Enjoy Mountain Adventures in Cashiers, Dillsboro and Sylva

Making the decision to get away to the North Carolina mountains is easy. Deciding exactly where you’ll go may not be, with several attractive mountain towns dotting the landscape. Start your search with Jackson County and you’ll discover an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.

Plan a multiday trip to the neighboring towns of Cashiers, Sylva and Dillsboro, easily flowing from one destination to the next. Led by hiking trails through the mountains, you’ll experience unforgettable sights and breathtaking views. And along the way, you’re always only a few steps from a remarkable meal.

Exploring Jackson County’s natural beauty is best enjoyed with love ones
Exploring Jackson County’s natural beauty is best enjoyed with loved ones (photo: Jackson County TDA)

One of the highest waterfalls in the Eastern U.S. – 411-foot Whitewater Falls – is near the state line on N.C. Highway 107, south of Cashiers. Follow the quarter-mile paved trail from the parking lot to picnic spots and the upper overlook. If you’re feeling adventurous, head to the smaller lower overlook, which is down 154 recently rebuilt steps.

Next up is Whiteside Mountain, with 1,800-foot vertical cliffs that are the tallest in the East. It’s part of the panoramic view you’ll enjoy on the 2-mile loop trail that includes the 4,930-foot peak. Watch for peregrine falcons during the first half of the year. The cliffs are a nesting site for the raptors, which grab their prey from the sky.

The trailhead for Silver Run Falls is on Highway 107, too. It’ll take you about 5 minutes to trek the well-blazed and maintained trail to the falls, which is one of the state’s most accessible. At the bottom of its almost 40-foot drop is a sandy-bottomed pool. Take a dip there on a hot summer day or enjoy the view, which attracts nature photographers year-round.

The short hike to see Silver Run Falls is easy to check off your list
The short hike to see Silver Run Falls is easy to check off your list (photo: Robert Stephens)

You’ll always find a great meal in Cashiers. Settle on the brook-side porch at Cornucopia, where a pan of fresh cornbread starts your meal. Then enjoy one of its large burgers, hearty soups or popular Bloody Marys at Sunday brunch. Choose your favorite sauce and toppings for the New York-style crust Slab Town Pizza bakes in its brick oven. Or try a house specialty pizza – The Duke has sausage, pepperoni, bacon, ricotta, mozzarella and red sauce – sandwich, pasta or salad.

Dinner at Canyon Kitchen isn’t complete without a stroll around the property, which is in the second-home community of Lonesome Valley, surrounded by forests and granite peaks. The spectacle continues inside the restaurant, where the 4-course prix fixe menu changes with the seasonal ingredients gathered from local farms. It’s open May through October, when a fireplace warms the open dining room that’s inside a renovated barn. In Food & Wine’s recent list of “The Most Romantic Restaurant in Every State,” the publication selected Canyon Kitchen.

Below the dam that creates Lake Glenville, popular with boaters and anglers, is 150-foot High Falls. It’s a three-quarter-mile hike (easy going down, but strenuous coming back up), with stone and wood steps helping you navigate the 650 feet of elevation change from the trailhead. A second trail provides access to the fall’s base, but portions of it are sporty. Water flow makes this waterfall moody. When the river runs low, it’s approachable. But it’s a powerful force to witness when the water is high or a day when the dam is open, supplying kayakers on the Tuckasegee River’s West Fork with whitewater.

From the top of Waterrock Knob, you can see across to the Great Smoky Mountains
From the top of Waterrock Knob, you can see across to the Great Smoky Mountains

North Carolina’s most famous roadway – the Blue Ridge Parkway – starts its journey north through Jackson County, where its highest elevation visitors center is at Milepost 451.2. From the parking lot, where you’ll find restrooms and picnic spots, follow the fairly steep 1.2-mile trail to the 6,292-foot summit of Waterrock Knob. Your effort will be rewarded with views that stretch 50 miles across Maggie Valley to the Great Smoky Mountains. It also offers an unencumbered vantage for sunrises and sunsets.

About 20 miles farther north on the Parkway is the Richland Balsam Trail. The uphill 1.5-mile loop climbs less than 400 feet as it winds through fragrant Fraser and Balsam fir trees.

You’ll find 1,100-acre Pinnacle Park between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Sylva, the county seat. Follow the old logging road to Pinnacle Bald. The almost 7-mile round trip requires significant effort, so wear sturdy shoes and bring water. You can see the bald just above the tree line from Sylva, where a trail leads to refreshing destinations.

Toast to good times at Innovation Brewing in Sylva
Toast to good times at Innovation Brewing in Sylva (photo: Jackson County TDA)

Sylva’s booming downtown brewery scene includes microbreweries such as Innovation Brewing, which serves more than 30 different beers in a year, and recently opened Balsam Falls Brewing, whose owners brew with fruit they grow. Walk along Main Street to explore the shops and other attractions downtown. Though cozy resorts and bed and breakfasts can be found tucked among the area mountains, Sylva is also home to most of the county’s national brand lodging.

When you’ve worked up an appetite after great mornings or afternoons of exploration, you’ll be pleased with Sylva’s restaurants, too. Choose among popular staples, such as crab cakes, from Lulu’s on Main’s deep menu, which is augmented by daily specials. And Guadalupe Café puts a tropical spin on farm-to-table dining inside a renovated 1920s drugstore.

But you can’t spend time in North Carolina and not try the barbecue – your friends back home will ask. Many restaurants across the state are revered for their pork that’s lovingly smoked over a hardwood fire for hours. In Dillsboro, a few minutes’ drive from Sylva, Haywood Smokehouse is one of only a few barbecue restaurants statewide that also prepare beef brisket. It’s served with tender collard greens, creamy coleslaw and baked beans studded with burnt ends. Haywood Smokehouse might also be one of the highest-reviewed restaurants you encounter.

This article was produced in partnership with Discover Jackson County.

Updated November 12, 2018
About the Author
Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson is a Gastonia-based writer whose work also has appeared in Business North Carolina, Carolina Sportsman and Thousand Islands Life. He enjoys exploring North Carolina, especially its diverse fishing holes, local race tracks and world-renowned barbecue joints.

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