Bryson City is technically a town and suburb of Swain, North Carolina. However, this community fills with visitors every summer, drawn in by the surrounding Smoky Mountains, the Cherokee Indian reservation and plenty of local waterways, including the Tuckasegee River. For kids, the small mountain town is a picturesque playground with plenty of places to have fun and burn off some energy.
Explore the Local Nature
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 800 miles of trails to explore, nearly half of which are in Swain County. Kids will love racing you up the little hills along the picturesque Oconaluftee River Trail, a 1.5-mile trail through the forest that follows along the river. The half-mile Spruce-Fir trail through the park introduces kids to the trees of the mountain conifer forest. You can pick up the self-guided tour guide at the Visitors Center. Your family can also get to know the mountain forests on horseback with a trail ride at Nantahala Stables. Here, you can choose from 1-hour, 2-hour, 4-hour and 8-hour rides, depending on your children’s interests and experience.
Have an Adventure
A train ride winding through the mountains is memorable enough, but the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad ups the ante with cool extras like open-air cars, a dinosaur-themed train ride and a holiday Polar Express ride. The current list of routes and extras is on the railroad’s website. You can also take the family for a walk on the wild side at Nantahala Outdoor Center where kids who weigh at least 75 pounds can put their skills to the test in the action-packed Zip Line Adventure Park. Families with smaller kids can get in on the fun with one of the park’s organized float trips, some designed for children as young as 3-years-old.
Learn About the Past
History gets just a little spooky on one of the Bryson City Ghost Tours, led by members of the Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians. The history-based tours are designed to be family-friendly, but the thrills and chills may be too much for sensitive kids. Get a fascinating look at the history of the Cherokee Indians at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, just 10 miles away from Bryson City in the city of Cherokee. Interactive exhibits and artifacts take kids on a journey through time, from the Paleo period to modern days. Kids can actually get a glimpse of what life was like for the Cherokee in the 1790s at Oconaluftee Indian Village, a living history village that’s open from May through October.
Make Time for Play Time
It’s always Christmas at Santa’s Land, a holiday-themed amusement park and zoo. Kids can ride the Rudolph roller coaster, whirl around on an old-fashioned carousel and visit Santa’s Village to pick up their Good Conduct Diploma and ensure a spot on Santa’s “nice” list. At the Cherokee Fun Park in the neighboring city of Cherokee, kids can play miniature golf, ride go-karts and shell out tokens in the gaming arcade. The Factory, in nearby Franklin, offers bowling, miniature golf, laser tag and a large kids’ play area, complete with a Foam Factory and carousel.