12 miles southwest of Bryson City, North Carolina
Carved by the Nantahala River, this eight-mile gorge takes its name from a Cherokee word meaning “land of the noonday sun.” Indeed, the canyon here is so deep and narrow that only when the sun is directly overhead can its rays reach the bottom of the gorge.
The gorge burrows down some 1,800 feet at its deepest and is less than 100 yards wide at its narrowest. It is the centerpiece of the Nantahala National Forest, with easy access to the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the eastern end of the gorge.
The river offers a variety of recreational opportunities. Water released from the Duke Power dam several miles upriver rushes down the gorge for about 12 hours on most days, creating an ideal run for whitewater rafting.
Rafts, canoes, and kayaks may be rented in the area, and the trip, while exhilarating, is not overly challenging for novices. Picnic areas are maintained, and the river is stocked with trout; fishing is better in the calm evening waters than in the daytime torrents.