North Carolina: An equestrian’s mountain escape

HN Contributor Amanda Smith takes us for a trip down memory lane at The Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley, NC, bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

From Amanda:

When I was a horse-crazed tween, I had an equally horse-crazed BFF, Katie, who lived across the street. Between the two of us we had about 200 Breyer horses, and about zero friends. But that was OK! We did everything together. Including family vacations to Cataloochee Ranch not once but three times!

A few years ago my husband surprised me when he booked a fall weekend getaway for us at Cataloochee. Evidently he’d been paying attention to some childhood stories! The drive up to Maggie Valley from Atlanta was terrible… heavy fog, constant drizzle, and very little visibility. We arrived after dark, and the weather had not cleared one bit so I was anxious to see one of my most loved places on earth.

The next morning dawned crisp and clear, and to my delight, Cataloochee was even better than I remembered. The autumn foliage was nothing short of spectacular, the food still amazing. All the other guests we met were jovial and friendly and the staff wonderfully welcoming.  The Alexander family has owned and run the ranch since 1933, and they treat every guest like one of their own. The hospitality is second to none, and the pride and passion they have for their ranch is evident.

The 1,000 acre ranch sits atop Fie Top Mountain, and borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and offers a breathtaking setting. There are two large lodges with private guest rooms, as well as 8 individual cabins which accommodate anywhere from 2 to 8 people.  A generous family-style breakfast and a dinner buffet (both ridiculously delicious) is served to guests daily and included in the price of your stay, as is the lively after-dinner entertainment.

And then there are the all the activities…. The 2.5 hr trail rides are scheduled twice a day and are divided by experience level. The horses are all well trained and ridiculously good natured, and care is take to match horses and riders appropriately. There are several different rides/routes offered, so you won’t be bored! There are also great hiking trails, a trout pond (they’ll even cook up your catch for dinner!!), guided and self-guided wild flower walks, a pool, and lawn games like croquet, horseshoes and badminton. And that’s just April thru October! In the winter months the horses are sent to warmer climates for vacation and the ranch turns into a ski resort.

I think I enjoyed my stay even more as an adult, and my husband was singing the ranch’s praises when we got back home. I even after got him on a horse! Unfortunately we haven’t had the chance to go back since our weekend escape, but we’re longing to return.  If you’re even the least bit curious about the ranch, please click over to their website. It is an outstanding vacation spot, and I promise you won’t be disappointed if you go!

[This story was originally published on EN.]

A view taken from the top of Hemphill Bald during a pit stop on one of the trail rides


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