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5 Bucket List Things to Do in Bryson City, NC

Escape to the mountains for your next easy weekend getaway from Atlanta

Only 3 hours from Atlanta and the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Bryson City, NC has so much to offer -- from a historic train ride, adventure sports, award-winning accommodations, a quaint downtown, cute eateries, and so much more!

Download my Ultimate 3-Day Itinerary at the bottom of this post and make sure to visit the Explore Bryson City website for even more great ideas. I got to check some big things off my bucket list during my recent trip and I hardly scratched the surface of all there is to do here. I can't wait to go back!

Disclosure: This was a paid collaboration with Explore Bryson City and all accommodations and experiences were hosted. Thank you Bryson City for supporting this page and sharing your beautiful town with us!

Left to right: Tree top soak at Lakeview at Fontana , Fly Fishing the Smokies and views from the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.

1. Climb Aboard!

Take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

This was my first time riding the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and I loved it! I was in the James Sarge Revis open air car. It was was a hot day in June (high 80s) and I found the car breezy and comfortable. The big windows made me feel so connected to nature and I loved riding over the trestle bridges and enjoying the views of Fontana Lake. It was fun to watch and wave to all the paddlers riding the rapids on the Nantahala River! They offer different packages and events throughout the year and I heard from several people that the Polar Express train at Christmas is absolutely magical.

The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad: Train at the station in downtown Bryson City, one of the deluxe cars, my view from the open air car

2. Go Zip Lining

Swing from the trees at the original zip line canopy tour in Western North Carolina

I went on the "Tarzan Train" excursion on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad -- which means that I opted to include a zip line/ tree top canopy tour with my train ticket. After about a 2 hour ride, the train makes a brief stop where you exit and are met by guides who take you (by bus) to the WildWater Zip Line Canopy Tour (they also have rafting and jeep tours). I hadn't been zip lining in years so I was nervous but the guides said in their experience the more nervous you are the more fun you have and I think they were right. I loved gliding on the 13 zip lines and crossing the 8 sky bridges -- it was somehow relaxing AND exhilarating at the same time and made me feel like a kid again. Speaking of kids -- they have a junior zip line available for the young ones as well.

Left to right: Full training on ground level, walking across a sky bridge and zip lining (pictures are available at the end of the tour if you need proof that you did it!)

3. Sleep in a Yurt

Stay in a yurt overlooking the mountains

Before this trip, I had never stayed in a yurt before. It's a personal goal to stay in every single type of accomodation so Sky Ridge Yurts (which was just named by USA Today as the #1 Glamping Spot in the US) was the perfect opportunity to check this bucket list accommodation off my list! I learned that yurt life is just like camping -- except every convenince of home is included in your tent. Including air conditioning!

I stayed in the Fontana yurt which sleeps 6 with a private king bedroom, full bathroom, a comfortable living room/sitting area (with pull out queen and 2 twin pull outs) and a full kitchen. There was even a washer/dryer which is handy if you're taking advantage of all the outdoor activities in the area.

Left to right: Exterior of Fontana, interior of Fontana and the beautiful view from the yurt.

4. Fish the Smokies

Experience some of the best fishing on a guided fishing tour

As somone who has never held a fishing rod I was lucky to experience this for the first time with Fly Fish the Smokies. All of the equipment down to the boots were provided which was great for a newbie like me. My guide was patient (even when I put my overalls on backwards 😬) and made sure I was comfortable the entire time. He gave me helpful pointers and was just genuinly a lovely person to spend a few hours with on the river. I highly recommend adding this activity to your visit. The scenery, the company and the new skills learned -- this was a 10 out of 10 adventure for me.

5. Soak in the Treetop Cabana

Relax and unwind in this beautiful private cabana overlooking a lake and mountains

The Treetop Soak at Lakeview at Fontana has been on my bucket list for a long time. To say that it met my expectations is an understatement. I was in love as soon as I pulled up to the renovated 1950s resort and saw the beautiful amenities including a pool, well-appointed honor-system market, and hammock pavilions. And this was before I even made it to my private tree-top cabana for my soak.

After parking, you take a very short well-lit trail (flip flops are fine) to the tree-house style cabana. There is spa music playing when you arrive and the cabana includes everything you need to enjoy your time here including a changing area, bathroom, 2 bathrobes, bath salts, and indoor/outdoor sitting areas. If my husband is reading this...I need to go back IMMEDIATELY.

This is just a taste of all there is to do in Bryson City! If you love the outdoors, you will love exploring this area! So many great options to choose from in addition to above including great waterfall hikes, swing bridges, a road to nowhere (!), white water rafting, kayaking...the list goes on and on! I can't wait to come back and explore more!

Top: Soda Pop's Ice Cream parlor in downtown Bryson City, the Road to Nowhere and riverside brisket at the BBQ Shack on Nantahala Gorge. Middle: Quick breakfast and friendly service at Everett Street Diner, the Needmore Swinging Bridge and Sara's Sweet Spot (there is a tree growing inside!). Bottom: Pecan crusted trout at the historic Fryemont Inn, Tom Branch Falls (as seen on my fishing trip) and a salted caramel cold brew at Cardinal Coffee.

Thank you again Explore Bryson City for sponsoring my trip. I had such a great time and I can't wait to return! Make sure to download my 3-Day itinerary below with all of the above and even more things to do, hotel options, restaurants and more!

Download PDF • 2.13MB

Wishing you a happy road trip season!



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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

Hi, I'm Kerry!


I have lived in Georgia for over 10 years and love to share local spots, art, history, nature and more within 3 hours of Atlanta (and easy getaways from the Peach State). 

I am glad you're here and I am looking forward to growing our backyard bucketlist together!

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