I realized on this trip, that I’ve been saying the word Nantahala completely wrong. It’s pronounced NAN (as in my Nana), TAH (as in ta-da), HA (as in Hey!), LA (as in singing lalalala). This is how I remember the right way to say it now. =) Ok…now that we have that all cleared up…have you ever been white water rafting? I had never been before this trip, so I was both excited and extremely nervous.

A river running through the woods.

Enter the Nantahala Outdoor Center (the NOC), in Bryson City, NC, and their beginner tour.

You start your day by going over the safety information. How to buckle your life vest, how and where to sit on the raft, how to lean to go over the rapids, how to position yourself if you do happen to fall in, and how to help someone else who has fallen in. They also teach you the “commands” for when you get into the boat. Things like lean back, lean forward, and hit the deck. (We only used that last one once and it was fun, I promise. Well, afterwards it was fun. During, I was thinking “don’t fall out, don’t fall out, don’t fall out”.)

We watched videos to see what we were in for before we left home, and in one of them a guy fell out of the raft. He kept shifting his weight further and further to the edge and finally…sploosh! So, during that safety briefing, I was taking mental notes on how to avoid that. I made NOT falling out of the raft my measure of success for the day. That and to enjoy myself, of course. =)

After getting our life vests on, we hopped on the bus and took a ride to where we were going to put the boats in the water.

You carry your raft a short distance to the waters edge and everyone climbs in.

One thing I was worried about was sitting in the front. I think I had it in my head that the front was the worst place to be, but likely because that’s where the guy that fell out was sitting. And where did I end up…same spot. Same. Exact. Spot. Haha!

Once we got seated and started going a little, I immediately realized why he likely took a swim though. You have to sit on the bubbly part of the raft, and it’s an odd position at first. So, I could totally see why he was shifting around a lot. But…when I saw this, and saw that I could keep my feet tucked into the bottom (whereas he had his legs stretched out more), I felt a lot more secure than I thought I would.

Still nervous because I’d never done it before, but not quite as bad.

And to be honest, once I was in the raft, I was so laser focused on listening for the instructions and on seeing all of the pretty things around me, that my nervousness kind of melted away. I figured, at that point, I was in it so I might as well enjoy it to the fullest.

One huge tip…if you’re not a professional of some kind and/or if your camera is not waterproof and strapped to you somehow, don’t even bother bringing it with you.

There were moments when I wished I had mine. We were the first group out that morning, so the views were wide open in front of us. The way the fog was still laying over certain parts of the water and the sun was peeking through the trees here and there, it was magical. When we weren’t going over rapids, it was actually quite peaceful.

Then there were other moments when I was exceedingly glad that I didn’t because it would have been at the bottom of the river.

The rapids are called such for a reason, they are fast. Listening to our guide, Cybil, give us instructions – Row 3. Lean left. Row 2. – and actually executing those instructions left no room for putting my cell phone back in my pocket properly.

Because of that, the pictures that were taken by the photographer* towards the end were the only pictures we got. But those pictures said a thousand words.

For one, it wasn’t until we started looking through the pictures that I saw just how hard our guide had been working. We helped row and direct the raft a little, but she was pulling all the weight.

Five people in a raft, white water rafting through the rapids.

You can see the look of concentration on my face…morphing into the realization of what’s about to happen. Haha!

Five people in a white water rafting boat, paddling and getting ready to go over the rapids.
Five people in a white water raft, getting ready to go over the rapids.

Then the three of us on the raft who had never been before smooshed inwards.

Five people white water rafting. Three of them are leaning inwards, towards the center of the boat. one of them is sitting upright. And the guide in the back of the boat is leaning hard to the left to direct the raft.

If we were supposed to be helping at this point…we were failing miserably. But Cybil had our backs.

Five people who are white water rafting, going over a rapid. It looks a little more like they are going through AND over it because they are surrounded by the splash of water.

And we survived. I was drenched, but I didn’t fall out. So…success!!!

Five people in a white water raft, coming out the other side of a rapid. The front two are drenched, one is hidden behind the person in front of them, and the other two (including the guide) are directing the boat with their paddles.

After going through the first few rapids, I told the guy behind me that I was protecting him from all of the cold water splashing in. Ha! If you look at that last picture a little more closely, he’s fairly dry and I’m soaked.

Just for reference…this is the biggest rapid that you go over on the beginners’ tour. Cybil did such a good job of guiding the boat, that we sailed over it smoothly and it really wasn’t as bad I thought it would be.

My one and only complaint about the entire process was that my butt was a little sore from sitting in such an odd way for the entirety of the trip.

Which may have also partially been the way I was sitting to stay so tucked in.

Other than that, I had a blast! And I would definitely go back and do it again. On the small rapids like these. Just to clarify. =)

I think that my second time around, I might be a little more relaxed, because I know more about what to expect, so I would likely enjoy it even more. I’ll let you know when I go.

The NOC was the perfect place to go for my first white water rafting experience.

They have clean, private changing rooms and bathrooms. They walk you through the entire process from beginning to end (without acting like they have somewhere better to be). And most importantly, they do their very best to make sure that the entire experience is as enjoyable as possible.

When we finished our tour and changed out of our wet clothes, we ate at the River’s End Restaurant there on site. It was delicious! I was really surprised at all of the different options they had available. They even had good vegan options, which is pretty rare in this area.

So, if you’re looking for somewhere to try white water rafting for the first time, I would highly recommend the NOC in Bryson City, TN. Not only will you get a great tour, there are plenty of other things to see and do in the area while you’re there.

Have you ever been white water rafting? I’d love to hear…find me on Instagram – @thenovelturtle – and tell me about your experience. Or if you would ever want to try it.

*All of the photos of us in the raft were taken by the photographer at the NOC. I wish I knew their name, so that I could give them more specific credit, but at the very least I want to acknowledge them and show my appreciation for the wonderful pictures they took of us.