When the summer heat swelters and you need to get away, or when fall rolls around and you are looking to see the colorful turning of the leaves, there is a place to play just up the road, tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. Think of it as Disney World for grown-ups—without the hype, lines, heat, or exorbitant prices. Of course, kids are welcome, too.
Whether it is whitewater rafting, kayaking, camping, paddle boarding, ziplining, hiking, ropes courses, mountain biking, or even mountain trail excursions—if you can do it outdoors—Nantahla Outdoors Center has you covered.
Pulling into NOC from a winding mountain road in Bryson City, N.C., you come upon a lively village of wooden buildings along the Nantahala River. People roam about in paddle shorts and sandals. The vibe is relaxed, happy. The Appalachian Trail runs directly through the Center, and backpackers trekking across a bridge seem to fit right in. Below, on the river, colorful kayaks twist, flip, and paddle through rapids.
Nantahala Outdoor Center was founded in 1972 by Payson Kennedy and Horace Holden Senior on the concept of finding a state of "flow."
“I had the idea that if people often had these flow experiences, they would perform at an extraordinary level,” says Payson. “They would enjoy it. They would have fun at it. It wouldn’t be tiring. They wouldn’t get burned out. They would enjoy what they were doing, and they would enjoy sharing it with others.”
Having written much about my affection for, addiction to, and the benefits of moving water, switching from ocean to river for the weekend was an absolute blast. I discovered Nantahala Outdoor Center as a teenager when my high school’s outdoor club took a kayaking trip to Bryson City. I hadn't returned since, but upon arrival, I felt as if I could tuck right in and spend weeks on these waters.
The guides are highly skilled in their crafts, and their own passion for sharing the outdoors is evident. NOC is a training ground for some of the best paddlers in the world, many of whom are preparing for the Olympic Games. NOC also offers a Master Guide Program, honing the skills of rafters and kayakers. But for the amateur looking for fun, there is no shortage of activities to choose from.
My rafting guide, Perry, came upon rafting when he quit his nine-to-five job and took a soul-searching journey across the United States. He knew he needed to be outdoors, and rafting was the solution. “I have no bills except a cell phone. I am on the water all year-round. I live simply so I can do this,” he says. Living in flow—in a state of mindful, purposeful, engagement—brings more fulfillment for Perry than the American dream that entials a mortgage, car payments, and bills.
There are regular events every weekend, and when the day is done, there is plenty of fun nightlife to enjoy—music, drinks, new friends, and fun!
So when you are needing to escape the heat and to try a new sport, Nantahala Outdoor Center is the perfect getaway. Now I challenge the folks at NOC to come down to Charleston and try an SUP downwinder or surfing with us Charlestonians!