Last weekend we spent two nights at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, North Carolina. Surprisingly, the drive was shorter than getting to the Nolichucky River in East Tennessee where we spent Memorial Day weekend. When we reached eastern Alabama the hills started turning into mountains, and I just watched out the window as all the greenery reached further into the sky.
Having never visited the NOC but having read about the grounds, activities, and rivers in the area, we were so excited. We arrived around 7:15 pm (got a later than expected start) and moved into our room in the Dogwood Motel. The “motel” has 8 rooms and a shared living and kitchen space. Our motel-mates kind of took over the shared space, so we didn’t get a chance to really use it; however, our room had a TV (never turned on), private bathroom, and small porch just for us. It was just perfect!
We had dinner at Big Wesser and enjoyed some beers while watching the kayakers on the Nantahala in front of the Outfitter.
We tried some really good beers over the weekend too!
We had a big breakfast Saturday morning at River’s Edge Restaurant. An omelette and steak and eggs kept us going all day as we hiked around the area. The food is really good at both restaurants at the NOC. River’s Edge closes at 8:00 pm (as does the Outfitter and General Store).
Saturday we also visited the Outfitter, and Winn bought a new Werner Surge paddle. He loves it. I love the color. We walked down to Nantahala Falls and checked out the lines. I am still less experienced than Winn, so I wasn’t sure if I’d go down (spoiler alert: I didn’t). We enjoyed watching the paddlers going down and rafters falling out.
Coming down in a Dagger!
This guy in an early 90s Perception Pirouette was incredibly graceful. I could have watched him all day. I didn’t catch him eddying right above the falls (talk about skills) and him going down Nantahala Falls with such ease.
Among the activities at the NOC are whitewater kayaking (obvs), whitewater rafting, ziplining, whitewater paddling school, hiking, and they also offer wilderness medicine courses and swiftwater rescue courses in addition to other courses throughout the year. In fact, a paddling camp for kids was starting the day we left. The Appalachian Trail runs right through the campus, as they call it, so there were thru-hikers on site, getting supplies, taking a break, and/or staying for the night. If I were hiking the AT, I’d just stop and stay at the NOC for a few days… or weeks.
Our main reason for going to the NOC was to go to Paddling School. We booked a private instructor and showed up at 8:30 am on Sunday morning to meet our instructor, Jonny Ortiz. He was amazing! I came away feeling so much more confident in my paddling. He took us to a lake first, where we practiced rolling, turning, using our hips to turn (which makes me feel like I’m just going to fall over – but I didn’t!), and paddle strokes.
Winn’s roll is solid. Mine does not yet exist. (Well I’ve done it 5 times in a pool.)
We then went to the Nantahala River! We used a ton of different skills while paddling. Jonny taught us as we were going down – we eddied a lot, peeled out, practiced ferrying, and… surfing!
And me, surfing! I had no idea that it was so fun. Like, totally wondered why Winn would always go up to waves and try to sit there…
Jonny then took us down the Bump, which he said was “half a foot” (it was not). I asked him if I should do it, and he said, “I wouldn’t give you the option if I didn’t think you could do it.” I can’t tell you how inspiring, educating, and confidence-boosting he was as a teacher. Since kayaking can be dangerous, I never want to go down any rapids that might be beyond my skill level. The wave train and the Bump were so much fun. Whitewater kayaking is a natural rollercoaster, and I’m so glad that we’ve found this hobby to enjoy together. And thanks to Jonny, who we’ll see again.
Overall, we had such a great time at the NOC. Recommendations:
- The Dogwood Motel, with its shared kitchen, is a great place to keep food and drinks so that you don’t have to eat out for every meal. We didn’t bring any food, and because the NOC General Store closes at 8:00 pm, I would recommend bringing some food or at least snacks. There is the Nantahala General Store right down the road, but we didn’t know it was there until Sunday.
- If I were going with a group of friends, I would definitely book a cabin. We’ve picked out the one we want for next time. 🙂 By the way, the reservations customer service at the NOC is great.
- You don’t have to buy food or beer/drinks from the restaurants to enjoy sitting by the river. No outside drinks are allowed on the restaurant’s porch area, but there are picnic tables and chairs available, and you can bring food and drinks to enjoy. We took some Abita Strawberry and brought them down to drink by the river and listen to the live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
- If you are interested in whitewater kayaking, even if you are an advanced paddler, I highly recommend getting an instructor through NOC Paddling School. There is certainly always room to improve!