If you feel a little giddy in North Carolina’s mountainous Jackson County, it may be from some pretty amazing – some would say heavenly – heights in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Tall, thickly wooded mountains, scenic curvy roads, and cascading waterfalls await, as do grand vistas, fresh, clean air and temperatures about 15- to 20- degrees cooler than much of the South.
Jackson County’s town – Sapphire, Cashiers, Glenville, Cullowhee, Sylva, Dillsboro and Balsam – offer options for leisure pursuits. Each season brings its own activities and opportunities, from hiking to fishing, boating, and golf. And then there are the spas.
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through the county, passing through Richland Balsam – at 6,053 feet, the parkway’s highest point – as does 40 miles of the Tuckasegee River, home to the first fly-fishing trail in the nation and perfect trout waters (www.flyfishingtrail.com).
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Tiny Cashiers bustles with unique shops and has much else to recommend it, including the famed High Hampton Inn, a historic resort where life is meant to be lived outdoors – specifically on its 1,400 wooded acres replete with a 35-five-acre private lake. The inn (www.highhamptoninn.com) has logged more than 160 years as a place to retreat and relax. Its massive dining hall, where guests have their own table for the entirety of their visit, serves up amazing fare, beginning with a breakfast buffet with all the Southern favorites. Weather permitting, be sure to have ‘Dinner in the Dahlias” outdoors.
When hunger strikes in Cashiers, head over to Cornucopia (www.cornucopianc.com) for a splendid meal in its large and airy space. For a very special dinner, discover Canyon Kitchen (wwwlonesomevalley.com). With its massive open doors, you’ll feel as is you are seated outside but will have all the comforts of romantic shelter and handsome décor. The restaurant opens for 2015 in spring. For catching up on local news and regaining caffeine balance, step into Buck’s Coffee, a warm and friendly place (at www.gocashiers.com, click “Restaurants”).
Sylva is artsy and full of vim and vigor in large part because of its proximity to Western Carolina University which is next door in Cullowhee. You can’t miss the stately old courthouse high on a downtown hill in Sylva and you’ll want to catch a performance at the WNC Performing Arts Center (www.wcu.edu/bardoartscenter).
Sylva is also worth a pretty drive for City Lights Cafe (www.citylightscafe.com). Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, their good eats, spirits, and espresso bar will prepare you for the rest of your day.
Wash down great food and see how craft and imagination make for good marriages by visiting Sylva’s two friendly breweries – Heinzelmannchen (www.yourgnometownbrewery.com) and Innovation (www.innovation-brewing.com). Check out the Prohibition-style cocktails in the comfortable space provided by The Winged Lion (at www.facebook.com, search for “The Winged Lion”) and the craft beer and food combos at Tonic Delivers (www.tonicdelivers.com). Enjoy North Carolina Beer Month (April) in Sylva.
Leave Jackson County feeling totally pampered and rejuvenated after a trip to either the High Hampton Inn Health Club Spa (www.highhamptoninn.com) or the Canyon Spa (wwwlonesomevalley.com). Both offer amazing signature treatments that will stay with you for a while after your visit.
Area info: www.mountainlovers.com.
Upcoming events in Jackson County
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, in Cherokee, schedules big-name entertainment at its 3,000-seat event center. Details: www.harrahscherokee.com. Coming up: Feb. 28: Willie Nelson & Family; March 13: STYX; March 21: Rodney Carrington’s Here Comes The Truth Tour.
April 4: Dillsboro Easter Hat Parade. Get your face painted, hunt for eggs and meet the Easter Bunny. Come at 10:30 a.m. to make a hat (Dogwood Crafters on Webster Street) – or bring your own. Egg hunts begin on Webster Street. Grab your hat and join in the annual parade at 2 p.m. Details: www.visitdillsboro.org/specialevents.html.
April 25: Greening up the Mountains, downtown Sylva. This free festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. celebrates the arrival of spring in the mountains, when greening leaves work their way up the mountainsides in the Smokies. It also celebrates the greening of the environment, with information about sustainable living and presentations by environmental groups. Details: www.greeningupthemountains.com.
May 2: 23rd annual Tour de Cashiers Mountain Cycling Experience. This challenging bicycling event is set on the scenic mountain roads of Western North Carolina. Details: www.tourdecashiers.com/tour-de-cashiers-home.