The world famous Appalachian Trail passes right through the heart of the Nantahala Gorge. Follow the white blazes from here and you can go south to Springer Mountain, Georgia, or north to Mount Katahdin, Maine - more than 2,174 miles in all.
Over the years I have hiked approximately half of the Appalachian Trail, including sections in all but one of the 13 states it traverses. In my opinion the stretch of trail between the Nantahala River and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has the steepest inclines on the entire route. It's a beautiful pathway, well marked and easy to follow, but some of the climbs in this area can be a bit challenging.
Still, if you find yourself in the area, go take a hike. You can walk for a few minutes or for a few months. You'll be amazed at how quickly you leave behind the clamoring crowds at the river and find yourself immersed in the deep quiet solitude of the Southern Appalachians.
Equipment: A good pair of comfortable non-slip shoes, or hiking boots.
The Nantahala River is famous for its whitewater rafting and kayaking. There are numerous outfitters which offer trips, or you can bring your own craft and go down the river for free. Whitewater sports are extremely popular and thousands of people will shoot the river on a summer weekend. Crowds are a little less during the week and earlier or later in the season.
One of the largest and best of the outfitters, and one that I have used, is the Nantahala Outdoor Center. They are very professional, do an excellent job and will give you an experience you will always remember. I've listed their telephone number and web site below.
Equipment: You can float down the Nantahala on a raft, canoe, kayak, or an innertube. Actually, I don't recommend the latter because I did it once and got so cold I was at the point of hyperthermia.
One of the activities we especially enjoy at Nantahala is taking a trail ride. There are stables at the Village with guided rides available by the hour, half day, or day. The trails lead through majestic wooded mountains with wonderful views of Fontana Lake, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the far shore.
The horses are gentle and well trained; no experience is necessary. The hourly rate is $14, and half price for children riding with an adult.
Equipment: Horses and equipment are provided by the stables.