10 Ways to Keep Your Cool: Summer in North Carolina's Mountains
|Kayaking the Nantahala|
While most wild waterways drop below runnable levels as summer picks up steam, a dammed river such as the Nantahala offers guaranteed whitewater action—you'll just have to deal with the crowds. Rafts, kayaks, and canoes all line up for the water's release, which flows cold and fast toward Lake Fontana.
On its way there, the Nantahala runs through a deep gorge that shuts out the light for most of each day—the source of its Cherokee name, which means "Land of the Noon-Day Sun". It's an eight-mile run that lasts about two and a half hours. Hook up with an outfitter or bring your own craft; the put-in is eight miles upriver from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which lies 13 miles west of Bryson City on U.S. 74.
Contact information: Nantahala Outdoor Center
Why get sweaty and tired lugging camping gear on your back when you can float it downstream in a canoe? Head north to the wild and scenic south fork of the New River, which flows through Ashe and Alleghany counties. Three state-park campsites along the slow and placid New, each about a day's canoe ride apart, lure you forth for family-friendly picnicking, hiking, and primitive camping. Ply your paddle past forested mountains, pastoral valleys, and wildlife-which may include river otter, deer, and black bear, if you're lucky. Leave your vehicle and launch your canoe at the Wagoner Road Access (river mile 26), off of NC 88, or further upriver (mile 15) at the U.S. 221 Access.
Contact information: New River State Park
Also known as a world-class, wild-trout fishery, Transylvania County's gentle Davidson River is well suited for a laid-back inner-tube ride. Though usually less than 100 yards from U.S. 276, the stream winds through Pisgah National Forest—past attractions such as Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock—providing a scenic buffer from the road. On your way to the put-in at Davidson River Campground, pick up a few cold beverages and rent yourself a tube-about $5/day at Davidson River Rafting, located at the forest entrance. You'll be kicking back in cool water without further ado.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication