Giddy-up and go to Cataloochee Ranch

Travel

May 28, 2024

Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley. Woman in cowboy hat walking horse

by Cathy Martin

If you’re looking for a western ranch experience that’s closer to home, this is it. Just three hours west of Charlotte in Maggie Valley is Cataloochee Ranch, a 91-year-old resort that’s undergone a luxe refresh, reopening in March.  

The sprawling property atop Fie Top Mountain was purchased in 2020 by David and Annie Colquitt, who also own The Swag in nearby Waynesville. They’ve spent the last four years renovating it, and they’re not done yet.

There’s a strong western vibe — if you didn’t know better, you might wonder if you’re in Montana or Wyoming instead of North Carolina. And while the main campus seems compact, there are nearly 700 acres to explore. Activities include horseback riding, archery, fly-fishing, axe-throwing, arts and crafts, and an adventure course. A mercantile, pool and spa are coming soon. In the meantime, guests at Cataloochee Ranch can visit The Still spa at The Swag for massages, facials or a detoxifying mud wrap — the ranch offers valet service between the two resorts.

After the day’s adventures, settle into the green Adirondack chairs by the lake or sprinkled about the hilly property dotted with white pines. For a pre-dinner libation, head to The Forge, the resort’s open-air patio bar, or the Tack Room, a cozy cocktail lounge.

Photographs by Finch Photo, courtesy Cataloochee Ranch.

A former sheep barn now houses the bars, along with Switchback, the resort’s all-day restaurant led by Chef Jeb Aldrich. Here, soaring ceilings with rustic wood beams are punctuated with oversized lanterns encased in mesh screens evoking a cozy back-porch vibe. Leather banquettes and midcentury chairs lend a modern feel, and wide glass barn-style doors open onto a wraparound terrace with unobstructed views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Aldrich’s menu is updated daily to reflect what’s in season. Bread service comes with a homemade beeswax butter, lit tableside. There are steaks, of course, plus several seafood dishes, a dry-aged Rohan duck (a chef’s specialty, I’m told), and mouthwatering woodfired pizzas for a more casual meal. Dishes from Asheville’s East Fork Pottery and Frette linens make each meal feel a little special.  

The Relais & Chateaux property caters to both couples and families, and several rooms accommodate four to eight guests for multigenerational family stays. There are 12 uniquely designed cabins, and a six-room lodge is expected to open later this year. I stayed in Verlin, a charming cabin designed for couples or solo travelers nestled under a massive Norway spruce. With a vaulted ceiling, plush king bed, stone fireplace, wide front porch with rockers, and large bathroom with heated floors and a soaking tub, it was everything I needed and more.

No details are overlooked, and accommodations are equipped with everything you might possibly need — lanterns for strolling after dark, umbrellas for a passing shower, coolers for picnics on the lawn, botanical-infused soaps and lotions from Waynesville’s Hazelwood Soap Co.

Photographs by Cathy Martin

We each have a different definition of luxury. Warm, personalized service, impeccable design and thoughtful touches at every turn make me feel special (great food and spotlessness are a given). Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley has it all, making the $600-and-up nightly rate seem justified. Go, soon… before the secret is out.

GOOD TO KNOW: While the resort completes the buildout of the lodge and spa, Cataloochee Ranch is open Thursday-Monday. It will eventually be open seven days a week. Switchback is open to the public as well as resort guests — reservations can be made at resy.com. During your stay, sign up for a guided hike with Steven Reinhold, a Haywood County native and experienced guide, to learn more about the area’s history.  

Getting there: Cataloochee Ranch is just under a 3-hour drive from Charlotte

Featured photograph by Brie Williams Photography, courtesy Cataloochee Ranch

Related: SUMMER GETAWAYS: 10 places to go this season

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