Deep in the Great Smoky Mountains of Haywood County lie two of the best kept secrets in mountain tourism — Waynesville and Maggie Valley. These neighboring towns are undoubtedly off the beaten path and yet offer all the ingredients for a memorable trip.
Where to Stay
The Boyd Mountain Log Cabins, between Waynesville and Maggie Valley, provide visitors the opportunity to stay in authentic hand-hewn log cabins restored from the early 1800s. Now updated with modernized kitchens and bathrooms, these unique cabins allowed us to travel back in time without giving up modern conveniences. The wood-burning fireplace was an extra treat, and we found cut firewood and starter logs for guests in the nearby shed. As the smallest cabin sleeps up to four and the largest can sleep 10, these cabins are ideal for a family retreat (dog friendly!), a friend reunion, or a romantic getaway. We enjoyed taking in the scenic mountain views, walking around the picturesque pond, and smelling the crisp Fraser firs on the fields of the Christmas tree farm.
Where to Eat
It is no exaggeration to say that the restaurants in this region rival top restaurants in established foodie destinations, making this most definitely an eating trip!
Joey’s Pancake House (Maggie Valley) — Our first morning, we arrived to find it bustling with locals and weekend regulars in search of a hot breakfast and cup of coffee. The mountain lodge feel added to the appeal, and we were impressed by the number of different pancakes options: whole wheat, pecan, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and even bacon, among others. I ordered the Floral Design Belgian Waffle with blueberries and was not disappointed.
Firefly Taps & Grill (Waynesville) — Our second morning, we went to charming downtown Waynesville for a slightly more upscale breakfast with a bistro feel. Its weekend brunch offerings included chicken and waffles, quiche, a number of different omelets and Benedicts, a waffle sundae, and pimento cheese fried green tomatoes with a bacon biscuit, which I chose. It was absolutely delicious.
Hazelwood Farmacy (Waynesville) — This old-fashioned soda fountain and deli transports visitors back to the 1950s with an interior that would have impressed Norman Rockwell. I enjoyed my chicken salad sandwich with a lavender sparkling soda phosphate and then turned my full attention to the “Mister Sandman” specialty sundae with butter pecan ice cream, sea salted caramel sauce, Pecan Sandie cookie crumble, and house whipped cream with edible gold dust.
BearWaters Brewing Company (Maggie Valley) — This fantastic local brewery out of Canton, North Carolina, will be opening their second location this winter and is at the top of the list for my next visit!
Birchwood Hall (Waynesville) — The biggest surprise of the trip was discovering such an epicurean restaurant in such a small town. With most of his food sourced regionally, executive chef Nicolas Peek pays homage to the heart of Southern tradition with every dish but with his own creative twist. We enjoyed cheddar spoon bread and fried duck wings for our appetizers, and I then ordered the South Carolina stuffed quail for my entree. I am not a fan of banana pudding, but our server made such a fuss about Birchwood Hall’s that we had to try it. Served in a Mason jar, this award-winning dessert was enough to make an enthusiast out of me.
What to Do
While the most popular times to vacation in the mountains are usually in the warmer months, this area is a surprisingly excellent fit for a winter getaway. The wide variety of activities well-suited for cool weather include:
Cataloochee Ski Area — This convenient ski resort offers skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, and its state-of-the-art snow making allows it to host visitors all winter long.
Cross Country Skiing — Following a snowfall, visitors can explore the mountains by gliding across the area’s scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, enjoying both a wilderness tour and a pleasurable workout.
Hiking trails — A plethora of trails are available, and we explored one right off the Cataloochee ski area that took us over several mountain streams. Hiking in winter allows for more stunning views due to the lack of foliage on the trees.
Lake Junaluska —This is the perfect option for those not wanting to leave civilization fully, as a paved sidewalk encircles the lake and is both stroller and wheelchair accessible.
Downtown Waynesville — This charming downtown is full of art galleries and cute shops. I bought a beautiful artisan maple cheese board by Andy Cooper from Balsam Ridge Gallery.
Bargain Bookstore — Not for the claustrophobic, this shop is a must-see for any passionate bibliophile. Owner Mary Judith Messer authored a memoir entitled Moonshiner’s Daughter; her father’s apprentice was the famous moonshiner Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton.
HART Theatre in Waynesville — With shows from Shakespeare to Mamma Mia!, this delightful community theater offers a sophisticated cultural experience for visitors looking for an indoor activity.