Discovering the Jewel of Robbinsville: Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort

Julie Diebolt Price Avatar
Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort entrance

Historic Tapoco Lodge hosted me, but all opinions are my own.

The Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort, a jewel on the banks of the Cheoah River in the quaint town of Robbinsville, offers a unique blend of natural beauty, history and modern amenities. Nestled among the rolling hills and lush Nantahala forest of western North Carolina, this jewel has been a favorite amongst locals for generations. During my two-day stay, I was intrigued by the history of the lodge and all the activities in the region.

How To Get To Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort

McGhee Tyson Airport in Alcoa, Tennessee, is the closest airport to Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort. The airport is 45 miles directly north of the lodge, but you must drive the Tail of the Dragon to get there. More about that in a minute.

Approaching Historic Tapoco Lodge on Ronnie Milsap Highway, the sound of rushing water from the river and the impressive views of the surrounding mountains take your breath away. When I was there in March, the trees were starting to bud, casting a pastel haze over the verdant spring landscape.

The section of US 129 along the Cheoah River and Historic Tapoco Lodge at 14981 Tapoco Road in Robbinsville, North Carolina, was renamed Ronnie Milsap Highway by the Board of Transportation in 2019. Country Music Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy award-winner Milsap spent his formative years living down the road near the lodge.

Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort Main Building
Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort Main Building. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Significance of Historic Tapoco Lodge

The Historic Tapoco Lodge is a unique and significant piece of North Carolina’s history. Built in the 1930s by ALCOA to house workers building the nearby hydroelectric dam, the lodge received extensive renovations to become a luxurious retreat that preserves the history and charm of the original building.

The lodge was built using local materials, such as river rock, chestnut wood and handmade bricks, which are still visible throughout the property. The lodge has also been designated as a National Historic Site, recognizing its historical significance and ensuring it will be protected for future generations.

From the moment you step inside the Main Building, the staff greets you warmly during check-in at the front desk. The Gift Shop brims with local memorabilia, souvenirs and Release Dates T-shirts. (Release Dates refer to the release of water from the dam that creates the river’s fast-running rapids and a cause for celebration at Tapoco Lodge.)

Guest Services are covered 24 hours a day.

The business center is a cozy book-lined alcove near the lounge with a desk, chair and power to plug in your laptop.

The dedicated professionals managing the Historic Tapoco Lodge care about preserving the lodge’s legacy and nurturing their staff. Some staff members have been there for many years, and all are treated like family.

Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort Hemlock Room
Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort Hemlock Room. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Accommodations at Historic Tapoco Lodge

The Historic Tapoco Lodge offers a variety of accommodations to suit every taste and budget.

Pick from a room type of cozy standard room with a private bathroom to luxurious suites with sofa beds and a hot tub. They have extra beds, too, if needed. I enjoyed my two-night stay in the Hemlock Room with a King bed. It was the best room in the Main Lodge because it overlooked the Cheoah River.

The attention to detail was most evident in the bathroom with its luxurious bath products, monogrammed washcloth and logo sticker on the roll of toilet paper.

The rustic furnishings are unique, and the rooms feature modern amenities such as free wifi and high-speed internet, cable TV and air conditioning. You can use your credit card for your hotel sundries and at the shared lounge.

For those seeking a more private and secluded experience, the lodge offers several cabins in the woods. The Santeetlah, Alcoa, Chilhowee, Cheoah, Mountain View and White Oak cabins are perfect for couples, singles or families who desire a serene and peaceful setting. Located up the hill in the back of the Main Lodge, they are close to the tennis courts, the Tin Can Theater, the fire pits and the picnic area along Yellow Hammer Creek.

Pets are welcome in the pet-friendly Mountain View or Overlook cabins.

SheBuysTravel Tip: While the main lodge entrance, gift shop and dining room are wheelchair accessible, there is no elevator or bell staff to carry bags upstairs.

Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort Carolina Trout Dinner
Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort Carolina Trout Dinner. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Dining Options and Experiences at Historic Tapoco Lodge

The Historic Tapoco Lodge has two restaurants offering various dining options and experiences. The Tapoco Tavern is a casual, family-friendly restaurant serving delicious pub fare and craft beer in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.

I chose the Campfire Carolina Mountain Trout for dinner in the Tapoco Tavern. It was grilled Carolina trout hidden under a generous mound of carmelized onions, smoky bacon and glazed pecans. The meal came with my choice of Baked Mac and Cheese and Super Slaw that I couldn’t resist. Everything was delicious.

For a more formal and upscale dining experience, guests can visit the Cheoah Dining Room, offering a fine dining menu featuring locally sourced ingredients and carefully paired wines. The restaurant is in the main lodge building, offering stunning views of the river and surrounding mountains. Breakfast is served here, too.

Outdoor Activities and Attractions Near Historic Tapoco Lodge

The lodge is on the banks of the Cheoah River, which offers excellent opportunities for fly fishing, kayaking, river rafting, biking and hiking on the trails adjoining the property. You can start the Bear Creek Falls trail at the Tin Can Theater, where events like dances, old movie viewing and hosted affairs occur.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The lodge is also near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which offers miles of scenic drives, hiking trails and breathtaking views of the local mountains.

Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap
Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Tail of the Dragon

I’m proud to say that I slew the Dragon when I drove the Tail of the Dragon, a famous motorcycle and sports car route that skirts the southern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Starting at Deals Gap in North Carolina, I captured the requisite selfie at the iconic dragon before taking on the challenging 11 miles with 318 curves and ending in Tennessee.

You must be alert when driving and heed the advice – go slow and stay in your lane. There are no driveways or intersecting roads to slow you down or distract you from the business of driving the Tail of the Dragon. I drove a small sedan and was glad it was raining. The weather conditions kept the traffic down so I could go at my own pace. I puled over when other, more aggressive drivers wanted to pass.

Cherohala Skyway

When I completed my Tail of the Dragon challenge, I continued driving south into Tennessee and joined the Cherohala Skyway. The name Cherohala results from the combination of Cherokee and Nantahala, the two national forests through which the Skyway passes. The Skyway is a 43-mile National Scenic Byway and National Forest Scenic Byway with the highest point over 5,400 feet. While the beauty, it is said, rivals the Blue Ridge Parkway, I wouldn’t know. The road was socked in with fog so close to the ground I couldn’t see even a few feet in front of my vehicle.

If you have the time, Bald River Falls is worth seeing. Soon after joining the Cherohala Skyway near Tellico Plains, the well-marked road provides a six-mile drive to the falls you can see up close. You can continue on the dirt road past the bridge to rejoin the Skyway. However, because I was traveling solo, I chose to retrace my steps on the paved road back to the Skyway.

The Cherohala Skyway terminates at the south shore of Lake Santeetlah in North Carolina. This beautiful place is scenic with a great mountain and lake view.

I celebrated my dragon slaying with the Dragon Slayer Bloody Mary at the Tapoco Tavern when I returned that evening.

Special Events and Occasions at Historic Tapoco Lodge

The lodge hosts annual special events, including live music performances, wine tastings and holiday celebrations. These events are open to both lodge guests and the public. It’s also popular for weddings. When I was there, the wedding swags still decorated the ceiling in the dining room. I thought it was their usual décor which gave it an elegant touch.

The lodge celebrates Release Dates during the year. That’s when water is released from Cheoah Dam to provide water to Tennessee. The water is so powerful that only expert kayakers are allowed on the rushing water. They compete and test their skills on the dangerous rapids in front of Tapoco Lodge. It’s a cause for celebration as the dining room and Tavern have specials to commemorate the event. Get a ringside seat at the Tavern on the patio with umbrellas to shade you from sun or rain.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re looking to escape the stress of city life or simply seeking a peaceful and serene getaway, the Historic Tapoco Lodge will exceed your expectations. That’s the magic of Graham County and western North Carolina with their unmistakable Southern hospitality.

Like they say at Tapoco – it’s an adventuary – where adventure and sanctuary meet!

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Julie Diebolt Price is an award-winning professional photographer, educator, author, and travel writer. She writes about two things – photography and travel (along with a little food and beverage). Julie educates and mentors aspiring photographers. As a journalist who loves to travel, she creates memorable experiences and shares them with words and pictures.
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