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Life in Western North Carolina

Mountains of WNC


Get Outdoors

As one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, Western North Carolina attracts people who want to get out and enjoy nature. Our students and staff often spend their free time hiking or mountain biking through national forests, and plenty of nearby camping destinations provide a fun way to unwind on weekends. Perhaps you’ll go backpacking for the day on parts of the famous Appalachian Trail—like across Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During winter months, grab some friends and head north an hour from campus to Cataloochee Ski Area or south about 40 minutes to Sapphire Valley Ski Resort. Other WNC outdoor adventures include ziplining and horseback riding.

On the Water

With mountain living comes plenty of access to streams, lakes, and rivers throughout Western North Carolina. Tuckasegee River winds near the northeast side of campus, and warm months mean lazy tubing trips or gliding on the water via kayaks, canoes, or standup paddleboards rented through Base Camp Cullowhee, our on-campus outdoor services program. Or, keep it simple and head to one of the many swimming holes in the area, like Paradise Falls.

Get a group together for a whitewater-rafting trip if you’re looking for a bigger challenge, and adrenaline fans will want to sign up for group outings through Base Camp, like skydiving, overnight excursions, and climbing expeditions.

Learn more about Base Camp Cullowhee


About fifty fishing spots can also be found in and around Cullowhee for another way to soak in the outdoors and escape for a few hours. Take a fly fishing lesson through Base Camp, or go out on your own to catch trout and smallmouth bass. A North Carolina fishing license is required.

Festival Bound

Jackson County hosts several annual events that bring together the community. In April, Greening up the Mountains celebrates sustainability and the Hook, Line, and Drinker Festival features food trucks, microbrews, and all things fishing. Summertime focuses on arts and crafts markets and fall kicks off with Mountain Heritage Day on campus in September.

See the Jackson County calendar of events

Live Music Moments

WCU brings concerts to campus year-round, and nearby Sylva has a few live music venues as well. O’Malley’s utilizes their back patio for music on many weekends. Students 21 and older can also check the calendars at Innovation Brewing, Lazy Hiker, Nantahala Brewing, Balsam Falls, and the Paper Mill Lounge for occasional shows. Friday evenings at the Bridge Park in the summer, you can find live music at Concerts on the Creek.

Get Creative

If you’re looking for a little cultural stimulation, WCU’s Fine Art Museum is a great place to start. However, several off-campus places may also inspire your creative side. Cullowhee Mountain Arts holds a range of creative workshops—including painting and ceramics—while several galleries and shops in downtown Sylva feature works by local artists and crafters. If performing arts interest you, the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Art Center holds shows on-campus.

Hit the Road

Since our campus operates much like its own city, everything you need to live and have fun exists right on campus. But for those times when you want to go shopping, buy supplies for your next camping adventure, or just get away for a little while, several welcoming Western North Carolina communities await a short car ride away—with beautiful mountain views to keep you company throughout your drive.

Less than a ten-minute drive from WCU is Sylva, a small town boasting a picturesque historic downtown. Despite its small size of about three square miles, Sylva is home to several restaurants such as Lulu’s on Main and City Lights Café, with a large outdoor patio, plus several fast food joints like Bojangle’s and Zaxby’s. For visiting parents and students over 21, Sylva’s microbreweries - Lazy Hiker, Nantahala Brewing, Balsam Falls, and Innovation Brewing Company - often host live music. You’ll also find a bowling alley, several spas, and a local bookstore.

Need to do some more serious shopping? Waynesville is located an easy 30-minute drive away and offers a Mast General Store, several boutiques, and lots of great restaurants like the top-rated Haywood Smokehouse, The Sweet Onion, and Chef’s Table. With a population just under 10,000, Waynesville is home to four breweries, any of which could provide internship or part-time job opportunities for students interested in a career in brewing or agriculture.

Asheville is the most popular city in the vicinity of WCU and is the largest city in Western North Carolina. It has been experiencing a boom for several years, making it the perfect getaway for WCU students looking for rising and established musical acts, tons more shopping, renowned restaurants and art galleries, and over 20 breweries that epitomize sustainability and community involvement. Asheville has everything you’d expect from a large city, but maintains a small-town feel thanks to a downtown that comprises only about five of Asheville’s entire 43 square miles. Asheville features dozens of music venues, including The Orange Peel, which Rolling Stone magazine named one of the top five music venues in America in 2008. Vegetarians will be thrilled with the restaurant choices, as nearly every menu offers vegetarian dishes, while others cater exclusively to vegetarians such as Plant and Laughing Seed. Plenty of festivals and events year-round also help keep things interesting in quirky AVL.

About 20 minutes from campus, the charming mountain town of Cashiers offers more waterfalls and hikes to explore. For a taste of the area, pick up local goods at Cashiers Farmers Market or one of the many boutiques along Highway 107. Nearby Lake Glenville should not be missed for swimming, fishing or boating on its 1,400 acres. Golfing is also popular in this beautiful mountain village.

Home to one of two ski resorts within an hour’s drive from campus—the other being Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley—Sapphire’s scenery is its winning feature. Sections of Panthertown Valley spill across Sapphire’s city lines, providing easy access to its 6,300 acres filled with hiking trails to deep gorges, steep cliffs, and lots of campsites.

An upscale resort area, Highlands offers amenities like whitewater rafting, zip lining, and horseback riding if you’re feeling adventurous. The city also keeps a full events calendar, including visual arts, touring musical acts, and fine art shows.

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