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Celebrating 50 Years of Outdoor Adventure at NOC

Rafting with NOC

2022 marks the 50th year since the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) opened their adventure outpost along the waters of the Nantahala River in Bryson City. What began as a small motel and gas station in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains has since grown to multiple locations across four Southeastern states providing millions of guided trips down the river.

NOC’s initial niche of whitewater rafting trips has expanded to over 120 land and river-based activities, including kayaking, ziplining, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, tubing and international trips. The 500-acre main campus in Bryson City hosts the renowned Paddling School, SOLO Wilderness Medicine courses, restaurants and lodging, also serving as a respite for thru hikers along the Appalachian Trail. A home for professional adventurers as well as novices, the campus is one of the nation’s premier training sites for elite whitewater athletes, including 23 Olympians and two gold medalists.

Nantahala Outdoor Center was founded by Payson & Aurelia Kennedy, and Horace Holden Sr., and was the outgrowth of an idea that friends working together to pursue their outdoor passions could change lives.

People radting down the Nantahala with NOCTake Part in the 50th Anniversary Festivities

In celebration of this important milestone, NOC will be hosting events, giveaways, storytelling, interviews and more throughout the year. Here’s a sampling of what to expect this season.

  • NOC Spring FlingSaturday, April 23, 2022 – This is the annual season-opening paddling event on the Nantahala.
  • Smoky Mountain RelayFriday – Saturday, April 29-30, 2022 – NOC serves as the finish line for the popular Smoky Mountain Relay Race! Join racers and spectators for a celebration and after party at Big Wesser!
  • NOC Jubilee – Celebrating 50 Years of AdventureSaturday, June 11, 2022 – A party for the decades with live music, family-friendly activities, giveaways, and adventure.

Fun Facts About NOC

  • In 1971 Payson Kennedy played a stunt double in the award winning film, Deliverance. One year later, NOC began rafting trips on the Chattooga River where the movie was filmed.
  • Aurelia Kennedy was known as the first woman to run a canoe down Nantahala Falls.
  • NOC hired the first female guides from the women’s 1972 Olympic team.
  • Cathy Kennedy, Payson and Aurelia’s daughter starting working at NOC when she was 16. It is the only place she has ever worked and she still guides rafts down the river, while also managing the company vehicle shop, among many other things.
  • Evy Leibfarth, at age 17, became the youngest female to compete in the Olympics for slalom C1 race in 2021. She grew up in Bryson City and trained at NOC.
  • 23 Olympians, including 2 Olympic Gold Medalists, have called NOC home.