Fall is a time for reflection, a time for renewal, and a time to do something different.  As fulltime adventure travelers we are always looking for something exciting to get our adrenaline going.  The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in Bryson City is one of our absolutes when traveling in the SouthEast.  We know for some that trying new things can feel daunting, but pushing yourself to live outside your comfort zone is one of the most rewarding things you can do.  

Even our kitten loved playing in the crinkly leaves of fall!

Even our kitten loved playing in the crinkly leaves of fall! Photo Credit: Kady Kellogg

We tend to travel differently than a large section of the population. We don’t travel for work, we don’t travel as a couple to glamorous destinations and we don’t travel solo. We travel as a family to outdoor recreation meccas and many obscure remote areas that are our own private outdoor meccas.

I think what most travelers will appreciate about Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in Bryson City, North Carolina, is that 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.

In fact, my husband remarked only yesterday that NOC is “a very relaxing place to be.” Indeed, it is, especially in the fall.

The fall is, quite possibly, the best time to visit NOC because there are fewer tourists, but there are still plenty of people around as well. Does that make sense? It’s not desolate, but it’s not hopping!

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

Gorgeous colors on the Appalachian Trail near NOC.

Gorgeous colors on the Appalachian Trail near NOC. Photo Credit: Kady Kellogg

Fall is our oldest daughter’s favorite time of year. She loves the chill in the air, she loves changing out wardrobes and she loves the smells, the sounds and the colors of fall. Fall is beginning to creep up on the mountains of Western North Carolina and that means the NOC campus is a great place to travel to take full advantage of the amazing colors.


Who doesn’t love a great zipline?  NOC offers five aerial courses ranging from the “MountainTop”  which, according to their website “is perched on the rim of the Nantahala Gorge, over 500 feet above the Nantahala River below, 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 in the cards for us next visit.

Outdoor Activities

NOC offers too many activities to list here, from rafting to biking to full on adventure travel to stunning places like Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Chile! I even just discovered NOC has an Adventure Mud Race. (Please don’t tell my kids this!)  

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 and Wilderness Training.

And, should you be up for the adventure NOC even offers lodging, for a pretty penny, I might add, from Deluxe Cabins to Camping!  

Beautiful Colorful Hikes

High up on the Appalachian Trail. Beautiful views of the Smokies! Photo Credit: Kady Kellogg

High up on the Appalachian Trail. Beautiful views of the Smokies! 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 from history of the park, the local vegetation, and little known facts like that NOC is the Salamander Capital of the world … the world!!

One of the guided hikes is a two hour trip that takes you to a stunning 40’ waterfall on their campus … this is something we haven’t even seen, but are going to make a point of hiking to this waterfall the next time we are in the area!

The Appalachian Trail (AT) also runs right through NOC and is a great trail to hike to take advantage of some amazing views of the Great Smoky Mountains as well as the fall colors.  in fact, two of our daughters hiked a total of 12 miles yesterday on the trail and captured much of it on camera!

Whitewater Kayaking

Half the family in the water at NOC. We love to kayak. Photo Credit: Grady Kellogg

Half the family in the water at NOC. We love to kayak. Photo Credit: Grady Kellogg

NOC is one of our favorite spots to kayak. In the middle of the Nantahala National Forest, the area is spectacular, the water 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 (the Kelloggshow) kayak adventures here.

Voted the “Best Place to Learn” by Outside Magazine, you really can’t go wrong and you and your family will be more than safe with them!!  


Train Ride

“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.com 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!


A view upstream of the Nanatahala River and Rivers End Restaurant. Photo Credit: Kady Kellogg

A view upstream of the Nanatahala River and Rivers End Restaurant. Photo Credit: Kady Kellogg

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.  Too 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..