What I find most fascinating about these unexpected encounters is the mere fact of how folks seem to never know these places exist — people who literally have lived around the corner or across town from these spots their whole lives.
Western North Carolina is filled with such places. Tucked away in deep hollers, behind old buildings or even across the street from you, there is so much to see and do that you might not even know about.
So, for starters, here are a few of my favorites:
Rough Creek Watershed (Canton)
Wait, a hiking/mountain bike trail in Canton? Yep, and it’s pretty great, too. Sitting on an 870-acre preserved tract that was once the source of Canton’s public water supply, this 10+ mile public use trail system snakes up mountainsides, along ridges and into vast, open fields with clear, unobstructed views. The system consists of three connected loop trails, like a figure-8 with an extra loop. Caution: the first mile is quite steep, so you have to be in pretty good shape or resign yourself to walking until the trail gives way to more rolling terrain. There is no fee to use the trails, but a strong “carry in, carry out” policy is encouraged. www.cantonnc.com/rough-creek-watershed.
Maggie Valley Opry House
Next door to Salty Dog’s Seafood and Grill, this Mecca of mountain music is home to legendary world champion banjoist Raymond Fairchild. From May to October, Fairchild hits the stage every night at 8 p.m. sharp. He has played with everyone from Johnny Cash to Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley to Peter Rowan. With fingers as fast and fierce as lightning, he and his band of talented Appalachian musicians mesmerize audiences through a keen knowledge of melody and storytelling. 828.926.9336 or www.raymondfairchild.com.
HCC disc golf course (Clyde)
Though disc golf courses are popping up all over the region, some tend to overlook this luscious, complex course zigzagging around the campus of Haywood Community College in Clyde. The first hole starts at the bottom of the first parking lot on the left-hand side of the school’s entrance. From there, the course meanders behind the campus and through dense woods. Though the holes aren’t that long, per se, the challenges found by players can even have a veteran disc golfer scratching their head as to how their throw “ended up way over there.” Free course. 828.627.2821 or www.haywood.edu.
Mickey’s Pub (Bryson City)
Dubbed “The Quintessential Dive Bar,” most people in Western North Carolina don’t even know where this place is. Just off of Everett Street in downtown Bryson City, the establishment is one of the oldest continuous bars in the area, with as many friendly faces as selections of beer (which is a lot). Between playing pool, watching the “big game” or just having a few laughs with friends, the location lends itself to the “real deal” of folks in these parts. On weekends, Mickey’s pulls in musical acts from around the Southeast and beyond. 828.488.9308.
El Lemon taco truck (Waynesville)
Almost like “The Great Pumpkin” in Charlie Brown, the taco truck magically appears every Saturday night around 8 p.m. at R.E.O.S in West Waynesville, a weekend dance club next to Ingles on Brown Avenue. Serving up a wide array of delicious homemade Mexican food, the culinary secret is the ultimate rite of passage for new residents and tourists alike, if they can find it. Word to the wise, make sure to ask for the “green sauce” when ordering — you’ll thank me later. And just as fast as it appears, the truck soon dives back into the depths of Southern Appalachia around 2 a.m., at least until next weekend. 828.230.2285.
1: The final Waynesville Comedy Showcase will be on Oct. 2 at the Water’n Hole Bar and Grill.
2: Slam poetry champion Matthew Cuban will appear on Oct. 4 at Western Carolina University.
3: The “Fridays in the Gardens” will be Oct. 4 at McGuire Gardens in Sylva.
4: “Motown Downtown” will be held on Oct. 4 in downtown Franklin.
5: Author Bob Mustin will present his latest book Sam’s Place on Oct. 5 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.