Photograph by Pat McDonnell, NOC

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Students get schooled in whitewater at the Natanhala Outdoor Center.

Photograph by Pat McDonnell, NOC

Exploration & AdventureBest American Adventures

Learn Paddling at Nantahala Outdoor Center, North Carolina

See trip details for learn whitewater paddling at Nantahala, one of 100 best American adventure trips from National Geographic.

While the American West gets so much of the love when it comes to adventure, the underappreciated South lays claim to an abundance of whitewater. And it’s not just the rapids that make paddling here so special. A paddling culture has grown up down South, highlighted by big events such as the Gauley River Festival in West Virginia or facilities like the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. The heart and soul of the South’s whitewater scene, however, is the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), tucked up in the deep, wooded folds of the Appalachians.

The school is one of the top places in the country for kayakers and canoeists to learn and perfect their craft. Here, you can do anything from gain confidence in your roll to train for an Olympic slalom course. If you’re looking for a basic learn-to-kayak course, the center runs two- and five-day classes March though September for any ability level.

NOC touts its experience teaching since 1972—but what really differentiates this school from so many others are the instructors themselves. These aren't college kids or river rats looking to make a few bucks, but some of the best paddlers in the world, including Olympian Wayne Dickert and expedition paddler Anna Levesque. If you are looking for more than a class, NOC runs whitewater trips out its door, across the South, and as far afield as the Dominican Republic, the Galápagos, and Bhutan.

Need to Know: Sign up for a two-day whitewater kayak course with Nantahala Outdoor Center (, starting at $449.