Content Produced in Partnership with Jackson County Tourism
Just 50 miles west of Asheville lay nearly 500-square miles of stunning sights in Jackson County, North Carolina. With dozens of waterfalls, some of the East Coast's highest peaks, eight sweet mountain towns and even sweeter people, it's the perfect off-the-beaten-path Appalachian destination. The area is home to a significant amount of US national Forest Land, including the 39,000-acre Roy Taylor Forest and the Nantahala National Forest, as well as elevations reaching more than 6,000 feet in the Plott Balsam and Great Balsam mountain ranges. Packed with unforgettable vantage points and incredible views along the way, there's no better place to experience the beauty of the Western North Carolina mountains.
From sunrises overlooking Great Smoky Mountain peaks to photo-worthy waterfalls, each and every visitor is sure to discover a spot that makes their jaw drop while exploring North Carolina's Jackson County. It's no question that some views are simply better than others and with so many to choose from, we've put together a guide that covers a few of our all-time favorites. For an elevated experience in the mountains of Western North Carolina, here are seven incredible overlooks and viewpoints that no Jackson County visitor should miss out on.
1. Pinnacle Park
Within the Nantahala National Forest you’ll find Pinnacle Park, which towers over the small town of Sylva, North Carolina. Offering a variety of hiking trails and exceptional lookout points to choose from, the park’s West Fork trail is a true standout. If you're up for it, you can take the plunge and set out on this 7-mile roundtrip trek which ascends more than 3,000 feet. The wandering trail will lead you through the beautiful forest, along streams and past cascading waterfalls till you reach the top. Here you will be rewarded with 'The Pinnacle', which boasts panoramic views of Sylva and Scotts Creek Valley. On a clear day you may lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains in the distance. Be sure to grab a few Instagram-worthy shots and take it all in before heading back on a downhill trek to the trailhead. The photo-worthy, 360 degree perspective offered at this stunning lookout is among some of the very best views in all of Jackson County.
2. High Falls
This cliffside waterfall is a undoubtably a sight worth seeing while in Jackson County, NC. Boasting a total height of 100 feet, the spot is called "High" Falls for good reason. To catch a glimpse of the beautiful falls you'll need to start from the upper or lower trailhead. The upper trailhead hike begins at the gate on High Falls Trail. From there you will descend along the gravel road, turning right before descending a bit further to the falls. From the lower trailhead you must take the side road off of Shoal Creek Mountain Road. Keep your eyes peeled for the orange gate. Once crossing the auto bridge, go left at the fork — ascending gradually for 0.4 mile. The trail will swing around a ridge, leading you to descend gradually over 1 mile to a side path on the right. From here it is another 0.3 mile to High Falls. For the best view, you'll need to cross the rocks to reach the base of the falls.
3. Whitewater Falls
These breathtaking waterfalls stand at 411 feet, making them among the highest east of the Rocky Mountains. To reach the striking viewpoint you'll need to start at the parking area of the falls. A paved pathway will lead you to the upper overlook — just be sure to ignore the sign which says that it's 0.5 miles to the falls...you only have 0.25 mile left to go! From here, there is a set of 154 steps which will descend the slope to a lower viewing deck. If you can manage it, take the climb needed to get there. You're in for a truly spectacular look at Jackson County's tall and mighty Whitewater Falls.
4. Whiteside Mountain
This 390 million year old mountain boasts some of the highest vertical cliffs in all of the eastern United States, at about 1,800 feet. It is, without question, one of the most recognizable peaks in Jackson County and among the oldest mountains in the world. To get a look at the sweeping panoramic views, you'll need to take the mountain's 2-mile loop trail. This easy trek is family-friendly, doable for hikers of any and every level. Winding along the mountain's cliffs, crossing over the Eastern Continental Divide in the process, you will eventually find yourself at the 4,930-foot crest. The spectacular views of the valley and wilderness below are well-worth the trip.
5. Panthertown Valley
With its grand canyons, high peaks and wide array of flora and fauna, Panthertown Valley is affectionately known as “Yosemite of the East”. Considered one of the most spectacular spots to visit in the southeast, it's a beautiful place to bike, hike and explore. Situated on the eastern continental divide of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, offering more than 6,295 acres of protected Nantahala National Forest, Panthertown is listed as one of the country's Natural Heritage Sites. Home to the beautiful Schoolhouse Falls, which is a stunning sight all its own, as well as deep gorges, broad valleys, tranquil creeks and riverside hikes — the scenic vistas found within this 6,295-acre backcountry area are not to be missed while in Jackson County, North Carolina. Just be sure to Leave No Trace® to ensure this delicate, bio-diverse ecosystem is left for generations to come.
6. Cowee Overlook Blue Ridge Parkway
Located at Milepost 430 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cowee Mountain Overlook is a photographer's dream. With over 200 different overlooks along the 469 mile long road, each with their own worthwhile view, this overlook is a long-standing favorite. The breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges make it one of the most-visited and photographed sites along the Parkway. Sunset is a particularly special time to visit, offering 180 degrees of panoramic vistas. While this lookout tends to be a bit busier in the fall season, as sightseers and photographers come to catch bursts of the red, orange and yellow which drape the scene — it is truly beautiful any time of year. An added bonus for visitors is the Richland Balsam, the Blue Ridge Parkway's highest peak.