I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
January 24, 2018
Just 30 minutes from Asheville, Maggie Valley has all the ingredients for a fun-filled family vacation in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains. Check out my tips for the perfect winter weekend vacation!
I’m a sucker for a good winter vacation. I love holing up with my family in a cozy cabin where I can enjoy a good book and a glass of wine in front of a roaring fire. I love taking winter walks through a snowy forest. I love skiing and snow tubing. And I love warming up to steaming biscuits and savory sausage inside a quaint family restaurant. Fortunately, I’ve just found a place that has all these things and more — Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Tucked away in the scenic Smoky Mountains, this tiny town is big on charm and panoramic scenery, even in the winter months. Follow these tips and I can promise you a Maggie Valley winter vacation you and your family will never forget.
If you love to ski, you are in luck, my friend. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed Maggie Valley’s Cataloochee Ski Area. I’m sure the ski runs get crowded during peak weekends, but on the mid-January Friday we visited, it wasn’t too busy at all. This matters, because it meant the snow was powdery, there was room to ski without running into anyone, and the lift line was never more than five minutes long! As anyone who’s skied in North Carolina knows, a five-minute lift line is EVERYTHING.
Cataloochee Ski Area is also a perfect place for your kids to learn to ski. Choose from either private lessons or group classes — Both are available throughout the day. I especially loved the CAT Trackers program for kids between the ages of 4 and 12. You can sign them up for a half day or full day of class for a very reasonable price that includes gear rental, lift ticket, and a lunch or snack. This gives your kids an opportunity to learn the ropes while you and your partner ski the mountain.
One tip: On busier days, consider buying tickets and renting all your ski gear at the Cataloochee rental facility at the bottom of the mountain. The lines can get long at the top– Renting at the bottom could save you a whole lot of waiting time!
As much as we loved skiing, our favorite activity was Tube World. We had a blast racing each other down a snow-covered hill, and while plenty of people showed up to tube alongside us, the lines moved very quickly. This is a perfect family activity for children and adults of all ages, and you really shouldn’t miss it if you’re in Maggie Valley during the winter months.
No shame, people. No shame.
Maggie Valley enjoys plenty of temperate days even in the winter months — As long as there’s not too much snow on the ground, Maggie Valley Golf & Resort is open for business, offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. You can also opt to stay at the resort during your Maggie Valley vacation. Two and three-bedroom condos with golf course views are available to rent.
Soco Falls is just a few minutes from downtown Maggie Valley, and it’s a quick walk from the parking area on the side of the road. While short, the path to the falls is steep and slippery and probably best for older children. You’ll find Soco Falls on US Highway 19, 1.5 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Look for the fencing along the side of the road. You’ll find the trail down to the falls at the point where the fencing ends.
Elk were reintroduced in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park back in 2001. Today, the herd is more than 150 strong — and one of the best places to see them is just a few minutes away from Maggie Valley! You’ll find them in the Cataloochee Valley, accessible at the park entrance on Cove Creek Road. The best time to spot elk is in the morning and at sunset and they tend to be harder to spot in the winter time — but even if you don’t see any elk, this stretch of park land is gorgeous and includes nine historic buildings. The Rough Fork Trail is a good option — It’s a two-mile roundtrip hike that will take you to the historic Woody House.
Be sure and check the park website to make sure Cove Creek Road is accessible during your winter visit. The road is narrow, steep, and paved with gravel. For more information, check out this handy elk watching guide from Visit NC Smokies.
There was a lot of snow on the ground during our Maggie Valley visit, so many of the area’s wonderful hiking options were off limits. Fortunately, we were able to make the trek to Purchase Knob, a stunning meadow at the top of a mountain within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This hike was my favorite part of the trip.
To get there, you’ll head to the Appalachian Highlands Science Center. When you reach the gate for the center, you’re advised to park outside it, even if it’s open — The Science Center is for researchers and doesn’t have set hours — A Visitors Center employee told us that when researchers leave, they close the gate after them, no matter the time of day.
You’ll cover the last mile of the road on foot — It’s uphill the entire way and honestly, I thought my kids were going to mutiny! I’m so glad we soldiered on — When you get to the fields at the top of the road, it’s absolutely beautiful. Once my children made it to the top, their tired legs and sulky attitudes were completely forgotten and they had the time of their lives.
We opted to take the trail to the historic Ferguson Cabin, which my kids loved because you can actually go inside the cabin. They spent quite a bit of time here playing.
Afterward, we continued on into the woods, where the kids had fun trying to navigate a portion of the trail where the creek had run over onto it and then frozen solid.
Once you’ve seen the cabin, head back to the field and take the road on up to the Science Center. You’ll have to do a bit more hill climbing, but the views at the top are spectacular and well worth the walk.
If you have small kids or the higher elevation roads are too slippery to navigate, you can still enjoy the outdoors at nearby Lake Junaluska, a beautiful Methodist mountain retreat that’s open to the public. A 3.8 mile walking trail winds around the lake — You can shorten it to 2.3 miles by crossing over the lake at the Turbeville footbridge. We took the conference drive to the parking lot at this beautiful little church, where we found a prayer labyrinth. The kids loved it and spent a good amount of time here walking the winding path before we got onto the lake trail itself.
The lake was partially frozen and filled with water birds enjoying the sunny day. As we began our walk, I noticed a large bird sitting on the frozen portion of the lake. “Is that a… bald eagle?” I asked. It was! Several bird watchers along the trail confirmed that this was one of a pair of eagles that have recently been spotted around Lake Junaluska. Locals are hoping they’ll decide to make a nest here. When we got back to our cabin, we found an article in the local paper about this very eagle! I felt so lucky to have spotted it!
There are lots more hiking options in the Maggie Valley area — Check out this list of Maggie Valley hiking trails to see them.
Sure you can stay in one of Maggie Valley’s hotels — There are plenty to choose from and they’re very convenient — but with so many great cabin rentals to choose from, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity!
We went nuts for our 3-bedroom cabin nestled among the Christmas tree-covered hills at Boyd Mountain Log Cabins & Tree Farm. Our roomy and comfortable cabin, built in the 1890s, was outfitted with everything we could possibly need (including cable TV and wi-fi!) and the views outside our windows were spectacular. I loved that our cabin felt remote, but in reality was just minutes away from downtown Maggie Valley.
Whether you’re looking for a bed and breakfast, cabin, resort, or RV hookup, Maggie Valley has got you covered. Here’s a full list of Maggie Valley lodging options.
With all the outdoor activities available, you’re sure to work up a healthy appetite during your Maggie Valley vacay. Lucky for you, this town has plenty of restaurants that will leave you feeling full and happy.
Maggie Valley has a lock on great breakfast restaurants, so we ended up having a big breakfast each morning and skipping lunch altogether. We found Pop himself dishing up breakfast at Pop’s Place — His biscuits are to die for and the corned beef hash was smoky, savory, and delicious. My sons’ kids meal was big enough to satisfy a full grown man. As for the fried grits, well, you just have to see them for yourself.
I’m Southern born and bred, but I’ve never seen grits like this before! The kids were in awe. And yes, these grits taste as good as they look.
You’ll also want to make time for the cozy Country Vittles Restaurant. We opted for the popular all-you-can-eat breakfast. A waitress brought scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, milk gravy, baked apples, bacon, sausage, and biscuits to our table and refilled as needed. I felt like I was at Grandma’s house — The scrambled eggs were buttery and perfectly cooked, the fried potatoes were wonderfully crisp, and the baked apples tasted just like an apple pie without the crust. So, so good.
You’ll find a solid breakfast and lunch menu at Maggie Valley Restaurant, but what really stood out to us here were the desserts. The cobblers are homemade and the white chocolate creamsicle cake was fantastic. This place has been here since 1952, so they must be doing something right!
And whatever you do, make plans to stop by Moo Mountain Bakery at some point during your Maggie Valley stay. This brand new bakery has off the chain AMAZING baked goods. I have a husband who is bakery obsessed and must visit at least one on every trip we take so trust me on this one. While everything we tried was delicious, the salted caramel brownies are fall-down-in-the-middle-of-the-street FANTASTIC.
When I spotted J. Arthur’s Restaurant on Maggie Valley’s main drag, I was immediately drawn to it. “We need to go there,” I told my husband, despite the fact that I had read absolutely nothing about it, good or bad. For what might have been the first time ever, reviews didn’t matter to me. It looked incredibly warm and welcoming and I couldn’t imagine having anything less than a great meal there. Fortunately, my spidey senses were correct — We had a wonderful dinner at J. Arthur’s and I can now heartily recommend it to you. My bourbon pecan encrusted chicken was delicious and so was my husband’s Gorgonzola pasta with blackened steak — We ended up splitting the two dishes between us and dueled with our butter knives over which was better. As an added bonus, a toy train track runs around the dining room up near the ceiling, which helps keep your kids’ attention occupied while you’re waiting for your food.
I can also pretty much guarantee you’ll adore Frankie’s Italian Trattoria — It’s a top pick among Maggie Valley locals and visitors alike. I had the linguini white clam and my husband had the mixed seafood, both at our server’s recommendation. They were phenomenal. My son’s meatball sandwich was also delicious. Frankie’s also serves brick oven pizzas, and it deftly straddles the line between casual and elegant. It’s hugely popular even in the off-season, so be sure to make a reservation if you’re planning on eating there.
You can bring the kids along for a quick tour of Elevated Mountain Distillery, where you’ll learn how Smoky Mountain craft whiskeys are made in the distillery’s one-of-a-kind still, which reminded me of a prop from Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory! Tours are free, but for a $5 fee, you’ll get a tasting of four different spirits and a souvenir glass to take home — This has to be the best deal in town! Elevated Mountain has already had more than 10,000 visitors in the seven months its been open. Try the root beer-flavored White Lightning Moonshine and you’ll understand why– It’s fantastic!
After your distillery visit, reward the kids for their good behavior with a trip to Jelly Bellies, a child’s paradise with more than 365 kinds of candy, homemade chocolate and fudge, ice cream, toys, and gifts.
For the ladies, there’s Cabbage Rose, a 10,000 square-foot store filled with gifts, ladies clothing, garden accessories, Christmas decorations, and much more. I could have spent a few hours in here — There’s a lot to look at and truly something for every budget.
Looking for straight-up souvenir shopping? I recommend Maggie Mountaineer Crafts. Here, you’ll find a wide selection of local jams and honey, toys, jewelry, homemade fudge, and all kinds of Maggie Valley souvenirs.
We couldn’t resist getting a jar of local honey after we spotted the actual blue ribbon won by the man who produces it!
When you use Maggie Valley as your home base, more fun is just a short drive away. Visit historic downtown Waynesville for more locally-owned shops and great restaurants. Spend a day in Asheville, which is filled with amazing art galleries, restaurants, and Malaprops, one of my favorite independent bookstores in the U.S. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469 mile-long national park with lovely views and lots of hiking trails and points of interest along the way. Tour the historic Biltmore Estate — Even if you’re not all that interested in history, I promise this is a tour you will never forget! Explore the many waterfalls in the area. There’s no lack of things to do!
Got questions or more ideas on what to do in and around Maggie Valley? Leave me a comment and let me know!