My weekend in Bryson City, N.C. was mostly about water: tubing and rafting. And I spent it with a group of friends who had traveled from Colorado and Georgia to experience Western Carolina. I didn’t have time to bike and hike like I planned, but the company was great.
Here are my five favorite things about this little mountain town:
1.) Friendly locals. John and Dawn (below) are the owners at Gators Tubes and they rented us our manly pink inner tubes. They asked $3 a tube, gave us a ride to the Deep Creek Camping for free, and treated us as if we had lived in town for years. Dawn is quite the salesperson. We’ll be back.
John, who handles social media for Gator’s Tubes, handed out this gem as we loaded up for Deep Creek. He recently posted a picture of a customer who sported a hat with alligator teeth around the brim and wore black bikini.
“It only got two ‘likes’ though. And one of them was my momma. She likes everything,” he said.
2.) The Nantahala Outdoor Center. If you kayak, you’ve heard of NOC. If you’ve never rafted, you should try one of their floats. We rented “funyaks” (two-person rafts) and spent about two hours on pristine, cold river that roiled just enough to raise the hair on our necks.
We navigated Class 1, 2 and 3 rapids, which aren’t too bad. They’re manageable for beginners. Our guide, Adam, was pumped to lead a group of guys down the river. This was his 16th year as a guide, and he seemed like a cross between Jeff Spicoli and Jack Kerouac. He quoted Ken Kesey, shouted at any pretty woman on the banks, and helped us get back in our rafts when we flipped.
3.) A chance to drive through the Smokies. I drove through Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the way to Bryson City. I cut across the interior of the park, stopping at Newfound Gap and then the Oconaluftee Visitors Center and River Trail. You’ll feel like you’ve entered another country. There’s nothing in the park by trees and mountains, skinny roads and rivers. You won’t get cell phone reception, but there’s too much to see to make a phone call anyway. Put the phone away.
4.) Downtown Bryson City. It’s small, charming and a short stroll from end to end. Check out the train depot. Get some coffee. Say hello to everyone. My return recently was the first since I visited in 2005. The old lodge I stayed was still there, but there were a lot of new shops. That leads to my fifth entry.
5.) Brunch at the Cork and Bean. After the guys left, I drove around and decided to try the Sunday brunch at the Cork and Bean. I went inside for coffee and quickly upgraded to a plate with farm fresh eggs and sausage, wheat toast, and cheese grits. I read the Smoky Mountain News and sipped coffee and put the Cork and Bean on my list of places to visit when I return.