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Demo + Clearance Boat Sale

Kids are heading back to classes and Labor Day is on the horizon. That means it’s time for our annual BIG Boat Sale. Don’t miss out on the chance to score major savings starting Saturday, August 19! We’ll also have lots of accessories on sale including 25% off our entire stock of Astral PFDs.

Our demo boats include just about every kayak model we carried this year. They’ve been fully tested at our demo days on Lake Julian and through our demo rental program, but still have lots of miles left in them. Choose from boats by Liquidlogic, Hurricane, Native Watercraft, Perception, and Wilderness Systems.

Clearance boats are brand new and include discontinued colors and closeouts. In many cases, we only have one or two left. If you’ve got your eye on a specific boat, make sure to get to our flagship store in South Asheville’s Parkway Center early on Saturday morning. We open at 10:00 a.m.

Check out the inventory and prices for available boats below. Just click on the icon.

Demo Boat and Clearance Sale List

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Total Solar Eclipse Checklist

Your opportunity to experience a rare total solar eclipse in western North Carolina arrives on Monday, August 21. To make sure you’re prepared and packed for totality, the experts at Diamond Brand Outdoors have assembled this helpful checklist. For more on what to expect, check out Everything You Need to Know About August’s Total Solar Eclipse.

Click here for a printer-friendly PDF version of this checklist.

What to Do Now for the Total Solar Eclipse

  • Select the best location and route for viewing the eclipse based on accessibility, weather forecast, and the time of day the path of totality will pass through the area. Many prime viewing spots require tickets or have a capacity cap in place for the day, so do your homework.
  • Select an alternate location and route. 64,000 tourists are expected to visit the mountains for the eclipse.
  • Book lodging close to your primary viewing location. Hotel rooms, campsites, and cabins are going fast!
  • Build your total solar eclipse viewing kit. (See the bottom of this post for a checklist.)
  • Purchase your eclipse viewing glasses at Diamond Brand Outdoors. We’ve ordered a lot, but they’re going fast!
  • Use an app, website, or book to find out which bright stars and planets you can expect to see during the totality, impressing your friends and kids!

What to Do the Week of the Total Solar Eclipse

  • Test all of your equipment by doing a “dry run.” Nothing’s worse than having a faulty camera when the big event gets underway!
  • Pack your total solar eclipse viewing kit and camping kit.
  • Review the eclipse timing and weather forecasts for your primary and alternate viewing locations.

What to Do the Day of the Total Solar Eclipse

  • Check the weather forecast.
  • Leave early for your viewing location.
  • Claim your spot by setting up chairs and viewing equipment, but remember to be a good neighbor so others may enjoy the experience.
  • Test your equipment.
  • Enjoy the day with your friends and family. The time of totality will be brief, but the experience leading up and following the first total solar eclipse in western North Carolina since 1506 will lead to storied memories for years to come.

Total Solar Eclipse Viewing Kit Checklist

  • WNC + NATIONAL PARK MAPS: Cell towers will likely be overloaded, so don’t rely on an app.
  • ECLIPSE VIEWING GLASSES: You must have these for direct solar viewing.
  • HAT: To protect your head from the sun while you wait for the main event.
  • SUNGLASSES: NOT to look at the sun, but to cut down on the glare when you’re looking everywhere else.
  • PORTABLE PHONE CHARGER: Make sure you’ll be able to document the day through photos and videos.
  • CAMPING CHAIRS + TABLES: Get yourself a chance to stake your claim to watch and rest after the excitement!
  • BLANKETS: No matter where you’re watching, blankets keep things cleaner. Bring more than you think you need.
  • COOLER: You’ll likely get to your viewing area hours before the eclipse. Drinks, lunch, and snacks are a must!
  • DRINKWARE + WATER BOTTLES: Insulated cups and tumblers keep your drinks cold (or hot), don’t sweat, and are reusable.
  • HEADLAMP OR FLASHLIGHT: Since you’ll be looking up, this is primarily for emergencies. Use the red setting instead of white.
  • COMPASS: There’s plenty of information online that will tell you exactly where to look as totality begins.
  • CAMERA: This is one of the times you may want a nicer camera than you’ll find on your phone.
  • CELL PHONE: Coverage may be too spotty for weather and GPS, but your clock and camera will still work.
  • WATER: Always stay hydrated, whether the sun is shining or not.
  • SUNSCREEN: Always a good idea when you’ll be outside for any period of time.
  • INSECT REPELLENT: Another good idea anytime you’re heading into the outdoors.
  • OUTDOOR GAMES: Help pass the time and enjoy some relaxation with friends and family.
  • HAMMOCK: If you’ve got space to set up an ENO hammock or WindPouch, laying down is a great way to watch.
  • ELECTRICAL TAPE: Some folks don’t know how to turn off their camera’s flash. Be prepared to help them out.
  • CAMPING KIT (OPTIONAL): Traveling the day before or staying overnight after the eclipse helps avoid traffic and can be fun!
    • TENT
    • SLEEPING BAG FOR EACH CAMPER
    • LANTERN
    • SLEEPING PAD FOR EACH CAMPER
    • PILLOWS
    • TARPS
    • STOVE + FUEL
    • MATCHES
    • FRYING PAN + POT
    • CUTTING BOARD + KNIFE
    • SPONGE, SOAP, + BIN FOR WASHING DISHES
    • PAPER TOWELS
    • FIREWOOD (IF ALLOWED)
    • ROASTING STICKS FOR S’MORES + HOT DOGS
    • BEAR KEG
    • ICE
    • TRASH BAGS
    • FIRST AID KIT
    • CORKSCREW

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5 Fire Towers to Explore in Western Carolina

It’s hard to deny the lure of mountain fire towers, with their place in history as guardians of the forest, and the intrigue of the solitary, beatnik existence of the watchmen who were once posted within them. Like lighthouses, these imposing structures still hold a certain element of mystery and nostalgia, and nowhere can you find a more spectacular view of the many mountain ranges that make up the Southern Appalachians. Here, five fire towers to explore in Western Carolina.

1. Shuckstack Firetower

Western Great Smoky Mountains

Looking out Shuckstack Fire Tower in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Looking out Shuckstack Fire Tower in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Photo by Zachary Andrews

Standing at the top of Shuckstack Lookout Tower is easily one of the most dramatic and alluring experiences that you’ll find on any mountaintop in the Southeast. Sixty feet in the air, swaying gently but perceivably in the wind, you feel as if you’re standing inside a fixed mountain gondola. Through wraparound picture windows, you can spot the deep blue waters of Fontana Lake nestled inside the Smokies, as well as the full breadth of the Unicoi, Nantahala, and Blue Ridge Mountains.

Shuckstack Tower is located on a spur that juts off of the Appalachian Trail. The hike ascends a total of 2,100 feet in 3.5 miles, with the bulk of the steep terrain covered in the first 2.4 miles. After that, the trail evens out for an enjoyable mile, before turning sharply upwards again for the final scramble.

Take caution as you make your way to the top, as the tower has fallen into disrepair. A couple of broken steps and a section of missing railing are precarious illustrations of how the modern era has abandoned these dignified structures. Shuckstack is one of only three fire towers still standing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When they eventually succumb to weather and age, there will be no way for visitors to climb straight into the sky, and the views from the top will belong once again to the birds.

2. Greenknob Lookout Tower

Northern North Carolina Blue Ridge Crest 

Looking down from Green Knob Lookout Tower.
Looking down from Green Knob Lookout Tower.
Photo by Michael Sprague

The Green Knob Lookout is a quick dash from milepost 350.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, just north of Mt. Mitchell State Park . The half-mile trail is overgrown and nearly hidden, which saves it from the crowds that often gather at notable points along the Parkway. If you’re looking for a more substantial hike, begin at the Black Mountain Campground. From here, the trail totals 6.6 miles out and back.

Built by the USFS in 1931, the Green Knob Lookout is included in the National Register of Historic Places. It is located along the Eastern Continental Divide, perched atop the 5,080 foot summit of Green Knob Mountain. On a clear day, the tower affords breathtaking views of the Black and Great Craggy mountain ranges and the Piedmont of North Carolina, with the distinguished profiles of Table Rock and Grandfather Mountains rising in the distance. Due to its height and convenient proximity to the parking area, Green Knob is a fantastic spot to catch a sunset.

3. Mt. Cammerer

Eastern Great Smoky Mountains

The majestic Cammerer Lodge.
The majestic Cammerer Lodge.
Photo by McDowell Crrok

It’s a burly 5.5 miles to reach the octagonal lookout tower on the summit of Mt. Cammerer , a mountain that straddles the state line of Tennessee and North Carolina. Your journey begins with three miles of steep switchbacks on the Low Gap Trail, ascending 2,000 feet before intersecting with the Appalachian Trail. The terrain then levels out along a scenic ridge line, with tantalizing views of the Cosby Creek and Toms Creek Valleys to keep you motivated. The final leg involves a scramble up a rocky spur as you approach Mt. Cammerer’s rugged summit.

This particular tower was constructed in the Western style, meaning that instead of rising above the trees on wooden stilts, the cab sits on a sturdy foundation of massive, hand-cut stone. Until the 1960s, rangers inhabited the tower in two week shifts from October and December, and again from February till May. It must have been a peaceful existence for the watchmen, observing autumn descend and spring bloom over the Pigeon River Gorge.

You can claim a few moments of tranquility for yourself inside the glassed-in cabin, with a panoramic view that includes Snowbird Mountain, the tower-topped summit of Mt. Sterling, and the Great Smoky Mountains unfurling in the Southwest.

4. Wayah Bald

Nantahala Mountains

Dramatic views from Wayah Bald.
Dramatic views from Wayah Bald.
Photo by US Forest Service – Southern Region

Until 1945, watchmen would inhabit the old stone lookout on Wayah Bald for two months at a time, sleeping in narrow, drop-down beds fixed to the wall and cooking over a wood stove. Their regiment involved walking the second-story wooden catwalk that surrounded their sparse dwelling, searching day and night for the flicker of flames or the dark halo of smoke rising above the mountains.

Of course, the human history of this area dates back long before the tower’s construction in 1937. Waya is the Cherokee word for wolf. Red wolves used to roam across the mountain’s bald summit, and spear points dating back longer than 11,000 years have been discovered scattered in the ground.

Today, the upper stories have been removed, and the stone structure that remains looks like something that was lifted from a mediaeval landscape and dropped in the Southern Appalachians. A wrap-around staircase descends from the top of the tower to a wide stone patio, providing panoramic mountain views that span all the way into Georgia. It’s not unusual to see a bride and groom gleefully posing for photos on the patio, taking advantage of this spectacular vista.

Wayah Bald rises 5,342 feet out of the Nantahala National Forest, just outside of Franklin, NC. The tower is accessible via the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail, which stretches for 115 miles between North Georgia and Cheoah Bald in North Carolina. You can park very near to the trail for a quick jaunt to the summit, or begin at Wilson Lick Ranger’s Station for a lovely 3 mile hike on the AT.

5. Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower

Great Balsam Mountains

At 70 feet tall, the Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower holds the distinction of tallest USFS lookout in Western North Carolina. The summit of Fryingpan rises high in the Great Balsam Range, topping out at 5,340 feet. As one might imagine, the view from this combined height is unparalleled—so far reaching, in fact, that the tower was actively used for fire detection well into the 1990s!

The top tower is locked, but five flights of steel stairs will bring you just below the platform where you can savor the spectacular vista. The mountains in the distance, including Cold Mountain and Mt. Pisgah to the North, feel right up close and personal. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Shining Rock Wilderness are also visible to the North and Southwest, an incredible payoff for a quick and easy hike (1.5 mile round-trip) on a gravel road.

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Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Andrew Piazza

48 Hours of Adventure: The Ultimate Weekend Getaway in Jackson County

Filled with sylvan streams winding through vast swathes of contiguous wilderness and crowned by the cloud-swaddled peaks of the southern Appalachians, Jackson County, North Carolina, is awash with natural wonders. Beyond the stunning backdrop, the mountain-nestled county is also peppered with inviting towns loaded with bountiful farmers markets, inventive craft breweries, farm-to-fork eateries, and boutiques showcasing locally produced artisanal crafts. Adventures are abundant in Jackson County, but here’s a shortlist of recommendations for an idyllic weekend escape.

Saturday

Photo by Nick Breedlove

Get a caffeine-injected start to your Jackson County adventure with locally roasted coffee and a portable bite from the Sylva Convenient Market and General Store in downtown Sylva. Stretch your legs walking the town’s main drag, lined with cafes, handicraft-loaded boutiques, and punctuated with rarities like the eclectic In Your Ear Music Emporium, an independent record store. The Dixie Mae Vintage Market is loaded with two-floors worth of singular antiques, and you’ll enjoy tasty treats from the cozy Baxley’s Chocolates.

Photo by Nick Breedlove

If Sylva has only whet your appetite for artsy wares, head two-miles down the road to Dillsboro, a hub for local artisans and host of the annual Western North Carolina Pottery Festival. Dillsboro’s condensed downtown is loaded with functioning studios—like Treehouse Pottery, Rabbit Creek Pottery, and Riverwood Pottery—each showcasing and selling everything from stoneware to ceramics inlaid with horse hair.

Photo by Margaret Hester

If you end up lingering until lunchtime, grab a bite in Sylva at Lulu’s on Main, serving sophisticated cuisine in down-to-earth digs. When you are ready to trade town for trail, head 45-minutes south to Cashiers. Get a taste for the lake-studded town at the Cashiers Farmers Market and pick up a picnic for the trail. Next, head just outside town to Panthertown Valley, a rugged, mountain-cradled slice of the Nantahala National Forest adorned with tannin-tinged streams and tumbling waterfalls. Hikers are enveloped by wilderness merely steps from the trailhead in Panthertown Valley, lending even brief day-hikes the feel of multi-day backcountry outings.

Although the namesake panthers no longer prowl the fern-draped valley, Cooper’s hawks cruise the canopy, and bobcats, black bears, and coyotes wander the rhododendron-fringed trails. Decipher the extensive network of backcountry trails with the definitive map, Bruce Kornegay’s “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown,” available at the Blackrock Outdoor Company in Sylva, or with information from the Friends of Panthertown Valley.

Photo by Mark Haskett

If hiking a sometimes maze-like wilderness seems a little too ambitious, head for Whitewater Falls, which is also just outside Cashiers in the Nantahala National Forest. You will hear the thundering rush of water before even embarking on the brief trail to the viewing platform for the 811-foot falls. Stairs lead to a lower viewpoint, offering unobstructed vistas of the silvery flumes and providing access to the Foothills Trail, an option for tacking more trail time on to your waterfall visit.

Innovation Brewery.
Innovation Brewery.
Photo by Jackson County Tourism

In the evening, head back to Sylva to sample the artful ales available at the town’s trio of craft breweries. Choose from the Bavarian-inspired beers at the Heinzelmännchen Brewery, serving brews like the Ancient Days Honey Blonde or the subtle toffee-flavored Middle World Brown. Try the Sneak E Squirrel, the newest arrival to Sylva’s brewing scene, pouring flavorful pints like Cherry Vanilla Stout and Prison Shank, a quintessential English ale. The brewery also features a menu with everything from pork belly BLTs to bison burgers to the Toasted Fat Elvis, a culinary tribute to the King packed with peanut butter, bananas, and bacon. Peruse the lengthy tap list at Innovation Brewing, which is loaded with mainstays like the Spaceman Pale Ale and the Hoppy Camper IPA. You’ll also find seasonals like Apple Butter Brown, the Cucumber Mint Saison, or the Beet and Basil Pale Ale. After grabbing a beer, head outside to Innovation Brewing’s resident food truck, Cosmic Carryout.

Sunday

Photo by Nick Breedlove

Ease into Sunday at Sylva’s City Light’s Cafe. The vegetarian-friendly eatery serves everything from chevre-filled crepes to gluten-free pastries. Post breakfast, the cafe also has nearly a dozen local beers on tap and serves an array of organic, North Carolina wines. Best of all, you can bring your pooch to dine, and the joint celebrates four-legged patrons at monthly Yappy Hours. After breakfast, peruse the attached City Lights Bookstore, lorded over by a pair of resident cats. Astoundingly, City Lights is merely one of three independent bookstores in town—Sylva’s Main Street also boasts the Friends of the Library Used Bookstore and Harry Alter Books, specializing in rarities and out-of-print texts.

Photo by Nick Breedlove

Once adequately caffeinated, head for the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway. A lofty, peak-laden stretch of the 469-mile roadway ribbons through Jackson County, serving as a portal to an abundance of high-country trails. Begin with the more grueling hike by heading south on the parkway to the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center, which is just after milepost 450. The hike from the windswept visitor center to Waterrock Knob’s 6,292-foot pinnacle is short—about a mile and a half round trip—but consists of a craggy climb along a series of tightly coiled switchbacks. Fortunately, climbers are consistently treated to stunning views of Maggie Valley and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, appearing like a sea of rippling, blue-tinged cordilleras silhouetted against the horizon.

Photo by Nick Breedlove

Next, drive north to Richland Balsam (milepost 431), just after the marker for the highest point on the motorway, at 6,053-feet. Hike the 1.5-mile loop trail to Richland Balsam’s 6,410-foot summit through a cloud-shrouded, spruce-fir forest more reminiscent of landscapes of northern New England. Check the trail for animal tracks—the thoroughfare is by far the easiest path through the dense, moss-cloaked evergreen forest, and more than just hikers take advantage of the summit route.

Tired of hiking but still craving more time outdoors? Jackson County is dubbed North Carolina’s Trout Capital, and it’s ideal for perhaps the most meditative of outdoor pursuits—fly fishing. The county is sprinkled with stops along the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, the first and only of its kind in the country. The largest rainbow trout caught in North Carolina to date, weighing in at just over 20 pounds, was hauled out of Jackson County’s Horsepasture River.

Photo by Jackson County Tourism

In the evening, head back to downtown Sylva for dinner at the Caribbean-inspired Guadalupe Café. The eatery serves organic, locally sourced food, and dishes up more than just island- inspired plates, including bison burgers, mango pork tacos, and, of course, trout cakes.

As for where to stay in Jackson County, you’ve got plenty of choices: Full-service resorts, cozy cabins, historic inns, and charming bed & breakfasts are all available in the area.

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Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Nick Breedlove

July-ber Monday Deals

Are you ready for July-ber Monday? Use Click + Collect to browse items online and pick them up in our stores every Monday in July. When you pick them up, we’ll take 20% off (some exclusions)!

It’s summer in Western North Carolina and that means we all want to be outdoors. Whether it’s the on the water or in a tent, on the trail or on the town, we’ll help you get outdoors faster and shop local with Click + Collect.

Never used Click + Collect before? It’s easy.
  • Head to our website and choose which store you’d like to shop at: Parkway Center (South Asheville) or Downtown.
  • Browse our inventory by category, brand, price point, and more to find an item that you’ll love.
  • Select your desired size and color, hit the “Hold in Store” button, and enter your name and email address.
  • Pick up your new gear at the store at your convenience.
  • Enjoy your new purchase and the good vibes that come from shopping local.
Why is this awesome?
  • Save Time: Chances are you already know what you’re looking for. Find out if we have the size and color you want without driving to several stores. We’ll also hold your items, so you can just head straight to the check out and be on your way.
  • Instant Gratification: We love the convenience of online shopping, but we hate waiting for our packages to arrive. With Click + Collect, you can browse online on your lunch break and pick the items up on your way home from work with no waiting.
  • Easy Returns: Fit different than you expected? Color looked different online? With Click + Collect, it’s a cinch to do local returns or exchanges. Online shopping…not so much. (Ask the pile of boxes beside my door waiting for me to remember to take them to the post office.)
  • Support Local: Shopping local allows you to support the patchwork of unique businesses that make Asheville a fantastic place to live. You’ll feel good and experience some real local pride. We opened the area’s first outdoor lifestyle shop in 1964 and never take for granted the support you give us.

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Backpacking North Carolina’s Linville Gorge Loop

It was our last day in the Linville Gorge. We were supposed to be back to our car by 3:00 p.m., but by 4:00 p.m. we were still three miles away. We had stopped to eat lunch when a couple of hikers came up from a spur trail and asked us if they were headed towards the daffodil field. We laughingly admitted we weren’t even sure if we were going the right way. One of the hikers chuckled in return and told us one of the most accurate descriptions of the gorge I have ever heard.

“They say every mile in the gorge feels like two.”

He couldn’t have said it better, the gorge is place that no one can truly prepare for. Even the locals struggle going up the thousand foot climbs without switchbacks. And there’s hardly any mention anywhere online about the lack of water on top of the gorge rim. Many groups have spent their first night dehydrated on the chimney tops. The truth is, all of these difficulties seem like nothing once you’ve entered the Linville Gorge. Its scenery is more dramatic and luring than anywhere around. The gorge boasts of epic views, old growth forests, and a cascading mountain river.

The fire-scarred landscape of the Linville Gorge rim.
The fire-scarred landscape of the Linville Gorge rim.
Photo by Graham Hodge

The Linville Gorge is rich in history, but has not been a designated recreation area until recently. The gorge was named after the brothers John and William Linville, both famous explorers of the North Carolina wilderness, who had a fatal encounter with the native Cherokee tribe during the first expedition into the gorge. The Cherokees believed it was a sacred and mystic place and continued to inhabit the gorge for many years after their encounter with the brothers. The steep ridges of the gorge prevented logging from reaching the inner reaches of the gorge, which explains why the Linville Gorge Wilderness is one of the few remaining old growth forests in the Southeast. The gorge was made a preserved wilderness area as a part of the 1952 Wilderness Act and is now managed by the Grandfather Ranger District of the United States Forest Service.

We began our three day backpacking trip at the Wolf Pit Road Trailhead. This is the most popular trailhead to start the 22-mile loop, although there are other access points. The trail immediately begins to climb up a series of switchbacks that lead to the top of Shortoff Mountain. The view from here is spectacular and offers a great glimpse into the type of adventure and scenery you can expect for the next couple of days. Just after reaching the top of Shortoff there is a small, piped seasonal spring. Be sure to fill up your water containers to capacity here! There is no water until after descending the chimney tops and many spend their first night dehydrated because of this.

The top of Shortoff Mountain has experienced many forest fires over the past few years. This has created a mile of the trail where you will feel like you’re in another world. Enjoy your time during this portion of the trail. The views are great and hiking is easy. Near the end of Shortoff you will descend into a gap that connects with a trail that begins the first epic climb to the chimney tops. This portion of the trail has no switchbacks and consists of approximately one mile of steep hiking. The climb is difficult, but the 360 degree views along the top of the chimney tops are hard to beat. Choose your favorite campsite from the many designated sites along the ridge line of the the chimney tops. Also, be aware of where you step. There are many peregrine falcon nests which cause rock climbing closures periodically throughout the year.

First night's camp.
First night’s camp.
Photo by Graham Hodge

After waking up to an epic sunrise, you will finish a traverse of the chimney tops and eventually come across the parking lot for Table Rock. You may choose to summit Table Rock if you’d like, but I would highly recommend skirting the base and moving on if you are planning on finishing the loop in three days. After passing Table Rock you will descend into the gorge via the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Once in the gorge, you can refill your water as needed. There will be plenty of water from this point on.

Keep an eye out and cut down into the Linville Gorge Trail by hopping on the Spence Ridge Trail. This will take you down to the river crossing. The bridge has been washed out, but there is rope system to get your bags across the river dryly while you swim. If the river is low, then you may be able to cross by rock hopping like we did.

Ropes and river crossings.
Ropes and river crossings.
Photo by Graham Hodge

After crossing the river, follow the Linville Gorge Trail for a long time. You’ll go through sections where the trail is clean and easy as well as rough sections with rock gardens and blown down trees. You may choose to camp along the river after you’ve put in your fair share of miles for the day. The trail is littered with great campsites of all sizes right along the river.

Be prepared for a full day of hiking to end your trip. There is private property in the middle of the Linville Gorge Trail which creates a dead end. To avoid getting to this point and having to backtrack, take the Pinch-In Trail (there will be a sign) to the top of the ridge across the gorge from Shortoff. Once on the top of the ridge follow the road to the Pinnacle Rock Trailhead and follow the trail down to reconnect again with the Mountain To Sea Trail. This will take you all the way down to the river for an epic and typically cold crossing. Once crossing the river, rest up for the steep hike with a 1,800 foot elevation gain with, again, no switchbacks. This will take you all the way back to the intersection that leads to the Wolf Pit Road parking lot. Rejoice in the grueling beauty of the landscape and your recent accomplishment of successfully looping the Linville Gorge.

Camp vibes in the Linville Gorge.
Camp vibes in the Linville Gorge.
Photo by Graham Hodge

The Linville Gorge Loop is a serious undertaking for a 3 day backpacking trip. If you are a not an avid backpacker, the loop should be extended to a 4 day trip for maximum enjoyment. A physical map of the area can be found at the Grandfather Ranger District Station. A free permit is required on the weekend from May through October and groups are limited to 10 people. Many people do the loop counter clockwise, just make sure you have enough water for the first 7 miles.

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Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Graham Hodge

Best Spots for Camping Under the Stars: Backpacking Your Way Through Jackson County

Western North Carolina’s varied landscape is a veritable buffet for backpackers. Nestled at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, overlaid by the Plott Balsam and Great Balsam mountains, and loaded with strings of soaring 6,000-foot peaks (sixers) amid a massive expanses of forest—the trip options are almost endless. Jackson County’s diversity of trails provides something for backpacking enthusiasts of all stripes, from gear gurus to altitude-immune peak-seekers to cautious car campers striking out into the backcountry for the very first time. So load up the pack, seek out the starry-skied campsites of Jackson County, and spend some time exploring western North Carolina’s wildest spaces.

Pinnacle Park

Pinnacle Park Camping.
Pinnacle Park Camping.
Photo by Nick Breedlove

Just a few miles outside the town of Sylva, the 1,100-acre Pinnacle Park feels much further removed. Several trails ribbon through the recreation area, but the highlight of the leafy swath of wilderness is the namesake Pinnacle, a 4,820-foot rock promontory accessible after a 3.5-mile hike, offering celestial views of the towns of Sylva, Webster, and Cullowhee. The park also provides access to the 5,810-foot summit of Blackrock Mountain—a peak trail runners flock to Pinnacle Park to tackle every spring during the 7-mile Assault on BlackRock race.

Panthertown Valley

A stunningly varied tract of the Nantahala National Forest once so densely populated with cougars that the rugged expanse was named for the cats, Panthertown Valley is a welcome retreat for crowd-weary backpackers. The 6,300-acre recreation area has been dubbed the “Yosemite of the East,” and the landscape is loaded with natural marvels, including towering 4,000-foot peaks, thickly wooded groves of fern-blanketed forest, and secluded waterfalls pouring into tannin-tinted trout streams. There are 30 miles of official Forest Service designated trails threading the valley, with countless secondary paths and unofficial tracks splintering off the more well-established routes. The extensive trail network can become a leafy labyrinth, so pick up the definitive map to Panthertown Valley, A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown by Burt Kornegay, or find more information from the nonprofit Friends of Panthertown.

Art Loeb Trail

Jeff Bartlett
Jeff Bartlett

Easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail ribbons through the Shining Rock Wilderness, showcasing spectacles like Cold Mountain, Shining Rock, and Stairs Mountain. In Jackson County, the trail traverses one of the loftiest peaks in the Great Balsam range, Black Balsam Knob (6,214 feet). It’s a trademark southern Appalachian bald, crowned with a sea of wind-rippled, wildflower-flecked meadows. For distance hikers, the Mountains-to-Sea and Art Loeb trails regularly intertwine, making it easy to link the two in order to craft a more extensive trek.

Foothills Trail

Meandering through North Carolina and upstate South Carolina for nearly 80 miles, the Foothills Trail offers a compact distance-hike—one that’s achievable in just a week on the trail. The multi-state route is also peppered with access points, making the Foothills Trail easily done in bite-sized portions. In Jackson County, the trail showcases the Nantahala National Forest and provides access to one of western North Carolina’s most stunning natural wonders—the 411-foot tall Whitewater Falls, the loftiest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains.

Mountains-to-Sea Trail

For backpackers craving a lengthy thru-hike, Jackson County serves up a lofty stretch of the state’s premier distance track: the Mountains to Sea Trail. It originates due west of the county at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While in Jackson County, the 1,150-mile trail parallels an elevated section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, encompassing some of the highest peaks in the Plott Balsam, including Waterrock Knob, and delves into remote expanses of the Nantahala National Forest. After deviating from the parkway, the trail also winds past some Jackson County’s inviting mountain towns, including Dillsboro and Sylva.

Ellicott Rock Wilderness

Photo by Alan Cressler

North Carolina’s portion of the Ellicott Wilderness—a massive 8,296-acre area also shared by Georgia and South Carolina—provides access a pristine stretch of the Chattooga River, which was designated as a “Wild and Scenic River” more than four decades ago. Located slightly east of the town of Cashiers, the Bad Creek Trail is an excellent option for a short and sweet backcountry overnight. You’ll find access to a smattering of riverine campsites along the Chattooga after a three-mile hike (with a more grueling return trip).

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Originally written by RootsRated for Jackson County Tourism Development Authority.

Featured image provided by Stewart Photography

4 Tips for Fishing in the Dark

Summer’s arrived in western North Carolina and a very wet spring means mountain rivers and streams are higher and faster than they were last year. While that’s a welcome change, the longer days and higher temperatures of July and August bring challenges for anglers.

Warmer water and bright sunshine drive fish into deeper cover, making for a longer and hotter day on the water. That’s what makes this a great time to explore evening-into-the night fishing! A kayak is the perfect vessel for taking advantage of this opportunity as it’s more mobile than standing on the shore and bounces off rocks much better than a fiberglass hull. You’ll also find just about as many fish biting as an early morning outing.

Night fishing isn’t for everyone and introduces new elements of risk such as loss of visual cues and predators that like to hunt in the darkness. It can be a welcome change for those with busy schedules and allows a fresh perspective on trips you may have taken dozens of time under the sun. Before you head into the night, take these tips into consideration.

Plan Ahead

When picking your night spots, stick to familiar areas. Any body of water will look brand new at night, even if you’ve paddled it many times before. Make note of landmarks and bring a buddy, if possible. Two anglers can cover more water and watch out for each other.

Grab the Right Gear

You’ll need a few basic tools, most of which you already have. Essentials include a PFD, a GPS to steer clear of rocks and pinpoint fishy water, a radio to communicate with fishing partners in case you get separated, highly reflective flag, and a good light. Light will keep you visible to other anglers, recreational paddlers, and boaters. A 360-degree light elevated from the deck of your kayak, headlamp, and floating flashlight are all good recommendations. A hand-crank flashlight or lantern isn’t a bad idea, either. You should always wear a PFD when you’re on the water, but going without isn’t even an option for night excursions. Even if you don’t plan to be out after sunset, prepare for it.

Turn on Your Lights Before It Gets Dark

Always check your gear before getting on the water to make sure it’s charged. Turning on your lights early means less scrambling as the sun goes down and less chance of finding yourself night swimming instead of night paddling!

Have Fun!

The best fishing usually occurs at least an hour after the sun goes down, so don’t get discouraged if you find it dying down. The fish will be biting again soon! Of course, this advice can only go so far. You’ve got to get on the water and try yourself.

Be sure to check local regulations about operating watercraft between dusk and dawn as they vary across the region. If you want to give several models of fishing kayaks a test drive (during the day), join Diamond Brand Outdoors on Lake Julian on July 16 and July 30 for free demo days from 10am-2pm.

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8 Off the Beaten Path Festivals in the Southeast

Perhaps Coachella sold out before you could say Beyoncé, you just can’t imagine fighting the crowds at Bonnaroo for one more year, or maybe you’d rather hang out riverside than beachside. No matter what the reason, we understand your desire for an intimate (but still larger than life) music experience this summer, so we picked eight of our favorite festivals in the Southeast that make for the perfect weekend getaway. Many involve camping, some are by the water, a few encourage family attendance, and all are worth checking out.

Throw on your most comfortable pair of Chacos, pack your backpack with breathable clothes and sunscreen, stock up on water, and head to a music festival (or all eight, we won’t judge) for an unbeatable time in the great outdoors. These no-frills festivals might be a bit off the beaten path, but that’s all part of the fun. And don’t worry—we included a few traveling and packing tips to help you out along the way.

1. MerleFest

When: April 27-30, 2017** Where: Wilkesboro, NC**

Designed with a focus on music, moments, and memories, this North Carolina festival is one not to be missed. First-time visitors and seasoned festival goers groove alongside each other while some of the best acts in Southern music belt one out. Sounds of the Appalachian region and Americana, country, blues, and rock flood the four-day festival. Last year, outstanding performances were giving by Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, and John Prine—and this year’s lineup rivals that of years past. Make your way to the front of the crowds for The Avett Brothers, Sam Bush Band, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Chatham County Line.

MerleFest does not offer an on-site camping experience, but you will still spend plenty of time strolling between the thirteen different spots to hear music. Keep your feet comfortable from all that walking in a pair of Chaco Fallons, and pack a blanket to set up shop at the different shows.

2. FloydFest

When: July 26-30, 2017** Where: Floyd, VA**

Floyd, a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia, comes to life in the spring. The mountain town becomes a listening room dedicate to an eclectic collection of music from groups like Thievery Corporation, Michael Franti & Spearhead, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Steel Pulse, and Leftover Salmon. Cure what ails you by breathing the fresh mountain air and enjoying five days of music.

Take advantage of FloydFest’s surroundings by taking a dip in Little River, hopping on a mountain bike, playing a round of disc golf, or exploring the hiking trails. If you make the most of the weekend, you will be covering different terrain, so slide into a pair of Chaco’s Z/2 Classic sandals but be sure to bring a pair of warm socks to keep your toes toasty at night.

3. Front Porch Fest

When: August 31 – September 3** Where: Patrick County, VA**

If you weren’t able to make it to the Blue Ridge Mountains for FloydFest in July, or you need an excuse to return, The Front Porch Fest will welcome you to the mountain region with open arms. Front Porch is put on each year by a group of friends and family, which means the kiddos are welcome at this one. For the four days before Labor Day, the 130-acre Spirithaven Farm will become home to stand-out acts and music lovers. Check out groups like Big Daddy Love (a non-traditional string quartet) or Danger Muffin (known for breezy melodies). Let your life be enriched by art in this intimate setting, just as the founders of the festival intended.

The festival’s organizers encourage you to bring all of your friends, toilet paper, an open mind, and extra shoes. Consider easy-going friends, soft toilet paper, and a pair of Chaco’s ZX/3 Classics.

4. Aiken Bluegrass Festival

When: May 12-13, 2017** Where: Aiken, SC**

With nothing but a love of partying and a love of bluegrass, this festival was born. The two-day Aiken Bluegrass Festival may seem short compared to others of its kind, but the selection of bands is one not to miss, as differing styles and traditions of bluegrass music will take the stage each day. Whether you’re a first-timer or a longtime ticket holder, everyone around you will feel like a close friend as you bond over the 10-band lineup. If you are a lover of bluegrass, Aiken Bluegrass Festival is the one for you.

Pups are welcomed, camping is preferred, and Chaco’s Maya sandals are recommended.

5. Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival

When: September 23-24, 2017** Where: Franklin, TN**

New to the music fest scene, the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival has quickly grown into a must-attend event. We’re not sure if it’s past performances from Willie Nelson and Grace Potter or hopeful sightings of Justin Timberlake, but this festival has piqued our interest. The Park at Harlinsdale is a century-old horse farm in Middle Tennessee and it makes for a stunning setting for music listening. The lineup is always packed with big names but the festival offers a small-town feel.

The festival-goers guest list includes everyone from fashionistas to kiddos to Franklin-natives. So don your best festival attire (including a pair of Chaco’s Aubrey shoes) and plan to walk into the small town of Franklin to dine with the locals after the show.

6. River and Roots

When: June 23-25, 2017** Where: Berryville, VA**

Genres are not separated, but rather celebrated for their similarities and differences at River and Roots, where the lines between Americana, bluegrass, folk, and blues blur. The masses will not only flock to the main stage but also to the fiddle camp, band and pickin’ contests, and the nearby Shenandoah River during the weekend. The good people at River and Roots promise you great music and plenty of opportunities to join in on the fun of playing.

Pack your banjo for this one, show off your skills, and stroll from the campsite to the stage in a pair of Chaco’s Fallon sandals.

7. Shaky Knees Music Festival

When: May 12-14, 2017** Where: Atlanta, GA**

Who's ready to hang with Zeus again?! ⚡️🙋🏼 #shakykneesfest #shakyknees #atlanta #musicfestival

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Each year, Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta is transformed into music madness with more than 60 bands for Shaky Knees Music Festival. There is nary a quiet moment during the festival’s three-day run and the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Cage the Elephant, Pixies, The XX, Moon Taxi, Ryan Adams, and The Shins are sure to keep things interesting.

During the festival, you will be strolling the streets of Atlanta, so wear something comfortable. Most people are not in your typical festival wear so ladies can kick things up a notch by pairing Chaco’s leather sandals with a stylish-but-breathable dress.

8. Tallulah Fest

When: March 31 – April 1, 2017** Where: Chattooga River Resort**

Although Tallulah Fest promises some of the best whiskey drinkin’ and one of the best boot-stompin’, hand-clappin’ lineups of handmade music anywhere in the Southeast, the festival offers more than just music. Thrill seekers can spend some time in their kayaks and outdoor enthusiasts can set up camp for a few days. Partake in the fun by enjoying the thrill of the class V paddling (if you’re up for that level rapid), or play it safe by setting up camp to catch stellar views of the action. You can also take advantage of the hiking and biking trails and fishing on the Wild and Scenic Chattanooga River.

Plan to get wet—and have a ball in the process. Don’t forget to pack a quick-drying towel, bathing suit, dry bag, and waterproof sandals.

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Originally written by RootsRated for Outdoor Sports Marketing.

Featured image provided by Photo courtesy of Chaco

A Guide to 15 of the South’s Best Places to Paddle

Southern author Eugene F. Walter once wrote, “summer in the deep South is not only a season, a climate, it’s a dimension. Floating in it, one must be either proud or submerged.” Perhaps this explains why the waters here are so well-explored and appreciated by paddlers from all over the United States. Despite the fact that proud locals would likely prefer their rivers uncrowded, the word is out: the South has epic rivers.

The rivers and creeks of this region have a very distinctive character. Most of the waterways originate from the Southernmost reaches of the old Appalachian Mountains and plateaus, moving towards the east or the west with rushing speed. Starting off as small streams beneath a canopy of lush deciduous forests, round boulders and well-worn bedrock shape their rapids and hidden waterfalls. They join together and course through gorges, until the gradient subsides as they drop closer to sea level, flattening their waters and encouraging a variety of paddle sports.

With so many options, mild year-round temperatures, and generous annual rainfall, the South is a coveted destination for paddlers of all abilities and passions. In this guide, we’ll work our way through the absolute best Southern rivers for paddling, from beginner to expert level.

The Easiest: Flatwater to Beginner Whitewater (Class I-II+)

Great day on the river with quality people. Highly recommend taking a two man kayak! #GoPro

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1.Chipola River, Florida

Starting down in Florida, a novice paddler can find many opportunities to explore freshwater springs and riverside caves while viewing swamp wildlife and historical artifacts. The enchanting Chipola River in Western Florida is a great way to see the best of what the area has to offer. As part of the Dead Lakes State Recreation Area, there are two sections: the 51-mile Chipola River Designated Paddling Trail and the 4.5-mile Upper Chipola River Designated Paddling Trail, separated where the river disappears underground. Fed by 63 springs, the Chipola has a set of small rapids and is also home to the unique shoal bass.

2. Wateree River Blue Trail, North and South Carolina

Weaving 75 miles through the Carolina countryside, the Wateree River Blue Trail has several sections of gentle rapids and flatwater that are both accessible and worthy of interest. Draining a natural wooded floodplain, the waterway is a haven for wildlife such as bald eagles, otters, and kingfishers. This river basin is one of the few precious places that remain in the Southeast where populations of white shoals spider-lily thrive in decent numbers.

3. Hiwassee River Blueway, Tennessee

Heading West to Tennessee’s Hiwassee River Blueway** **gives you the option to step up to class II if desired. The upper section of the river in the mountains of the Cherokee National Forest is where you’ll find these rapids, and while they appear steep, they are not overwhelmingly difficult. Once you get past the town of Reliance, the river mellows, and floating peacefully past the trees can be a serene experience. The cool water flows year round, downstream of the TVA Apalachia powerhouse.

4. Nantahala River, North Carolina

The Nantahala Gorge is nestled between the North Carolina mountains just outside Bryson City. The walls are so steep here that the sunlight can only make it to the valley floor at high noon, hence the name Nantahala, which is Cherokee for “land of the noonday sun.” At the bottom of the gorge, you’ll find eight miles of mostly class II (+) rapids, with a finale of the class III Nantahala Falls, an optional portage. Cold, reliable water flows year round from a nearby powerhouse, making this a very popular and accessible river.

5. Clear Creek, Tennessee

From a solid perch high on the Cumberland Plateau, the upper stretches of Clear Creek meander downhill through numerous shoals and class II rapids that require precise maneuvering. Adventurous, overnight paddlers will pass caves and unique rock formations along the 20-mile waterway before encountering a class III rapid towards the end. Portage is certainly an easy option for those who aren’t up for the challenge.

The In-Between: Intermediate to Advanced (Class III-IV)

6. Obed Wild and Scenic River, Tennessee

Following Clear Creek downstream will eventually lead to the unspoiled, rugged terrain of the Obed Wild and Scenic River near Wartburg, Tennessee. The longest free-flowing, roadless river in Tennessee looks mostly the same today as it did to settlers in the 1700s. The bottom 10 miles from Obed Junction to Nemo are cradled between 500-foot tall canyon walls and are full of class II-III, with some light class IV rapids. Both the Obed and Clear Creek are remote and will be flowing mostly in the winter and spring, so be sure to dress accordingly.

7. Big South Fork, Tennessee

The northeastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau opens up to the towering cliffs and massive boulders of the Big South Fork, yet another remote Tennessee classic. In the vicinity of O’Neida, this river is the centerpiece of a national recreation area, with class III & IV rapids that significantly step up in difficulty with rising water levels. The waters here are elusive to summer, so cold weather gear is again required.

8. Chattooga River, Georgia

Known as the filming site of the movie Deliverance, the Chattooga River is located near the Georgia town of Clayton, near the Georgia/South Carolina border. Whether paddling the Narrows (class III) or the Five Falls (class IV), the Chattooga is a Deep South Appalachian wilderness classic with year-round water. Summer on the Chattooga is a welcome introduction to running tight lines and slots with precision, a pool/drop contrast to the fluffy, continuous higher flows of winter and spring. Beware of the dangerous siphons that exist within the pot-hole strewn rocks native to this wild and scenic river.

9. Tellico River, Tennessee

The place where the Cherokee once gathered in great numbers is known today as the Tellico River. Just off the Cherohala Skyway in southeastern Tennessee, a small, paved road to a trout hatchery follows the river closely and offers easy access to the scattered waterfalls (from 5-14 feet tall) and continuous rapids along the way. After any decent rainfall, the Tellico will be teeming with paddlers boofing (and plopping) their way down the class III and IV drops. It’s by far the most popular and appropriate place to run a waterfall for the first time.

Getting Tougher: Advanced to Expert (Class IV-V)

Fall Rafting

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10. Watauga River, North Carolina

Most of the solid class IV rapids and drops of the Watauga River lie in North Carolina, but the class V Stateline Falls marks the border of Tennessee. While once regarded as some of the most difficult whitewater in the South, the Watauga remains a classic due to the quality of it’s distinctive rapids. For five glorious miles, paddlers will boof and punch their way downstream, finding clean vertical lines and honing their skills to move forward in creek boating expertise.

11. Little River Canyon, Alabama

You might not expect to find a massive canyon in the corner of Alabama, yet high atop Lookout Mountain near Fort Payne is exactly what skilled paddlers descend into the depths of. At Little River Canyon, the put in is aesthetically marked with a wide cascade of 33 feet, most commonly run on the left, where it is divided into two tiers. It is also common to put in below, where the river begins a complicated route through boulder sieves and sluices known as the ‘Suicide Section.’ The scenery from the bottom is top-notch as Little River gains the volume of many side creeks that appear suddenly from both steep sides.

12. Tallulah Gorge, Georgia

The mighty Tallulah Gorge in Georgia was dry for a very long time before, in the 1990s, Georgia Power began releasing water every spring and fall from the upstream dam. Packing a big punch of 20 class IV-V rapids and no less than six waterfalls in a single mile, the Tallulah’s signature drop is a monster slide called Oceana. Set within an impressive gorge with limited access, the put in requires descending almost 600 steps with your boat while viewing (and bypassing) several large unrunnable waterfalls. Taking out requires paddling across Lake Tugaloo.

For Extreme Experts Only (Class V+)

13. Raven Fork, North Carolina

Once quietly hidden at the southern tip of the Smoky Mountains on the border of the Cherokee Reservation, a little stream called the Raven Fork demands attention. This creek, within its notorious gorge, yields no forgiveness to the ambitious experts who penetrate and plunge the numerous steep descending drops. Rapid names like ‘Mike Tyson’s Punchout’ should clarify this point. Dropping nearly 600 feet per mile, it’s a scary, mysterious place for paddling for most, but for the experienced paddlers out there, it’s a challenging favorite destination when the rain hits.

14. Bear Creek, Georgia

Among the very best of Chattanooga’s steep creek offerings is the dramatic Bear Creek of Cloudland Canyon. ‘The Hair of the Bear’ flings itself from atop Lookout Mountain in Georgia, over many tall, distinctive bedrock drops—the most remarkable being a 50-foot, three-tiered hit called ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Towards the bottom, after merging with Daniel Creek, the ‘Boulder Garden’ begins it’s relentless and powerful tumble to the take out. Eddies and scouting are possible, but the best lines through this maze are behind those who already know the way. Being good enough to run this means you’ll be in the loop when it rains hard enough.

15. Horsepasture and Toxaway Rivers, North Carolina

The finale of this list is shared by the breathtaking Horsepasture and Toxaway Rivers, which could be called the Southern cousins of the Sierra Nevada. The incessant, plummeting gradient of the California-esque Toxaway is unmatched by any other Southern river, while the Horsepasture follows closely behind it. Both rivers are equally inviting, with a sizable picturesque drop starting off the day.

Toxaway is characterized by clean lines over fast slides cradled in smooth bedrock, while Horsepasture is all about linking clean waterfalls in succession. On both of these streams, there are sizable drops that result in nerve-wracking moments. In addition to maximizing the limits of runnable whitewater, paddlers must expect strenuous hike out access, persistent scouting on sketchy terrain, and steep portage routes. For a dose of adventure with quality paddling that demands fitness, experience, and confident class V skills, these rivers are the best practice platform for whitewater expedition paddling in more remote areas around the globe.

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Originally written by RootsRated for Outdoor Sports Marketing.

Featured image provided by Angela Greenwell

Events

Asheville Outdoor Show 2017

The Asheville Outdoor Show brings the finest outdoor brands and latest trends in recreation directly to our friends and neighbors who live in the outdoor playground of the mountains of North Carolina. We’ll showcase innovators known for quality, variety, and uniqueness. Enjoy music and outdoor games throughout the day — and pick up lots of discounts from your favorite brands for your outdoor lifestyle. (Check out the list here.)

This kick-ass event is free, family-friendly, and open to the public!

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