The population of Robbinsville, North Carolina is less than 600 people, so even Downtown Robbinsville feels fairly quiet and sleepy.
Despite its diminutive size, there are an impressive assortment of Robbinsville NC attractions, including riding the Tail of the Dragon Road, seeing the Cheoah Dam (where The Fugitive dam scene was shot), and more.
And while there aren’t a ton of hotels in Robbinsville NC to choose from, the Historic Tapoco Lodge (which is located right on the Cheoah River) is a picture-perfect place for romantic getaways.
During our 3-day stay, their parking lot was often packed with sports cars and motorcycles stopping in for lunch after a morning of driving the Tail of the Dragon and/or the nearby Cherohala Skyway.
Best Things to Do in Robbinsville NC Guide
- Drive the Cherohala Skyway
- Explore Downtown Robbinsville NC
- Hike to Yellow Creek Falls
- Junaluska Memorial & Native American Medicine Trail
- Picnic at Lake Fontana Dam & Visitors Center
- Ride the Tail of the Dragon Road
- Sample Restaurants in Robbinsville NC
- See the Lake Cheoah Dam
- Spend a Day at Lake Santeetlah
- Visit the Historic Tapoco Lodge
1. Drive the Cherohala Skyway
Although it’s not nearly as world-renowned as the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile National Scenic Byway that connects Robbinsville, North Carolina with Tellico Plains, Tennessee.
Its name is a combination of the Cherokee National Forest and Nantahala National Forest, though which the road passes, with myriad scenic overlooks along the way.
This is a spectacularly scenic drive through the Unicoi Mountains, providing access to remote recreation areas such as the Bald River Gorge Wilderness, Citico Creek Wilderness, and Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
The Cherohala Skyway gains more than 4,000 feet in elevation along the way, reaching a high point of around 5,400 near the TN/NC state line before ending near the south shore of Lake Santeetlah.
It’s a great way to see the colors of Fall in North Carolina, with less traffic than the BRP, but fantastic vistas!
2. Explore Downtown Robbinsville
With a total land area of 0.67 square miles and a total population of less than 600 people, Robbinsville NC easily ranks among the smallest of the 50+ Blue Ridge mountain towns we’ve visited in the last 3 years.
We enjoyed exploring the town’s array of restaurants and murals. Especially the ones devoted to the Snowbird Community of Cherokee people, the Tail of the Dragon, and country music legend Ronnie Milsap.
3. Hike to Yellow Creek Falls
But if you’re looking to see a stunning waterfall with very little of the crowds you’ll find at popular spots like Elk River Falls or Crabtree Falls, Yellow Creek Falls is a must-see.
Located off Tapoco Rd in the Nantahala National Forest, the Yellow Creek Falls trail is fairly short (about 1/3-mile each way) and easy.
But note that there are some roots, large rocks, and elevation gain along the way. So those with mobility issues may want to skip this one.
Once you cross the wooden bridge and descend a hill to reach the powerful 50-foot waterfall, the view is well worth the effort. There’s even a decent-sized swimming hole that’s perfect for cooling off in summer.
4. Junaluska Memorial & Native American Medicine Trail
Born near what is now Dillard GA circa 1779, Junaluska was a Cherokee chief who became the hero of Andrew Jackson’s victory at Horseshoe Bend in 1814. He personally recruited 100 Cherokees to fight the Creek Indians.
Sadly, in 1838 he was forced to leave North Carolina on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma, and by some accounts his wife and children died en route. In 1843, Junaluska walked the entire way from Oklahoma back to NC.
In 1847, a special act of the North Carolina State legislature granted him 337 acres in recognition of his actions at Horseshoe Bend. This land was located at Cheoah, and part of it is now occupied by the town of Robbinsville.
The Junaluska Memorial features a plaque placed in 1910 to mark the graves of Junaluska and his wife, which is surrounded by a short iron fence.
Around the grave are paver stones that form a Cherokee 7-pointed star, which is surrounded by granite markers detailing his life.
The site also include a medicine trail with interpretive signs detailing how the Cherokee used native NC plants to heal the sick and wounded. It’s a lovely tribute to the Cherokee legend for whom Lake Junaluska was named.
5. Picnic at the Fontana Dam & Visitors Center
One of our favorite things to do near Robbinsville, the Fontana Dam and Visitors Center offers an impressive array of things to do on the shores of Fontana Lake NC.
You can learn a lot about the history of the lake at the Visitors Center, which has some great exhibits and stairs leading up to an observation platform.
There’s a picnic area with great views of the North Carolina dam, which measures 480 feet high and stretches 2,365 feet across the Little Tennessee River.
Interestingly, the Appalachian Trail in NC goes right across the dam, so you’re likely to see thru-hikers passing by. Fontana Dam also leads to a seldom-used entrance into Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
READ MORE: The 20 Best North Carolina Hiking Trails
6. Ride the Tail of the Dragon Road
Widely regarded as one of the most intense and challenging drives in the USA, the Tail of the Dragon Road is a huge draw for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts.
The Tail of the Dragon is not about breathtaking scenic vistas. It’s a pedal-to-the-metal adrenaline rush of twists, turns, and s-curve switchbacks through the forest.
From there, it’s a white-knuckled ride through 318 curves in 11 miles, with no intersecting roads or driveways to worry about. Just watch your speed in Winter, because ice makes this Dragon more deadly.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Winston Salem NC
7. Sample Restaurants in Robbinsville NC
But as serious foodies (and professional restaurant critics), we made it our mission to find the best places to eat in Robbinsville, and came away impressed.
But our favorite restaurant in Robbinsville was at one of the area’s resorts, the Snowbird Mountain Lodge. Their dining room is a great date night spot, with gorgeous views and an upscale menu. Try the Steak Frites!
8. See the Lake Cheoah Dam
If you’re heading from Downtown Robbinsville to ride the Tail of the Dragon, you’ll have a chance to see multiple angles of the Lake Cheoah Dam.
Arguably the most famous dam in North Carolina, the Cheoah Dam was prominently featured in The Fugitive dam scene, from the 1993 film starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones.
The dam on Lake Cheoah is worth making a quick stop to photograph. It was built on the Little Tennessee River by the Tallassee Power Company in 1916-1919 to provide hydroelectric power.
Cheoah Lake is also a recreational gem in the Smoky Mountains. It’s long (9.5 miles), narrow, and bordered by GSM National Park and Forest Service land, so there’s virtually no development along its shores.
Visit the Llewellyn Branch Boat Ramp, which features an accessible fishing pier and a put-in for anglers who want to fish the lake, which is well-stocked with trout and muskie.
9. Spend a Day at Lake Santeetlah
Every time we drove into Downtown Robbinsville from the Tapoco Lodge, we passed by beautiful Lake Santeetlah.
Located just a few miles west of town and largely surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest, the lake was created to generate hydroelectric power in 1928.
Unlike Lake Cheoah, this reservoir has a small town (Lake Santeetlah NC) with 200+ residences on its shores. But around 80% of its 122 acres are protected forest land, including the gorgeous Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
There are lots of options for outdoor recreation here. You can rent pontoon boats, ski boats, or kayaks at Santeetlah Marina, and go fishing for bass, walleye, bluegill, crappie, bream, and lake trout.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Lakes in North Carolina
10. Visit the Historic Tapoco Lodge
During our time in Robbinsville NC we stayed at the Historic Tapoco Lodge, which encompasses around 120 acres along the beautiful Cheoah River.
Now it’s immensely popular with travelers who come to drive The Tail of the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway. At lunchtime, the parking lot was completely filled with motorcycles, Porsches, Corvettes, Lamborghinis, etc.
The latter has been lovingly restored to its glory days, when it was used as a community center, dance hall, and for going away parties (for local soldiers heading off to World War II).
It was a great place to base ourselves as we explored the jaw-dropping natural beauty that surrounds the tiny town of Robbinsville NC. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted