Content Produced in Partnership with Visit NC Smokies
Nestled into North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, Haywood County offers vibrant experiences all year long. Known for its 46 miles of scenic views along the Blue Ridge Parkway, many hiking trails and five stunning mountain towns, there’s so much to do and see in this authentic Appalachian destination. With the towns of Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde at your fingertips, there’s always something to be discovered, no matter the season! Whether you’re seeking a family-friendly vacation or a thrilling outdoor adventure, Haywood County has it all. Read our go-to list of 7 events and activities worth experiencing on your next trip.
1. Enjoy Happening EventsWhether you visit in the fall, winter or spring, there’s always something exciting happening in Haywood County—for the art junkies, the music-lovers, the foodies and everyone in between. May through November are host to Art After Dark, downtown Waynesville’s vibrant, visual performing arts festival on the first Friday of each month. With local bands, musicians, artist demonstrations and fun culinary experiences, you’ll get an inside look at the area’s talented craftspeople and artisans. June through September, Haywood County is also known for its Mountain Street Dances, an exciting old-fashioned mountain event with live music and local clogging teams. Maggie Valley is home to a variety of seasonal events, including their annual Arts and Crafts Festival in July and new this September, Smoky Mountain Elk Fest. By the time winter rolls around, Winter Arts Smokies Style makes its debut, making Haywood County host to fun and interesting festivities all year long.
2. Get Out and Hike
There’s no question that some of the greatest Smoky Mountain hiking can be found in Haywood County. You can take on trails all along the Blue Ridge Parkway or explore one of the many options near Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Head out to Graveyard Fields, a popular family-friendly hike; take on Black Balsam Knob, for sweeping views of the surrounding mountains; or check out the new Waterfall Loop Trail, a picturesque option packed with tons of sights and—no surprise—lots of waterfalls. Whatever your mood and skill level may be, you’ll be able to find your ideal hike in the NC Smokies. Whether you’re visiting for a day trip or a weekend-long excursion, there are miles of outdoor adventures waiting to be explored.
3. Discover the Appalachian Musical Heritage
Haywood County’s rich musical heritage makes it a perfect place for musicians and music lovers to experience. Deeply rooted in the area’s culture, mandolins, fiddles, banjos and guitars are never more than a two-step away, and long-time cloggers and musicians can often be found in local music halls. Every year, Haywood County welcomes home the award-winning five-man bluegrass group and 2018 IBMA “Entertainer of the Year,” Balsam Range, during Lake Junaluska’s Art of Music Festival in December. Won’t be around in the winter? Don’t fret. There’s a wide variety of music festivals and gigs for locals and visitors to check out any time. Maggie Valley’s Opry House is one venue open year-round, showcasing different artists every week. From Rock n’ Roll and bluegrass to country, it's undeniable that Haywood County loves its music.
4. Cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway
Haywood County boasts 46 of the most scenic miles along the 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway—and this famous roadway reaches its highest elevation right here in the heart of the NC Smokies. With some of the most jaw-dropping views the parkway has to offer, it’s a well-known drive enjoyed by both tourists and locals alike. Although it’s most popular in the fall when the leaves have turned into a kaleidoscope of red, orange and yellow, it’s truly beautiful all year long. Stop in the right place at the right time, and you’ll see exactly how the Great Smoky Mountains got their name. If you’re not sure where to make your stops, here are our go-to mileposts along your ride:
- Milepost 418.8, Graveyard Fields—this well-known spot turns into a wild blueberry patch in the late summer and fall, so come prepared with your buckets.
- Milepost 420, Black Balsam Knob—a famous milepost in Haywood County, this stop offers access to trailheads and stunning views of the Southern Appalachians’ sweeping, treeless mountain tops.
- Milepost 422.4, Devil’s Courthouse—sitting at an elevation of 5,720 feet, this lookout point offers spectacular panoramic views.
- Milepost 431, Richland Balsam Overlook—at 6,053 feet, this is the absolute highest point on the entire parkway. There’s a 1.5-mile self-guided trail worth exploring here.
- Milepost 451.2, Waterrock Knob—reaching an elevation close to 6,000 feet, this trail leads to a beautiful summit with near 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains.
5. Spot the Elk
While the Cataloochee Ski Area is, of course, known for seasonal skiing and snow tubing, Cataloochee Valley is also famous for its wildlife. The elk population—once native to the area—was reintroduced to the valley in 2001, and ever since, elk watching has become one of Haywood County’s most exciting outdoor activities. With calving season in the late spring, summertime offers a lot of opportunity to catch the majestic animals in action. And don’t forget: mark your calendar for the first annual Smoky Mountain Elk Fest, September 13-15 in Maggie Valley. Not only will this event celebrate the elk population, but it will be filled with music, food, guided hikes, nature demonstrations, and family-friendly fun.
6. Taste What's Brewing
Love socializing and trying out the local spirits of each place you visit? Then you’ll love all of the local microbreweries in Haywood County. There’s an atmosphere—and a brew—for everyone: Boojum Brewing is an urban taproom on Waynesville’s Main Street; Frog Level Brewery is located in an old warehouse with a relaxing creekside patio out back; and BearWaters Brewing Company is nestled along the Pigeon River in Canton. Whether you’re craving an IPA, a sour or something seasonal—you’ll find it here. If whiskey is more your thing, Elevated Mountain Distilling Company is the place to be. The 11,000 square foot facility encompasses the brand’s distillery, barrel storage, bottling area, and product development lab along the main drag in Maggie Valley. With $5 tours and tastings, you’ll learn about the farm-to-bottle process and get a true whiskey experience. Just don’t leave without trying the Root Beer whiskey!
7. Have Some Family Fun
The mountains are an ideal place for an escape, and with Haywood County being situated right in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are over a half-million acres to explore as a family. Wander the local farmer’s markets and U-Pick farms for seasonal produce, then have yourself a scenic picnic. Come together to relax and soak up the beauty of the mountains while visiting Lake Junaluska. Go horseback riding, rafting, swimming or head to Smoky Mountain Sk8way & Fun Zone to skate around Western North Carolina’s largest roller-skating rink. Whatever it is that you choose to do, you’re in for a memorable family adventure.