An Insider's Guide to Hiking in Jackson County

Outdoor NC has partnered with local tourism organizations across the state to help promote the protection of North Carolina’s stunning and diverse outdoor spaces by practicing the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. Here are some insider tips if you're visiting the Jackson County area.

Q&A host: J. Dan Pittillo
Outdoor passion: Hiking, leading small group hikes
Where in NC: Jackson County

Best places in the area to spend outdoors? 

Panthertown Valley, Pinnacle Park, Pittillo Family Preserve (mainly for spring flora but also at other times – weather and health permitting), Jackson County Greenway.

Best season to spend in NC?

Spring, summer and fall.

What level of experience is needed to hike in Jackson County?

Hiking ability: on the greenway, easy; lower Pinnacle Park loop trails, moderate; all day in Panthertown, especially steeper slopes, challenging.

How long should you plan on visiting?

I’d recommend a weekend, so you can explore many of the area’s hikes and outdoor adventures.

What attracted you to North Carolina?

It’s my life-long home.

What is unique about the Jackson County area?

Diversity of landscapes, a variety of options for gathering, concerts at Western Carolina University and places for meals.

How do you plan or prepare for your hikes?

Reconnaissance and personal history. Visitors should prepare by learning about the areas they want to hike – like in Panthertown Valley a map is needed due to its vast size. Always come prepared.

What piece of gear is your must-have? 

Bug spray and water for longer hikes during late spring through fall or shorter hikes in steeper terrain. Walking sticks for steeper terrain.

How do you practice the Leave No Trace principles?  

I carry out any materials I bring in such as wrappers, bottles and plastic materials. Children should be supervised with parents or guardians.

Favorite place for breakfast/lunch or dinner? 

Our local restaurants offer terrific dine-in or to-go food.

Where do you like to go after your hikes? 

Maybe stay out to eat or downtown to hear music.

Cool places to stay? 

There are some unique places to stay listed on the Discover Jackson NC website.

Other sites in the area to see while in the area? 

Judaculla Rock, Whiteside Mountain. On a road trip: Dillsboro, NC 281, Sapphire, Whitewater Gorge, Whiteside Cove Road, NC 107, Cullowhee and Sylva. Also, for fall leaf color: NC 107, NC 281, Charlie Creek Road, and the Blue Ridge Parkway to Balsam Gap back to Sylva.

What is your can’t-miss experience in Jackson County? 

Greening up the Mountains Festival in Sylva, and Mountain Heritage Day in Cullowhee in autumn.

Insider tip! 

Avoid holiday and weekend crowds by exploring a few days before holidays, or on weekdays instead of weekends.

This article was produced in partnership with Jackson County TDA. Visit Outdoor NC for additional tips on how to connect with nature and help preserve the natural beauty of our state.

Updated January 26, 2024
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