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We Won USA Today's Ten Best. Now Here's Our Ten Best List To Do While You're Here.

We did it, guys!  We won USA Today’s Ten Best Glamping Spots in the United States.  Like, not only ten best, but top of the list ten best.  Thanks so much to all who voted!  I know it was a little annoying with all the online reminders, but it worked!  With your help, we won, and we are so grateful!  This is the first award of this type we’ve been involved in, and I have to say it’s taught me some things.  The biggest lesson is that the best and most powerful thing you can have in your business is an army of dedicated customers behind you.  When you have that, you’ve already won. 


And in honor of winning USA Today’s Ten Best, I thought it might be fun to make my own list of the ten best things to do when you stay at Sky Ridge this summer.  Our area is so rich with outdoor opportunity that it’s hard to narrow down to just a few, but here are my list of favorites to do in the Smokies.  Also, it might be a good idea to note that I’m not afraid to drive a bit to get to the good stuff!  If you’re not so inclined, don’t worry.  Just check the sub-list for our best recommendations within a thirty-minute drive of Sky Ridge!

Here's our own Ten Best List....

1. Take A Sunset Hike To Wesser Bald Fire Tower

Big views are a big deal in the Smokies.  Places like Clingman’s Dome and Mount LeConte are always popular spots to hit, but I much prefer the experience you’ll get when you hike the hour-long moderate hike up to the Wesser Bald Fire Tower.  It’s an easy-to-moderate section of the famous Appalachain Trail that comes through Tellico Gap area just before the descent into the Nantahala Gorge.  You can easily find the parking area when you visit Romantic Asheville’s link here, and just remember to spur to the left from your approach to the parking area.  If you spur right, it’s still really beautiful, but you won’t reach the tower.  You’ll be southbound on the AT, and that’s a long hike!  The fire tower is easy to spot, and you are welcome to climb the steps to the top of the tower itself.  From the top, you’ll enjoy amazing panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains, and it’s likely you’ll have that view mostly to yourself.  Sure beats sharing with thousands of others in my book!  As a bonus, if you look to your left carefully, you can spot Sky Ridge in the distance!  The yurts look like little mushroom caps from the tower, and it’s really fun to say you found them (even though they don’t photograph well from that distance).


Once you’ve taken in the view, you can circle back down to the parking lot by way of the fire road.  The walk back is quick, and will only take you about a half hour to make it to your car.  For an even better adventure, continue going forward on the gravel road rather than back the way you came for a ride through Tellico Gap and onto Needmore Road.  This route is popular amongst the open-air Jeep tours you can hire in the area, and is just as much fun in your own car.  Just make sure your car has plenty of gas before you head out!


Want to make it even better?  Book this exact hike with Carolina Bound Outdoor Adventures.  You’ll get a guided version of this hike, complete with transportation and even a sunset lantern tour if you’d like.

2. Go Underground at Tuckaleechee Caverns

We found this awesome attraction during COVID when we had a little more time to venture out with fewer guests on the grounds.  The Tuckaleechee Caverns are the largest and highest rated caverns east of the Mississippi River, and are considered to be one of the best little-known attractions in the Smoky Mountains.  The caverns themselves run under the Smoky Mountain National Park near Townsend, and the tour you’ll take winds through underground rivers, football-sized chambers, wishing well points, and even an incredible underground waterfall! 


To get there, you’ll leave Sky Ridge and head into the Cherokee entrance to the National Park.  Work your way through the park (which isn’t a bad thing) and head towards the Townsend area of the park.  Your GPS will take you directly to Tuckaleechee, but you will need to trust Siri and do what she says, even if it feels wrong.  She’ll have you turn into what looks to be a picnic area, but the road out of the park and over to the caverns is on the backside of that picnic area.  Trust.  Tours run daily from March to November, and one of the best things about the caverns is that the weather is never a factor.  Rain or shine, cold or hot, Tuckaleechee will be dry and cool no matter what’s happening above ground.


Want to make it even better?  Visit the cavern’s website for advance tickets and specific information on the day you plan to visit here.


3. Take A Swim At Midnight Hole

Did I mention I don’t mind driving?  Here’s another Ten Best that takes a little bit of effort but well worth the trouble.  We’ve tested almost every major swimming hole in the five-county western North Carolina area, and without question Midnight Hole is the best.


Tucked in the far eastern side of the Smoky Mountain National Park, Midnight Hole has all the elements that make a day of swimming in the mountains great – easy to find, plenty of parking, a beautiful easy 1 ½ mile hike with plenty of scenery, a gorgeously clear green pool at the base of a small waterfall that’s deep enough to dive into but works its way shallow with easy footing underneath. In a word – it’s perfect.


If we had anything bad to say about Midnight Hole, it would be that it will take some time in the car to get there from Sky Ridge. You have to head back to I-40 West to get there, so that means you have to drive the 45 minutes back towards Maggie Valley to pick the interstate up. Once you’re back on I-40, you’ll drive another fifteen minutes until you’re just over the Tennessee line to Exit 451. Take that exit and then you’ll immediately snake back into North Carolina towards Big Creek Campground inside the Smoky Mountain National Park. All in all, if you’re leaving Sky Ridge for a day at Midnight Hole, you’re going to need just under two hours to get there. But trust us, it’s two hours you won’t regret giving up for a day at one of the best swimming holes in the entire Western North Carolina region.


Want to make it even better?  Make sure you point your GPS to Big Creek Campground.  If you search Midnight Hole, your GPS will find it, but it will take you to the other side of the park and your hike will be more like 10 miles instead of just over one.

4. Andrews Valley Rail Tours

If you’ve been to Bryson City, chances are good that you know about the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.  With their gas and steam engine trains, you can ride through the Smokies and take in the sights from the comfort of your train car.  It’s a must-do with a visit to the area.


But what if you’re looking for something a touch more adventurous and hands (or more accurately, feet) on?  Then the Andrews Valley Rail Tours are for you!  This relatively new attraction allows you and your friends to take a similar railroad path through the mountains, but powered by you!  The most popular option here is to ride a four-seater rail car that’s operated by electric-assisted pedal, a lot like an e-bike.  This allows you to take control of your train ride through the Smokies, and puts you right out there in the beauty of it all.


You can also choose a cart ride or their “choo-choo express” which will require less of an effort to move the cart, or no effort at all depending on your preference.  You’ll travel to the Historic Valley River Tunnel and then back into Andrews, passing pristine mountain rivers and streams along this roughly three-hour tour.


Want to make it even better?  There are some limitations to the carts, so it’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure you’re aware of them.  These tours book up fast, so planning ahead is also a great idea.  You can book your tour here.

5. A Sweet Visit To The Chocolate Shoppe

 You’ll find no shortage of delectable treats to eat in Bryson City, but if you want to cut through the noise and head straight for the best, go to the heart of downtown Bryson and visit the Chocolate Shoppe.  Lovingly family owned and operated, you’ll find the best selections of homemade fudge, caramel apples, truffles, caramels, candies, gourmet popcorns, and ice creams in the best waffle cone you’ll ever put in your mouth.  Open every day until at least 8pm, the Chocolate Shoppe is a must on your vacation itinerary.


Want to make it even better?  Get a double waffle cone scoop of Bear Claw ice cream.  Trust me.

6. Take The Kids To The NOC Adventure Park

If you’re coming to Bryson City, a trip to the Nantahala Outdoor Center is a must.  They’ve been outdoor entertaining since 1972, thrilling adventurers young and old for over 50 years.  While you’ll find tons of options here for outdoor fun, one of our favorites is the Zip Line Adventure Park.  Here, you can zip, crawl, climb and jump your way across two levels of ariel obstacles all designed to test your strength and courage at over 40 feet off the ground!  Ariel experts man the whole operation, and you can join the kids in the fun or watch comfortably from below as they zip and zoom all over the place.  There are also two tandem longer zip lines so you can test out your readiness for other longer zip trips offered at the NOC.


We’ve been taking our own two kids here for years, and the Adventure Park was a great fit for them at any age.  My youngest was 5 when she first started working these lines, and she’s loved it ever since – all the way up to 17!  You really can’t go wrong with a day spent at the NOC’s Zip Line Adventure Park.


Want to make it even better?  Book a package deal and do a half day of zipping and the other half rafting.  It’s a great bargain and you fill up the entire day with just one stop.  You can book directly here.

7. Lazy Your Day Away At Deep Creek

Western North Carolina is pretty famous for its white-water rafting opportunities, but sometimes you want to get in the water with a little less paddling and a lot more relaxing.  That’s where Deep Creek comes in.  This is a direct one-way only entrance into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and it’s just about fifteen minutes from Sky Ridge.  Here, you can rent a tube from many available outfitters for about $5 and then head on into the park for a day full of fun and excitement on the water.  There are a few ways to tube this river, but the most popular one is to park inside the National Park Deep Creek entrance (you’ll need a parking pass and they can be purchased near the restrooms in the picnic area) and hike about one mile up the easy pathway to the tube put-in.  Everything is well marked and it will make perfect sense what to do and where to go once you’re there.  Just follow the other tubers. 


Most people will take out of the water once they have floated back down to the picnic area, but some will continue on down river a little further.  Should you do this, please be aware that this will involve a bit of a walk back up to your car on the main paved road, as beyond the park boundary the land on the water’s edge is privately owned.


Want to make it even better?  We suggest you use JJ Tubes for your rafting rental.  JJ’s is the easiest in-and-out rental on Deep Creek.  It’s honor system with a cash jar or Venmo option for payment, and they even have free tie-down straps for the short ride from their parking lot to the parking area.

8. Visit The Ultimate Farmer's Market

Darnell Farms is quickly becoming one of Bryson City’s hottest attractions.  Located on the far east side of Bryson City right along the Tuckaseegee river, you’ll find all kinds of things to get into here depending on the day.  Darnell Farms offers seasonal programs, but there are some all-the-time staples.  These include a gorgeous location, swing sets along the water big enough for full-size adults to enjoy, local produce, meats, local honey, jams and jellies available for purchase, a small outdoor grill for a quick and delicious lunch, and of course the famous Dreamwhip desert.  That’s a must-try!


One of the best things about Darnell Farms is you never really know what you’ll find there each time you visit, which means you can keep coming back and finding new experiences to try.  Sometimes there will be food trucks along the water, sometimes a live concert to enjoy, other times a local artisan craft fair, still others a petting zoo or a hayride.  It all just depends on the whim of the owners! There’s plenty of parking at Darnell, and it’s an easy way to entertain the whole family in one place.


Want to make it even better?   Order a butterscotch Dreamwhip and grab a swing by the river while you enjoy it.  It’s well worth the splurge!

9. Dive Into Native Culture At The Oconaluftee Indian Village

About a thirty-minute drive away from Sky Ridge is the Cherokee Indian Reservation.  Here you’ll find many opportunities to learn about Native American culture, and there’s no better place to do it than at the Oconaluftee Indian Village.  You’ll walk through seasons of time throughout the history of the tribe, and you’ll learn about their housing, weaponry, currency, language and governments with a Native American guide to explain the elaborate outdoor exhibitions that are on display.


You’ll be able to watch master basket weavers and try your hand at different tools and weapons commonly used by the Cherokee, and you’ll even be able to walk inside the different building replicas used for living, meetings and more.  And if you’re really lucky, you might even catch a live native dance on the seven clans meeting grounds.  There’s a great gift shop full of real native-made souvenirs (skip the fake ones out on the strip) that kids of all ages are sure to love.


Want to make it even better?  Rent a bike from Tsali Cycles here or bring your own, as the Indian Village shares a parking lot with the Fire Mountain Trail system.  There are trails for every skill level, complete with jumps, bridges and quick downhills, and e-bikes are welcome.

10. Day Trip Over To Gatlinburg For Climbworks

As if you needed a better reason to take the iconic drive straight through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we’ll give you one.  Book your ultimate zip adventure at Climbworks Canopy Tours and don’t even wonder if it’s worth it.  It is worth the drive and the time for sure.  Climbworks offers two different types of zips – one traditional and one tandem – and they are one of the only zip companies in the area that will allow smaller children to zip with a guide.  That means that everyone can “zip away”!


Climbworks has a hand in building many of the local zips throughout Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, so you know they’ve put their best foot forward for their own location.  We’ve done them all, and this one is hands-down our favorite, even with the longer drive.  So, take the day trip for this zip.  You won’t regret the drive.


Want to make it even better?  After you’re done zipping, plan to make a stop at the downtown Gatlinburg Escape Rooms before you head back to Bryson City.  These rooms are so much fun, and they are very creative and interactive – nothing like other escape rooms you’ve likely experienced.

Don't Want To Drive?

Here's our list of the Ten Best things to do in Bryson City, all thirty minutes or less from Sky Ridge Yurts:

1.     Hike To The Wesser Bald Fire Tower

2.     Go Tubing At Deep Creek

3.     Have A Dreamwhip at Darnell Farms

4.     Get A Bear Claw Cone At The Chocolate Shoppe

5.     Take An Open-Air Train Ride On The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

6.     Have Lunch On The Water At Four Queens Mexican

7.     Ride The Longest Zip In The Area On The NOC Canopy Tour

8.     Tour Deep Creek Winery For A Wine And Cheese Tasting

9.     Visit The Oconaluftee Indian Village In Cherokee

10.  Catch A Live Show At Tommy's Paradise

Thank you all again for helping us to win USA Today's Ten Best Glamping Spots in the United States, and we hope our little list will help you decide to come and glamp with us. While we're super honored to have won this award, we know that what's really magical about our place are the people who stay with us! Thanks for being so awesome.



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