The town has historically been known as a haven for colorful characters such as bluegrass legend Raymond Fairchild, bootlegger Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, and Deliverance actor Herbert “Cowboy” Coward (who got his start at the Ghost Town theme park).
It’s a homespun sort of town where folksy art galleries and craft stores sit comfortably alongside clogging/square dance venues, country style restaurants, and a motorcycle museum that draws bikers and antique automobile aficionados alike.
But thanks to its proximity to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s also the sort of town where wealthy retirees pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for fancy cabins high up in the surrounding hills.
It’s hard to picture those ritzy retirees attending the annual motorcycle rallies, the Hillbilly Jam (held July 21-23, 2022), or the Smoky Mountains Bluegrass Festival (Oct 29, 2022).
But these and other major Maggie Valley events attract visitors from all across the country.
Read on for our guide to the 10 Best Things to Do in Maggie Valley NC, including Dale’s Wheels Through Time Museum, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, Stompin’ Ground, Soco Falls, and more!
Best Things to Do in Maggie Valley NC Guide
- Dale’s Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum
- Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Enjoy Appalachian Culture at Stompin’ Ground
- Explore Downtown Maggie Valley
- Hit the Slopes at the Cataloochee Ski Area
- See Relics From Ghost Town In The Sky
- Sample the Best Maggie Valley Restaurants
- Take a Guided UTV Tour
- Taste Local Moonshine at Elevated Mountain Distilling Company
- Visit the Spectacular Soco Falls
1. Dale’s Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum
Our first stop in Maggie Valley was Dale’s Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum, which was made famous by TV shows like American Pickers (on the History Channel).
The popular Maggie Valley attraction was founded in 2002 by Dale Walksler, who was known as “The King of Old Motorcycles” for his incredible collection of antique vehicles.
Unfortunately, Dale passed away after a long battle with Cancer in 2021. But before he did he assembled one of the world’s largest collections of rare American motorcycles, memorabilia, and an array of unique “one off” automobiles.
Located 5 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 38,000 square foot museum houses a collection of 350+ rare machines, including vintage bikes from Harley-Davidson, Indian, Excelsior, Yale, Crocker, Flying Merkel, and many more.
The museum is a must-see for anyone with an interest in the evolution of American motorcycling and automotive history.
2. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
Maggie Valley is less than 5 miles east of the Blue Ridge Parkway, so there are numerous great overlooks, hiking trails, and waterfalls that can be easily accessed from the town.
Some of our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks in the area include the Woolyback Overlook (Milepost 452.3), Thunderstruck Ridge Overlook (MP 454.4), Big Witch Overlook (MP 461.9), and the Thomas Divide Overlook (MP 463.9).
Popular Blue Ridge Parkway hikes nearby include the 0.6-mile Waterrock Knob Trail (MP 451.2), the 1.47-mile Richland Balsam Trail (MP 431), and access to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from Soco Gap (MP 455.7 ).
There aren’t as many great Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls in this area as you’ll find in the sections around Asheville. But you could easily tackle Soco Falls (2 miles from the Parkway), Mingo Falls (5 miles), and the 3 Deep Creek waterfalls inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park (11 miles) in one day.
3. Enjoy Appalachian Culture at Stompin’ Ground
I can still remember in 7th grade, when our class was forced to learn square dancing, making fun of it the whole time. Now, 40 years later, I learn I’m related to Haywood County’s Sam Love Queen, “the Square Dance King!”
So it was with a relatively newfound appreciation of traditional Appalachian culture that we attended the recent UCA World Clogging Competition at the legendary Stompin’ Ground Dance Hall in Maggie Valley.
What the Grand Ole Opry is to old-time country and bluegrass music, the Stompin’ Ground is to clogging, square dancing, and other styles of Appalachian dance.
There are exhibits in the lobby about the history of mountain dance, a stage for live music concerts, a massive 60- by 80-foot dance floor, and plenty of seating for those who want to watch (or just catch their breath).
The dance hall features music and dancing every Friday night during the peak summer season, and it’s always easy to find new friends who can help you learn the basic steps.
4. Explore Downtown Maggie Valley
The road is surrounded by massive mountains on both sides, so there is picturesque scenery pretty much every which way you turn.
Some of our favorite Maggie Valley shops include the upscale Cabbage Rose gift shop, the eclectic assortment of items at Maggie Mountaineer Crafts, and the stunning chainsaw sculptures at Mountain Mike’s Whetstone Woodworks.
If you’re looking for a lovely little spot for a picnic, check out the pavilion at Mary Rathbone Rich Park, which also features a tranquil creekside garden with exceptional mountain views.
5. Hit the Slopes at the Cataloochee Ski Area
The Cataloochee Ski area includes 18 different slopes and trails, with a total vertical drop of 740 feet on the property. The vast majority are designed for beginners and intermediate skiers, but there are a few more challenging runs for experts.
They offer ski lessons for newbies, as well as “slow skiing areas” for everyone who’s still trying to master the fine art of staying vertical while sliding down the side of massive North Carolina mountains.
The Cataloochee Ski Area season typically lasts from mid-December through early March, and it’s usually open daily from 9 AM to 10 PM during those months.
6. See Relics From Ghost Town In The Sky
Opened in 1961, Maggie Valley’s Ghost Town In The Sky theme park became the most popular of the Maggie Valley attractions. At its peak, it drew 500,000+ visitors a year and attracted celebrities ranging from Lassie to Burt Reynolds.
By the 1990s, rides started breaking down. After visitors got stuck on the chairlift in 2002, creator R.B. Coburn closed the park and put it up for sale. Millions were spent on renovations after it sold in 2007, but it closed again two years later.
Original co-owner Alaska Presley bought the park back in 2012, with plans to transform it into “Ghost Town Village.” But the gates have been closed to visitors for many years, and Presley passed away in April, 2022.
Now Dave Angel (owner of Elevated Mountain Distilling Company) and a team of investors are trying to reopen a reimagined Ghost Town. But there are some locals who want it to stay closed permanently, despite the tourism revenue and much-needed jobs the redesigned park could bring to Haywood County.
The gates have been closed to visitors for many years, and Angel has to call the local Sheriff regularly to run off trespassers who break in to steal souvenirs and spray graffiti.
But the parking lot at the corner of Fie Top Rd and Soco Rd allows you to get a close-up look at the park’s old train, stagecoach, ski lift, and a stone memorial to the famous actors who appeared there (including Reynolds, Bonanza‘s Dan Blocker, and Lost in Space star Veronica Cartwright). It’s a glimpse of what was, and what could be again.
7. Sample the Best Maggie Valley Restaurants
Our favorite restaurants in Maggie Valley included the farm-fresh breakfast of The Chef & the Baker, the down-home Southern cooking of The Valley House (which reminded me of my Tennessee-bred Granny’s cooking), and the upscale Italian fare of Cafe Italiano Restaurant & Pizzeria (a great place for a romantic dinner in Maggie Valley).
We also enjoyed the creative assortment of pancakes at Joey’s Pancake House (a local favorite since 1966), the excellent Po Boy and barbecue sandwich we had at Pop’s Place Biscuits, Burgers & BBQ, and the Appalachian Flatbread at the BearWaters Brewing Company (which has two breweries in Haywood County).
We’ve also heard excellent things about the luxury dining experience at The Swag, an all-inclusive Maggie Valley resort, but their restaurant appears to be for guests only.
8. Take a Guided UTV Tour
Despite its rather nondescript name, Scenic Tours & Rentals in Maggie Valley offers a variety of excellent ways to explore the lesser-traveled roads of the Smoky Mountains around Haywood County NC.
In addition to renting Jeeps, Slingshots, and UTVs, they also offer half- and full-day guided tours led by co-owner Bryan Hickman, who is part Cherokee and grew up in the area.
Our wild UTV tour took us along hidden backroads and portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway, with lots of scenic stops and tales about Cherokee history and culture along the way.
Some of our favorite stops included the Thomas Divide Overlook, a gorgeous trout fishing stream in the Qualla Boundary (a.k.a. Cherokee Reservation), and spotting 8 Elk in the middle of the Oconaluftee River.
It’s a great way to explore a rarely-seen side of the region. But the open vehicle and dirt/gravel roads make it a VERY dusty experience, so dress accordingly!
9. Taste Local Moonshine at Elevated Mountain Distilling Company
But in recent years, there has also been a rapid rise in distilleries, especially since moonshine was legalized. In fact, North Carolina’s Piedmont Distillers became America’s first legal moonshine distillery (since the Prohibition era) in 2005.
Haywood County’s Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, a long-time bootlegger made famous by the TV show Moonshiners, was a local legend whose penchant for illegal distilling led to countless run-ins with the law.
Although Popcorn passed away in 2009, his legacy lives on at the Elevated Mountain Distilling Company, a craft distiller of premium, small-batch whiskeys and spirits.
Owned by 3rd generation whiskey-makers Dave and Sue Angel, the 11,000 square foot Maggie Valley distillery includes barrel storage, a bottling area, product development/quality control lab, and gift shop.
There’s also a full bar, and a stage in front of the distilling area where live concerts are held. They primarily focus on rock and bluegrass music, picking up where local legend Raymond Fairchild’s Maggie Valley Opry House left off.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Waynesville NC
10. Visit the Spectacular Soco Falls
Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, less than 6 miles west of Maggie Valley, Soco Falls is consistently ranked among the best waterfalls near Asheville NC.
It’s actually a pair of twin waterfalls that tumble over rocky cliffs and join together in a pool surrounded by mossy boulders, and it delivers remarkable ROI for a very short hike.
There’s two ways to see Soco Falls. The easy trail is just a short foot path located right off US-19, leading down to an observation deck that’s for perfect for viewing the falls from a slight distance.
More hardy and adventurous hikers can also take a somewhat steep trail that descends from the deck directly to the bottom of the falls. Note that the short trail down tends to be very muddy, with slippery roots and stones.
But there are ropes to hold onto as you carefully make your way, and the view from the bottom is totally worth the effort.
Where to Stay in Maggie Valley NC
“A Creek Runs Through It” Rental Cabin
Our home base for our time in Maggie Valley was the gorgeously appointed 3BR/2BA cabin, “A Creek Runs Through It.”
The spacious cabin was aptly named: Our favorite feature was the vintage water wheel house and rushing creek that runs right under the bridge on the driveway!
In the elegantly designed interior you’ll find a brand spanking new kitchen with all the modern appliances, newly remodeled bathrooms, and new fixtures, floors, and furnishings.
The king sized master bedroom was so cozy we didn’t want to leave, with a 4-nozzle shower in the en suite bathroom. The two queen sized bedrooms and expansive living room make this a great rental for families.
Outside you’ll find a porch swing and a huge hot tub, from which you can hear the sounds of the rushing creek below.
And it’s all just a few miles from the heart of Maggie Valley, on the same road that leads to the Cataloochee Ski Resort. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted