Tsali Recreation Area

Enjoy mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, motorized boating, kayaking or…

Enjoy mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, motorized boating, kayaking or camping at Tsali Recreation Area, all located within steps of Fontana Lake.

Tsali Recreation Area

A Popular Destination to Hit the Trails and Access Fontana Lake

One of the most diverse recreation areas in the South, the Tsali (pronounced “SAH-lee”) Recreation Area includes mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, motorized boating, kayaking or camping, all located within steps of Fontana Lake. The popular Tsali Recreation Area has long been considered a top destination for mountain biking in Western North Carolina, and even the entire eastern US. Four huge loops give you 40 exhilarating miles of trail to ride. Between runs on the single track and former logging roads, catch your breath and admire the spectacular scenery: Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park dominate the views from the trails. Tsali has been rated as one of the top 10 places to ride in the USA.

Choose Your Tsali Adventure

Mountain Biking, Horseback Riding, and Hiking

Hikers may travel the trails on any day. Mountain bikers and equestrians–the primary users–are kept separated by alternating days on the trails. Be sure to follow the trail schedule


Open early April through October, Tsali Campground offers 42 campsites on a first-come, first-served basis. Many sites accommodate small RVs, but no hookups are available. Each campsite has a picnic table, fire ring and lantern post. Accessible flush toilets, hot showers and drinking water are available. Campers pay fees at the campground fee station.

Water Activities:

Fontana Lake offers flatwater paddling and motor boating. One boat launch is located at Tsali, while another is located nearby on FR 2553 at Lemmons Branch. Ample parking is available at either launch. Fishing is permitted year-round, and anglers will find some of the best fishing for walleye in the state. Anglers can also catch black bass, crappie, catfish and white bass.

History Behind the Tsali Name

On November 1, 1838, the Cherokee Indian known as Tsali was captured, and among those who refused to leave North Carolina after a group of Cherokee leaders signed a treaty ceding their tribal lands to the United States. Tsali, his family, and a few friends had gone into hiding in the spring. Cherokee tradition tells of Tsali’s group being captured and harassed by the federal troops. By this account, Tsali decided to try to fake an injury and ambush the soldiers to escape. In the ensuing skirmish, one soldier was killed and two others wounded, one mortally.  The Cherokee escaped and hid until learning that if the men responsible were to give themselves up, all of the other Indians in hiding could remain in North Carolina.  The legend maintains that Tsali agreed to be executed so that the others could stay. Among the Cherokee, Tsali has become a legendary hero, depicted in the outdoor drama Unto These Hills

A former neighbor of Tsali’s known as Euchella and another Indian caught Tsali and executed him.  Euchella and his men were given permission to remain in North Carolina with the Oconaluftee Citizen Indians.  Eventually these groups would be recognized as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The events were tragic and the outcome heartbreaking, and the saga is now immortalized in Cherokee lore.

More Outdoor Activities


Mountain biking continues to grow in popularity, and Bryson City is no stranger to…


Fontana Lake, the crown jewel of Bryson City, is your perfect under-the-radar…


Ready to cool down? Grab a tube and enjoy a float through the Great Smoky Mountains…


Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountain National Forests are some of the most…

Gem Mining

A perfect activity for all ages, our gem mining spots provide you with the best tools…


Channel your inner Tarzan and explore the beauty of our national parks and forests by…


Get refreshed with a swim in the Smokies! This seasonal activity is just the cool…


Bryson City, NC, is known to have parks and outdoor spaces stretching as far as the…


Grab your golf clubs and get ready to play a round amongst one of the area’s…