America's Best Trail Towns: Bryson City, NC

Sneak in the side door to Great Smoky Mountains.
trail towns

Dawn on Clingmans Dome. Photo by Tom Salyer/Aurora Photos

Call it the anti-Gatlinburg. Where Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most famous gateway overflows with the mini-golf crowd, this sneak-route entrance is all about sandals-and-trucker-hat-types playing in the nearby Smokies and Nantahala National Forest. “There’s a practically unlimited number of trails,” says Ben King, co-owner of Bryson City Outdoors. "Everybody in this community takes advantage.”

Why You’re Here For the locals-only Smokies experience, head to the Deep Creek area, right in Bryson City’s backyard. Check it out on a 46.6-mile loop, following Deep Creek, Pole Road Creek, and Noland Divide Trails to 6,644-foot Clingmans Dome for the park’s highest views. Then trace the Forney Creek, Springhouse Branch, and Noland Creek Trails to return along Deep Creek. Trailhead Deep Creek Permit Required; $4/person per night

On the Town

PERK Start your day at Mountain Perks. “Their slogan is ‘Hippies always welcome,’” says King. “You’ll always be welcome there, no matter what you smell like.”9 Depot St.

PUB The Nantahala Brewing Company gives neighboring hipster hotspot Asheville a run for its beer money with an outdoor patio, barrel-aged brews, and raucous live music acts. 61 Depot St.

TREAT Dig into sundaes, shakes, and scoops at the ‘50s-style Soda Pop’s Ice Cream Parlor. 125 Everett St.

GEARIt stocks plenty of hiking supplies, but it’s not really fair to call the Nantahala Outdoor Center a gear shop—what’s the best word for a gear shop/whitewater rafting outfitter/live music venue/BBQ joint/hiker bunkhouse/AT thru-hiker rite of passage? 13077 W. Hwy. 19