Sylva, North Carolina: Smoky Mountain Mecca

Located in the Smoky mountains, Sylva, North Carolina offers access to both natural beauty and a vibrant culture of bookstores, restaurants, and downtown arts programs.
By Joe Hart
October/November 2009
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Residents of Sylva, North Carolina enjoy a thriving arts scene in addition to the nearby Smoky Mountains.

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The awesome Smoky Mountains contain the largest stand of old growth forest east of the Mississippi River and an amazingly rich and rare biodiversity ranging from salamanders to black bears. No wonder the mountain range has been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, which recognizes the world’s most valuable cultural and natural assets.

The small town of Sylva, North Carolina, gains much of its character from the surrounding beauty of the range, as well as the Tuckasegee River. The nearby Great Smoky Mountain National Park features more than 800 miles of hiking trails.

While the wilderness is a compelling feature of the area, Sylva isn’t lost to civilization. Less than six miles from Western Carolina University and its 11,000 students, Sylva is as rich in culture as it is in beauty. A thriving bookstore, a variety of restaurants (many offering local and organic fare), and a teahouse that serves exotic teas round out the town experience.

During the summer months, street life is vibrant, thanks to the downtown association’s Sylva After Dark arts program, which enlists local galleries, cafes and the Heinzelmannchen, a small-scale brewery, to provide music and gallery openings during the evening hours.

Sylva Stats

Population: 2,435
Median Household Income: $26,432
Weather: Four seasons, with mild summers and winter temperatures that dip into freezing.
What Makes It Great: It’s a smart, civic-minded small town in the incredible Smoky Mountains.

Check out the other towns featured in the 2009 installment of Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.

Post a comment below.


2/8/2011 6:57:04 AM
We are visiting Sylva soon from the UK as a family relative lives here. Im really looking forward to it as it our first trip to the US and I don't really get on with big cities and love wildlife and national parks. We have a 1year old daughter who i'm sure will be a handfull(!) so I wonder if anyone can recommend any family activities in Sylva or close by? Thankyou!

John Bubacz_2
10/12/2009 3:07:11 PM
Thanks, Mother Earth News for this nice little story. We do truly love our town. We invest alot of time and money so that we may be here for each other. We, of course, love visitors, but I agree with the comment made by David. We do like that the world doesn't come here. We are afraid we will lose our small town charm and connectedness. I have faith in readers of your publication that they will come here and respect it for what it is: a preserve, of sorts. We have community, trust and just the right anonymity to keep it vibrant. As for organics, visit for a list and for the menu at my cafe. Thanks again, John Bubacz

David Liberman
10/1/2009 2:12:38 PM
I live outside of Sylva and think it is a fine place to live that we were trying to keep a secret. Regarding: "A thriving bookstore, a variety of restaurants (many offering local and organic fare), and a teahouse that serves exotic teas round out the town experience." I know the bookstore and the tea house well but sure would appreciate a copy of your list of many restaurants serving organic fare. David

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