of 1,300 with more stop signs than stoplights. It’s an easily stroll-able town with local bookstores, arts and crafts galleries with working artisans, a bike shop, two fly fishing shops, a historical museum, a fly fishing museum, an aquarium, an excursion train, two breweries, and a surprising variety of restaurants. Sit a spell on a bench and look up at a clear blue sky and green mountains. People watch, enjoy a sweet treat, visit some shops, enjoy some music, drop a fishing line in the Tuckasegee River as it flows through town, or explore it by kayak or paddle board. Venture just a few minutes from this quiet downtown and you’ll find a vast outdoor playground for water sports, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, zip lines, scenic drives, waterfalls and more.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is “A Model for Museums.” And like the Cherokee people themselves, it’s entirely unique. Experience the 11,000-year-old Cherokee story vividly. If your idea of a museum includes dusty displays tended by a boring curator, get ready to rediscover what a museum can be. Inspired by the beauty and ingenuity of the Cherokee people, this is a cultural and historical tour without equal, one fused with interactive video, intriguing displays, and a full sensory experience. Step through our doors and discover up close the Cherokee people’s spirit of inventiveness, resilience, and will to survive. Let yourself be guided through a moving journey that illustrates who the people of Cherokee really are, where they came from, and why they’re still here. Keep a hankie close; Cherokee history is serious stuff.

Attraction 6
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