Jackson County’s Secret Season is a time of year (from January through March) when the crowds thin out and visitors have the mountains to themselves. Think: having the chance to explore the mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro + Sylva (only ~3.5 hours from Chattanooga) like a local.
From front row seats at prime scenic spots where the views open up as the leaves have fallen to restaurants with minimal to no wait times, visitors can experience the mountains without the crowds. Pro tip: This is also a great time to take advantage of lodging specials which make it an affordable time to visit. It’s like having your own mountain oasis.
While you’re in the area, here are some must-try Secret Season winter activities:
For the adventurers 🏔️
Crisp, clean, cool mountain air? Check. Frost-covered mountains? Check. Long-range mountain views? Check. Jackson County offers the ideal setting for anyone who loves exploring the outdoors. A local guide can help you coordinate a winter fly fishing excursion along the crystal-clear streams of the Great Smoky Mountains. Or, bundle up and take a hike to Whitewater Falls, one of the highest waterfalls east of the Rockies at nearly 400 ft. — you might even glimpse a few icicles.
If you’re visiting between mid-February and early March, you might be lucky enough to catch the Shadow of the Bear, a naturally-occurring phenomenon that makes an appearance for just 30 minutes on sunny days at 5:30 p.m. It starts with a small dark shadow at the bottom of the valley and grows until it finally evolves into the bear that appears to be walking along the treetops below. Pro tip: Bring a camera to capture this spectacular view as the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain.
For the shoppers 🛍️
Shops throughout Jackson County sell handmade and artisan goods that can’t be found anywhere else, like one-of-a-kind pottery, handcrafted jewelry, and home decor. For those who prefer to stay warm and inside, we suggest a day of pampering at Canyon Spa in Cashiers.
For the snow lovers
Hit the slopes at Sapphire Valley Resort, great for families + beginners who love snow activities like skiing and snowboarding. The resort features Frozen Falls Tube Park, where tubers can slide down the 500-ft. run with a vertical drop of 60 ft. Bonus: The moving sidewalk makes it easy to get to the top for another ride down.
Snow-seekers can also enjoy full-service amenities, including lessons from professional instructors, making it easy to plan a day on the slopes.
For the beer lovers 🍻
Jackson County is known for its abundance of local craft breweries, and now visitors can get rewarded for hopping along their famed Ale Trail with the free Jackson County Ale Trail Pass. Visitors can stop by four of the participating breweries and check in to receive a limited edition Jackson County pint glass. Cheers. 🍻*