The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) is an attraction near the intersection of US HWY 74 and HWY 19 in Bryson City, North Carolina. The site includes shops, restaurants, cabins, a hiker hostel, and all kinds of outdoor adventure. The place is crowded even in the colder months. The bridge that spans the Nantahala River is actually the Appalachian Trail (AT). That means that if you’ve ever walked across the bridge, then you’re technically not lying if you tell people you hiked a section of the AT back in the day.
If you’re in the area, it’s worth stopping by—especially if you’re there from spring through early fall. On any day during peak season, you’ll run into thru-hikers, bikers, rafters, kayakers, shoppers, diners, and everyone else from all walks of life and all over the world. It’s a real melting pot, especially when the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad stops nearby to let the tourists grab lunch.
There’s a restaurant there called River’s End that’s probably the most popular. The pictures above were mostly taken from the window in my booth in that restaurant. If you want to do a little weekend hiking, you can hike from the NOC to Fontana Dam. It’s a 27-mile trek that can be easily done over three days and two nights.
If you hang out at the NOC, make sure to bring some sunscreen. The cool breeze off the river can trick you into thinking you’re not burning.