The Nantahala National Forest is a natural wonderland spanning over 530,000 acres across western North Carolina. If you're planning a visit to this stunning region, there are several must-see attractions and activities that you won't want to miss.

In this blog, we'll explore six things to do when visiting the Nantahala National Forest, from hiking and camping to rafting and fishing. Whether you're a seasoned adventurer or a first-time visitor, this guide will help you make the most of your time in this incredible wilderness area.

At the summit of Pickens Nose.


If you are planning to go to the Nantahala National Forest, you’ll want to add one of these beautiful hikes to your itinerary! There are a wide variety of options between mountain and waterfall hikes, so you are bound to find the perfect hike to fit your needs.

If you are looking for a good mountain hike, one of the best in the area is the Whiteside Mountain National Recreation Trail. This trail is a moderately difficult loop trail that is 1.9 miles long and has an elevation gain of 511 feet.

Another great mountain hike is the Pickens Nose Trail. This hike is an out and back trail that is 1.4 miles long and has an elevation gain of 295 feet. It's considered a moderate hike because the elevation gain is fairly quick. However, when you reach the summit, the views make the journey so worth it!

You should consider checking out Glen Falls and Dry Falls for majestic waterfall hikes. Glen Falls is a stunning triple waterfall cascading over 60 feet in the Nantahala National Forest. It is a moderately difficult hike with a length of 2.4 miles and a 784 foot elevation gain.

Dry Falls is a unique and impressive waterfall in the Nantahala National Forest that allows visitors to walk behind the cascading water without getting wet. It is less than half a mile long and has an elevation gain of 72 feet.


The Nantahala National forest is filled with different types of campgrounds from developed campsites with amenities and campground hosts, to backcountry and more primitive campsites. If you are new to camping, I’d recommend you choose a developed campsite for your first experience.

Most of the time these campsites will provide water access, bathrooms, showers, picnic tables, bear-proof trash cans, etc. When backcountry camping, what you bring is what you have, so if you choose this route, make sure you plan ahead!

No matter which type of camping you decide to do, always make sure you practice Leave No Trace principles. Pack out what you pack in, leave the space better than you found it, respect nature, and make sure you always stay safe.

Some great campgrounds in this area are the popular Tsali Campground, the scenic Cheoah Point Campground, and the secluded Horse Cove Campground.


Filled with numerous streams, rivers, and lakes, the Nantahala National Forest has many beautiful places to go fishing. The waters are filled with all sorts of trout, including rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout. Be sure to check local regulations to see if a fishing license is needed. A few of great fishing spots worth checking out would be Lake Nantahala, the Nantahala River, Fontana Lake, White Oak Creek, and Santeetlah Lake.

Whitewater Rafting

For all you adrenaline seekers out there, one must-do activity in the Nantahala National Forest area is to hit the rapids and go whitewater rafting. Whether you consider yourself experienced, or a beginner, there are options for everyone to enjoy this experience.

There are numerous companies around the area that offer guided rafting tours, as well as gear and transportation, one of the most popular being the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Be sure to check ahead of time for the dates you plan on going, because the rafting seasons for different locations can vary.

Mountain Biking

Another great activity for increasing the heart rate and exploring the beautiful forest area is mountain biking. The Nantahala National Forest is filled with exciting biking trails for all levels. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, it is always a good practice to research the trails before going out. This helps prepare you with directions, trail conditions, or even prior notice if the trail is open or not (sometimes the trails will close for maintenance).

A few good places to check out for a scenic and exhilarating experience would be the Tsali Recreation Area or the Tanasee Creek Trail. Both areas provide great trail systems, Tanasee having more options for the experienced bikers with terrain variety.

Scenic Drives

If outdoor activities aren’t really your thing, you can experience the beauty of the Nantahala National Forest from the comfort of your own car. The Nantahala National Forest is filled with scenic drives throughout the area, allowing you to cruise around and still partake in the gorgeous scenery. Three of the top drives to take are The Road to Nowhere, the Nantahala River Road (both giving great views of the Great Smoky Mountains), and the Heintooga Ridge Road.

About the Author

Tee George is an outdoor influencer that is based out of Atlanta, GA highlighting beautiful destinations in the Southeast and beyond. She can most often be found exploring the great outdoors whether it’s through hiking, camping, skiing, or water sports. Her love for exploring is both inclusive and inspiring as she uses her social channels to encourage people of all backgrounds to spend time outside.

You can find her on Instagram and read about her adventures on her blog.

All photos by Tee George.


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