Turning on to the two-lane road that weaves through the dense Sumter National Forest at South Carolina’s western most knob, I rolled down the windows and was blindsided by the deep green charisma of the woods. Highway 28 is beautifully canopied and hilly, curvy and a little challenging to drive. I was glad there was nobody in the back seat who would, at that point be complaining.
Crossing the state line into North Carolina and into the Nantahala National Forest, the road was dotted with scenic turnouts and I found Silver Run Falls, just four miles shy of Cashiers, my destination. Stepping onto the groomed trail, I could hear the waterfalls and after an easy five minute hike, found the 25-foot cascade and a clear swimming hole. Young families with darting toddlers, happy elderly couples and teens with bluetooth speakers hanging from their belts were out and about exploring.
These national forest highways, meandering through Western North Carolina are an easy two-three hour drive, depending on how often you take a scenic turnout and stop to sniff out a waterfall or trail. There are 26 falls named on the DiscoverJacksonNC website, and who wouldn’t want to discover Cullasaja Falls, Frolictown Falls, Granny Burrell Falls, Juney Whank Falls or Looking Glass Falls? The names alone conjure up adventure and memories.
In Jackson County, the towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva dot the map, stretching across some 500-square miles of hilly wonderland. I met up with the bigger-than-life fishing guide, Austin Neary of Dream Catcher Guides and we hit Lake Glenville in Cashiers hard, pulling in Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass from his secret spots, filling his livewell with an impressive catch. He’s a fierce competitor on the bass circuit and works the trolling motor foot pedals on his boat with the focus and skill of a race car driver and surgeon combined. His tips made me quickly feel like a champ and his entertaining banter was part of the fun. “Nothing jacks me up more than helping someone catching their first bass, their biggest bass or just introduce fishing to the next generation. I love being a part of a growing sport,” he says. “Lake Glenville has an abundance of blueback herring and bream which are the main food sources for the predatory fish. Clear water and great fishing sum up this mountain gem.”
Taking it down a few notches, I stopped in at the lovely Zachary- Tolbert House, a quiet house and museum, depicting life there 150 years and now on the National Treasure of Historic Places. The dramatic afternoon light helped complete the scene with “plain style” furniture created by the builder of the home. The collection is considered to be the largest known grouping of this style and the lovingly hand-hewn dinner table almost whispered family stories from the past. House tours continue through October on weekends, thanks to the work of the Cashiers Historical Society.
This area, well known for upscale boutiques and the historic High Hampton Resort, has more to offer. In fact, I stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites which was comfortable and convenient, leaving room in the budget for dinner at Table 64. Touted as a “wine bar and tapas experience,” I found the Sunburst Trout with orange saffron butter and smoked tomato jasmine rice to be as satisfying as it was beautiful. Peruse the long wine list or ask the owner to help chose a bottle. Next door is Cork and Barrel, the same owner, but with casual pub food, serving until midnight. Both were full of friendly locals and visitors, all happy to be up in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
There’s plenty to do over a weekend stay if you’re not all about fishing, hiking or exploring. Take a scenic 50-minute drive along Highway 107 to Sylva and Dillsboro and visit the American Museum of the House Cat, an entirely quirky collection belonging to feline philanthropist Dr. Harold Sims of vintage children’s toys, magazines, advertisements, fabric, dolls, stuffed animals and just about anything you can think of that’s been inspired by and featuring a cat. You’ll get your entry ticket at the counter of the adjoining Old Schoolhouse Antique Mall then find Dr. Sims behind a door at the end of the hall. Ask him for a personal tour. It’s absolutely worth a stop.
Another unusual attraction in Jackson County is their old dump. The Jackson County Green Energy Park (JCGEP) captures methane gas from the old town landfill, then uses the gas as fuel for a series of artisan studios. Blacksmithing and glassblowing artists can use the space and a bright gallery sells their wares. What a fantastic concept. Call ahead for a tour or visit in September for their 13th Annual Youth Arts Festival. Stay the weekend. Or more.