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Nantahala River Boat Launch Area and Access Sites

Directions from "A Lake Memory" to Nantahala River Rafting Boat Launch

The U.S. Forest Service provides three river-access sites:

The first boat launch site is where the Nantahala River leaves the narrow Upper Nantahala Gorge just below the powerhouse at the Nantahala River Launch Site along U.S. 19 and NC 1310 (Wayah Road) in Beechertown. This launch site has a parking area, picnic, dressing rooms and restrooms

Midway through the Nantahala Gorge is the next put-in at the Ferebee Memorial Recreation Area. A parking and picnic area plus restrooms are also located there.

There are small parking and viewing areas along the river if you want to watch the rafters coming down the river and a suspended bridge across the river leading to a trail on the opposite bank. 

At the end of the Nantahala Rivers white water rafting run is the rafters take-out landing at US 19 in Wesser. At this take-out there is a viewing area along a wooded observation deck above a small but wide waterfall, a great place to photograph.

The Nantahala River is managed by the USFS and all boaters must pay a daily users fee of $5 or they can purchase a yearly pass for $25. Passes may be purchased at Adventurous Fast Rivers (828) 488-2386, Endless River Adventures (828) 488-6199 or the Nantahala Outdoor Center (828) 488-2175.


A drive through the Nantahala Gorge offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in Western North Carolina. Winding roads present leisurely views of sheer rock faces towering over crystal clear waters. Fresh fruit and vegetable stands, fly-fishermen, and rustic cabins dot the riverside, while whitewater enthusiasts of all kinds delight in the waterfalls and swirling rapids of the Nantahala River.

The Nantahala River Gorge is a 9-mile stretch of the Nantahala River running from Beechertown to Fontana Lake. Often referred to by locals as the "Nanty," the Nantahala River originates in Nantahala National Forest, the largest of four national forests in North Carolina. The water then flows into Aquone Lake, the highest lake in North Carolina, where it is dammed and then piped down the mountain to the Nantahala Power and Light Company. Running at a refreshing 45-degree angle, this mountain-canyon river next flows through the heavily forested Nantahala River Gorge for 9 miles where it ends at Fontana Lake. The cold water often creates a mysterious fog on warm days, rising as far as 3 feet above the water.

The Nantahala River Gorge is nationally known for its world-class whitewater. Since the Nantahala is a controlled-release river, there is always predictable white-water from spring until fall, making it one of the most heavily used whitewater rivers in the region. The 8-mile river trip through the Class I, II, and III rapids takes about three hours. More than 10 commercial outfitters are established along the river, offering a variety of services including outfitting and guiding, boat rentals, instruction, restaurants, and overnight accommodations.

One of the focal points of the Nantahala Gorge is the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). While there are numerous outstanding outfitters in the region, it is difficult not to single out NOC based on the scope and reputation of its offerings. NOC is the nation's largest paddling school, where everyone from beginners to experienced paddlers comes to learn and sharpen whitewater skills. Courses range from one-day canoe and kayak samplers to week-long clinics. Over the years, operations have expanded to include whitewater rafting trips on four other outstanding rivers in the southern Appalachians.

In addition to instruction, NOC also offers guide-assisted raft trips; raft rentals and funyack rentals; rock-climbing and backpacking courses; fly-fishing workshops; bicycle tours; a corporate team-building program with ropes course, retreat, and meeting facilities; and three restaurants.

The Nantahala National Forest lands that surround the Nantahala Gorge offer miles of adventurous single-track trails and gated forest roads ideal for mountain biking. Also, the renowned Tsali Recreation Area (see Tsali), located 8 miles from Nantahala Outdoor Center, offers more than 40 miles of rolling single-track along Lake Fontana Lake's shores.

The Nantahala River is renowned for trout fishing. The Nantahala Gorge is stocked with more than 6,000 fish from March to August, and fish grow quickly due to the quality of the food supply. The gorge is also the only part of the Nantahala River and the only trout water in North Carolina that permits night fishing.

  • Directions:. To reach the Nantahala Gorge portion of the Nantahala River, follow US 19/129 north from Andrews. Continue on US 19 when US 129 splits northeast. US 19 connects with the Nantahala River just north of Beechertown.

  • Facilities: NOC provides many services such as 3 restaurants, meeting facilities, supply store, launch sites. The U.S. Forest Service provides 3 river access sites.

  • Fees: A fee is charged for public access to the Nantahala River Launch Area.

Nantahala River Recreation Flow Calendar 2009

Is the water level on the Nantahala River reliable? - Yes, there are daily dam releases in season on the Nantahala River. This gives consistent water levels throughout the rafting season. This does vary some, but not dramatically. On rare occasions, the power plant will have a mechanical failure and can cause the water to stop. The Nantahala River has the most reliable water levels of any river in the southeast.

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Nantahala River Gorge & White Water Rafting Information
Lake Nantahala lake level information
Fontana Lake and Dam Information
Mountain Waters Scenic Byway
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Nantahala river rafting boat launch access information