Serene setting, comfortable accommodations, fantastic food and plenty of activities on the property. These are the things I look for in a short getaway and Historic Tapoco Lodge in Western North Carolina checked all the boxes.
Bonuses included a sense of history, hot tub on our deck, one of the best yoga classes I’ve ever taken and the continuous unofficial car show due to its proximity to one of the world’s best roads for sports cars and motorcycles. More on that later.
Located in the Great Smoky Mountains and Nantahala National Forest about three hours from Atlanta, Tapoco Lodge is on the Cheoah River and has a spa, firepits, tennis courts and several hiking trails on its 120-acre property. The Tin Can Theater hosts events and movie nights. Accommodations include lodge rooms and cabins with hot tubs.
The food was outstanding and the river created a lovely setting.
First, a bit of history
Located about three hours from my home in Atlanta, Tapoco Lodge has an idyllic location in the Nantahala National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains. The town of Tapoco was founded in 1913 for workers who were constructing hydroelectric dams and lived in boarding houses until the lodge opened in 1930. The name comes from the first two letters of each of the words of Tallassee Power Company.
In the 1990s the property was purchased by a developer who turned it into a resort. Tapoco Lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. In 2018 the Bailey family purchased the property.
The food: my favorite feature of Tapoco Lodge
We’ve been to some gorgeous resorts where the food was, well, just okay. And with no other dining options close by, we just hoped for the best. The closest town is Robbinsville, about 20 minutes away.
Our first meal was dinner at the Tavern, located on the bottom level of the lodge and a short walk from our cabin. The place was packed but we were able to snag a table outside under heat lamps.
As soon as I looked at the menu I knew Chris would be ordering the black and blue burger, topped with mushrooms, caramelized onions and blue cheese. We split that and the hippie bowl, fresh greens with yummy toppings like cucumber, avocado, cranberries and hummus.
Chris declared the black and blue burger one of the best he’d ever had and I loved the hippie bowl as well.
He loved it so much he ordered it again the next day for lunch and I enjoyed the fish and chips as we sat on the large patio, soaking in the sun and the soothing sounds of the Cheoah River.
The side dishes were equally delicious and included sweet potato fries, mac and cheese and superfood slaw. At our servers’ urging we got the hashbrown casserole, a bowl full of carb-laden deliciousness.
Dinner that night at the Tavern was equally memorable. We started with the mushroom caps with jalapeno pimento cheese, followed by a ribeye and grilled Carolina trout topped with caramelized onions, bacon and glazed pecans along with some fried okra.
Although we were satisfied and stuffed, we caved and got dessert when the server described the Pizookie, a chocolate chip cookie served warm in a skillet with vanilla ice cream.
I have a long love affair with chocolate chips cookies and couldn’t resist one served warm. It did not disappoint and we enjoyed every last warm and gooey bite.
We are not big breakfast eaters and had yogurt and oatmeal in our room. For those who are, breakfast at Tapoco Lodge is served daily in the Cheoah Dining Room. The Tavern is closed for a few months in the winter and fine dining is moved to Cheoah Dining Room.
Accommodations at Tapoco Lodge
Tapoco has three types of accommodations: lodge suites, lodge rooms and cabin rooms. There are three large suites that overlook the Cheoah River and six lodge rooms that have either a view of the Cheoah River or the Smoky Mountains. These rooms do not have TVs.
We stayed in one of the cabin rooms, which connects to another room if you need additional space. Ours had a second bedroom, although it wouldn’t be ideal for two couples as you would have to walk through the larger bedroom to get to the bathroom.
I had a similar set-up in college when I shared a three-bedroom place with three other girls. One of the bedrooms was tucked behind one that had twin beds. It didn’t deter the girl in that room from entertaining male callers, although it did lead to some occasional awkwardness.
Our room was large with a sofa, two chairs, microwave, TV, mini fridge, king-size bed, fluffy robes and a coffee maker. One feature I loved was the additional sink outside of the bathroom and I am always thrilled to see a bathtub. Soon after we arrived, we jumped into that hot tub and enjoyed the cool fall air.
We never left the property during our three-day stay at Tapoco Lodge. In addition to lounging in a hot tub, there are other things to do there.
Enjoy the car show
It may not be an official car show, but between the parade of high-powered cars driving on the road in front of the lodge and the colorful array of new and classic cars in the parking lot, it feels like one.
Thrill-seeking drivers and bikers are on their way to take on the challenge of driving the Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile stretch of U.S. 129 that has 318 curves and is a huge draw for people from around the world.
It is not without risk. As I was walking through the parking lot, I heard a man talking to a couple seated in a vintage GTO. “Last time we were here we went to a funeral for a guy who died there,” he said. In the last 11 years there have been 29 deaths.
On Sunday afternoon Chris stayed in the room and watched football while I went to sit by the river. I noticed a slow caravan of classic cars make their way into the lot where they parked to go inside to the Tavern. It felt like a parade put on just for me.
There were BMWs, old GTOs, Porsches, Lamborghinis and plenty of vintage crayon-colored cars polished to a high sheen with not a speck of dust on them. I took several photos of the fancy cars to share with my son, the car writer and enthusiast.
The lodge also has a motorcycle shed and a place for motorcycle rags in the rooms to cater to bikers.
Go on a hike
Tapoco Lodge has several hiking trails on its 120-acre property. After reviewing the map we picked up from the front desk, we opted to hit the Bear Creek Loop Trail, a two-mile hike.
The first part of the trail is flat and runs along the Cheoah River, but then things get a bit more challenging as we took a sharp right turn and hit some major elevation changes.
After about .25 miles of huffing and puffing uphil, we came to a flatter portion and finished the trail up by the tennis courts, then made our way back down to the lodge. If you aren’t into steep climbs, take this trail counterclockwise.
We spotted the remains of a moonshine still, a reminder of North Carolina’s history when moonshine production was a major source of income in rural areas. The term moonshine is believed to have originated in the state and its production continues to produce income, although it’s legal now.
Take a free yoga class
Complimentary classes are offered weekly. We met in the lodge and Tiffany led us up to the small massage room in the spa. When the weather is nice, the class is held outdoors by the river.
We were the only guests and I really enjoyed the one-hour class. I admit I’m sometimes bored during a yoga class, but the addition of soothing spa music really upped the enjoyment factor for me. As we ended the session Tiffany put light pressure on my legs and shoulders then rubbed by head as I lay on my back, releasing the last bit of stress in my body.
Attend a special activity
Tapoco Lodge hosts a variety of activities during the year including Bourbon 101, Barbecue Night, Indigenous Storytelling and Sip and Paint.
Indulge in a massage
The Mountain Spa at Tapoco Lodge offers a variety of massages including hot stone and hydrotherapy.
Hang out by the riverside fire pit
Purchase s’mores kits at the front desk and find a spot at one of several firepits along the river and on the side lawn. On Friday and Saturday nights the campfires are lit at dusk.
Watch the kayakers during a Cheoah release
Considered one of the most difficult rivers in the Southeast, the Cheoah River has continuous class IV and V rapids for 9.25 miles that are released on select dates throughout the year. The paddlers and rafters pass right in front of Tapoco Lodge. For more on the release dates, visit this Nantahala Outdoor Center page.
Play a game
Tapoco Lodge has tennis courts available for guests and also hosts pickleball classes. You can also find an axe throwing area, basketball court and horseshoe pit.
Lounge in the hammock cove
In addition to all the seating areas for relaxing around a firepit or by the river, there’s also a small area with several hammocks in a quiet area on the property, perfect for sipping a beverage and reading a book.
Pick up an item in the gift shop
The lobby area doubles as a gift shop with hundreds of cute items for sale. You can also grab a quick snack or a beverage here.
Grab a drink at the Laurel Lounge
This small lounge is just as warm and cozy as you want a mountain lounge to be. During the cooler months, you can help yourself to a complimentary cup of warm apple cider. The lounge and an adjoining library area are also available for relaxing during the day.
Attend an event at Tin Can Theater
Once a community center, Tapoco Tin Can Theater has been restored and is used for workshops and special events like Valentine’s Day Dances, weddings and movie nights.
Although we didn’t leave the property, there is plenty to do close by. After we checked out we went hiking in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. You can also visit the Fontana Dam and Visitors Center, Nantahala Outdoor Center and Great Smoky Mountains.
– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief
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