Whether you prefer a gentle glide down a peaceful stream or riding the rapids of a lively river, there’s fun to be had on the water in Western North Carolina and the surrounding area.
Expert outfitters have the gear and the knowledge to equip those of all skill levels for kayaking, rafting, tubing, canoeing and more. For nearly 40 years, the Nantahala Outdoor Center has been a pacesetter in the world of whitewater rafting. Located in North Carolina near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NOC guides trips on the Chattooga, Cheoah, French Broad, Nantahala, Nolichucky, Ocoee and Pigeon rivers.
“Each river is a little bit different, and we have seven rivers that we run trips on, spread out between North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina,” says Barbra Rodichok, spokeswoman for NOC. “The fact that we have seven different rivers to choose from gives us a lot of opportunity to find a river that’s going to fit with everyone’s personality.
“For example, the Nantahala, where our headquarters is located, is a very beginner-friendly river. And then, if you decide you really like it and you’re looking for a little bit more adventure, a little more action, we have other rivers that you can progress up to.”
The appeal of being on the river is universal, but has different alluring aspects for everyone, Rodichok says. “Some people just like to be outside; some people are drawn to the way the river speaks to them,” she says. “I’m pretty sure everyone has a very personal reason for why they do it. It’s also something special you can share with people you love.”
In spring 2010, NOC is set to open its second outdoor store at the Gatlinburg, Tenn., entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During peak season in June and July, NOC has around 500 employees, and the action is nonstop. “If you took all the guests that rafted all of the rivers in 2008, it would be 849,000 miles – or 22 trips around the earth,” she says. Trips range in price from $25 a person to $175 a person, depending on the river and the type of outing.
The season runs from March to October, also depending on the river.
Other area outfitters include Wildwater Ltd., in business since 1971, with whitewater trips on a handful of rivers; Diamond Brand Outdoors, with locations in Arden and Asheville; Huck Finn Rafting Adventures in Hot Springs, with more than a quarter-century of experience, and Southern Waterways.
“I just love the community that has been built up here [over the years],” Rodichok says. “Everyone here enjoys being in the outdoors and wants to be here. You never have one season that’s exactly like the one before it.”