Bernadette Peters’ Guide to Solo Adventures in Sylva and Western NC

Bernadette Peters here! Once I discovered Western North Carolina years ago, I simply could not wait until retirement to move here – so I didn’t. In 2011, I moved to Sylva and opened City Lights Cafe downtown, and I now work as the town's Economic Development Director. Over the past 14 years, the trails, rivers, lakes, views and restaurants have become my companions if friends aren’t around or if I want a quick adventure after work. Now they can be your companions, too!

All about the outdoors 

I'm never bored with all the scenic adventures in my own backyard. Just take a look:


Woman taking selfie with three friends and a dog in kayaks on mountain lake
Bernadette and friends on Wolf Lake
  • Ela Lake/Reservoir near Whittier: This is perfect for a quick after-work paddle. There are no motorboats and lots of wildlife like cranes, otters and eagles. 
  • Wolf Lake near Wolf Mountain: For a long day on the water (it’s 183 acres), you’ll find me here. Taking a picnic is the best and most refreshing fun!


  • Western Carolina University trails: The seven local trails here give me a great workout after work. 
  • Fire Mountain Trails: Typically a weekend stop, these 11 miles of multiuse trails are free to use, offer a variety of features and interlace through NC’s Great Smoky Mountains. 
  • Tsali Recreation Area: It’s named one of the top places in the country to ride for good reason: It has 40 miles of trails over four loops, plus unreal views of Fontana Lake and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 
  • Jack Rabbit: With 15 miles of trails, this place is good for both experienced riders and beginners. 


Woman standing on rock smiling at camera with beautiful mountains in background
Bernadette at Waterrock Knob
  • Waterrock Knob Trail: Someone pinch me – I still can’t believe this is one of the nearby options I get to visit on a regular basis. It’s a steep hike from the parking lot to the top of Waterrock Knob, but you’ll be rewarded with views from the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 
  • Panthertown Valley: If I have the day, I sometimes like to head here for these rugged, backcountry trails. 
  • Shining Rock Wilderness: A handful of peaks exceed 6,000 feet in elevation at this 18,000-acre wilderness area, and my favorite trails here are Art Loeb and Sam Knob. 
  • Cullowhee Falls (aka Glenville Falls or High Falls): It’s not easy to find but it’s a serene, 2-mile out-and-back hike along the river. About eight times a year, there is a release of the dam, resulting in the most powerful waterfall in the state – it's a sight to watch! I love swimming in the pools and deep holes to cool off, or just lying on the rocks, listening to the water. 

Additional Sylva and Jackson County highlights

The small-town progressive community is what drew me to Sylva in the first place. If you’re here for the weekend, pop into a few of my favorites:

Want some more summer travel inspiration? Insiders Andre Nabors and Guy Gaster have you covered. Also, visit Outdoor NC for additional tips on how to connect with nature and help preserve the natural beauty of our state.

Updated May 30, 2024
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