Wild River Trips: Nantahala River

A rapid run in North Carolina's Smokies

In the heart of North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, the Nantahala River runs for eight moderately wooly miles through the narrow Nantahala River Gorge. Because an upriver power plant schedules daily releases from March through October, the flow is consistent enough to support several outfitters, and even the 2013 Freestyle Kayaking Championships.

Self-guided trips can run you less than $20 per person with Adventurous Fast Rivers, although if you’re a real adrenaline junkie, you can spring for a sit-on-top kayak for $35. Just be sure to take out before the lower Nantahala Falls, a class VI monster considered to be suicidal.

Because the Nantahala is a half-day river (unless you run it twice), head to the Nantahala Outdoor Center where the river feeds into Fontana Lake, a flat Appalachian lake lined with coves and waterfalls. For $25 NOC can put you in a kayak or on a stand up paddleboard for two hours.

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