Approach the Nutty Brunette with care. You’ll lose your head, happily, after a pint or two.
It’s a delicious, deep amber beer with a light and toasty, malt-and-toffee flavor – a favorite at Frog Level Brewing on the low-lying, bohemian side of town.
A few blocks uphill on Waynesville’s well-tended Main Street, you’ll find handsome rows of galleries and craft shops, the welcoming City Bakery, a good local newspaper and, with creaky floors and elite outdoor gear, a branch of the venerable Mast General Store chain.
Waynesville, the state’s biggest town on the other side of Asheville, came to life after the railroad arrived in the 1880s. Since then the town has served as a jumping-off point for visitors to the unique wonders of North Carolina’s western mountains.
Just to the west are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Qualla Boundary, historic home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Curving around town to the east, south and west is the last 50-mile section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Cold Mountain – the inspiration for fiction, film and opera – is here for anybody with sturdy boots and a day to spend climbing the rugged trail to its 6,030-foot summit.
Waynesville and nearby towns in Haywood County keep Appalachian culture alive with celebrations through the spring and summer.
Foodies and politicians from as far east as Raleigh come here to prove their mettle by chomping a stinky wild onion honored at the annual Ramp Festival.
North Carolina’s state dog, the Carolina Plott Hound, was bred in Waynesville to hunt bears. The big dog is paid homage in the name of a porter served at the Tipping Point Tavern on Main Street, and at Plottfest in nearby Maggie Valley.
And for the past 32 years, Waynesville has injected world culture into the western mountains with Folkmoot USA, a two-week festival of international folk dance. This year, the streets and stages were filled with troupes whose homes included Bangladesh, Chile, the Philippines and Quebec.
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Joey’s Pancake House, Maggie Valley
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Regular visitors to Haywood County will be up early to wait in line for the best breakfast around, at Joey’s Pancake House. The blueberry pancakes are light and delicious. The country ham is the real thing. Don’t mistake Joey’s for one of those breakfast-anytime joints: It closes at noon and all day Thursday. 4309 Soco Road, Maggie Valley. 828-926-0212. www.joeyspancake.com.
Corneille Bryan Native Garden, Lake Junaluska
Now you’re ready to admire the gorgeous Lake Junaluska, home of a big conference and retreat center operated by the United Methodist Church. On the far side of the lake is a lush sanctuary called the Corneille Bryan Native Garden. Its 1.5 acres hold 500 species of plants native to these mountains. A precious Carolina Hemlock receives the only pesticide used here, carefully injected into its trunk, to ward off the devastating woolly adelgid. Even rarer are the Christmas-tree pretty Torreyas, said to be North America’s most endangered conifers, absent from these hills since the last Ice Age scraped them away. In the spring you can admire bell-shaped blooms on the scarce Oconee Bell, saucer blossoms on the Big-Leaf Magnolia and giant spikes of white flowers that draw delirious bees to a colony of Devil’s Walking Sticks. 800-222-4930. lakejunaluska.com.
Haywood County Quilt Trails
Barn quilts are decorative quilt squares painted – not sewn – and mounted on barns and other buildings. This old folk tradition has spawned a new civic and tourism trend in Western North Carolina: Drive around, admire quilts. At haywoodquilttrails.com or the local Visitor Center (44 N. Main St., Waynesville, 800-334-9036), you can get a Pinterest-linked map of 50 quilt squares erected in the towns and hills. There are some commercially calculated disappointments – an art gallery’s timid colors, coordinated with the store facade, and the Mast Store’s crude flag motif. The best examples evoke the rich heritage of American quilting: See “Moon Over Cold Mountain” in Cruso or “Five Spot” in Canton.
Haywood Smokehouse, Waynesville
A good stop for lunch is the Haywood Smokehouse in an old Waynesville house. The barbecue is Texas-style, the firewood is hickory. Add your choice of regional flavoring from the variety of sauces – sweet to pepper-hot, Eastern North Carolina to Georgia to Texas – lined up on the fireplace mantel. The iced tea is not the sweetest, and that’s a good thing. My sandwich was a sloppy joe with pulled rib meat, smothered in a smoky sauce and stacked very high on a big bun, with sides of cheesy grits and coarse-cut slaw. 79 Elysinia Ave. 828-456-7275. haywoodsmokehouse.com.
Blue Ridge Parkway: Waterrock Knob
If you’re familiar with the rolling meadows that grace the Blue Ridge Parkway farther north around Linville and Blowing Rock, you will notice a more rugged terrain where the scenic road winds south and west from Asheville to its terminus at Cherokee. The mountains are taller. On a clear day – an important qualifier in fog country – the parkway’s highest spot here in Haywood County puts you eyeball-even with yon summit of Cold Mountain. For your own mountaintop view of four states, park at the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center (Milepost 451) and climb the steep, partly paved half mile to the top of the knob. Blue Ridge Parkway. 828-298-0398. www.nps.gov/blri/.
Farther north on the Blue Ridge Parkway, past Balsam Gap and Devil’s Courthouse, you’ll want to spend time at a high valley called Graveyard Fields (Milepost 418). The parking lot was expanded from 17 to 40 spaces when toilets were added this year, but you might still find the lot filled. Families in swimsuits walk down a short, paved trail through rhododendron tunnels to pick blueberries and splash in a few waterfalls on a tumbling stream called Yellowstone Prong. Other trails lead to nearby camping areas – sometimes popular with hungry black bears – in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area.
Clyde’s Restaurant, Waynesville
The Sweet Onion gets glowing reviews for memorable desserts and a deep wine list. Our chewy ribeye came heaped with an unpretty pile of mashed potatoes and deep-fried broccoli. 39 Miller St., Waynesville. 828-456-5559. sweetonionrestaurant.com. We were happier with the fare at Clyde’s Restaurant, a bustling comfort-food diner. Pretty good fried chicken, mac and cheese, and a generous salad. 2107 S. Main St., Waynesville. 828-456-9135.
Frog Level Brewing, Waynesville
Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Waynesville’s industrial neighborhood grew up in a swampy zone, between the train tracks and Richland Creek. Whenever the creek rose, so did the frog level. “It was the last street in Waynesville that was paved,” says Clark Williams, proprietor of Frog Level Brewing, who retired to his native Waynesville after 25 years in the Marines. It’s the most popular of four brew-pubs, and rightly. The cool, cavernous brewery and Panacea, a neighboring coffeehouse, share a porch and back yard shaded with sycamore and locust trees. Alongside his stalwart Nutty Brunette and Tadpole Porter, Williams offers brilliant experiments such as the Alohabanero – blending local hot peppers with notes of mango and pineapple. 55 Commerce St. 828-454-5664. froglevelbrewing.com
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