Out of the Dorms and Into the Outdoors
© Eric Peterson 2003. All Rights Reserved.
Buried deep within the Appalachian Mountains rests Cullowhee, a rural college town that is 100,000 trees and trails from the nearest skyscraper or subway. Given that Cullowhee is far away from any urban setting of significance, a stereotype has emerged that there is limited entertainment for Western Carolina University students. However, this stereotype is inaccurate.
Cullowhee and the surrounding areas are home to some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the nation. The region is rich with rivers, waterfalls, mountains, and trails. All of these natural features that are unique to the area make thrilling, recreational outdoor activities possible. A WCU student should never mutter the words, “there’s nothing to do,” because there is always something to do, whether it be hiking, participating in water sports, or skiing.
There are more hiking trails in Jackson County than there probably are people. There are trails for the novice, the experienced, people trying to find themselves, people trying to lose themselves, and everyone else. There are even trails located right on the campus, such as the one behind the Albright/Benton dormitory.
Sara Fenwick, who lived in Cullowhee for a significant portion of her life, has traveled many of the trails found throughout the woods of Cullowhee. She testifies that they exist around every tree and rock.
“There are trails everywhere in the woods of Cullowhee,” she says. “You just go walking in the woods and you’ll find trails—none of them are really connected.”
Some of the more popular trails, as identified by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, include the 13-trail Roy Taylor ATV Area in Cullowhee, and Pinnacle Park in Sylva, a seven-mile trail with various inclines and declines. For specific directions on how to get to these trails, visit the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. Other popular and frequently traveled trails can be found throughout the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Many of the countless trails riddling the landscape of Jackson County have treasures waiting at the end, like waterfalls. Well-known waterfalls around Cullowhee include Looking Glass Falls, Mingo Falls, Tom’s Branch Falls, and Juneywhank Falls. For specific directions to these natural treasures, visit the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.
If traveling the trail less traveled is more appealing, then create a new one. Much of Cullowhee and elsewhere in Jackson County is uninhabited wilderness that has never gazed upon humanity.
Jackson County is home to many whitewater rivers, like the Tuckasegee and the Nantahala. In fact, the Tuckasegee runs parallel to campus. These watery wonders not only provide the breeding grounds for a diversity of aquatic life, but also aquatic activities, like rafting, tubing, fishing, and more.
Whitewater rafting is an exhilarating activity that is sure the get the heart rate up and the blood pumping, and some of the best whitewater rafting can be found in Jackson County. Many businesses in the area specialize in assisted rafting trips. One of them is Carolina Outfitters, which is based in Cullowhee’s neighboring town, Bryson City, at 12121 Hwy 19 West. The staff at Carolina Outfitters can be reached at 1-800-468-7238.
If whitewater rafting seems a little too daring, there are other slower-paced activities on the river that can be equally rewarding, such as tubing. All throughout the spring and summer months WCU students on inflatable tubes flood the Tuckasiegee.
Fenwick used to go tubing on the Tuckesiegee whenever the weather warmed up.
“I used to go tubing every summer,” she says. “It’s a pretty calm river that is good for tubing.”
Fishing is also a rather popular recreational outdoor activity in Cullowhee. Fenwick remembers a lesser-known fishing spot that “almost always” yields a catch.
“If you take the road right beside Jack the Dipper that goes towards Dillsboro, there’s a river that runs along and down the road,” she says. “I’m not really sure what it is called.”
“I used to fish there a lot with my friends. I almost always caught something,” she explains.
In all reality, the amount of potential entertainment that the many whitewater rivers in Jackson County have to offer is boundless.
One of the best aspects of living in Cullowhee during the wintertime is that one of the best skiing areas in the country, Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley, is only a short drive away.
Cataloochee has ten trails ranging from beginner to advance. These trails are for skiers, snowboarders, and people who want to go tubing. People can rent equipment at the resort or bring their own. The trails are open day, night, and weekends. Discount rates are available for students. A weekday lift ticket for students only costs $21 compared to the $25 fee that non-student adults have to pay.
Former WCU student Nick Peele skied at Cataloochee many times while living in Cullowhee.
“It’s a good resort during prime season,” he says. “There are trails for people of all levels.”
Not only does Peele believe that Cataloochee is a good place for WCU students to go skiing because of what it has to offer, but also because of its proximity to campus.
“Its location to Western is ideal,” he says. “It’s real accessible and close.”
For specific directions on how to get to Cataloochee, visit their website or call 1-800-768-3588.
Base Camp Cullowhee is an outdoor enthusiast organization that plans and conducts recreational outdoor activity trips for groups. Students and non-students are invited to participate in any of these trips.
The organization’s headquarters is located in the Hinds University Center, right across from Chic-Fila. A myriad of outdoor recreational activity equipment is available for rent at this location. The office’s number is 227-3633.