Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on October 31, 2023.
Bryson City‘s Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC Bryson City) is a 500-acre adventure sports complex in the middle of the Nantahala Gorge.
At this beautiful place in Western North Carolina, you can enjoy rafting trips, kayaking, ziplining, biking, hiking, and many more outdoor adventures! In addition, there are two riverside restaurants and a retail store/gear shop.
With so many options at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, we’ve created this guide after years of visiting and planning trips. Here’s a breakdown of each section below:
- Where is Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)?
- History of Nantahala Outdoor Center
- NOC Locations
- Things to Do at NOC Bryson City
- Food Options
- Where to Stay
- More Things to Do Nearby (+ Additional NC Travel Guides)
You can click ahead to any of those sections or continue reading more about how to find the NOC and its history.
Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Bryson City area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!
Where is Nantahala Outdoor Center?
Address: 13077 US 19 West, Bryson City, NC 28713
The main campus of Nantahala Outdoor Center sits along the Nantahala River outside Bryson City, North Carolina.
It’s within a short drive from quite a few places in Western NC, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. You’ll see people from Knoxville (2-1/2 hours away), Atlanta (3 hours away), Columbia (4 hours away), and beyond at the NOC.
Within North Carolina, the NOC is a reasonable drive from many of our mountain towns and some of our cities.
- Asheville: 1-1/2 hours away
- Boone: 3-1/2 hours away
- Charlotte: 3-1/2 hours away
- Winston-Salem: 4-1/2 hours away
- Greensboro: 4 hours away
What was once a tiny motel and gas station perched above the Nantahala River is now a hot spot for kayakers, cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts.
With a 50-year history, NOC is one of the largest outdoor recreation companies in the US and provides over 120 land and river-based excursions across the Southeast.
Here are a few highlights of the NOC’s history:
- In 1972, Payson Kennedy, Aurelia Kennedy, and Horace Holden Sr bought Tote’ N Tarry Motel and started NOC with a passion for exploring the outdoors.
- They built the main campus in Bryson City into one of the most active hosts of paddling sporting events. Not only because of the prime rapids for competition but because it offers excellent viewing options for spectators.
- NOC continued to expand over the years, offering its first international trip on the Usumacinta River in Guatemala and Mexico.
- In 1994, the Outfitter’s Store and Bike Shop opened.
- For the 1996 Olympic Games, the Whitewater Slalom event took place at the Ocoee River.
- In 2013, the Mountaintop Zip Line Tour opened, with 2 miles of zip lines, including the half-mile “Mega Zip” that takes you 350 feet above the forest floor.
- NOC hosted the 2013 International Canoe Federation Canoe Freestyle World Championships.
- In 2022, NOC celebrated its 50th anniversary.
- Today, the Bryson City location (and outposts) serve as a training space for everyone from weekend warriors to the elite, including 23 Olympians and two gold medalists.
Visiting Today (NOC Locations)
The main campus of Nantahala Outdoor Center is located in Bryson City. In this article, we will only be referring to the main campus as NOC, but there are several locations and outposts across the Southeastern USA:
- Chattahoochee River Metro, GA
- Chattahoochee River Roswell, GA
- Chattooga River, SC
- French Broad River, NC
- Ocoee River, TN
- Pigeon River, TN
Things to Do at NOC Bryson City
With more than 500 acres of outdoor adventure, there is something for everyone at NOC, from thrill-seeking rapids to family-friendly fun.
- Mountain Biking
- Guided Hikes
- Outdoor Education Courses
- Food Options
- Stay at Nantahala Outdoor Center
Whitewater rafting excursions occur on eight rivers throughout the Southeast:
- Chattahoochee River
- Chattanooga River
- Cheoah River
- French Broad River
- Nantahala River
- Nolichucky River
- Ocoee River
- Pigeon River
Before you book a rafting trip at the NOC, here are some essential tips:
- There are age and weight minimums for rafting.
- Children must be seven years of age and 60 pounds to join the excursion.
- Prepare to get wet as you’ll be guiding through Class II-II rapids and stunning mountain scenes.
- These guided trips will take you down the river with several other rafts.
It is ideal for beginners or groups of varying experience. You’ll go through waves, rapids, and calmer sections where you can splash around and make memories.
While on the raft, your guide will help you navigate the waters and show you what to look for and how to paddle as a group for success. NOC has been training raft guides and directing groups down the river for more than 50 years.
The paddling world views the NOC as a leader in education. Since the early years of NOC, paddlers have been coming to Bryson City to refine their river skills.
You can paddle eight miles of Class II rapids and the Class II Nantahala Falls. You’ll find everyone out on the river learning and rolling from novice to expert.
If you are an experienced paddler and want to go at your own pace, then rafts and inflatable kayaks (duckies) are available to rent.
NOC is also one of the few places where you end your paddling trip at the main campus and won’t have to take an additional shuttle.
As someone who has paddled many rivers, the worst part is always getting in the bus or car soaking wet from the adventure you just had.
River Safety Tips
I grew up surfing the waves and hitting eddies. My father received certification at NOC in the 90s and has taught whitewater kayaking for more than 25 years.
Based on many years of paddling with him and others, here are some crucial tips to consider before you paddle at NOC or anywhere else.
- I grew up learning that the river is merciless. It changes every second, minute, and day.
- The water, while refreshing, is stronger than you. NOC teaches this and encourages responsible water safety.
- Wear your personal flotation device (PFD). Tough men wear life jackets. It’s sexy. It’ll save your life.
- Same with helmets. Consider it the “cool river dude” look.
- We feel it is always a good idea to hit a river for the first time with someone else who knows the rapids and what is coming up ahead.
- Reading a river is a skill, and beginners often don’t possess this skill. Because of this, we highly recommend your first experience at NOC (or any river) be a guided trip with someone experienced. You’ll have a much better time and hopefully won’t get hung up on a rock.
- Have fun, but always remember to leave no trace; the river always wins.
Learn to Kayak Course
If the inflatable life isn’t for you, we recommend checking out NOC’s Learn to Kayak course! It’s a multi-day course for beginners that will help you build a foundation including:
- Wet exits
- Critical safety lessons.
No experience is necessary, and you can choose from 2 or 4-day courses.
After you’ve conquered the rapids in the Nantahala Gorge, hit the treetops and take in breathtaking views of the Gorge and the Great Smoky Mountains. You have two ziplining options at NOC.
- Zip Line Adventure Park (Minimum Age 6 and Weight 60 pounds: If you prefer to be closer to sea level, NOC has a Zip Line Adventure Park with 16 aerial stations, including a 550-foot-long dual zipline. Use auto-belay technology, which helps you through the 16 different obstacles at your own pace. NOC guides will support you along the way, which takes approximately 2 hours to complete.
- Mountaintop Zipline Tour (Minimum Age 10 and Weight 100 pounds): Get 360-degree views while floating 350 feet above the Nantahala River. Adventure seekers will soar more than 2 miles through the gorge, including a Half-Mile Mega Zip!
Suppose you fear heights (as Carl does); the guides will remind you that you’re in control and can back out anytime. Ziplining was a massive challenge for Carl, but he completed all 8 of the ziplines and returned hungry for more!
Want to send it in the Smokies? Choose your adventure or join a guided mountain biking tour on Flint Ridge or Tsali Recreation Area with NOC.
- Flint Ridge is located on the NOC main campus in Bryson City and is excellent for both beginners and advanced riders. Before embarking on your adventure, NOC’s experts will help you get fitted on your bike and talk you through the gear and the trails.
- Tsali Recreation Area is considered one of the top mountain biking destinations and provides stunning views of Lake Fontana. From NOC, riders can take a short shuttle into the gorge and hit fast, single-track trails.
These trails are for experienced riders and are considered moderately difficult, so we highly recommend going with a guide for this experience.
A guided hike will take you on Nantahala National Forest trails. Fantastic scenery, sounds of nature, and local wildlife like hawks, salamanders, and even deer will surround you.
Your guide will also share info about native plants, including trillium, honeysuckle, and mountain laurel. Your knowledgeable guide will point all of these out to you along the way.
Outdoor Education Courses
Aligning with its mission to promote the beautiful outdoors, NOC also offers outdoor education courses. These include wilderness medicine, paddling schools, raft guide courses, and swift water rescue.
In the wilderness medicine course, participants will learn wilderness first aid and survival equivalent to what wilderness EMTs would receive.
All participants of this class receive certification from SOLO Southeast, an organization that focuses on wilderness medicine training.
Throughout the year, NOC hosts events, but these are a couple that you can count on each year:
- Customer Appreciation Festival (September): The NOC says “thank you” each year with its Guest Appreciation Festival. There are typically gear and apparel sales, riverside games, music, and more.
- NOCtoberfest (October): NOCtoberfest is a family fun event whether you’re on or off the water. Pumpkin decorating, a costume contest, and live music are perfect for everyone.
Maybe you’re a foodie and want to stare at the water. Or do we need to refuel after catching some major eddies on the river?
There are two dining options at NOC: River’s End Restaurant and Big Wesser.
- River’s End Restaurant has beautiful views no matter where you sit. Dining options include burgers, salads, pizzas, as well as local beer, wine, and cocktails. There are also plenty of delicious vegetarian options and gluten-free pizzas as well!
Big Wesser is located across the river and is a more casual pub scene, but still doling out delicious dishes! So sit outside and enjoy the roar of the rapids with a burger, a cold beer, and live music!
Note that Big Wesser closes between 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm daily.
Stay at Nantahala Outdoor Center
There are several accommodation choices for those who want to stay close to the action! Cabins range from small families to large groups of up to 22 guests.
- The Dogwood Motel is also an option for travelers looking for a simple layout. The newly renovated on-campus motel is perfect for individuals or couples that might be taking the NOC courses and might not need all the amenities of a full cabin.
- Or those looking for comfortable budge-friendly accommodations should book a bed at Basecamp. Basecamp opened in 1985 and offers hostel-style lodging options for hikers, families, and groups. Located steps from the Appalachian Trail, the bunkhouse can accommodate up to 122 adventurists.
- Nantahala River Camping is another great option to explore the outdoors in Bryson City. Turkey Creek Campground and Big Nantahala Campground are two great places to camp along the river near NOC.
Ready to Experience the Nantahala Outdoor Center?
NOC is a great place to get your adrenaline on, chill by the river, and everything in between. This is one of our favorite places to stop and enjoy a day whenever we’re in the Bryson City area.
Have you ever spent time at the NOC? We’d love to hear about your experiences.
More Things to Do Nearby
As mentioned, Nantahala Outdoor Center sits in the middle of the Nantahala Gorge outside downtown Bryson City. Here are some nearby things to do and places to visit.
Between Bryson City and the towns of Marble and Whittier, you’ll drive through portions of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fontana Lake, and more!
Bryson City is home to the NOC, but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy this wonderful NC mountain town! Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, Bryson City is well-known for hiking and river recreation.
More Bryson City NC Travel Guides
Beyond NOC, we’ve created many more NC travel guides that cover Bryson City and its surroundings in Swain County. Here are a few of them.
Mingo Falls is one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina and the Southern Appalachians, worth the many steps you take to reach it!
The Graveyard Fields hike is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and an incredibly popular trek that’s within an hour of Asheville.
Skinny Dip Falls in Transylvania County might once have been a secret but it’s very popular now.
Soco Falls is a beautiful double waterfall near Cherokee and a few minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s so easy to miss, but not with this guide.
Black Balsam Knob is a popular section of the Art Loeb Trail in Western NC. It’s easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 420.
Deep Creek Trail inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best spots for hiking in North Carolina, taking you by three amazing waterfalls.
The Road to Nowhere is now a popular tourist destination near Bryson City. Of course, the history of this part of Western NC should not be forgotten.
Surrounded by the breathtaking Smoky Mountains, Bryson City is a quaint town with many attractions. These are the best things to do in Bryson City!