The Nantahala River is a river in western North Carolina in the United States, within the Nantahala National Forest, and near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Two-lane U.S. Highway 19/74, once part of the Trail of Tears, runs along the river, picnic areas dotting the route.
The River rises near the border of Georgia and North Carolina, close to the Southern Nantahala Wilderness and the Appalachian Trail. It empties into the Little Tennessee River at Fontana Lake.
The word Nantahala is Cherokee and means “Land of the Noonday Sun”. The river runs through a narrow and steep gorge where in some areas the sun reaches the ground only when it is directly overhead during the middle of the day.
This river is popular with whitewater rafters, canoeists, and kayakers. Commercial rafting began in 1972 when the Nantahala Outdoor Center opened, leading to thousands of paddlers annually running the river. Today there are ten different outfitters operating on the Nantahala river. Each outfitter has a permit issued by the Forest Service which allows them to commercially raft the river. The Nantahala is one of the most popular rivers in the southeastern United States for paddlers of all skill levels.
The Nantahala is also a popular destination for fly fishing. Trout Unlimited has named the river one of the 100 Best Trout Streams in America, and it is widely regarded as one of the premier destinations for trout fishing in the Eastern United States. The river is frequently used for competitions, clinics, and practices held by the US Men’s and US Youth National Fly Fishing teams.