The first was to explore the countless Blue Ridge Mountain towns in-depth, and share all our favorite things we experienced while rediscovering the simple pleasures of small town Americana.
The second was to find our future home in the region by narrowing down the small towns we might want to live in.
From the very first day we arrived in Bryson City NC, we knew that we could live there.
Offering a rich mixture of nature (see: the Great Smokies, waterfalls, and the Tuckasegee River), culture (Appalachian and Native American), and history, the tiny town of around 1,800 residents offers a lot of things to do.
We also loved the myriad accommodations options. From rental cabins and historic inns to upscale lofts located right in the heart of town, there are an array of great places to stay in Bryson City NC.
Read on for our review of the Oconaluftee Loft (where we stayed), which is part of the “Aloft In The Smokies” stable and offered stunning sunrise views as we sipped morning coffee from the La Dolce Vita Coffeehouse.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC & Swain County
Aloft In The Smokies Info
ADDRESS: 115A Everett St, Bryson City NC 28713
OFFICE HOURS: N/A
EMAIL: [email protected]
DIRECTIONS FROM CHEROKEE NC
From downtown Cherokee NC, head south on US-441 S toward US-19 S.
Make a right on US-19 S/US-441 S and follow it for 9.9 miles to Downtown Bryson City.
Turn right onto Everett St, and the destination will be on the left in approximately 0.1 miles.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Cherokee NC Restaurants for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Aloft In The Smokies offers six different lofts in the heart of downtown Bryson City NC, all of which feature cabin-style decor with an upscale twist.
Each of their Bryson City rentals features one King-sized bedroom suite, one Queen-sized bedroom suite, a dining room, efficiency kitchen (including modern appliances), spacious living area, and two full bathrooms.
Designed to sleep 4 people, the lofts also include wooden floors, large flat-screen TVs, free Wifi and parking, Kuerig coffeemakers, organic toiletries, and a washer and dryer.
Four of the 6 rentals are located right above McClanahan’s Collectibles, a general store that’s home to some of the best shopping in Bryson City. Like Aloft In The Smokies, it’s owned by Rollon and Sherry Smith.
The Smiths personally handpicked all the stylish furniture and decor in both their lofts and the store, shopping at markets in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Georgia.
We stayed in their Oconaluftee Loft, which is named after the river that runs through the neighboring mountain town of Cherokee NC. It’s located in a historic building at the edge of the downtown area.
But, like the other lofts, it offers close proximity to all the best Bryson City restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions (including the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad).
READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabin Rentals in Bryson City NC
Aloft In The Smokies History
Although the Smiths didn’t purchase the property at 115 Everett Street until 2007, the building that houses McClanahan’s Collectibles and the four original Aloft In The Smokies rentals dates back more than 50 years.
The 4,000-square-foot structure was originally home to a Sossamon Furniture Co. store, then it eventually became a room-divided real estate office building.
During the redesign, Rollon Smith and his crew chose to keep the skeleton of the historic building intact, including its high ceilings and original hardwood floors.
But they knocked down the interior walls that divided the offices to give the space a more open and welcoming appeal.
Then they packed it to the gills with an impressive array of upscale rustic furniture, log cabin-style decor, women’s and men’s clothing, jewelry, and accessories.
It wasn’t a surprise to learn that the Smiths also offer interior decorating services. Their impeccable taste and surprisingly competitive prices made McClanahan’s Collectibles our favorite place to shop in Bryson City!
As for the lodge-like lofts themselves, the couple removed the original ceilings of the second floor to create a loft space for a second bedroom and bathroom where the attic used to be.
Brick walls and hardwood floors and ceilings are complemented by wooden doors, moulding, and furniture, open-hearth fireplaces, modern stainless steel appliances, and charming woodsy accents.
Black bears, birds, and other NC wildlife are a common decorative theme. My favorite piece was a custom-carved dining room table and chairs that featured a mama bear and her 3 cubs in a lush forest setting.
The overall vibe of the place was like having posh mountain cabins in the heart of downtown Bryson City, with all of the small town’s best attractions and restaurants within a 10-minute walk.
READ MORE: The 10 Best North Carolina Distilleries to Visit
The Oconluftee Loft
One of the Smiths’ newest Bryson City rentals, the Oconaluftee Loft is located in a 2-story building at the corner of Everett St and Water St.
The bottom level of the historic building is occupied by Smith & Company Accountants. It’s one of a half-dozen businesses the family owns in Downtown Bryson City, including the Loose Moose gift shop and Humanité Boutique.
The loft is located on the second level, and formerly served as an apartment for the Smiths’ daughter and son-in-law while they were waiting for their house to be built nearby.
The family spared no expense in their renovation of the space, which is considerably larger than my 2-bedroom townhome.
The open floor plan, with high cathedral-style wooden ceilings, is truly breathtaking on first view.
The upscale natural wood decor really made it feel like a swanky Bryson City cabin rental, with the dark hardwood floors and original brick walls offset by lighter cabinets and furniture.
The sofas and rocking chairs made the expansive living area a comfy place to lounge and work. The pillow-top mattress on the massive Master suite’s King-sized bed was so cozy, it would’ve been tempting to laze in bed all day.
The loft bedroom upstairs was a bit smaller, but the bed was equally comfy. Unfortunately, because I’m 6’2″ tall, the sloped ceiling of the upstairs bathroom made it feel slightly cramped for me.
The master bath, on the other hand, was truly ginormous, with dual sinks, shower, a huge closet/changing area, and a washer/dryer combo that was much-appreciated after a few long days on the local hiking trails.
But our favorite aspect of the Oconaluftee Loft was the private porch, which offered exceptional views of downtown Bryson City and the surrounding North Carolina Mountains.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Hotels & Cabin Rentals in NC & VA
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
If there’s a single “must-do” when you visit Bryson City NC, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is it. And the train depot is located just two blocks south of the Oconaluftee Loft!
The railroad runs a 53-mile track between Dillsboro and Andrews NC that was completed in 1890, taking riders through the prettiest parts of the Great Smoky Mountains (including along Lake Fontana and the Nantahala River).
There are packed lunches available, as well as a food car fully stocked with coffee, snacks, craft beer, and more.
The train ride was by far our favorite thing to do in Bryson City. So much so that we can’t wait to return in a few months to experience their Polar Express Christmas train.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Christmas Towns in North Carolina
Hike to 3 Deep Creek Waterfalls
If you love relatively easy hiking trails to spectacular waterfalls, the Deep Creek area offers an excellent day of adventure less than 9 miles from downtown Bryson City.
The gentle, well-maintained Deep Creek Loop Trail offers 3 fantastic waterfalls in just over 2 miles, including the tiny Juney Whank Falls, tall and skinny Tom Branch Falls, and the wide cascades of Indian Creek Falls.
We enjoying hiking the Deep Creek Trail in late spring, when there were lots of wildflowers along the way as well as beautiful birds and butterflies in the forest.
But if you’re planning on visiting Deep Creek on a weekend, or when North Carolina’s fall colors begin to peak, get there early (i.e. before 10 AM) if you want to avoid the masses.
READ MORE: Hiking the Deep Creek Trail to 3 Waterfalls in Bryson City NC
Whitewater Rafting on the Nantahala River
Located 14 miles southwest of downtown Bryson City, the Nantahala Outdoor Center is a great place to try white water rafting for the first time.
The Nantahala River is very gentle compared to other rivers we’ve rafted (including the New River in WV, the Chattahoochee and Chattooga in GA, and the Ocoee River in TN), with easy Class I-II rapids.
The scenery is simply spectacular, with majestic mountains, gorgeous wildflowers, and numerous million dollar cabins along the way. I’d done this trip back in the 1990s, and it was even more fun the second time.
The NOC also has an expansive play area for kids, a world-class Olympic kayaking course, excellent riverside restaurants, and a gear shop.
READ MORE: Kayaking in North Carolina: The 10 Best Rivers to Paddle
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
If you’re interested in exploring the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City makes an excellent base from which to do it.
In addition to the aforementioned Deep Creek waterfalls, the town is less than 15 miles from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, where you can learn about Appalachian history at the Mountain Farm Museum.
It’s less than a mile from there to Mingus Mill, another great historical attraction. And an additional 22-mile drive through the national park will take you to popular hotspots such as Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome.
For a less crowded experience, make the 8.6-mile drive northwest of town to visit “the Road to Nowhere.”
It offers jaw-dropping overlooks of Fontana Lake (one of our favorite lakes in North Carolina) and ends at a graffiti-covered tunnel that leads to… well, nowhere. We’ll have a story on this unique attraction coming soon… –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted