Outdoor Recreation in WNC

Enjoying all the outdoor thrills and sights that Western North Carolina has to offer starts with having the right gear and the right guidance from the professionals at area outfitters.

Outdoor Recreation in WNC

Written by Shawndra Russell

Appalachian Angler Fly Shop

Boone | 174 Old Shulls Mill Road

Appalachian Outfitters Fly Shop

Murphy | 104C Tennessee Street

Asheville Adventure Co.

Asheville | 521 Amboy Road

Bear Mountain Outfitters

Highlands | 302 Main St, Highlands, NC 28741

Black Dome Mountain Sports

Asheville | 140 Tunnel Road, Asheville, NC 28801

Bluff Mountain Outfitters

Hot Springs | 152 Bridge St, Hot Springs, NC 28743

Brown Trout Fly Fishing

Asheville | 28 Schenck Pkwy #150, Asheville, Nc 28803

Bryson City Outdoors

Bryson City | 169 Main Street, Bryson City, North Carolina 28713

Carolina Outfitters

Bryson City | 12121 US-19, Bryson City, NC 28713


Asheville | 173 Amboy Rd, Asheville, NC 2880

Curtis Wright Outfitters

Weaverville | 24 North Main Street, Weaverville, Nc 28787

Davidson River Outfitters

Pisgah Forest | 49 Pisgah Hwy, Suite 6, Pisgah Forest, Nc 28768

Diamond Brand Gear

Fletcher | 145 Cane Creek Industrial Park Rd, Suite 100, Fletcher, North Carolina 28732

Diamond Brand Gear Microfactory

Asheville | 69 Broadway Street

Diamond Brand Outdoors

Asheville | 53 Biltmore Avenue

Dillsboro River Company

Sylva | 8 Macktown Road, Sylva, NC 28779

Elk Creek Outfitters

Boone | 1560 Highway 105, Boone, North Carolina 28607

Endless River Adventures

Bryson City | 14157 W Hwy 19, Bryson City, NC 28713

Feelfree Kayaks

Swannanoa | 114 Buckeye Cove Rd, Swannanoa, NC 28778


West Jefferson | 08 A South Jefferson Ave, West Jefferson, NC 28694

Foscoe Fishing Co.

Boone | 8857 NC Highway 105 South, Boone, NC 28607

Fox Mountain Guides And Climbing School

Brevard |

French Broad Outfitters

Asheville | 521 Amboy Rd, Asheville, NC 28806

Green River Adventures

Saluda | 111 East Main Street

Headwaters Outfitters

Rosman | 25 Parkway Rd, Rosman, NC 28772

High Mountain Expeditions

NC | 1380 NC-105 Boone

Highland Hiker

Cashiers | 601 Main Street Highlands, NC 28741

Lazy Otter Outfitters

Mills River | 10 Banner Farm Rd, Mills River, NC 28759

Liquidlogic Kayaks

Fletcher | 210 Old Airport Rd, Fletcher, NC 28732

Mast General

Highway 194 | Original Store & Annex

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Bryson City | 13077 U.S. 19 West, Bryson City, NC 28713

One Fly Outfitters

Black Mountain | 112 Cherry Street, PO Box 591, Black Mountain, NC 28711

Outdoor 76

Franklin | 35 E Main St, Franklin, NC 28734

Rivergirl Fishing Co.

Todd | 4041 Todd Railroad Grade Rd, Todd, NC 28684, United States

Rivers Edge Outfitters

Cherokee | 61 Big Cove Road, Cherokee, NC 28719

Second Gear

Asheville | 99 Riverside Dr, Asheville, NC 28801

Smoky Mountain River Adventures

NC | 5036 Hwy 74, Whittier, NC 28789

Southern Drifters Outfitters,

Burnsville | 101 Town Square, Burnsville, NC, 28714

Take A Hike Outfitters

Black Mountain | 100 Sutton Ave, Black Mountain, NC 28711

Three Eagles Outfitters

Franklin | 78 Siler Rd, Franklin, NC 28734

Tuckaseegee Outfitters

Whittier | 4909 US-74, Whittier, NC 28789

Watauga River Fly Shop

Vilas | 5712 Highway 105 South

In 2021, the outdoor recreation industry generated in about $454 billion in consumer spending. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, about 1.9% ($11.8 billion) of that activity happens in North Carolina, employing 130,000+ jobs and generating $5.8 billion in wages and salaries.

Western North Carolina’s great outdoors have certainly helped push North Carolina’s outdoor industry to new heights, racking up accolades like Outdoor magazine dubbing Asheville the “Best Summer Day” city in 2017 and Matador Network proposing in 2016 that “Asheville might just be the top outdoors town in America.” The region also has its own coalition, Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina, a 100-plus-member group that’s been showcasing our area as the East Coast’s hub for outdoor gear manufacturers since 2013. 

To help you get the most out of your time outdoors, we’ve collected over 40 area outfitters, manufacturers, and retailers that stock new or used gear or lead guided expeditions and educational experiences. Seven of these businesses gave us details of how they run things.



The folks behind Fletcher’s Liquidlogic have made fairly quick work out of becoming a global player in kayak manufacturing in just 18 years of operations. Today, they have distribution centers in Japan, Russia, New Zealand, and Europe, but every single kayak is built in their Fletcher factory. “We chose to open in WNC to be close to some of the best paddling in the world. With rivers like the Green River, the Nolichucky, the Watauga, and many others, the region is pretty much a paddling mecca,” explains Liquidlogic’s director of marketing, Tyler Brown. Their state-of-the-art factory, which offers free tours on the first Friday of every month, also houses a sewing team who hand sews each kayak seat. 

Brown actually works for BIG Adventures, LLC, the umbrella company that manufactures three different kayak brands with distinct specialties. Liquidlogic is known for their whitewater kayaks, while Native Watercraft focuses on fishing kayaks with their patent-pending Propel Pedal Drive system that makes for hands-free forwarding and reversing. Plus, their Hurricane kayaks have become coveted for being some of the lightest kayaks on the market. “It seems like every year, more and more people are wanting to get on North Carolina’s waterways, so business has grown steadily as a whole over the years,” Brown shares.

For those ready to try whitewater paddling, Brown advises they “definitely get some quality instruction. Getting the fundamentals down will allow you to really enjoy being in whitewater in a kayak.” As for where to go, Brown suggests one of the three sections along the Green River for whitewater paddling, or Lake Jocassee for recreational paddling. He’s also on a mission to get more people kayaking year-round in the Southeast and other regions around the world by investing in “the right gear.”

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), located near Bryson City, and America’s largest outdoor recreation company, welcomes more than a million visitors each year, with many coming to learn at their world-famous paddling school that has featured several Olympic instructors. Even with all this recognition globally, North Carolina accounts still make up 25% of NOC’s business. And thanks to the explosive growth of the outdoor recreation industry in the 45+ years since NOC’s founding, they now have three stores and eight river outposts. “[Founder] Payson Kennedy identified the potential of the Nantahala Gorge early on and built a booming business around the outdoors in WNC,” explains Jan Wotjasinski, NOC’s director of marketing. They now operate eight other outposts at Chattahoochee, Chattooga, Ocoee, Asheville, Cheoah, Pigeon, Nolichucky, and the French Broad.

And while NOC provides plenty of introductory courses, they truly pride themselves on being “an incredible place to take the next step as a boater,” Wotjasinski says. These next steps might be taking an intermediate or advanced course or joining one of their international trips. But most importantly, she urges everyone to sign up for a rescue and wilderness medical course. “It’s the most valuable skill you can have on the river or in the woods, and it’s the most valuable skill your paddling/hiking/biking/climbing buddies can have. I need to remind myself of this all the time—practice makes perfect,” she adds. Paddlers can choose from their Swiftwater Rescue, Wilderness Survival School, or SOLO Wilderness Medicine course at their Bryson City hub. 


Black Dome Mountain Sports

In just Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests alone, climbers can find over 2,000 routes that contain some of the best climbing in the South and all of the East Coast. More than 200,000 people climb this region each year according to Outdoor Alliance’s “2017 Economic Impact of Rock Climbing in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests” study, and climbers spend about $14 million per year in and around these forests. About 60% of these height-defying souls are actually Western North Carolina residents, and this breakdown is on par with Black Dome Mountain Sports’ revenue breakdown of in-towners and out-of-towners. Black Dome’s co-owner, Debby Thomas, shares that they’ve had some ups and downs since opening in 1984, but business at the East Asheville store has been “generally steady” during their 38-year tenure. 

Her husband and co-owner, Trent, has lived in Asheville since 1972, and the couple recommend that climbers looking to stay close to Asheville check out Rumbling Bald in Hickory Nut Gap during cooler weather. They also like to steer people to Linville Gorge, which Debby describes as “a classic WNC climbing area.” For year-round climbers, Thomas recommends Looking Glass since its large surface area supplies lots of different faces that are usually accessible except during extreme winter weather. No matter where you climb, Thomas says the best things climbers can do is always seek out a local shop for advice and tips, whether they’re home or away: “These folks have local knowledge and experience and are invested in the area in which they live and work.”

Misty Mountain Threadworks

While Black Dome describes their business as a full-service outfitter for all types of mountain sports, Banner Elk’s Misty Mountain has homed in on creating top-notch harnesses for the likes of the United States Air Force and Army. “We were selected by the US Army to build the harnesses for the Army Mountain Kits,” shares the company’s president, Goose Kearse. He became the sole owner of Misty Mountain in 2015 after being part of the team for 26 years—four years after founder Woody Keen started sewing the Fudge harness, now the most widely used program harness in the world.

Partnerships with local Boone-area businesses like adventure parks, retailers, and climbing programs have been key to Misty Mountain’s longevity, but a majority of their business is national and international. “We manufacture thousands of harnesses every year, each one in our factory in the North Carolina High Country. We do have local customers like Rock Dimensions, Challenge Towers, High Country Hardware, and Gravity Works,” Kearse says. Misty Mountain facilitates a cut-and-sew operation, which means that component materials get shipped in and then sewn together in-house. “Our harnesses have summited Mt. Everest!” he exclaims proudly. They also design harnesses for people who use wheelchairs, and they stock durable packs, “crazy” chalk bags, bomber sewn slings, and plenty of Misty Mountain-logoed trucker hats and apparel.

For those not quite ready to climb Mt. Everest, Kearse recommends “the traditional bastion of Whitesides [in Jackson County near Cashiers] to the granite dome of Stone Mountain [spanning Wilkes and Alleghany Counties].” Don’t forget to do your homework: North Carolina state parks have permitting regulations that apply to rock climbing. For those wanting to travel outside of North Carolina, head to “The Gunks in New York, Paradise Forks in Arizona, Lover’s Leap in California, and Red Rocks in Nevada,” he says. But whatever you do, he adds, “Please seek competent guides, like Ryan and Jenny at Rock Dimensions in Boone. Climbing is an incredible activity and we encourage everyone to try it. Get out and climb—you’ll be amazed!”


Curtis Wright Outfitters

For owner Jeff Curtis, deciding to open a fly fishing outfit here was a no-brainer. “WNC has the best ‘backyard’ with lots of opportunity for all sorts of outdoor recreation,” such as some of his favorite places to fish, like North Mills River, Big Laurel and Laurel River, and West Fork of the Pigeon River. Curtis says these and other streams designated as “Delayed Harvest” by the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission are some of the best in Western North Carolina because they’re stocked five times a year during catch-and-release season (October 1 to June 1). This includes two additional places he likes to recommend: Cane River and Curtis Creek. 

Before opening Curtis Wright Outfitters in 2003, Jeff worked as an independent fly fishing guide and licensed falconer. Now, he has combined both of these skills into one business, offering year-round fly fishing and falconry experiences. A majority of their revenue comes from tourists, with about 70% of guided experiences booked by visitors (retail sales break down to about 50/50 in terms of locals versus visitors). For those interested in taking up fishing—or taking their fishing skills up a notch—Jeff prefers a fishpond vest/pack and thinks a “good pair of polarized sunglasses” is a must. But of course, the company’s best-sellers are what happen to be the most necessary for a good day fly fishing out on the streams: Simms waders and wading boots.

Working with an experienced guide is important as well, particularly for novices, and one particular point of pride for Jeff is the number of repeat customers the business attracts. “It’s a credit to the wonderful guides we have. They are courteous, professional, and passionate about fly fishing and love sharing that passion with their guests.” Their commitment has resulted in steady growth over their 15 years in business and a growing corporate team-building division. But no matter whom Jeff and his fellow guides are working with, Curtis Wright Outfitters always emphasizes one mantra: “We like to tell folks to make sure they have a great time on the water. It isn’t about all the gear you have or about how many fish you catch—it’s about being on a beautiful stream with the water rushing past, enjoying this wonderful ‘backyard’ we have been blessed with.”

Camping & Hiking

Diamond Brand Gear

Diamond Brand Gear has a long history of creating durable, American-made, military-tested tents and Boy Scout-approved backpacks dating back to 1881. After launching in Pennsylvania and a short stint in New York, the company moved to Western North Carolina around 1930 and has been a committed steward for our region’s environment and its employees—now 65 people strong—ever since. “We stay here because of the tremendous legacy the original owners built for us, and to be in a creative community that celebrates the outdoors,” says CEO John Delaloye. This decision has resulted in a revenue model that’s split evenly between tourists and locals, but Delaloye thinks they’ve just scratched the surface. “As we have not offered our own products directly to consumers for many years, our profits and consumer interest can go nowhere but up. We are extremely fortunate to still have consumers that own or remember using Diamond Brand gear in the 1970s and 1980s,” he explains. (Capital at Play profiled Diamond Brand and their long history in the January 2013 issue.)

However, the recently rebranded Diamond Brand Gear isn’t your grandparents’ tent company, having split from their two-location retail division, Diamond Brand Outdoors (see below). The company also recently teamed up with the Biltmore to create a line of more elegant and colorful bags that say “weekend spa getaway” more than “let’s go camping.” And in May, they launched their Pop-Up Micro Factory at 69 Broadway in downtown Asheville as a way to connect with consumers and show how their handcrafted items are made, as well as offer exclusive products only available at this microfactory. Delaloye hopes that “in the next few months, we can offer services at our Pop-Up Micro Factory that are educational in nature, teaching people of all ages how to maintain, repair, and even sew their own gear.”

And for those new to camping, haven’t been in awhile, or just want to make sure all their gear is up to snuff, he recommends kicking off camping season with a “campout in their backyards. I would also encourage them to do this as often as they can throughout the year. The backyard is a great place for families and individuals to learn some basic camping skills and gain some confidence before they go a little farther from home.” Gear-wise, Delaloye points to their Belay Pack for its “simple design, which draws on many features offered in our best-selling Belay Pack from 1977. Relatively lightweight, it’s easy to organize, extremely durable, and adjustable. I can easily attach it to the back of my motorcycle for a simple day hike.” For those going camping, they encourage families to attach their guylines to bungee cords and attach the bungee cords to their tents. “This allows the guylines to do their jobs, but eliminates some of the stress that could eventually cause damage to the tent where guylines attach,” he explains.

Diamond Brand Outdoors

Speaking of that legacy, Diamond Brand Outdoors is still going strong after more than 50 years in the retail outfitter business, with locations in downtown Asheville and in South Asheville near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Chris Bubenik, the brand’s marketing manager, credits their longevity to the Asheville community. “It’s our North Star, and we look to our friends and neighbors to guide us. We are truly a part of the community and enjoy our awesome responsibility of supporting organizations making the place we live even better through their work. Adventure Is Local isn’t just our tagline, it’s a motto that is at the heart of all we do,” he explains. 

They stand behind that tagline through their extensive blog efforts as well, which Bubenik describes as having “nearly every hike in WNC with directions and reasons why you’ll love those spots.” The blog also showcases content created by each team member about their personal favorite spots and why, effectively serving as a comprehensive online database of reviews and information that the public can easily access. Some of the most recent excursions they’ve recommended for people looking to hike in Western North Carolina have included Boone Fork Trail near Blowing Rock, Laurel River Trail at Hot Springs, Four Falls Trail in DuPont State Forest (which features amazing waterfall views), Craggy Gardens near Asheville (just off the Blue Ridge Parkway), and Daniel Ridge Loop Trail in Pisgah Forest. Looking for a stargazing spot or a moonlit hike? Head to Max Patch, part of the famous Appalachian Trail. 

As for what’s trending in gear, Bubenik shares, “Solar power, sustainably sourced fabric, and neat style are all things our customers are looking for right now, so we’ve brought in lots of new items from Goal Zero, Freefly, Howler Brothers, and Dubarry of Ireland. Of course, we always like to feature local gear makers like ENO, Astral, and SylvanSport, too.” But they’re not just about the new-and-now. “Our buyers strike a balance between timeless gear and clothing that are always needed with up and coming pieces from emerging brands or companies disrupting the outdoor industry,” he explains.

Outdoor 76

In 2010 Outdoor 76 opened in Franklin, North Carolina, in part because co-owners Rob Gasbarro and Cory McCall live and play here, but even more importantly because “our industry has heavily protected distribution channels. The remaining open markets are getting eaten up,” explains Rob. “Franklin had a void in representation for specialty outdoor, and we believe there was a need that we could meet.” Opening on the heels of a recession isn’t easy for any type of business, but he credits the resilience of his fellow entrepreneurs for “choosing to invest in our town and putting Franklin on a great trajectory.” In fact, that trajectory led to Outdoor 76 opening a second store in Cherokee earlier this year, with plans to open a third store in Clayton, Georgia, before the year ends.

Part of Outdoor 76’s success stems from their location along the Appalachian Trail, the famous 2,200-mile trail that connects Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Sixty of those miles run through Macon County, and Franklin has been designated an official Appalachian Trail Community along this section, meaning that the town is hiker-friendly, and a much-needed resupply stop before hikers continue on toward the Nantahala Outdoor Center. “Our spring is heavily focused on northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers,” Rob says. 

Chief among his advice to aspiring or veteran hikers is to have proper-fitting, durable, and reliable footwear that’s designed for hiking. Indeed, another reason their business has thrived, he notes, is Outdoor 76’s specialty footwear. “We’re all about footwear. It’s slightly outside the common outdoor retail mold, but people need their feet taken care of year-round. People get into outdoor recreation, hiking specifically, to have fun. There is no single piece of gear that kills a buzz more than bad footwear. If your feet aren’t happy, nothing else matters.”

The company has diversified in other ways as well, offering canoe, kayak, and bike rentals, and guided fly fishing, as well as operating a small taproom on-site that features 18 craft beers on tap and occasional live music and events. But at the end of the day, Gasbarro credits the Outdoor 76 team for providing an overall quality experience for their patrons. “Love what you do. Customers see that and the intangible component that brings to the experience your customers have can’t be replaced with a better product selection or competitive pricing. When you love what you do, it’ll give you an edge.”  

1607 891 Hearth Magazine
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