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9 Best Places To Kayak in Western NC

Western North Carolina is a playground for anyone that craves outdoor recreation. The mountains lend to scenic hikes and waterfalls, and the lakes and rivers are perfect for every water activity you can imagine, especially kayaking. The sheer number of rivers and lakes provide a variety of choices for any level of paddling, from amateurs to professionals alike. If you don’t know your way around or it’s your first time on a whitewater river, take a guided tour by an experienced instructor. In the meantime, here are 9 of the best places to kayak in Western North Carolina. 

Best Places to Kayak in WNC:

  1. Lake Fontana
  2. Lake Junaluska
  3. Lake Glenville
  4. Bear Creek Lake
  5. Lake Hiwassee
  6. Nantahala River
  7. Tuckasegee River
  8. Green River
  9. French Broad River

Lakes to Kayak in Western NC

Western North Carolina is home to some amazing lakes, perfect for just about every water activity you can imagine. The beauty of kayaking on a lake is that the still water can be incredibly peaceful or challenging depending on what you are looking for that day. Here are our picks for the top lakes to kayak in Western NC. 

1. Lake Fontana

Surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest, Fontana is the perfect place for a fun relaxing day outdoors. It is filled with plenty of alcoves carved out for you to explore. You can also start the day off with a fun hike around the lake or on the trails through the hills. 

2. Lake Junaluska

Just outside of Waynesville, Junaluska is a great getaway trip. The lake is pristine and surrounded by plenty of activities to fill your time, should you need a break from paddling. Outdoor activities including, trail hikes, birdwatching, and fishing while mini-golf and shuffleboard are also available around the lake. When you finish take a drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

3. Lake Glenville

Glenville is a gorgeous lake just outside of Cashiers, NC. The water is cool turquoise and is a natural water park for any outdoor lovers. This lake is unique and perfect for the whole family. Much of the shore is sandy and is a slice of the beach in the mountains. Visitors enjoy docking boats and tanning on the shore. It is also one of the few lakes that features not one, but three waterfalls around the lake’s perimeter. Take the kids and enjoy a natural splash pad at the base of the waterfall. 

4. Bear Creek Lake

Bear Creek Lake, or Bear Lake as it is known to locals, is an amazing lake for all kinds of water activities. The steep mountains on all sides of the lake block a great deal of wind and make for fairly still waters throughout the year, perfect for beginners. Take a paddle to Sols Creek Falls and relax as you appreciate this timeless water feature. 

5. Lake Hiwassee

Carved into Murphy, NC near Cherokee, lake Hiwassee is a beautiful lake to kayak. Surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest, this lake has over 180 miles of shoreline. The appeal of this lake is that you can enjoy the Class 1 and 2 rapids of the Hiwassee river and then have a cooldown paddle in the lake.  

Whitewater Kayaking in Western NC 

Feel the rush of one of the many whitewater rapids that cascade through the mountain ranges and National Parks in Western NC. Whether you are a professional seeking a challenge or new to kayaking all together, the Class 1,2,3, and 4 rapids offer opportunities for everyone. Here are a few of our top picks for whitewater kayaking. 

6. Nantahala River

Not for the faint of heart, this Class 2 and 3 river rushes through nine miles of the Nantahala River Gorge. The Nantahala Outdoor Center offers guides and experts for any level river rat. You can also take the time to enjoy some of the surrounding attractions including hiking, biking, or any number of small towns that surround the Nantahala National Forest. 

7. Tuckasegee River

The Tuckasegee River is a fun river to begin on. Perfect for an inflatable kayak or tubing with the whole family, the alternating smooth areas perfect for swimming and quick-moving rapids over the river, make it the perfect place to spend time with the family. When you have tired yourself out fighting the rapids, take a trip to the nearby Cherokee or Bryson City, NC for great eats and other attractions. 

8. Green River

The top of the river is deep and a bit of a local swimming hole. But as the river flows down the mountain, it picks up speed developing into intense rapids that are fun for any paddler. The section of the rapids labeled the Lower Greens are the slower rapids considered Class 2 rapids. The Upper Greens or Narrows are difficult rapids, Class 3 and 4 that are not as forgiving.  

9. French Broad River

This River in Asheville, NC is perhaps one of the largest and most active in Western North Carolina. The river flows over 200 miles feeding into the Tennessee River. Enjoy paddle boarding, swimming, hot springs, and any other water activity you can think of. The river is so large that there are Class 2,3, and 4 rapids in different areas. Some areas are so large and the water so slow, you need a little experience to paddle around with friends. The Asheville Outdoor Center offers guided tours and will even carry rentals to the top of the river for you. When you are done, or just need a lunch break, Asheville has a number of food and fun activities to enjoy. 

Benefits of Kayaking 

  • Stress Relief. From the steady paddling motion and sounds of nature to the fresh air and colorful North Carolina scenery, kayaking is an excellent way to relieve stress. If tranquil isn’t for you, kayaking the cascading whitewater rivers will give you the adrenaline rush of a lifetime.  
  • Exercise. Why go to the gym and use a rowing machine when you can hop in a kayak and have an invigorating workout outdoors? Kayaking can workout your entire body, especially your upper body and core. It is also a low-impact exercise that results in less added strain and weight on your joints.  
  • Heart Healthy. Steady paddling is a fantastic aerobic exercise to increase your heart rate and benefit your cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, the perfect short paddle down the lake. And time on the water doesn’t feel like a workout in the same way 30 minutes at the gym does. 
  • Social Activity. Kayaking is a great way to stay connected with friends and family. Rent a two-seater and have fun trying to synchronize your strokes or ride your own and race to landmarks on the shore. Pack a lunch in the back and pull over downstream for a pleasant lakeside lunch. 
  • Time Outdoors. Overall any time outdoors is great for your physical and mental health. And it doesn’t hurt that Western North Carolina is comprised of some of the most scenic nature preserves in the country.

Spend time experiencing the lakes and rivers in NC by kayaking, paddle boarding, or canoeing. Relax with a still water paddle on a lake or get your adrenaline pumping with a challenging class 3 or class 4 whitewater rapids. Make a day or even weekend getaway of outdoor fun for friends and family. Stay in one of the many Western NC mountain towns nestled by these lakes and rivers. If you’ve fallen in love with Western North Carolina, come see why the Cullowhee River Community is perfect for you!