Only sixteen days remain before Memorial Day weekend. So, now’s the time to start planning your family’s summer getaways. To help out, we’ve created a list of NOC-approved destinations that offer the arts, great food, fun activities and, of course, big helpings of outdoor fun!
Reputation: The coolest mountain city in the Southeast
NOC’s Take: This is probably where more NOC staff hang out than any where else. Asheville has wonderful music and nightlife, countless independent restaurants, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the enormous and elaborate Biltmore Estate, excellent canopy tours with our friends Navitat and one of the most famous resorts in the country, The Grove Park Inn. It’s telling that the President has vacationed in Asheville twice in the last four years.
And while this is all good, the best thing about Asheville is whitewater. Not only does the city have four rivers within easy striking distance (the French Broad, Nolichucky, Pigeon and Nantahala), but advanced kayakers can enjoy the gold-standard in Class V paddling, the Narrows of the Green, and there are plenty of smaller rivers and lesser-known creeks to enjoy.
Final say: If you’re an adventurer by day and a cosmopolitan by night, or if you have a significant other that’s a bit more urbane than you, Asheville’s perfect. There’s no better blend of downtown and downriver.
Bryson City & Fontana NC
NOC’s Take: If you go on vacation to get away and relax and recharge this is the place to go. NOC’s Nantahala River headquarters is a big attraction here. You can go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala (or on the nearby Chattooga and Ocoee Rivers), paddle on Lake Fontana, learn to whitewater kayak, brush up on survival skills, take in live music and dinner by the river, mountain bike at Flint Ridge, Tsali or JackRabbit, and much more.
You can also just chill out on a shady porch overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Nantahala National Forest, and take a spin in a jetboat or on the scenic Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
Where to stay? We recommend NOC's lodging (of course!), but also check out Fontana Village Resort (NOC guests save 15%; call 828.498.2240 to get the special offer). Fontana Village has great facilities, riding stables, a big, multi-featured outdoor pool, disc golf, and more. For the outdoors purist, the company provides backcountry shuttles to a bivy of creeks: Hazel, Eagle, Forney, Chambers and Pilkey.
Final Word: This is the best place to totally relax or immerse yourself in nature. On the North Carolina side of the Park, you can experience the Smokies without experiencing lots of people.
Reputation: One of the South’s Best Family Vacation Destinations
NOC’s Take: Face it, most of the time people want to do different things on vacation—especially kids. Gatlinburg’s wide offering of activities from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies to the nearby Dollywood amusement park give families plenty of choices on their recreation.
As for the outdoors: Cade’s Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail are very popular driving tours for the uninitiated, and NOC’s Great Outpost can help anyone prepare for a human-powered excursion. A serious enthusiast could spend the whole summer hiking the Park’s 900 miles of trails, exploring the East’s largest concentration of old-growth forest or identifying wildflowers, trees and wildlife in the nation’s most ecologically diverse temperate-climate national park.
The guided trip options are solid: the exciting Pigeon River is a quick drive away, and the French Broad offers a close full-day trip option. You can also book biking, hikes, fly fishing or indoor rock climbing at our activity basecamp.
An easy spot to crash is the Bearskin Lodge. Hardcore outdoor folks will appreciate the quick walk to the Park entrance and NOC’s Great Outpost, and the more attractions-oriented folks will appreciate the pool and the walking access to the city’s main strip.
Final Word: If you’ve got a few kids, or you enjoy a really wide range of activity options, Gatlinburg’s the place for you. If somebody can’t find something fun to do here, you may want to go on vacation with someone else.