Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Sylva, NC

  • Published 2023/03/03

If you’re visiting Western North Carolina, add the town of Sylva to your list of places to explore.

Sitting at the junction of the West Fork and East Fork rivers in Jackson County, Sylva offers tourists a fun time.

There are plenty of places to go to and things to do.

Sylva is a vibrant and charming small mountain town in the Great Smoky Mountain foothills, with the gorgeous downtown area lined with a diverse mix of restaurants, breweries, and boutiques.

The Washington Post described Sylva as an ‘Asheville Alternative for the Crowd Weary,’ dedicating an entire page to the town in its Sunday travel section.

The paper highlighted the wide-open areas and countless activities for visitors and the affordability of vacationing in Sylva.

Sylva offers ample opportunities for hiking, fishing, camping, and picnicking for those raring for some outdoor adventure.

No matter what you’re looking for, Sylva will have something to appeal to you.

Here are the best things to do in Sylva, NC:

Relax at the Blue Ridge Parkway

Scenic view of Blue Ridge Parkway

anthony heflin /

A Blue Ridge Parkway journey is unlike any other: a serene drive that offers spectacular scenic vistas and up-close views of the Appalachian Highlands’ rugged mountains and rustic landscapes.

The Parkway stretches for 469 miles, conserving a wide range of plants and animals while also giving guests the opportunity to appreciate everything that makes this part of the country so unique.

The Parkway runs through Sylva and is accessible in various ways, including by car, bike, or foot.

Welcome sign of Blue Ridge Parkway

Jerry Whaley /

There are numerous pull-offs and overlooks where you can rest from driving to take in the stunning views and snap some photos.

If you’re feeling adventurous, several hiking trails branch off from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which lets you walk in some of the courses.

Then, go for a bike ride or even camp overnight at one of the many camping sites.

A tunnel along Blue Ridge Parkway

Jon Bilous /

Climb the Summit of Blackrock Mountain

Blackrock Mountain is a 5,810-foot mountain located in the Great Balsam Mountains.

The mountain is home to one of the best views in Sylva: a 360-degree panoramic view of the Nantahala River, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and even the Pisgah National Forest.

Climbing Blackrock Mountain is a challenging but rewarding experience, as it takes hikers an average of two hours and 34 minutes to finish this challenging trek.

Although this is a popular trail for birding and trekking, it can still be peaceful at certain times of the day.

The best months to visit Blackrock Mountain are April through October, as the weather is cooler and the views are clear.

Blackrock Mountain is one of the best places in Sylva to go for a hike and enjoy a breathtaking view.

Tour the Montieth Farmstead and Community Park

Exterior of Montieth Farmstead

Warren LeMay from Cincinnati, OH, United States, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Montieth Farmstead and Community Park is a picturesque recreational facility amidst lush greenery in the heart of Sylva.

The hilltop trail is suitable for a good hike that will get your heart racing and amaze you with magnificent views across the flowing Scott Creek while you trek along the route.

The park has numerous pavilions, making it an ideal location for a day picnic with friends and family, and it has clean public restrooms for your convenience.

The park includes a restored 19th-century farmhouse, a working farm with chickens, goats, bees, and a community garden.

You can go to the Montieth Farmstead and Community Park with your loved ones on the weekend to spend some quality time with them.

The Montieth Farmstead and Community Park are open to the public from dawn to sunset.

Reach New Heights at the Great Balsam Mountains

Scenic view of Great Balsam Mountains

Jerry Whaley /

The Great Balsam Mountains are a sub-range of the Great Smoky Mountains, and they offer some of the most stunning sceneries in Western North Carolina.

They are a subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are part of the Appalachian Mountains.

Cold Mountain is its most recognized peak, which became the namesake of Charles Frazier’s classic novel.

The Great Balsam Mountains do not form a straight line.

Instead, they form a trapezoidal shape about 21mi long and 18mi wide.

You can take the challenging hike of the 30.1mi Art Loeb Trail to the summit of Cold Mountain for a true Great Balsam Mountains adventure, then relax with a refreshing Cold Mountain Winter Ale at the campground.

The Great Balsam Mountains are a biodiversity hotspot.

The range connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the west and the Nantahala National Forest to the east, making it an important wildlife corridor.

The Great Balsam Mountains are perfect for those who love spending time outdoors and enjoying nature.

Catch Fish at the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail

The crystal-clear streams of Jackson County’s Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail are home to an abundant population of wild, brook, brown, and rainbow trouts.

Located in the center of the Appalachian Mountains, the fly fishing trail winds its way through some of the most gorgeous and scenic mountains in the southeastern United States.

The trail consists of 15 streams and three lakes, easily accessible from major highways.

The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail is a great place to fish for trout, as the streams are well-stocked with various trout species, and it is no wonder Jackson County is known as the North Carolina Trout Capital.

The trail is also a great place to hike, as it offers a variety of different hiking trails that cross the magnificent surroundings of Jackson County.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced fisherman, the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail will show you a good time.

Visit the Jackson County Courthouse

Steps leading to Jackson County Courthouse

Jill Lang /

The historic Jackson County Courthouse is one of Sylva’s most iconic landmarks, a two-story brick building with a three-stage dome in the Classical Revival style.

It’s on a hill at the end of Main Street, with 107 steps leading up from the street level fountain and plaza to the front entrance.

Construction on the courthouse began after C. J. Harris convinced the county to support the proposal to move its seat from Webster to Sylva.

Built in 1914, the Jackson County Courthouse Courthouse is still the county’s primary judicial facility.

Visitors can explore the courthouse during business hours and take a self-guided tour.

The courthouse is also the county’s Veterans Memorial site, which honors Jackson County residents who served in the armed forces.

Learn a Bit of History in Mark Watson Park

Located off W. Main Street, Mark Watson Park gives you plenty to do besides enjoying the spectacular scenery.

Bring your kids to Mark Watson Park for some playground time or a nice picnic under the shade.

You can also bring your softball or tennis equipment to play with and then enjoy your picnic to make your day in the park more entertaining.

To rest, you can take a stroll to Sylva’s Freedom Park, located at the back of Mark Watson Park, and learn about the country’s history.

The park allows visitors to see full-size replicas of the nation’s most important documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

Mark Watson Park is perfect for families who want a day in the park, as it features softball fields, lighted tennis courts, a dog park, a playground, and a walking or running trail.

Explore the American Museum of the House Cat

The American Museum of the House Cat is a must-see for cat lovers, as it is home to the world’s most extensive collection of cat-related artifacts and memorabilia.

The museum is dedicated to the history and evolution of the beloved house cat.

They have almost 5,000 cat-related curiosities in their two rooms, including many rare and intriguing antiques, the most important of which is a bronze statue of the feline goddess Bastet that dates from 600 BC.

Dr. Harold Sims, alias CatMan2, has collected these items for 30 years.

The American Museum of the House Cat is also a great place to see a variety of different cat breeds.

The proceeds go to Dr. Sims’ local no-kill cat shelter.

Conquer the 828 Escape Room

The 828 Escape Room opened in the spring of 2019, nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina.

It is an immersive live-action game that locks players inside a room, and they have to solve a series of puzzles within 60 minutes to escape.

828 Escape Room has created one-of-a-kind escape room experiences that will test your thinking and keep your heart racing till the very end.

Enjoy an unforgettable experience with your friends and family while attempting to escape one of our four themed rooms.

Each room contains artifacts, clues, mysterious symbols, and surprising interactive objects that lead players on exciting journeys.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced “escape artist,” 828 Escape Room will challenge you.

828 Escape Room is in downtown Sylva; explore all the great shops and restaurants after your game.

Have Fun at Galaxy Lanes and Games

Galaxy Lanes and Games is a family-friendly entertainment center in downtown Sylva, North Carolina.

This bowling alley and entertainment center offer a range of activities for everyone.

The facility features up to 24 state-of-the-art bowling lanes, each equipped with automatic scoring systems and bumpers for the little ones.

In addition to bowling, there’s a laser tag arena where players can engage in thrilling combat with family and friends.

Galaxy Lanes and Games also feature an arcade room with a wide selection of classic and modern arcade games, air hockey, and other entertaining attractions.

If you get hungry, there’s also a snack bar serving various snacks and drinks, including burgers, fries, hotdogs, pizza, and soft drinks.

Galaxy Lanes and Games are open every day—they offer a range of specials and discounts throughout the week, making it a fun and affordable destination for everyone.

Participate in Community Events at Cornbread & Roses

As a small town in North Carolina, Sylva has a tight-knit community that usually comes together at Cornbread & Roses.

This non-profit community center provides space for Sylva community members and visitors to come together and socialize.

The center offers various events, including workshops, art classes, cooking classes, and other community programs.

In addition, the center is also a restaurant and catering service—you can even rent the facility for special events like birthday parties, reunions, and weddings.

The center also hosts several annual events such as concerts, fundraisers, community get-togethers, and holiday celebrations.

So, if you want to get involved in the active Sylva community, participating in Cornbread & Roses’ events is a great way to start.

Go Hiking at Jackson County Greenway

Jackson County Greenway is a popular destination for locals and tourists who want to explore nature’s beauty.

This scenic trail runs for a 2-mile out-and-back trail along the Tuckasegee River, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains and various wildlife.

The Greenway is perfect for hiking and biking, and is suitable for adventure-seekers and outdoor lovers who want to get a glimpse of Sylva’s outdoor scene.

The trail also features several picnic areas, benches, and public restrooms.

You can also access the river at various points throughout the trail and go either fishing or paddling.

The trail is well-maintained and clearly marked by various signage along the way for easy navigation.

So, if you’re looking for a great place to spend the day outdoors, head to the Jackson County Greenway and experience Sylva’s natural beauty.

Appreciate Local Art at Joemin Fine Arts

Joemin Fine Arts is an art gallery in downtown Sylva’s heart.

The gallery features works by local and regional artists, focusing on traditional and contemporary fine art.

Visitors to Joemin Fine Arts can expect to see various art styles and media, including painting, sculpture, ceramics, and jewelry.

The gallery showcases a rotating selection of works, so there is always something new and interesting.

In addition to its art exhibitions, Joemin Fine Arts also offers art classes for both kids and adults.

These classes cover various topics, including painting, drawing, printmaking, and much more.

Joemin Fine Arts is an excellent destination that offers a unique glimpse into the local art scene.

Make sure to check it out when you’re in town.

Celebrate Women at the Appalachian Women’s Museum

The Appalachian Women’s Museum is a unique historical institution that celebrates the huge contributions and experiences of women in the Appalachian region.

The museum opened in 2005 and is located in the historic Monteith House.

Visitors can explore a variety of exhibits and displays that showcase the lives and work of local Appalachian women throughout history.

Exhibits include topics such as traditional crafts, healthcare, education, activism and much more.

The museum also offers a variety of programs to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn more about the culture and history of the Appalachian region, as well as to engage with the local community.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Spend a Day at Biltmore Estate

Exterior of Biltmore Estate

ZakZeinert /

The Biltmore Estate is a historic mansion and estate near Asheville, North Carolina that features 8,000 acres filled with gardens, a winery, an inn, and various shops.

George Vanderbilt built the 250-room chateau between 1889 and 1895.

It is the largest privately-owned house in the United States.

To mention a few amenities, the lavish estate has 75 acres of gorgeous landscaped gardens, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 94 acres of vines, a 70,000-gallon indoor swimming pool, and a bowling alley.

Interior of Biltmore Estate decorated for Christmas

Delaney Juarez /

The Biltmore Estate presently receives 1.7 million visitors per year.

However, the opulent mansion is merely one of the numerous attractions.

The mansion has appeared in numerous films, including “The Swan,” starring Grace Kelly; “Richie Rich,” featuring Macaulay Culkin; and “Being There,” with Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine.

Prince Charles even paid a visit.

The Vanderbilt legacy lives on in the North Carolina mountains, with the original builder’s descendants still owning the property.

Beautiful tulips at Biltmore Estate's garden

Joanne Dale /

Take an Adventure at the Nantahala Outdoor Center

Daytime at Nantahala Outdoor Center

elvisvaughn /

The Nantahala Outdoor Center is one of the town’s most popular attractions.

The leading site of the Nantahala Outdoor Center is just outside the Great Smoky Mountains, at the junction of the Nantahala River and the Appalachian Trail.

The 500-acre area, a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts since 1972, provides plenty of opportunities for keeping your entire group happy, whether you’re staying for a day or a week.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center offers different activities for all ages, including white water rafting and ducky tripping along the Nantahala River.

A person kayaking on Nantahala Outdoor Center's water

Dee Browning /

The Mountaintop Zip Line Tour at Nantahala Outdoor Center will take you above the canopy, and the Zip Line Adventure Park will put your skills to the test with 16 aerial courses.

The Treetop Adventure Nets at Nantahala Outdoor Center, the country’s first 100% net-based aerial playground, will delight children.

Besides its outdoor offerings, the Nantahala Outdoor Center also has a variety of shops, restaurants, and lodging options to make for an eventful vacation.

People at Nantahala Outdoor Center

Dee Browning /

Take a Dip in the Cool Waters of Sliding Rock

Fall trees surrounding Sliding Rock

Jill Lang /

Sliding Rock is 7.6 miles from the intersection of US Highways 64 and 276 in the Pisgah National Forest, north of Brevard.

It is a natural rock formation carved out by the waters of the Little River over many years.

Sliding Rock is one of the most popular attractions in the Pisgah National Forest, so get ready for crowds, especially on hot summer days.

People waiting in line to slide down Sliding Rock

Lincolnh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

That is why visitors are advised to arrive early and avoid the peak hours of midday to 4:00np.m.

If sliding isn’t your style, there are two observation decks where you can watch it happen from afar.

Sliding Rock is only a short distance from dozens of spectacular waterfalls and scenic trails, so make an entire day out of your forest explorations.

People at Sliding Rock

VeeDrummer, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Discover the Wonders of Diversity in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

CrackerClips Stock Media /

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most biodiverse national parks in the United States.

The park is home to various ecosystems, including alpine forests, spruce-fir forests, hardwood forests, and riparian areas.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park comprises ridge after ridge of almost endless forest on the North Carolina-Tennessee border.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park gets its name from the morning fog.

Wildflowers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

eurobanks /

It is a world-renowned mountain range that hosts diverse plant and animal life, the majesty of its ancient mountains, and the history of southern Appalachian mountain heritage.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park houses about 80 historic buildings, stunning displays of wildflowers, and numerous wildlife to enjoy.

As wind, water, and erosion sculpt these ageless mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park perpetually reinvents itself.

There are a lot of other waterfalls throughout the park, with larger falls like Grotto, Laurel, Rainbow, Abrams, and Mingo, attracting over 200,000 tourists each year.

Waterfall at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Photosbyjam /

Marvel at the Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area

Scenic view of Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area

Serge Skiba /

Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area is between Lake Toxaway and Cashiers, part of the Nantahala National Forest.

This area is the “Yosemite of the East” because of the 300ft granite rock domes found here.

It also offers stunning views of the valley and its many rock formations.

Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area is a great place to explore if you love spending time outdoors and enjoying nature, with its cliffs, deep gorges, vast valleys, marshes, trout streams, and numerous waterfalls.

Fall scene at Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area

Serge Skiba /

The Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area comprises several finger-like valleys nearly level at the bottom.

Likewise, it is bordered on three sides by staggering slopes and granite domes, contrasting the usual “V” shaped valleys of other mountains.

The area’s forests are diverse, with a greater concentration of mountain laurel and rhododendron thickets close to the water.

Although this isn’t uncommon in Western North Carolina, the “laurel hells” here can be pretty thick.

You can go biking, riding a horse, or hiking on well-maintained and well-marked paths, many of which follow ancient logging roads that lead to splendid views.

A gorgeous waterfall at Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area

Matt Tilghman /

Hike the Jackson County Brewery Ale Trail

Running from Dillsboro to Cashiers and including more than 100 locally created beers and six breweries, the Jackson County Brewery Trail is a picturesque path that begins in Dillsboro and runs through Sylva and Cashiers.

It is a great way to explore the local breweries and taste some of the best beer in Sylva, and it is also a fantastic way to get some exercise while enjoying the scenery.

The Jackson County Brewery Ale Trail is a compact pub crawl with a lot of craft beer.

Heinzelmännchen Brewing, Innovation Brewing, and the Sneak E Squirrel are among the town’s closely concentrated but unique trio of brewers.

The trail’s taprooms serve everything from time-tested traditional ales to outdoor-inspired seasonal brews to experimental flavor fusions, ensuring that Sylva’s assortment of craft breweries will satisfy even the most discerning palates.

Besides beers, the brewery’s outdoor beer garden is home to the beloved Sylva-based food truck Cosmic Carryout.

The laid-back venue also features live music regularly, with events on Saturday nights.

Final Thoughts

Sylva and the surrounding area are home to plenty of outdoor adventure, cultural attractions, and historical sites.

No matter what you’re looking for, you can find it in this corner of North Carolina.

If you’re planning a visit, check out some of these great spots to have the time of your life.

Take advantage of all the region offers during your trip to Sylva, NC!

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