What Chapel Hillians Will Love About Jackson County, N.C.

    Durham Mag's Amanda MacLaren headed out west with photographer Beth Mann to explore unfamiliar territory with an eye for Chapel Hill.

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    Photo by Beth Mann

    We took a weekend trip to explore parts of Cashiers, Sylva and Dillsboro. While it definitely felt like a retreat to the mountains, we couldn’t help but draw comparisons between some of these locales and our town. So, here are some tips for your next trip to this remote, idyllic western region.

    IF YOU DRINK BEER AT STEEL STRING BREWERY

    Grab a pint at Innovation Brewing in downtown Sylva. Located along the Jackson County Ale Trail, there are more than 30 beers on tap, with 12 year-round staples. Like Steel String, they showcase a large number of seasonal and experimental batches – like the Peach-A-Peno Pale Ale, but we also enjoyed the Hoppy Camper IPA if you’re looking for a more traditional style – and also host live music from time to time. We listened to Asheville band The Build as folks enjoyed late-night burgers from the permanent food cart stationed in the beer garden, Cosmic Carry-out.

    IF YOU’RE A FAN OF BOTH LA BOUTIQUE LANE AND THE ROOT CELLAR

    Imagine if they were spliced together – you’d have Buck’s Coffee Café. It’s all the cozy comforts of home, plus some goods by local artisans for sale combined with a quick, grab-and-go coffee, breakfast and lunch counter. The line was out the door by the time we ordered our breakfast and iced coffee before heading to Lake Glenville. Speaking of …

    IF YOU’RE AT HOME ON CANE CREEK RESERVOIR OR JORDAN LAKE

    Ally Titsworth and her niece, Lily Palmer, 6,
    with Peaches after the llama race that wrapped
    up the hike at High Hampton Resort.

    You’re going to want to visit Lake Glenville. At 3,500 feet above sea level, it’s one of the highest lakes east of the Mississippi River. Rent a pontoon boat for your group at Signal Ridge Marina and explore its 26 miles of shoreline, seven islands and three scenic waterfalls – Mill Creek Falls, Norton Falls and Hurricane Falls.

    IF THE KIDS ADORE THE BARNYARD AT MAPLE VIEW FARM

    Consider staying at High Hampton Resort. A destination for visitors for nearly 100 years (before that, it started as the location of the Hampton family retreat in the 1830s) complete with a golf course, private lake, tennis and dining that locals rave about, High Hampton is a special place in its own right. But seasonally, the resort also offers llama hikes over the weekends with Mark English, who brings his herd of llamas for kids (and kids at heart) to lead on a picturesque hike around the resort and to the base of Rock Mountain.

    IF YOU EAT LUNCH ON MERRITT’S PATIO THREE TIMES A WEEK …

    Head to Cornucopia, “Cashiers’ Favorite Porch,” for lunch. Folks dining at this outdoor, deli-style restaurant have their tried-and-true favorites – the Arabian Club and “Wade Hampton’s Downfall,” for instance, much like our own signature, the BLT at Merritt’s. It also has a storied history reminiscent of the classic BLT spot’s iterations as a gas station and convenience store. The land where Cornucopia now sits was purchased for $27 in 1892, and has been a general store, school, post office and tack shop. 

    IF YOU SPEND YOUR SUMMERS AT FRIDAYS ON THE FRONT PORCH, WEAVER STREET MARKET AND SOUTHERN VILLAGE CONCERTS

    Pack a light picnic and wine and bring your lawn chairs and blankets to Groovin’ On the Green, the Friday night summer concert series at The Village Green Commons in the center of Cashiers. Now in its ninth season, the music brings out locals and visitors alike, and leashed dogs are welcome, too.

    IF ROOST BEER GARDEN IS YOUR GO-TO FOR MEALS WITH THE KIDS …

    Whiteside Brewing Co. has ample indoor and outdoor space to gather with little ones, plus a lawn far away from the road where youngsters can run about freely while parents enjoy “Mountain Life in a Glass” from a choice of six regular taps and a seventh seasonal draft created by German-born brewmaster Dieter Kuhn. While there’s no pizza on the menu – nor a Beltie in sight – there’s counter service with a large variety of wings, soup, salads, sandwiches, burgers and more. The Italian sandwich was our favorite.

    IF YOU’VE BEEN DINING AT ELMO’S SO LONG YOU’VE LOST TRACK OF THE YEARS …

    Definitely try Zookeeper Bistro. They serve traditional hot breakfasts, plus soup, salads and sandwiches, in a small operation where the owner is running around filling up your coffee cup every chance she gets. The kids will adore the chocolate chip multigrain pancakes, and the adults can pick from a variety of eggs Benedict, among other classic breakfast choices.

    Breakfast at Zookeeper Bistro.

    IF PEACEFUL RIVER FARM’S FARM DINNERS ARE YOUR JAM …

    We’ll be honest: We got lost trying to find The Barn. Probably because it is high, high up on a mountaintop in Cullowhee where you’re lucky if you find even a gravel road. But it is one of those places where you feel like you step outside of the world as it is now, and into a simpler time – like the Biltmore commercials, but more realistic. Kristin Jorgensen works out of the barn that her grandparents restored and lived in for 30 years – she bought the property three years ago and lives there now – where she teaches cooking classes and creative workshops, and hosts intimate gatherings like the farm-fresh dinner she prepared for us, accompanied by The String Breakers playing into the night.

    Kristin Jorgensen and the farm-fresh offerings
    at The Barn.

    IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A SLIGHTLY MORE CHALLENGING HIKE THAN OCCONEECHEE MOUNTAIN OFFERS …

    Hike Whiteside Mountain in the Nantahala National Forest. It has the highest vertical cliffs in the eastern United States, but the elevation is pretty gradual. Still, the peak towers over the valley below at its nearly 5,000-foot crest, making for spectacular views and photo ops. 

    IF YOU JUST WANNA SEE A WATERFALL …

    Jackson County is full of them. But, Silver Run Falls takes the cake. Just a few minutes from Whiteside Mountain, jump in the cool waters of the swimming hole at the bottom of the 25-foot waterfall after you’ve worked up a sweat on your hike.

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    Amanda MacLaren is the senior associate editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Ariz., she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill to major in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for four years now and currently resides in the Watts-Hillandale neighborhood with her partner, Evan, and two cats, Georgie and Leo. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Chubby’s.