Resplendent with year-round majestic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and rich with artisan culture, Jackson County, North Carolina, is an easy, all-highway-access drive from Columbia. From late April until Christmas, the area hosts many festivals and activities, starting with Sylva’s annual April Greening Up the Mountains Festival and finishing with Dillsboro’s December Lights and Luminaries.
Where to Stay
Western North Carolina’s mighty Tuckasegee River runs through Jackson County, and I had an opportunity to stay at the nearby Best Western Plus River Inn and Suites. For a commercial hotel, the setting was more resort-like than customary due to an expansive area of tables and chairs along the river as well as rooms with spacious balconies overlooking what locals call “The Tuck.”
For charming, more intimate accommodations, bed and breakfasts are located in both the former train depot town of historic Dillsboro or in quaint Sylva, known for its impressive and looming white courthouse perched on a hill at its Main Street entrance. Other inns are tucked throughout the hills and valleys of this 495-square-mile county extending from the Qualla Boundary, designated lands of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, through Lake Glenville and into Cashiers.
What to Do
The myriad of specialty shops and arts and crafts galleries in the county’s main small towns take up at least a day’s worth of perusing. Oaks Gallery in Dillsboro is part of a 1950s-started contingent of area artisans and craftspeople who decided they wanted a place to work and display their wares. Weaver Susan Leveille, co-owner with her husband, Bob, displays looms at Oaks Gallery as well as provides community education so that weaving doesn’t become a lost art.
Add in the antique, vintage, and consignment shops, and Jackson County is a shop-’til-you-drop destination. Sassy Frass on Silva’s Main Street has two floors of upscale furniture and home decor, while shoppers exploring Treasures Unknown on Sylva’s Mill Street experience interior and exterior items centuries to decades old.
However, many venture to Jackson County for its outdoor pursuits. Tuckasegee Fly Shop has everything needed to enjoy successful angling for trout teaming in The Tuck. With more than 4,000 miles of streams, Jackson County has what is known as North Carolina’s longest contiguous stretch of N.C. Mountain Heritage Trout Waters.
The area also offers places to hike, run, and bike, such as the 6.7-mile trail system in and around Western Carolina University and the 1-mile, shaded Tuckasegee River Greenway. The Blue Ridge Parkway provides endless diversions, including Waterrock Knob, a jaunt to the top of a 6,292-foot summit.
During warmer months, Cashiers Sliding Rock is quite a popular spot. Once adjusted to the chilly water, you will find that the gradual slide into a natural pool is exhilarating.
Where to Eat
Boots Steakhouse in Dillsboro has a stone patio exterior, complete with a fire pit and twinkling lights for festive outdoor dining as well as cozy, intimate seating indoors. Our dinner one evening consisted of a creamy, cheesy collard dip appetizer with crispy tri-colored tortilla chips; mixed green salads with a unique mango vinaigrette; and grilled-to-perfection sirloins.
Due to ideal weather, we spent the next evening overlooking a stream in Dillsboro on the outdoor deck of Foragers Canteen, a farm-to-table establishment using 95 percent local sources less than 200 miles away to create signature dishes. Their “Goat in the Garden” involved two kinds of beets, balsamic onions, mixed greens, roasted pecans, and a fried goat cheese medallion. The Sweetfire Chicken BLT was a taco with spicy fried chicken and chipotle ranch crema.
Day-starters and pick-me-ups, sweet treats, quality coffee drinks, and chai concoctions can be found at several relaxing spots, including MiniDonuts, City Lights Café, and White Moon — all in Sylva. Choose distinct toppings at made-to-order MiniDonuts, visit the bookstore above City Lights Café, and view foot traffic from barstool window seats at White Moon.
Innovation Brewing in Dillsboro has multiple brews on tap, plus a homemade ginger ale and ciders; Balsam Falls Brewing in Sylva spotlights light, hoppy, dark, malty, and seasonal beers, as well as a few ciders and mead.
For dessert, we savored handcrafted chocolate creations from Dillsboro Chocolate Factory and a signature assortment of Baxley’s Chocolates in Sylva.
Truly, the area has too much to take in during one weekend. Waterfalls, kayaking, summer Concerts on the Creek, an October Cherokee Indian Fair, a November WNC Pottery Festival, and much, much more await future visits to Jackson County.