Tucked high atop Fie Top Mountain at 5,200 feet above sea level in Maggie Valley, NC, Cataloochee Guest Ranch welcomes guests to explore its vast property and reconnect with nature in an area like no other in the South. The ranch, which was founded by Tom and Judy Alexander in 1933, was actually first located in Cataloochee Valley, later moving to the mountain top when Tom purchased additional property, which included several outbuildings. Today, Cataloochee Guest Ranch offers rustic, yet comfortable accommodations, access to plenty of on-site and nearby activities and spectacular views you won’t find anywhere else. Though “Mr. Tom” and “Miss Judy” have long since passed away, the ranch is still owned and managed by third-generation Alexanders, who have ensured the facility maintains its original charm while still evolving to accommodate the desires of modern-day travelers.
Cataloochee Guest Ranch has several options for accommodations on the property, each offering varied comfort levels and views. The main house, which was originally a cattle barn, was long ago converted to function as the central hub of the ranch. In the main house, you’ll find the dining room, front desk and gift shop as well as six guest rooms, each with private baths. Silverbell Lodge, a separate building atop a small hill, sleeps up to 24 guests in rooms of various sizes. Silverbell, which also has two fireplaces and a common gathering space, is perfect for large families or group retreats where everyone wants to stay together but still have their own space. Lastly, there are cabins located throughout the property and on the ridge. Eight ranch cabins each offer a fireplace, satellite TV, a small fridge and a coffeemaker. The four “Cabins on the Ridge,” as they’re called, are the ranch’s most luxurious options, each with a fireplace, Jacuzzi, wet bar and private deck with a magnificent view.
No matter where you rest your head, make sure you crack the windows to breathe in the fresh mountain air. You’ll fall asleep to the sounds of croaking bullfrogs and crickets, and awaken to the ranch rooster, who is nothing if not persistent!
Included in each guest booking are breakfast, served daily from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., and dinner (with full-service rate), which begins serving at 7 p.m. following the 6 p.m. social hour. Beer and wine are available for purchase to enjoy while you mingle with other ranch guests. Buffet-style breakfast features the likes of eggs, bacon or sausage, biscuits or rolls, grits, country gravy, juice and coffee. Dinner options, created by Chef CJ, run the gamut — think salmon, steak, chicken, trout and the like, always paired with fresh veggies, rolls and a tempting spread of desserts. Lunch is available each day for an additional fee and may include options like deli sandwiches, tasty soups, fresh salads, burgers and hot dogs.
It’s not uncommon for non-ranch guests to come to the ranch for dinner — either locals or those in town but staying elsewhere. It’s also not uncommon for ranch guests to return year after year. In fact, during our recent stay, there was a large family who had been coming to Cataloochee Guest Ranch for their annual family reunion for the past 20 years!
The mountains of North Carolina provide an area unmatched in beauty, offering myriad opportunities to get out and be active. On the ranch, you can sign up to horseback ride — the horses are there from April to November before being transferred to a warmer climate for the winter. Each morning at breakfast the wrangler comes by to take the names of those who wish to partake in the morning ride. (There’s an afternoon ride, as well.) The rides typically last 2 to 2.5 hours, during which you enjoy a slow ride through amazing landscape, all viewed as you climb to the top of the mountain, take a break, relish the view, and then return to the ranch.
If you prefer to take in the views by foot, hikers will be thrilled with the trail options available on the ranch property. Six hikes of varying degrees of difficulty are available, each offering unique experiences to take in — wildflowers, a view from the bald, wildlife viewing — and each is spectacular. Make sure you let the front desk attendant know when you’re heading out for a hike and when you’ve safely returned. Ranch rule!
The ranch pond offers both a place for peaceful repose as well as the opportunity to cast a line. There’s a limit of one fish per person per day, though. And if you want to have it cleaned and prepared, Chef will gladly oblige.
Other activities include a heated pool, basketball court, ping-pong, horseshoes, badminton and croquet. In the evenings, the entertainment continues and may come in the form of a musician performing in the main house or around the campfire, or perhaps the “Wolf Man” will stop by with his pet wolves to discuss everything you could ever want to know about these mountain mammals.
If you wish to venture off property, you’re in luck. There are several nearby outfitters who can get you set up for rafting on the Tuckaseegee River. Or waterfall lovers will want to check out Soco Falls near the Eastern Cherokee Reservation. A somewhat steep hike leads you down to the magnificent spot where the frigid water pours down.
In the winter months, the Cataloochee Ski Area is just a mile up the road from the ranch. There are quite a few runs on a fairly small area, but it fits the bill when you simply want to hit the slopes and don’t have the time or funds to make it out west.
If you prefer a more relaxed off-site outing, definitely head to nearby Waynesville, which is a charming town with a bustling Main Street. The art-centric town features locally owned boutiques and galleries and several eateries as well. You can also jump on the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy a scenic drive atop the ridges between the Great Smoky Mountain and Shenandoah National Parks. Asheville is less than an hour from the ranch, Sylva is about 40 minutes away, and Cherokee is about 30 minutes away if you want to hit the casino or explore this unique sovereign nation.
Make a long weekend of your visit to the ranch — a Friday to Monday would be perfect! You’ll return home feeling refreshed and with a new appreciation for this beautiful region we call home.
When you’re ready to book your stay at Cataloochee Guest Ranch, visit their website to look for specials as well as rates.
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