The Best Trail to Tavern Pairings in North Carolina

North Carolina Highland Brewing Company.
North Carolina Highland Brewing Company. Gary Peeples/USFWS
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Nothing pairs better with an exhilarating outdoor adventure than an inspired microbrew. Fortunately, for outdoor-loving connoisseurs of craft beer, North Carolina is not only laced with majestic mountains, pristine rivers, and massive national forests, the state is also loaded with some of the best breweries in the country. When your day of adventure has wrapped up, there are plenty of inspired brews waiting to be discovered.

Paddling in the Nantahala River Gorge.
Paddling in the Nantahala River Gorge. anoldent

Begin in Bryson City. This town is wedged between the Nantahala National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the western corner of the state. Start at the Nantahala River Gorge, one of country’s premier paddling destinations for paddlers of all levels. Framed by deep forests and craggy canyon walls, the run is largely a Class I & II paddle, capped off with a chute down a Class III cascade. Not sure about whitewater? Grab an SUP and hit Fontana Lake instead. Rather stick to terra firma instead? Trade paddle for pedal on the 40 miles of singletrack ringing the massive lake at Nantahala National Forest’s Tsali Recreation Area. Cap off the day with outdoor inspired brews like Apple Trail Extra Pale Ale, Up River Amber, or the seasonal Hellbender Hefeweizen at Bryson City’s aptly named Nantahaha Brewing Company, located in a restored 76-year-old industrial warehouse.

Triple Falls in the  DuPont State Forest.
Triple Falls in the DuPont State Forest. Adam Fagen

Next, head east to mountainous Sylva, a town loaded with both outdoor adventures and craft breweries. Get a hawk’s eye view of town from the Pinnacle, accessible after a 3.5-mile uphill hike through 1,000-acre Pinnacle Park. Or try your hand at one of the town’s premier pastimes, trout fishing. Several of the hotspots along the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail are just minutes from downtown Sylva, including Scott’s Creek and the Tuckasegee River.

In the evening, peruse the the town’s eclectic trio of breweries. Innovation Brewing is loaded with creative fusions like the Beet & Basil Pale Ale, the Apple Butter Brown, and the Chardonnay Barrel Aged Saison. A resident foodtruck, Cosmic Carryout, uses Innovation as its home base. The German-inspired Heinzelmannchen Brewery features ales like the Black Forest Stout and the Weiss Gnome Hefeweizen, both which pair perfectly with freshly made soft pretzels. And the whimsical Sneak E Squirrel offers artful brews like A Clockwork Zombie pomegranate, cherry-infused Belgian Wit, and Cherry Vanilla Stout.

Make the short southward hop to Franklin and hit the trail. Both the Appalachian and multi-state Bartram trails ramble past the town, bestowing panoramic views from the summit of 5,347-foot Wayah Bald, named for the region’s once thriving red wolf population. Afterward, head to Lazy Hiker Brewing to mingle with thru-hikers and plan your next adventure while sipping trail-worthy beers like the Slack Pack IPA or the Trail Mate Golden Ale.

Make the half-hour trip from Franklin to Highlands and begin by exploring the ruggedly wild swath of Nantahala Forest known as Panthertown Valley, named for the iconic big cats that once roamed the wilderness. After Panthertown, try a flavorful flight at Satulah Mountain Brewing Company in Highlands, pouring everything from lighter options like Helles Ridge Lager, fruity ales like Lakeside Hoppy Saison, and dark beers like Smokey Mountain Porter.

Paddling the French Broad River near the Biltmore.
Paddling the French Broad River near the Biltmore. anoldent

From Highlands head for Brevard, in the heart of Transylvania County. This area has been dubbed North Carolina’s "Land of Waterfalls" for the 250 different cascades adorning the area’s extensive wilderness. Begin by seeking out iconic destinations like 120-foot Triple Falls or 150-foot High Falls in the DuPont State Recreational Forest. After a day spent chasing cascades head to another local institution, the Brevard Brewing Company, the county’s first brewery. Lagers are the brewery’s specialty, with options like Bohemian Pilsner, crisp American Wheat, and the seasonal Octoberfest Lager.

Next, head for America’s mecca of microbrew, Asheville. Breweries seem to abound around every corner in town. Luckily, adventure is just as plentiful. Wander the 10 miles of trails at the massive North Carolina Arboretum, framed by the Pisgah National Forest. Or explore another of Asheville’s iconic locations, the Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt’s opulent, 19th century escape. Hit the water on the French Broad River with a 7-mile paddling trip through the heart of the city.

The Clawhammer from the Highland Brewing Company.
The Clawhammer from the Highland Brewing Company. Gary Peeples/USFWS

It is difficult not to stumble upon a stellar microbrewery in Asheville but first-timers paralyzed by the wealth of options can begin at long-standing institutions like Highland Brewing Company, beer-town’s very first microbrewery, famous for pouring hearty, European-inspired ales. Or head to Green Man, another of the town’s long-standing breweries, serving beers with a Blue Ridge backdrop from the open air taproom. Or try a uniquely Asheville locale like Wedge, lodged in a 19th century warehouse in the city’s River Arts District and a hub for a fleet of local food trucks. Wicked Weed Brewing’s Funkatorium is the very first tasting room dedicated solely to sour and other funky brews on the entire East coast.

Asheville's Wedge Brewing is located in a 19th century warehouse.
Asheville's Wedge Brewing is located in a 19th century warehouse. TimothyJ

After Asheville, cruise north to the quintessential Appalachian town of Boone. Explore the high country’s diversity of landscapes on the rugged, 5-mile Boone Fork Trail, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Julian Price Memorial Park. Then sidle up to the creekside bar at Appalachian Mountain Brewing and sample flavorful fusions like the dry-hopped cider mimosa or the C.R.E.A.M Coffee and Donut Infused Milk Stout. Afterwards, wander over to Lost Province and sip on beers like the Balsam Blonde Ale or Leaf Peeper Oktoberfest while noshing on the brewery’s wood-fired pizza.

An iconic view at Pilot Mountain State Park.
An iconic view at Pilot Mountain State Park. suttonls

Finally, round out the trip in Winston-Salem. But first, head for Pilot Mountain State Park. Explore the network of trails ringing the park’s iconic landmark, Pilot Mountain, a 2,000 foot peak capped off with a tufty plug of rock. Or explore the recreation area from the water along a forested stretch of the Yadkin River. When you are ready to hit the town, head to the tasting room at Foothills Brewing. There are a whopping 28 different beers on tap, including distinctive offerings like Carolina Strawberry, Dead and Berried Barrel Aged Blackberry Imperial Stout, and Frostbite Black IPA. Aside from the diversity of brews, the taproom also draws a rotating array of food trucks, slinging everything from tacos to gelato.

Originally written for Visit North Carolina .

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