by Anne Braly
As far as destinations go, there’s no better place to visit in the winter than the mountains with their snow-dusted pine trees and ice-covered faces shimmering like the White Cliffs of Dover.
The mountains in winter are a gift for the senses. They give us a reset, just the thing to strengthen your mindset. And in Cashiers, North Carolina, one doesn’t have to look far to find just the things to relieve the pressures and busyness of life at home, whether it’s a massage with views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains; wetting a line in one of many streams; hearing the thunder of Whitewater Falls in Nantahala National Forest; or hiking to the top of Whiteside Mountain to take in the views and the fresh mountain air.
Cashiers has been a vacation destination and getaway for well over a century, due in large part to its cool summer temperatures. Given its higher elevation in the plateau at more than 3,400 feet above sea level, temperatures are often 10 to 20 degrees cooler than many of the major cities throughout the southeast.
There’s really no bad time to visit the Cashiers area, says Nick Breedlove, executive director of Jackson County Tourism Development Authority.
The mild weather of spring brings beautiful daffodil blooms lining the town’s corridor and heavy thickets of blooming rhododendron along the highways. Fall ushers in the change of colors dotting the mountainsides. And in winter, the temperatures are often mild enough to hit the links on one of 20-plus courses in the Cashiers area. Plus, during the winter, there are fewer visitors, so you may find yourself alone in the great big wilderness. How’s that for a shift in your mindset?
Wet a Line
The mountain water is much colder and not so good for swimming, but that chilly water makes winter fly fishing better than other times of year. When the water’s cold, the oxygen level increases and, in turn, the fish are more active. So, the equation is a no-brainer: Winter + cold water + active fish = great fishing.
The Flyfishing Trail is a good one to follow for the best places to wet a line. The 15 stops along the trail are scenic and swimming with trout — rainbow, brown, brook. Some creeks and rivers are stocked by local hatcheries, such as the Tuckasegee and Scott Creek; others are wild and wonderful:
· Raven Fork starts along the Blue Ridge Parkway — in winter, be sure to check in advance to make sure the Parkway is open — and goes north for more than two miles, a stretch known as Cherokee Trophy Water where fish as long as 20 to 30 inches are common. Permits are required.
· Panthertown Creek flows for about three miles through Panthertown Valley, an area known as the “Yosemite of the East” because of its bowl shape and rocky bluffs. This is one of the most-scenic areas in the county which is also great for hiking with trails along old logging roads and spectacular views. The valley is also home to numerous waterfalls, including popular Schoolhouse Falls and Frolictown Falls.
· Wild rainbow and brown trout swim the waters of Scotsman and Fowler creeks, each about three miles long. Both creeks flow into the Chattooga River, the same river where the movie, “Deliverance,” was filmed.
· The Tuckasegee has several good stretches of trout-laden waters, but it’s along the four-miles that run between the bridge on Highway 107 and Dillsboro Park that fishermen can claim title to the Tuckasegee Slam — catching all three species of trout in one spot.
In 2016, Jackson County was designated by state and local officials as North Carolina’s Premier Fishing Destination. For a complete list of guide services, maps and more, visit FlyFishingTrail.com or NCTroutCapital.com.
After a full day of skiing, fishing and hiking — or all of the above — you’ve had the time for that mind reset. Now it’s time to listen to your body talk. Those muscles are screaming for some TLC, and there are several spas in the Cashiers area that will give them the love they demand or give your skin a break from the harshness of the winter weather with a relaxing facial.
· Spend an hour or two at Canyon Spa in the shadow of Cow Mountain in Lonesome Valley, and you’ll walk out a new person. The spa is housed in a caretaker’s cottage from the early 1900s and features the original fireplace where guests can cozy up to a warm fire while waiting for a facial, massage or other therapies that pamper your body with all-natural products, many using herbs grown in the nearby garden.
· Cashiers Spa — Located within the heart of Cashiers, the Cashiers Spa helps visitors relax their body, mind, and spirit with professional massage therapists. Services range from Swedish Massage to Thai Herbal Poultice. Have your massage onsite, or give the spa a call and they’ll send a massage therapist to your place of stay. Online: cashiersspa.com.
· Tarah’s Beauty Bar — A quaint and relaxing mountain day spa that will give your skin the wellness treatment it deserves. Signature treatments include organic Hungarian facials; vitamin and antioxidant-rich chemical peels; and body/facial waxings. Online: tbbspa.com
Go For a Walk
Hiking Whiteside Mountain, exploring Panthertown Valley, and visiting frozen waterfalls. It’s nice to have all of the great outdoor assets all to yourself. And with more than 185 named summits in Jackson County alone, there’s plenty of good trails to follow.
“We call it our ‘secret season’ — a time when crowds calm down, and you have the trails all to yourself and the air is crisp, clean, and cool,” Breedlove says.
Panthertown Valley is a vast trail system of 30-plus miles in the 10,000-acre Nantahala National Forest, so hikers are well-advised to take a map on their trip, and Whiteside Mountain is a top favorite among lovers of the outdoors. It’s a hike along the ridgeline of one of the oldest mountains in the world formed some 360-to-490 million years ago when the oceans receded leaving the stunning peaks we know today as the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“The views on a clear day go for miles and miles,” Breedlove says.
Even the shortest of trails, such as the 1.5-mile loop around Richland Balsam, the highest summit in the Balsam Mountains, offers spectacular gifts, such as a walk through a remnant spruce forest with its ancient, ghost-like remains.
Another easy walk is one of the best in the county. The Whiteside Mountain trail is a two-mile loop along the Eastern Continental Divide to 4,930 feet and the highest vertical drop (750 feet) in the Eastern United States. Fencing along its edge helps to prevent disaster.
For trails of a more-intense nature, plan ahead, pack your gear and set off for Yellow Mountain, a 13-mile hike with steep ascents to an old stone-and-wood fire tower. Your efforts to get there will be paid off with amazing views of the valley below and mountains beyond.
For more trails off the beaten path, visit DiscoverJacksonNC.com.
While neighboring Transylvania County is known as “The Land of Waterfalls,” Jackson County boasts at least a dozen falls, among them the tallest in the state, Whitewater Falls, which is also said to be the tallest east of the Mississippi River with an amazing plunge of more than 400 feet.
Access to the falls is made via a wide, paved path which, at its end, offers great views of the falls, but if you are able, take the plunge down a set of steep stairs for views that will take your breath away. Signs at the top warn you to stay away from the falls and slippery rocks, though. “People have died here,” it reads.
For an even easier walk, Silver Run Falls is just four miles south of Cashiers and no more than a 1/4-mile walk off Highway 107. Not quite as impressive as Whitewater Falls, it’s still an awesome cascade of 25 feet into a large pool at the bottom without the dire warnings attached. On hot days, that pool can be crowded.
On a winter’s day, you may have to share the waterfalls with another person or two, but you may have them all to yourself. Just you and Mother Nature.
All major waterfalls, such as the aforementioned, as well as Bridal Veil Falls, Cashiers Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Falls and Glen Falls, are marked with forest service signs along the road. For a complete list of all waterfalls and directions, visit mountainlovers.com/waterfalls.
“With the varying elevation and ruggedness of our county, some waterfalls can be more difficult than others to find,” Breedlove notes. “For that reason, sometimes we don’t list all of them in an effort to ensure we keep our visitors on the trail and not bushwhacking to a remote place where it might be best not to wander.”
Rest Your Head
At day’s end, Cashiers offers a range of overnight accommodations, from its one chain hotel, Hampton Inn, a Hilton property, to boutique hotels and short-term vacation rentals at places like Sapphire Valley, a popular ski resort with several restaurants just minutes from downtown Cashiers.
· High Hampton Resort has reopened under the guidance of the Bealle family, owners of the famed Blackberry Inn in Walland, Tenn., who head the hospitality arm at
High Hampton. The resort has long been a favorite, private getaway for Southerners and continues this tradition after reopening in April 2021.
· The Wells Hotel Cashiers has rooms, suites and cabins situated on five acres in the heart of downtown Cashiers with easy access to the only brew pub in town, Whiteside Brewing Co.
· Hotel Cashiers, formerly a roadside motel, has been beautifully transformed into a boutique mountain inn with a shop for wine, artisan meats and cheeses, and gifts, many locally made.