Autumn and Winter: The Smokies
Are you looking for a new experience for your groups, perhaps steeped in homegrown mountain heritage? Take them to Haywood County, North Carolina.
"Haywood County is in a fun, convenient and breathtaking location for group tours," said Ron Bower, CTA, CTIS, group sales manager for the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. "We are the quiet side of the Smokies, home to three national parks, a thriving elk population, great local shopping and dining, breweries, theaters and scenic beauty that is unmatched."
The North Carolina Smoky Mountains are immersed in Appalachian tradition and true Southern hospitality. Haywood County's central location serves as the ideal base for exploring the area's breathtaking scenery and experiencing the homespun hospitality of the North Carolina Smokies.
No matter the time of year, you'll discover a unique way to explore the area's cultural roots—with plenty of heritage hotspots at the ready. "Haywood County's biggest highlight," said Bower, "is that we are open year-round."
The autumn months are a beautiful time for groups to visit Haywood County, where the spectacular seasonal foliage of the Smoky Mountains, a host of great events and that good ol' Southern hospitality are without compare. "Fall is simply glorious in the North Carolina Smokies," Bower said. "Our fall foliage is not to be missed, with colors popping all October."
High Country Quilt Show, Maggie Valley Fall Arts and Crafts Festival, Apple Harvest Festival and other events are chock-full of fun. Barbers Orchard offers a taste of the season with homemade apple cider and baked goods, and "the best apples in the Smokies."
"Don't miss a chance to see the foliage as you golf on one of five year-round courses, or take a horseback ride or have an authentic meal at Cataloochee Ranch," said Bower. Cataloochee Ranch offers experiences and remarkable views at 5,000 feet up Fie Top Mountain. For even more fall adventure, take a run at the Cold Mountain Corn Maze.
Holidays in the Blue Ridge: There's nothing quite like it. Groups might celebrate The Night Before Christmas on Waynesville's Main Street, complete with carolers, holiday shopping, hot chocolate and a visit from Santa Claus. For a traditional holiday experience, enjoy an Appalachian Christmas at Lake Junaluska.
Indoors where it's cozy, groups could appreciate the Balsam Range Winter Concert Series at the Colonial Theatre in Canton, hosted by the renowned bluegrass band Balsam Range. And of course, there's the great Southern outdoors.
"Winter is a wonderful time in the North Carolina Smokies," said Bower. "Cataloochee Ski resort offers the longest ski season in the South, with slopes at 5,000-plus feet elevation." In February, groups could experience Winterfest Smoky Style. Year-round, they could enjoy the holidays at Cabbage Rose and Christmas is ... Everyday.
Nature Throughout the Year
Whatever the season and whenever your group travels, the Tourism Development Authority notes, Haywood County offers incredible wildlife, amazing views, and scenic hiking. At Buffalo Creek Vacations, buffalo truly roam the 65-acre "little piece of heaven" tucked away in the mountains. If you tour Maggie Valley, your group may hear elk bugling as they roam through town.
Tour the Haywood County Quilt Trails for a unique sightseeing experience. The Quilt Trail tells a bit of Haywood County history through colorful, meaningful, vibrant quilt squares installed on barns, public buildings, shops and other structures around the community. A trip to the area wouldn't be complete without touring the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Pisgah National Forest.
"The group leaders I've met with were very excited to have a new and unique place to bring tour groups, because of the scenic beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, our incredible hospitality and our unique hands-on experiences," said Bowers. Many area museums offer history coming to life, with live portrayals of the people and places featured. Restaurants are giving cooking demonstrations. Breweries are showing guests the process of beer making—as well as sampling the brews—and lodging accommodations are hosting VIP receptions.
"We are fortunate in Haywood County to craft many unique experiences that will entice tour planners to bring groups here."
Written by Matt Poe, owner of IHN Publishing and a freelance writer from Michigan.
Photo courtesy of Haywood County TDA.