Tag Archives: North Carolina

Nantahala Outdoor Centre – Guest Appreciation Festival (GAF)

Guest Appreciation Festival (aka GAF) at the Nantahala Outdoor Centre is a huge tradition here in the South East. ┬áPeople come from all around to catch the scheduled release of the Cascades & Upper Nantahala River as well as grab some amazing end of season deals on gear. There is ALOT going on…

We were definitely overwhelmed when we arrived at the river on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were cars and boaters as far as you could see spread across parking lots and fields. NOC very generously provides free shuttles for the Cascades and Upper all weekend. As fast as they can load a rafting bus with people and a truck with boats, then they are off to the put-in. That means that you have 50 people arriving at the put-in at the same time. This is not a big put in, nor a big river so it gets a little crazy…

The Cascades is a class IV/V section that is above the Upper section. It is a short section of 4-5 rapids that people do laps on as you can walk back up the side of the road. We scouted a few of the rapids but decided that this wasn’t the year to run it without an expert local to show us the lines…

The Upper section is rated as class III+/IV and is a mix between river running and creeking. There are definitely rocks that you need to be aware of but not really boulder gardens that you need to maneuver around. The hardest part was actually dealing with all of the people on a very narrow river (less than 50 feet wide), many of them using this release as a chance to stretch their skills after running the Lower section many times. Lots of swimmers, lots of boats without paddlers and a number of people getting off the river after the first stretch of rapids and walking back up to the put-in to catch the bus down to the take-out (which is also the put-in for the Lower section).

We managed to get two laps in on Saturday and three laps on Sunday (an earlier start now that we understood how things worked) and it was definitely a fun river to experience. Our suggestion would be to aim to catch the first shuttle in the morning as that gives you at least one run with very few people on the river. Catching one of the last shuttles does the same thing. This leaves 1-2 runs during the middle of the day that you just have to elbow your way through the throngs of people.

NOC itself is about 10 minutes down the road from the Upper take out/ Lower put in. It is quite the facility, with something for everyone. The river runs right through it and this is where the rafting companies and kayakers that have run the Lower section take out. During GAF the parking lots are very full so getting there early helps guarantee a spot to park, as well as access to the best deals. There are sliding discounts at the Outfitters store throughout the weekend (Friday = 30% off, Saturday = 40% off, Sunday = 50% off) so it’s a juggle between how much you want something vs how much you will wait for the discount and risk it being gone. There are definitely great deals on demo kayaks, with most of them being sold by the end of the weekend.

More to come on paddling the lower section for fun and freestyle training at the hole.