We couldn’t get enough of Western North Carolina. So, have some more Western North Carolina! We actually spent quite a while here – albeit not as long as we originally planned – so while we didn’t get to everything, we sure got to see a lot.
And two of those towns we visited on day trips from our base in Maggie Valley were the towns of Bryson City and Sylva. These small mountain towns are held precious by locals and visited by travelers from all over the world for a variety of reasons. For us, we just thought they looked interesting, so off we went!
First though, let’s have a look at exactly where Bryson City and Sylva are located.
Deep in the mountains between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala National Forest, both towns are bursting with scenic backdrops and good, small-town feels. They’re both west of the city of Asheville, just as one moves toward the western tip of North Carolina.
There’s so much to see and do in this region, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide which small towns you should actually see during your trip here. There is no shortage of them, which is both a good and a bad thing depending on how much time you have.
So, while we won’t say that you should skip another great town for one of these, we can definitely say that both are worth it and you won’t be disappointed. Now, let’s get on with our visit!
The drive to Bryson City from Maggie Valley was breathtaking, as are most drives in Western North Carolina. The mountains are everywhere, and it’s a wonder we didn’t miss our exit while looking at all of the beauty around us.
Pulling into town, it was quite evident that tourists and summer vacationers love this place. It’s gorgeous, and it’s also full of all sorts of souvenir-type shops. That’s not really a problem, as WNC has plenty of local knickknacks, culture, food, and drink that are worth buying.
We mostly just walked around town, enjoying the local scene and seeing what all the shops have on offer.
The scenic Great Smoky Mountain Railroad departs from here, and most tourists visiting were hopping on and off to take a ride into the wilderness and see some views that can only be had by rail. We didn’t do it, but it seems like it’s well worth the cost.
Instead, we used the heat and our short visit here as an excuse to seek out the local brewery. Sitting on a terrace with a cold brew, people- and scenery-watching sounded a lot better to us than being on a train this particular day.
Nantahala Brewing Company is where we landed, and we got right to it with some flights to try while sitting on the terrace, while most others sat inside watching a soccer match.
These guys started in 2009, and have since seen rapid growth that makes it rather easy to find their canned and bottled goodies in stores around the region.
We loved most of what we had, and definitely recommend a stop here. Cheers!
After imbibing, we walked around some more before landing at Sagebrush Coffeehouse. This family-run establishment serves up quite a righteous cup, and we spent a while here talking to the owners about their story and how they feel running a coffee joint in Bryson City.
Cowboy – ha, no joke – one of the owners, really has his heart set on being part of the local community. One of the most fantastic things he does is provide a place for youth in town to come and hang out. He’s got a pool table in the back, and he keeps it open as an unofficial youth center so kids don’t go off and do too much stupid crap as there’s not a whole lot to do in town for the teen community.
We can get with that.
So yes, that’s about all we did in Bryson City, which really doesn’t take advantage of everything on offer here. Even though there’s only 1,500 people here – many more in the summer, no doubt – we think it’d be a great place to have as a base while exploring this town, other towns, and all the parks and natural spectacles in Western North Carolina.
We’ll be back, so maybe we’ll see you there!
On to Sylva, a town of just over 2,500, southeast of Bryson City. Even though it’s larger in population, Sylva feels like a much smaller town. Tourism isn’t yet booming in Sylva the way it is in Bryson City, which certainly accounts for that feeling.
It is, however, a gorgeous, 125-year old small town nestled in the mountains. It has an historic main street and a very impressive county courthouse that sits on top of a hill in town.
It’s probably the closest town to nearby and very rural Western Carolina University, so it does have a lot of services that a town of this size might not otherwise have.
For us, we just enjoyed strolling around and popping into various businesses. One of those was, of course, a brewery. As we do!
Believe it or not, there are already three breweries in this town! Good for us, not so good for a day trip. I had to drive, so we had to take it easy and only hit up one of them.
While the other two – Innovation Brewing Company and The Sneak E Squirrel – are certainly worth a stop, we decided to hit up Heinzelmännchen Brewery. Also known as Your Gnometown Brewery – a Heinzelmännchen being a gnome – this little spot is owned by a German immigrant named Dieter. Given our history in Germany, it was as much of a no brainer as it could be for us to pick this one.
Dieter and his wife, Sheryl, have been doing their thing in this lovely town since 2004. They focus on German beers and their own takes on experimenting with American-style treats, and they really know what’s up.
Dieter was nice enough to come sit with us and talk about his history as well as that of the brewery, and we were very lucky and happy to have found his place.
You should really stop by and trade some of your hard-earned cash for some of their hard-worked brews. Deliciousness abounds! Be sure to tell Dieter and Sheryl that we said, “Prost!”
Oh, don’t forget to pick up one of their decorative growlers as well.
We don’t usually buy growlers because we’re on the road a lot and we can rarely even fit them in hotel fridges. Alas, we had to get one here as we thought the glass itself would make a great gift.
We drank the beer, though. 🙂
After another stroll out in the hot sun, we stopped for a coffee before hitting the road. Pretty much our M.O., as you can see here. We ran into Bubacz’s Signature Brew Café & Coffee, so we stopped in and got a snack and some black gold on ice. We picked John’s brain here and watched plenty of people do their coffee shop thing – laptops abounding, people reading, etc. – in this eclectic Main Street establishment.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, the café has since shut down. We have no idea why, but fortunately, a couple other coffee shops exist in Sylva, so you’ll be a-okay when you visit.
And so it is! We had a great time visiting both Bryson City and Sylva, most especially for some of the conversations we had. Be sure to have a stop in these wonderful towns when you’re in Western North Carolina, and never be shy about talking to locals or asking questions. You never know what you might learn!
Check out our other USA road trip posts right here. In the meantime, we’ll keep on dreaming about our return to Western North Carolina and we’ll be back soon with more posts. 🙂
A very special and very big thanks to Anna at the Haywood County TDA, for showing us the ropes, giving us great advice, and for being a wonderful person. Thanks as well to Big John for schooling us at the TDA office, Dieter and Sheryl at Heinzelmännchen Brewery, and Katie & Cowboy at Sagebrush Coffeehouse. We’ll see you soon!
Want more? Join us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and Flickr.
Have you ever been to Bryson City or Sylva? If so, what’d you think? If not, what say ye? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!