If you’re looking for a family-friendly place to go snow tubing, Sapphire Valley is the perfect option. Kidding Around contributor Kristina took her kids and had quite the adventure, which she is sharing with our readers.
Media tickets were provided for the experience.
Having already gone snow tubing once with my kids, they were more than thrilled to learn we were going to do it again, this time at a place where our family has vacationed twice – but only in the summer. Experiencing the Sapphire Valley in Cashiers, North Carolina has a whole other feel in winter and just as fun!
Have you visited Cashiers, NC? There are so many family adventures waiting in Sapphire Valley. It’s one of our favorite places to visit with awesome places to hike, play, and eat. Go ahead and consult your calendar, because you will want to plan your trip once you read about this North Carolina gem.
The Sapphire Valley. Even the name was beautiful. My family’s first family vacation once we moved to Greenville was to the Sapphire Valley and it was more than I ever hoped it would be. Family vacations aren’t really vacations when you have kids, right? It’s more like parenting, just in a different place and with less sleep. But this trip was so awesome and relaxing despite the lack of our usual sleep routine. It was filled with adventure, waterfalls, good food, stunning beauty, and a feeling that we experienced a little bit of heaven. Since that trip, I’ve gone back many times, whether for another family trip, day trips, and weekend excursions.
The Sapphire Valley and Cashiers, NC is one of those true hidden gems, a small mountain town that consists of a handful of shops and restaurants and leaves the rest up to nature. I’ll tell you all about where to hike, where to stay, where to eat, and seasonal activities so you can hopefully plan your own family’s adventure to this little slice of heaven.
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About the Land of Waterfalls
The Sapphire Valley and Cashiers, NC is nicknamed the “Land of Waterfalls” because, well, it is. There are hundreds of waterfalls in the area due to the mountainous terrain and many of them don’t involve long hikes. If you’re into long hikes, don’t worry, there are definitely places to do that here. And if you’re looking for a more family-friendly adventure, there are plenty of places to do that, too.
Cashiers, NC sits 3,487 feet above sea level right near the Eastern Continental Divide. Highway 64 is the main road that goes through it and into Highlands to the West or to Rosman and Brevard to the East. It’s a really small town, only 2,500 people most of the year, which bumps up to 10,000 during the summer months. The town is so cute, too, with a beautiful park, the Village Green, a little hiking store, some clothing shops, a farmers market, and events throughout the year, including a wonderful Christmas parade.
Being so high in the mountains, Cashiers is almost always 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the foothills, which is so refreshing during the summer especially. When you pack, keep that in mind and bring an extra jacket or sweater.
What to do in the Cashiers area
Cashiers is wonderful for all kinds of activities or for doing nothing at all. You can paddleboard, swim, hike, practice photography, eat, ski, snow tube, or just cozy up by a fireplace and read a book. I’ll tell you about most of these activities here.
Hiking in Cashiers
Let’s start with hiking. I’ve done a lot of trails in this area and I’ll give you the rundown of what to expect for each one here.
This two-mile loop is about 13 minutes from the center of Cashiers and oh my gosh, what a view. Be sure to go clockwise or you’ll be going up a lot of steps. The reason I love this hike is that for the backend of it, you have mountain views the whole way. You are walking along the mountain ridge with steel ropes. Just watch your kids and if you go during the winter months, this could be a very slippery hike (that I wouldn’t recommend). Also note that you have to pay a $3 fee at the parking lot so bring cash or you can use your phone to pay via a QR code.
Silver Run Falls
This isn’t necessarily a hike. It’s more like a five-minute trek through the woods to a beautiful waterfall with a swimming hole. The water is really cold but feels awesome on a hot day and it’s only five minutes from the center of Cashiers on the left hand side of the road. The pull off only fits about five cars.
Glen Falls is about 25 minutes south of Cashiers and is a 2.5 mile round trip hike. It’s easy on the way down and there are several overlooks to view the massive waterfall. The hike to the bottom gets you to a small sandy beach, perfect for a picnic and rest since you’ll have to hike all the way back up!
l had been wanting to get to Black Balsam for years and finally made it. Oh boy, it was worth it. You get 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s right near Graveyard Fields (also a great hiking spot with waterfalls) and Devils Courthouse. It’s about an hour from Cashiers and the hike is a moderate one, going uphill in the beginning and then downhill on your way back to the car. It’s only about 1.5 miles total and kid-friendly. We saw so many kids climbing all the rocks and loving it. Get there early during weekends especially as this is a popular hike and it gets crowded. If there isn’t parking there, head up the road a bit to park at the lot at the end of the road and hike to Sam Knob, which is also an amazing 2.5 mile hike.
There are two trailheads to High Falls – one is the short but steep 1.4 mile roundtrip trail from the Pines Recreation Area at Lake Glenville and the other is a steadier and longer at around 4 miles long. High Falls is beautiful either way but be sure to stay off the rocks around the waterfall and check to make sure the dam isn’t being released when you go. It’s amazing to see but you need to make sure you are out of the way downstream since the trickle of the waterfall turns into a powerful churn.
Go here in the spring for a possible look at the peregrine falcons that will sometimes nest on the ridge. The overlook is on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the hike is straight up but it’s not too far, just a half mile or so. The top is gorgeous and you can see both sunrises and sunsets from here.
Located in the Panthertown Valley, Schoolhouse Falls is a beautiful spot. Park at the Panthertown Trailhead off Cold Mountain Road and take the pink blazed trail to Little Green Trail and you will hear the waterfall. Cross the boardwalk and you are there. It is one of my favorite waterfalls and an easy 2.5 mile roundtrip hike. You’ll gain some elevation on the way back as you hike back up switchbacks to your car but it’s not that difficult. The pool below Schoolhouse Falls is crystal clear and perfect for swimming but I particularly love this waterfall because you can walk behind it! It’s about 45 minutes from Cashiers.
Next up is swimming near Cashiers. You can swim at Silver Run Falls and Schoolhouse Falls but here are a couple other spots to get wet during the warmer months.
This is not the Sliding Rock you may have heard about in Pisgah Forest. Nope, this is the smaller but just as fun and nowhere near as crowded Sliding Rock in Cashiers. It’s less than 10 minutes from downtown Cashiers and down a short trail. There’s a little sandy beach and you can slide down the waterfall all you want or jump into the potholes in the middle of rock formations on the waterfall itself if you are daring. Definitely watch your kids here though.
Pines Recreation Area
Not 15 minutes from downtown Cashiers is the beautiful Lake Glenville. You can swim in the lake at the Pines Recreation Area on the north end of the lake. It has a little sandy beach and a fishing pier as well – so pretty! And it’s free. Also, you can access the south trailhead (the shorter but steeper trail) to High Falls.
Boating on Lake Glenville
If you want to get on the water at Lake Glenville, take an a waterfall cruise with Lake Glenville Scenic Waterfalls Cruise with Captain Mark Wise. The two-hour boat tour is great for any age or ability and you’ll learn all about the lake, its history, its diverse ecosystems, and you will get to see waterfalls that are only accessible by boat.
You can also rent kayaks, paddleboards, and pontoon boats from local marinas or drop in your own small water vessels at the Pines Recreation Area.
The Village Green
The Village Green is a huge, 12.5 acre green space right in the heart of Cashiers with art sculptures, a boardwalk path through the woods, and an old school wooden playground that my kids did not want to leave. This is where many events happen in Cashiers as well so if you’re not sure where an event is taking place, it’s probably here. I think the playground is the best part though! It is fenced in and has swings, a tire swing, lots of obstacles, and a tot play space.
Even though I’ve never done fly fishing (but I really would love to try it), I love watching the fishermen on the water whenever I see them during hikes. They look so relaxed. The Tuckaseegee River flows through a scenic mountain valley and several quaint communities up in Western NC. Jackson County is known as the North Carolina Trout Capital and home of the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail. The river is very accessible for fishing and teeming with brown, rainbow, and brook trout – the river is stocked with almost 93,000 fish annually. Winter is actually prime fly-fishing time and because they are often feeding more during the day and since the state stocks the river in the fall, you have a really good chance of getting bites. You can bring your own equipment or rent from local outfitters.
Seasonal Fun in Cashiers
Cashiers has four defined seasons, all of which have their own beauty, events, and cool things to do. Here are our favorites:
Every year, the Sapphire Valley Resort hosts the Outhouse Races where teams decorate an outhouse, put it on skis, and then race it down the mountain. It is exactly how it sounds and it is really fun to watch. The teams are really creative and all use some kind of toilet humor but it’s in such great fun that when people are cheering for their favorite outhouse, you can really get into it. It usually happens in February.
Snow Tubing & Skiing
During the winter, you can ski and snow tube at the Sapphire Valley Resort. I’m not a skier but my kids and I have done snow tubing there and it’s a lot of fun! Snow tubing at Sapphire Valley happens at Frozen Falls Tube Park, right behind the community center and next to the bunny slope. Snow tubing tickets are sold at the community center and are $30/person or if you have an amenity card, it is $22.50/person. You can’t buy them in advance so you need to show up, sign a waiver, and purchase your ticket. You can purchase your weekend ticket in person starting at 9 am on Fridays. They do take group reservations of more than 10 people and those must be made a week ahead of time. On busy days, they do sell out so plan accordingly (keep reading for backup plans). Each tubing session lasts for 1.75 hours and start every two hours beginning usually at 10 am, although that can change. Check the schedule before you go.
There are no height restrictions so kids can definitely do snow tubing but they will be in their own tube. My kids (ages 9 and 5) had a blast. There is nothing quite like flying down a mountain on a giant tube! It’s exhilarating and a bit scary at first. The run is about 500 feet with a drop of 60 feet. To get up the mountain, you have to stand on an escalator-type contraption, like the kind you use at the airport that is totally flat and moves. There are staff that help to get you and your tube on it.
The Cashiers Christmas Parade
If you’ve ever wanted to experience a small, mountain town at Christmas, this is your chance. The annual Cashiers Christmas parade happens every December and it includes fire trucks, marching bands, and vintage cars. It will happen on Saturday, December 3, 2022 at 3 pm.
The Shadow of the Bear
This is a tricky one to catch but if you do, prepare to be blown away. It’s only tricky because you need a clear sky and it only happens twice a year for a few weeks – the Shadow of the Bear is literally a shadow that looks like a bear next to Whiteside Mountain that appears in late October/early November and again in early February. You can see it about 30 minutes before sunset off of a pull off on Highway 64 right on the Jackson County border. I’ve done it with my kids and we had such a fun time talking with the people watching it with us because none of us thought that the shadow looked like a bear! You really need to watch your kids though since you’re on the side of the road. Get there early to get parking and bring a jacket since it’s quite chilly up there that time of year.
Where to Eat in Cashiers
Cashiers is small so dining options are limited. My favorite spot to eat is Slabtown Pizza, just a minute or two from the heart of Cashiers. They have pizza, salads, and local craft beer. We ordered a large cheese pizza, small Greek salad, and waffle fries for just myself and my two kids and had leftovers. You order at the counter (or call ahead for pickup) and take a seat and wait for your food.
We also ate one afternoon at Happs right next to Lake Glenville. This place is fantastic because they have a big outdoor play area with cornhole and mini-golf, which is a great distraction for kids while they wait for their meals. They have burgers, sandwiches, and salads plus a huge bar, big TVs, both indoor and outdoor seating, and a big fireplace.
For coffee and pastries, I recommend Buck’s Coffee Shop at the main intersection of 64 & 107. The place is very laid back with bagels, pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and a latte that I’m still thinking about days later. If you’re working while up in Cashiers, this is a great spot to bring your laptop and relax while making your deadlines. They’ve got wifi and lots of comfortable seating.
Where to Stay in Cashiers
Most of the times I’ve visited Cashiers or Lake Glenville, I’ve stayed in an AirBnB or VRBO at the Sapphire Valley Resort. Staying at the resort is fantastic because it has an indoor pool and sauna, hot tubs, mini-golf, a gym, arcade room, and outdoor pool. You have to purchase an amenity card (it was around $3/day in 2021) but it was totally worth it for the downtime moments between all our adventures to swim in the pools and relax in the sauna. This is especially worth it if you’re visiting during the colder months because you can use the indoor pool and sauna no matter the weather! Also, if you’re staying at the resort, you can rent kayaks or paddleboards at Lake Fairfield. That was the very first time I tried paddleboarding, which kindled my love for it!
The AirBnB I stayed at in Lake Glenville though was just amazing. I really didn’t want to leave. While we didn’t have lake access, we did have a breathtaking view of the lake, which was one hundred percent worth it. Definitely check AirBnB or VRBO for listings that fit your family’s needs and budget.
The other place I’ve stayed while visiting Cashiers is the Hampton Inn & Suites directly across the street from the resort. This hotel was awesome for several reasons:
It has an indoor pool and hot tub, which we made use of when our initial tubing time was unavailable
It has a free, hot breakfast in the morning included which has everything from waffles to eggs to smoothies to oatmeal and bagels
The location is just perfect as it took us no time to get to the resort
It is super clean and the staff are friendly and helpful
It has free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate all day long
Great option for budget-conscious families (we saw so many families there!)
The wintertime is this area’s slower season so prices are probably as cheap as they will be all year. This season is often called the “Secret Season” because of the lower cost of trips there.
For a more luxurious and high end vacation experience in Cashiers, take a look at the High Hampton Resort. It has a gold course, spa, and beautiful rooms.
Where to Shop in Cashiers
We loved shopping at the Cashiers Farmers Market, a standalone market with everything from bacon to local honey to fruit and produce to pottery and seasonal items. They also have wine, chocolate, and you can order lunch and eat at the picnic tables next door.
We also really loved the Cashiers Candy Shoppe, which has an eclectic array of clothing, home goods, and an entire room dedicated to candy and chocolate. It was amazing. But the best part for my kids was petting the two Golden Retrievers that greeted guests. They were adorable and one rolled over immediately for tummy pets when one of my daughters was giving her some love. So, so cute.
My Last Thoughts on Cashiers
Know this: if you visit Cashiers, you may leave a little piece of your heart there. If you like hiking, swimming, boating, sliding down waterfalls, and spending time with family, the Sapphire Valley may swoop in and whisk you away. I have fallen so hard for this tiny slice of heaven and go as often as I can. I have made some wonderful memories with my family here and truly hope I get to make many more.
And here’s another confession – I grew up close to the beach in New Jersey and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m more of a mountain-lover than beach-lover. It seems like a betrayal of my roots. But it’s not. I’m setting down new roots for my own little kids to make their own memories and hopefully fall in love with the outdoors like I did.
Have you heard of the “Shadow of the Bear”? It’s exactly like it sounds but to see it, you have to be high up on Whiteside Mountain in Cashiers, NC, less than two hours from Greenville. Here’s what you need to know to catch the cool WNC shadow of the bear experience.
Lake Glenville in Jackson County, NC is truly a hidden gem, perfect for families especially who love the outdoors, and a peaceful retreat away from our busy lives.
Thanks Jackson County, North Carolina for inviting us to spend a weekend at Lake Glenville.
The Cashiers area of Western North Carolina has held a special place in my heart since my family moved to South Carolina more than eight years ago because it was the first place we took a family vacation. And it was just amazing – we hiked, ate at delicious restaurants, went swimming in waterfalls, tried out paddle boarding, and had that relaxing family trip I had envisioned. Now, even years later and after many day trips to the area, I’m still in love with this piece of heaven and was delighted to explore a part of Jackson County that I had yet to check out: Lake Glenville.
My two daughters, ages 11 and 8, packed as much as we possibly could into the weekend and left reluctantly because we had such a great time together. I already have a list of things I want to do that we didn’t get to. But, for now, let me tell you about why Lake Glenville should be on your family’s list of places to go, especially if you’re searching for that hidden gem of a spot to relax and enjoy each other. And one of the best parts: we did our entire weekend trip on just one tank of gas.
If you need more ideas of places to go and things to do in the Cashiers area, see our big guide!
You can explore Lake Glenville, the highest lake in Eastern US, in Jackson County, NC by boat with Lake Glenville Scenic Boat Tours. We did the beautiful boat tour and will tell you all you need to know to enjoy the scenic lake.
Thanks to Jackson County, North Carolina for hosting us and providing the opportunity to take the boat tour.
Created in 1941, Lake Glenville is the highest lake east of the Mississippi River at more than 3,400 feet. But really, even if you didn’t know this cool information, you would be just as enamored as I was seeing it because it’s spectacularly gorgeous and serene. That’s what drew me in the most. There’s something really special about mountain lakes (besides the amazing fact that they are free from sharks). Maybe it’s that crisp mountain air, the ancient hills that loom in the distance, that clear water – whatever it is, that’s where I want to be.
So when I had the opportunity to take a boat tour with Captain Mark and his scenic boat cruise on Lake Glenville – the only boat tour company that operates on the lake – I was all in. We got to see waterfalls, a bald eagle nest, and enjoy the beauty of the lake.
Are you, your family, or a group of friends ready for a getaway just a stone’s throw from the Upstate? Whitewater Whispers is a 3-bedroom 2-bath house with a jaw-dropping mountain view and the gentle soundtrack of a rippling river you can hear from the back deck. Need more adventure? The nearby Sapphire Valley Resort is open year-round and offers plenty of family fun!