If your bucket list says Switzerland but your bank account says not this year, the small but stunning Lake Toxaway, NC, may be just the ticket. Only three hours from Charlotte, tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains between Brevard and Cashiers, this secluded oasis is the largest private lake in North Carolina.
Originally frequented by the likes of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and the Rockefellers, Lake Toxaway was known in the early 1900s as “America’s Switzerland” because of its resemblance to the dreamy mountainside lakes in the Alps. Today, its 14 miles of shoreline, crisp water, private seclusion and panoramic mountain views attract visitors throughout the year.
Because it is private, there are two options for staying on and accessing Lake Toxaway. First is the nostalgia-inducing Greystone Inn. Once a privately owned vacation home, the recently reopened 30-room inn holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, and is equal parts bygone era and modern amenities. It is adjacent to the Lake Toxaway Country Club and offers guests access to all club amenities including golf, tennis, restaurants, croquet and the marina. Those looking for a little more space can rent a private home or condo around the lake through Lake Toxaway Company, VRBO or other rental services. Many homes come with club access, but be sure to ask, especially if any of the club activities are on your agenda.
There are a handful of restaurants in and around Lake Toxaway, with the Greystone Inn and Lake Toxaway Country Club providing the most convenient and scenic options. If you’re willing to venture a little farther out, Brevard, Cashiers and Highlands boast a wide variety of restaurants ranging from pubs and sandwich shops to farm-to-table culinary experiences.
With the closest grocery store 25 minutes away, it’s a good idea to stock up on groceries before getting into town. For any last minute items head over to the Historic Toxaway Market. Though primarily a wine store, they also carry meats, cheeses, specialty food items and some pantry staples. Regardless of what you decide on as your home base, here are some of the local activities to enjoy in each season.
The most picturesque time in the Blue Ridge Mountains is undoubtedly when the leaves trade in their emerald hues for the russet, amber, crimson and carmine of fall. Adjacent to Lake Toxaway, hikers, bikers and fisherman can take in the full beauty of the autumnal change at Panthertown Valley. Part of the Nantahala National Forest and lauded as the Yosemite of the East, Panthertown Valley offers an array of backcountry experiences across its nearly 30 miles of trails. Set against a backdrop of a 200-foot high granite wall known as the Great Wall of Panthertown, visitors can discover dozens of waterfalls and glimpse views all the way to Georgia and South Carolina on a clear day.
To learn more about the ecosystems, the wildlife and the history of Western North Carolina, head to the state-of-the-art visitor center at Gorges State Park. More than 7,500-acres of trails are accessible from the center by foot, bike or horse. Two of the most popular routes include Turtleback Falls and Rainbow Falls — named for the rainbows it creates when the sun hits it just right.
Welcome the start of a new year in the great outdoors with the traditional First Hike in Gorges State Park. Location and timing of the Jan.1 hike are based on weather conditions and can be found on the Gorges State Park website, but be prepared to trek about two miles. While it may require a few extra layers of clothing, winter hiking provides unique, unobstructed views that you can’t get during other seasons.
Ski Sapphire Valley is the hot spot in cold weather for all things snow sports. Skiing, snowboarding, tubing and a winter zipline offer activities for all ages. Zipline tours across beginner and advanced courses are perfect for adrenaline enthusiasts and last around three hours. Not enough of a rush? Grab a tube and fly down the 500-foot drop at the Frozen Falls Tube Park. This popular attraction sells out, so book your 90-minute tour in advance. Inexperienced and beginner skiers and snowboarders will enjoy learning on the small, unintimidating mountain. More advanced snow athletes may prefer to take the longer drive to Cataloochee Ski Area, which offers runs for all skill levels.
Celebrate the arrival of warm weather at the Lake Toxaway Country Club. Its 18-hole, par 71, Kris Spence golf course provides beautifully distracting views of the lake and surrounding mountains. If golf is not up your alley, five tennis courts and a croquet court are available to members and guests.
Western North Carolina boasts the country’s first official fly fishing trail, featuring 4,600 miles of trout streams and more than 90,000 trout per year. Whether you’re new to the sport or an avid fisherman, Davidson River Outfitters offers various levels of instruction, supplies and guided excursions. Don’t forget that North Carolina does require a fishing license any time you throw out a line, so visit the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission before heading out.
Want to meet a queen? Head over to Killer Bees Honey and take one of its four-hour honeybee tours. Offered on Fridays and Saturdays starting in late spring, visitors can learn about the role bees play in the forest and in our overall food supply, taste some honey straight from the honeycomb and even prepare their own bottles to take home.
When the oppressive heat of summer descends upon Charlotte, Lake Toxaway temps peak at an average of 78 degrees, offering a welcome respite. Get out on the water with ski boats, pontoons, paddleboards, canoes and kayaks from Lake Toxaway Marine. Hourly, daily and weekly rental options are available to guests staying on the lake. If you’re looking to rev up the excitement, check out the ample selection of water skis, tubes and water toy rentals.
If a laid back day on the water is more your style, head over to Bear Tracks Travel Centerand hop on one of its two-hour tubing tours. Drift lazily down the river while taking in the sights and sounds of nature.
Once you’re thoroughly relaxed, head back for some onsite gem mining. With local precious stones including sapphires, amethyst or even emeralds you could hit the jewel jackpot. Avid swimmers should plan a visit over Labor Day weekend so they can join the locals in the annual Dam-to-Dam Swim. This open water swim spans the entire 2.4 miles of the lake and is not for the faint of heart.
Summer, spring, winter or fall — no matter when the urge to abandon city life hits, this little lake in the North Carolina mountains is big on possibilities.