Hike, Bike and Kayak Through Beautiful 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 Cashiers area.

Q&A host: Mark Ellison
Outdoor passion: Hikingflat-water kayakingcycling, mountain biking
Where in NC: Jackson County

Best places in the Cashiers/Sylva area to spend outdoors? 

I often hike the trails at Pinnacle Park to grab a great view and get good cardio exercise with a 2,000-foot climb. Panthertown is a great spot as well for views and waterfalls. I'm out at Bear Creek Lake or Wolf Creek Lake at least once a week kayaking in the evening. Catching a sunset or a full moon rise there is amazing.

There are so many fantastic routes for cycling in Jackson County. My favorite summer destination is to ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway, parking near Richland Balsam and riding over to Devil's Courthouse or riding Balsam Mountain Road. Ending with dinner in the back of my truck watching the sunset, and then the stars, makes for an unbelievable evening.

We also have fantastic mountain biking trails nearby with Panthertown and the Western Carolina University trails easily accessible. Jackson County is an outdoor adventure paradise!

Best season to spend in NC?

I really love them all, each for different reasons. The cool, crisp air of spring, with wildflowers blooming is so full of life. Summer offers so many opportunities because of the range of elevation. If it is warm down low, just go up a few thousand feet! Fall colors here are captivating, and it is difficult to fit all the activities in that you want to do. Winter offers windows of opportunity to cross-country ski and snowshoe if you time it right.

What level of experience is needed for outdoor activities in the Cashiers/Sylva area?

There are opportunities for people of all experience levels. 

How long should you plan on visiting?

Gosh, I have lived here nearly 20 years and I still find new places to go and things to do. A week will give you time to get a taste of what the area has to offer.

What attracted you to North Carolina or the Cashiers/Sylva area?

I first came to Jackson County to go to school at Western Carolina. I'm originally from Asheboro and fell in love with this area the minute I saw it. The natural beauty, diversity of recreational activities available and cooler temperatures in the summer are just a few of the reasons. 

What is unique about Cashiers, Sylva, Dillsboro and Cherokee?

We are surrounded by national forests and a national park. This is one big playground with huge variations in elevation and lots of biodiversity.

How do you plan or prepare for your outdoor activities?

I always make sure I have a first-aid kit in my backpack when hiking and let someone know where I am going. 

What piece of gear is your must-have? 

My Eno hammock. I take it hiking and kayaking, bring a good book and hang out for a while deep in the forest or by the water. So refreshing!

How do you practice the Leave No Trace principles?  

Anything I bring with me goes out as well. I pick up any trash I see along the trail or in the lake. I like to adequately plan trips and take the appropriate gear to keep myself and others safe.

One of the things I most enjoy about being outdoors is the solitude and quiet, which is a great health benefit. I try to be respectful so others can experience this as well. 

Favorite place for breakfast/lunch or dinner? 

LuLu’s and City Lights Cafe.

Where do you like to go after you spend time outdoors? 

Innovation Brewing for a cold beer is nice. Honestly, one of my favorite destinations is to go home, sit on our deck and soak in the beauty of the mountains.

Cool places to stay? 

Cool places to stay? Bear Lake Reserve, High Hampton

Other sites in the area to see while in town? 

Cullowhee Falls, tubing on the Tuck or fly-fishing. 

What is your can't-miss experience near Cashiers or Sylva?

Watching the sun set at Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Insider tip! 

Get out early. You will see a lot fewer people! When you are out, if you are quiet, you will see a lot more wildlife.

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, plus helpful information on preparing for a mountain biking trip.

Updated August 13, 2021
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