The 10 Best Things To Do in Robbinsville NC & Graham County

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Located near the southern shores of Lake Santeetlah, the small town of Robbinsville NC is utterly unlike most of the 50+ Blue Ridge Mountain towns we’ve visited over the last 3 years. 

The population of Robbinsville, North Carolina is less than 600 people, so even Downtown Robbinsville feels fairly quiet and sleepy.

Much like Hot Springs NC, the town is isolated near the Tennessee border, where it’s surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest and bordered by Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

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. 

Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Robbinsville NC and Graham County, including our favorite hiking trails, lakes, scenic driving routes, waterfalls, and more.

READ MORE: 20 Best Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina


Best Things to Do in Robbinsville NC Guide

(Listed alphabetically)

  1. Drive the Cherohala Skyway
  2. Explore Downtown Robbinsville NC
  3. Hike to Yellow Creek Falls
  4. Junaluska Memorial & Native American Medicine Trail
  5. Picnic at Lake Fontana Dam & Visitors Center
  6. Ride the Tail of the Dragon Road
  7. Sample Restaurants in Robbinsville NC
  8. See the Lake Cheoah Dam
  9. Spend a Day at Lake Santeetlah
  10. Visit the Historic Tapoco Lodge

READ MORE: The 25 Best Places to Visit in North Carolina

Driving the Cherohala Skyway in Robbinsville NC
Driving the Cherohala Skyway in Autumn, photo via Canva

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!

READ MORE: The 20 Best Overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Fall

Country Music Legend Ronnie Milsap Mural in Downtown Robbinsville NC
Country Music Legend Ronnie Milsap Mural

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.

Located 21 miles east of the Tennessee border, the sleepy town was founded in 1874, and remains the county seat of Graham County NC

This little town is big on charm and hospitality, with friendly people and a downtown area surrounded by lakes, rivers, and natural beauty.

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.

Hiking the Yellow Creek Falls Trail in Robbinsville NC
Yellow Creek Falls

3. Hike to Yellow Creek Falls

When it comes to breathtaking North Carolina waterfalls, Robbinsville doesn’t have nearly as many as towns like Boone and Brevard NC.

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. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Smoky Mountain Waterfalls to Visit

Junaluska Memorial and Native American Medicine Trail in Robbinsville NC
Junaluska Memorial and Native American Medicine Trail

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 Cherokee people 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.

READ MORE: The Moon Eyed People & Other Cherokee Legends

AT Hiker at Fontana Dam Visitor Center near Robbinsville NC
AT Hiker at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center

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.

Constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority from 1942-44, the dam was named for the town of Fontana, a lumber and copper mining hub that was submerged by the creation of Fontana Lake. 

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

Riding the Tail of the Dragon in Robbinsville NC
Riding the Tail of the Dragon Road

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. 

Starting at Deals Gap near the state line dividing North Carolina and Tennessee, the road (which is part of US 129) cuts through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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.

It begins near the Cheoah Dam at the intersection of US 129 and NC 28, where the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort and the Tail of the Dragon Store offer lots of great souvenirs and photo opps. 

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

snowbird mountain lodge dining room, one of the best restaurants in robbinsville NC
Photo courtesy Snowbird Mountain Lodge Dining Room

7. Sample Restaurants in Robbinsville NC

As a relatively tiny town, the options for Robbinsville NC restaurants aren’t as plentiful or diverse as you’ll find in places like Brevard or Bryson City

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. 

If you’re looking for Italian food, check out Cafe de Olla Italian Restaurant (try the Little Italy Combo) and Papa’s Pizza to Go (which also has franchises in Blairsville and Ellijay GA). 

For simple American food fare, try the hearty sandwiches and salads at Lynn’s Place or the fantastic slow-roasted meats from T. Dubbs BBQ food truck.

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! 

READ MORE:  The 7 Best Restaurants in Franklin NC & Macon County

Closeup photo of Lake Cheoah Dam in Robbinsville NC (a.k.a. The Fugitive Dam)
Lake Cheoah Dam (a.k.a. The Fugitive Dam)

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.

READ MORE: 30 Fun Facts About Appalachian Scots-Irish History & Culture

Lake Santeetlah in Robbinsville NC, one of the most beautiful lakes in North Carolina
Wildflowers on Lake Santeetlah

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.

The beach at the Cheoah Point Recreation Area is great for swimming, and there plenty of picnic tables and grills. They also have lovely campgrounds with RV sites and cabins available to rent. 

READ MORE: The 20 Best Lakes in North Carolina

The Historic Tapoco Lodge on the Cheoah River in Robbinsville NC
The Historic Tapoco Lodge on the Cheoah River

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.

The mountain resort property was formerly home to the town of Tapoco, which was founded in 1913 to provide housing for workers who constructed hydroelectric dams on the nearby lakes.

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.

This lodge is home to two restaurants, a bar, 9 lodge suites, 18 rental cabins (two of which are dog-friendly), and the Tapoco Tin Can Theater.

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

Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

The BRMTG was created by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, the award-winning team behind the world-renowned responsible travel website Green Global Travel. Born and raised in North Georgia, Editor-In-Chief Bret Love grew up hiking and camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his family. A professional writer/editor since 1995, he's covered travel and culture for 100+ publications, including American Way, Destination Marriott, Georgia Travel Guide, National Geographic, and Southbound. In 2010 he co-founded the award-winning website, Green Global Travel, which is ranked among the world's top travel blogs. Since launching BRMTG in 2020, he and Mary Gabbett have visited 50+ Blue Ridge Mountain towns together. Though she lived in NYC for 14 years, photographer/Business Manager Mary Gabbett's family has Georgia roots dating back 200+ years. Her great-grandfather was President of the Western Railroad of Alabama. Before moving to Atlanta in 1989, she fell in love with the North GA mountains, where her aunt owned a cabin. In 2010 she co-founded Green Global Travel, and has since traveled to more than 40 countries on six continents. Her photos have appeared in numerous travel publications (including National Geographic and Southbound) and various textbooks.