(Disclaimer: The Weekender is a travel column focusing on short getaways from Augusta. It contains opinion.)
DILLSBORO, N.C. — Scenic views and cooler breezes drew us into western North Carolina over the weekend.
Usually, I try to keep my trips for The Weekender column at a three hour-or-less drive from Augusta, but we took an extra day since there was a holiday and my birthday, and I figured we could drive just a little longer. A Google search led me to Dillsboro, N.C. which boasted a population of 212 in 2021.
“Sounds made up to me,” was my daughter’s response when I told her where her dad and I were headed for the weekend, but the quaint town on the Tuckasegee River is indeed a real place.
Its main claim to fame seems to be that it’s the place where Harrison Ford escaped from Tommy Lee Jones in the 1993 film The Fugitive. The scene involving the collision between the bus carrying Ford’s character and a train was filmed in the area, and some of Hollywood’s magic remains there in the form of the remnants of those set pieces.
The only way visitors can see them, however, is via Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Tuckasegee River Excursion. They aren’t accessible by car or by hiking, according to the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority’s website.
Our short stay didn’t include any trains, but it did involve other modes of transportation besides my husband’s truck.
Western North Carolina has lots to offer its visitors. There’s a casino and Cherokee heritage in nearby Cherokee, N.C. And Asheville isn’t too far away. It has loads to offer.
We wanted more quiet surroundings.
Dillsboro has kayaking and fly fishing.
What sold me on Dillsboro were the photos I saw from the balcony of the hotel where we stayed. It was directly on the river with fantastic views.
We opted for the “Mom-approved rafting” at the Dillsboro River Co. and rented a tandem kayak along the 5.5-mile stretch of river with Class I and Class II rapids.
Mary Gelbaugh, who co-owns the business with her husband, Adam, and is also the vice-mayor of nearby Sylva, N.C., population 2,100, said those types of kayaks can test the strength of a marriage because the couple has to work together to make it down the milder section of water. Other parts of North Carolina have more difficult rapids.
We’ve been married long enough that we work together pretty well — most of the time. I will say that it brought a lot of laughter, mainly because it was either laugh or get angry. Laughing was much more fun.
My husband and I aren’t novices when it comes to boats. We met on a canoe trip many Julys ago and have taken multiple kayak and white water trips over the years. But this trip was a comedy of errors. We got stuck on every rock there was to possibly get stuck on. Bounce, they said. That’s how you get off the rocks. At one point, he ended up bouncing out of the kayak instead. I didn’t even know he’d fallen out until he swam up beside me.
Our marriage survived, but his baseball cap did not. It’s at the bottom of the river somewhere. He did say that we are getting our own kayaks from now on.
When we weren’t getting stuck on rocks, we drank in the beauty of the trees along the hillside. And I was amazed to look up at different times to see two sets of bald eagles. The only place I’d ever seen a real bald eagle was in the zoo.
My phone was in a waterproof plastic case, and while I was able to take some photos of the kayak ride I was not able to zoom in. A black spec in the sky is all I managed to capture. But it was truly a beautiful sight.
One of the places we ate was Foragers Canteen in Dillsboro, a farm to fork restaurant on the river. I had a fresh leafy green salad with a lemon vinaigrette while my husband had a pasta dish; for dessert, there was a trio of cobblers in tiny jars and a fourth jar held vanilla ice cream.
We ventured into the nearby town of Sylva, another picturesque village with majestic views from the courthouse at the top of a hill. On Friday evenings, during the summer, there are concerts in the park. On July 7, the Arnold Hill Band played tracts from the newest recording We took in some of the concert, but I wanted to climb to the top of the courthouse hill and get a view of the town from that vantage point before the sunset.
Surprisingly, I could hear the alternative rock band quite well there. One woman sat on the stairs. Usually, she sits on the picnic bench, she said, but the sound wasn’t carrying as well that night. She liked the Arnold Hill Band. They were quite good; other bands haven’t been, she said.
We didn’t do a lot of shopping. We did have to pop into Nancy Tut’s Christmas Shop, a house on the main strip in Dillsboro with every nook and cranny filled with Christmas ornaments. We may have to make a return trip to the Christmas House though because its second floor is being turned into a Christmas-themed B&B.
The rest of the weekend was spent chasing waterfalls.
I’d read about the numerous waterfalls in western North Carolina. One website said some waterfalls were easy to get to, but others took some effort.
We headed to Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where there were three waterfalls within a short distance of one another.
It was a beautiful day under the shade of hundreds of years of trees. People glided along the water in their oversized bright yellow inner tubes, and we listened to the sounds of the rushing waters and the laughter as we hiked along the paths.
One thing I really liked about the park were the multiple signs with names and distances on them.
Within a short span, we took in the beauty of Indian Creek Falls, Tom Branch Falls and Juney Whank Falls .
After making the falls rounds, we took a hike into a less traveled path. It was much cooler in the confines of the park than back home in Augusta.
In all, we spent two hours and 38 minutes hiking on Saturday.
As we traveled home the next day, we decided to take a different route than we came up on and found a couple more waterfalls. The first was easy — Bridal Veil Falls. It was on the road with adjacent parking.
The second one — well, it was one of those that the website said was harder to get to. The drive to Glen Falls in Highlands, N.C. wasn’t difficult. We found the parking area with ease.
But this trail was not well-marked at all. There was only one sign in. Glen Falls has different levels. Bret told me that it was a mile walk in. It’s a mile down, and the path can be tricky for people with mobility issues. Tree roots serve as stairs in parts of the narrow trail and the path zig zags into a valley.
At one point, we came to a junction and straight wasn’t an option. We had to make a turn. We made the wrong one not the right one. Left took us down an even less traveled path. After a strenuous 15 minutes we turned around. The falls were less than a five-minute walk with the right turn.
Despite our one hour and 44-minute hike Sunday, we enjoyed the view of the falls and the friendly golden retriever who frolicked in the water.
Western North Carolina, we’ll be back – Sincerely, The Weekender.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.