Fun Family Adventures at Nantahala Outdoor Center in NC

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The Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, North Carolina, is THE place for outdoor adventures, whether you’re a pro or a newbie. On the 500-acre campus, you’ll find ziplines, whitewater rafting and more. Here’s the info you need to plan your visit.

Seasonal change signifies a time for renewal, time for change. As fulltime adventure travelers we are always looking for some place new and exciting for family adventure and connecting with our children. The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in Bryson City is one of those places! It happens to be one of our absolute favorites when traveling in the Southeast. We know that trying new things can often feel daunting, but pushing yourself to live outside your comfort zone is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself and your children. And NOC offers an array of activities that will thrill each and every person in the family!

Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)

kitten in fall leaves at Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City NC
Even our kitten loved playing in the crinkly leaves of fall! Photo credit: Kady Kellogg

Most travelers will appreciate the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in Bryson City, North Carolina because it’s an outdoor center with a plethora of visitors on any given day, but it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere. It feels incredibly private.

And as wildly fun as NOC is, it is also a very relaxing place to be. Smack dab in the Smoky Mountains, NOC is nestled in trees and mountains. NOC offers seclusion from the hustle and bustle of the world and is a spectacular family adventure location!

Season at NOC

The spring and summer are possibly the best time to visit NOC as the river is hopping with rafters and kayakers and the seasonal restaurants and store are open. But, fall is, quite possibly, the prettiest time to visit NOC because 1) there are fewer tourists and 2) the changing colors of the leaves is breathtakingly beautiful.

Now, of course, we understand not everyone is an adrenaline junkie like us, so we’ve put together seven amazing NOC family adventures for fun-loving people this fall.

Fall Colors

Creek spilling over rocks, bordered by trees with fall leaves at Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City NC
The NOC is picture perfect in fall. Photo credit: Kady Kellogg

Fall is our oldest daughter’s favorite time of year. She loves the chill in the air, the promise of change, exchanging of warm clothes for cooler clothes. Plus, fall is the beginning of shoulder season, so crowds are at a minimum! When fall creeps up on the mountains of Western North Carolina, the NOC campus is a great place to travel to take full advantage of the amazing colors and the lessening of crowds.

Zip Line Adventure

teen ziplining over water at Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City NC
Ziplines are a great option for family adventure! Photo credit: Kady Kellogg

Who doesn’t love a great zipline?  NOC zipline tours are an epic family adventure! NOC offers five aerial courses ranging from the “MountainTop Zip Line”  which, according to their website, “is perched on the rim of the Nantahala Gorge, over 350 feet above the Nantahala River, featuring 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala Gorge,” to the less adventurous, Zip Line Adventure Park (ZLAP).

According to NOC’s website, the  ZLAP “features 16 aerial adventure elements, from beginner to advanced, along with an exciting 600-foot dual zipline. Riders can weigh as little as 60 pounds.”  

This is definitely something that would be a fun adventure for both kids and adults alike … which makes it a great family adventure!

Family Adventure Outdoor Activities

NOC offers entirely too many activities to list here, but suffice it to say they have your favorite activity! Everything from every type of river fun to Guided Bike Tours, craft brewery tours to Team Building Challenge Courses, means your and your family could stay here indefinitely and never get bored!  

A quick glimpse at NOC’s website shows that in addition to their plethora of outdoor activities, they also offer lessons and training in areas like Swift Water Rescue, Wilderness Training, even an Introduction toKkayaking, which we love to see because education and knowledge is the portal to adventure and fun.

Beautiful, Colorful Hikes

Family Adventure at NOC in Bryson City, NC
NOC is right smack dab in the middle of the Appalachian Trail! Photo credit: Kady Kellogg

NOC offers guided hikes that explore the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains. These guided hikes offer a host of educational information including the history of the park, the local vegetation and little known facts such as the fact that NOC is the Salamander Capital of the world.

One of the guided hikes is a two hour trip that takes you to a stunning 40’ waterfall on their campus. And the Appalachian Trail (AT) also runs right through NOC and is a great opportunity to hike a few miles and take advantage of some amazing views of the Great Smoky Mountains as well as the fall colors. In fact, during one of our stays at NOC we hiked a total of 12 miles on the trail and captured much of it on camera! It was beautiful, and such an incredible escape.

Whitewater Kayaking

NOC is one of our favorite spots to kayak. It’s a world class wave/hole and the river offers everything from beginner fun to Advanced Class V craziness. In the middle of the Nantahala National Forest, the area is spectacular. The water is crystal clear and utterly pristine and refreshing. Kayaking also happens to be one of our family’s favorite activities. It is impossible to be grumpy or pouty when in a kayak. Everyone regardless of age and skill has a blast!    

You can read more about my family’s kayak adventures here.

NOC was voted the “Best Place to Learn” by Outside Magazine. And I’m here to tell you, the guides, the instructors are top notch and the fun is next level. You really can’t go wrong at NOC, fun and safety are their number one priorities!!  

Train Ride

train tracks
Take a 4.5 hour trip along the Nantahala River. Photo credit: Kady Kellogg

“All Aboard” the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad! During our most recent trip, we parked our RV right alongside the railroad and had the opportunity to watch this train come and go every two hours. Our youngest loved to wave to the passengers as they came to a stop for their one hour layover at NOC.  

According to the GSMR website: “Take a ride alongside the beautiful Nantahala River! Departing from Bryson City, this 4½ hour excursion carries you 44 miles to the Nantahala Gorge and back again. Enjoy Bluegrass music and Appalachian stories while traveling along the Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers. The historic Trellis Bridge takes you across Fontana Lake and into the beautiful Nantahala Gorge. Arrive at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for a one-hour layover where you can relax by the river or enjoy sight-seeing.”

If you have never ventured into the Nantahala Gorge, it is worth the trip all on its own!

Restaurants

Wesser Falls is a casual, outdoor BBQ and Bar. Wesser Falls is on the Nantahala River and specializes in pulled pork … my favorite is the pulled pork nachos. To die for!  They are open from May-October.

The more formal, but not at all formal, restaurant is River’s End Restaurant where every seat in the place is guaranteed a river view! Specializing in American Cuisine, River’s End is open year round for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try their pizza – it is ah-mazing!

Fall Colors in the US

Of course if you are nowhere near Bryson City and you want to take advantage of the amazing fall colors anywhere in the US check here.  Or maybe you are in the Deep South, as in below the Mason Dixon line and are looking for fall colors, give this a read.

Susie Kellogg is truly unstoppable as a traveling mom. She and her crazy husband, Dan, travel the continent full-time with their 12 kids in an RV. Her life is complete as she travels, writes, blogs, teaches and raises their 12 beautiful, faith-filled, fun-loving, crazy, adventurous kids. Susie and her family are adrenaline junkies and love extreme sports — whitewater kayaking, rafting, snowboarding, surfing, and SUPing, to name a few. As a family, they are sponsored by Jackson Kayak and Kokatat Watersports Wear and her kids compete at the highest levels of the sport, racking up awards as well as their own sponsors. Susie and her family have appeared on the Today Show, Fox News, Sunrise at 7 and have been featured in dozens of magazine and newspaper articles. Nick News produced a 30 minute episode on their family, titled “12 for the Road”. Susie is the author of “Raising a Badass Family” and blogs at kelloggshow.com.
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