With years and years of experience navigating the river's rapids, the Thomas family has some strong opinions about which watercraft provide the best experience. When they first got started, they weren't able to find any with all the features they wanted, so they decided to design their own. Paddle Inn's signature rafts were created specifically for riding the Nantahala River, and they boast a number of features intended to provide the optimal experience, including urethane undersides, which allow the rafts to easily slide over the occasional rock or kraken.
The rafts transports patrons down the river on guided trips and self-guided excursions aboard rafts in multiple sizes, as well as inflatable kayaks. These vessels can accommodate couples all the way up to groups of eight. After a trip, river trekkers can dry off by perching next to a crackling fire or spinning around in a circle really fast.
On the shores of Lake Hartwell, Harbor Light Marina's fleet of 16 new boats waits to cut through the water. Strictly maintained fishing boats, deck boats, and pontoons ferry fishermen or parties into the lake's middle or around its 1,000-mile shoreline, acting as suitable bases for catching striped bass or honing a cannonball. Icons of leisure, the pontoons vary in size to fit each guest's needs, the largest checking in at 28 feet—long enough to fit 16 passengers or set up an eye chart to test the captain’s vision. And all the vessels park in the marina's slips, alongside spaces rented out to other local aquanauts.
River and Earth Adventures stands out from other wilderness outfitters by being completely operated by their own guides. Their fleet of seasoned cave, mountain, and water-navigating guides work in tandem with professional ecologists and geologists, focusing Blue Ridge Mountains excursions on environmental education as well as adventure. During all day trips, guides divulge area history and expound on forest and river ecosystems as well as geology in caves whose interiors rest at 60 degrees year-round to keep them free of snowman hermits.
Each trip also immerses adventurers in athletic activity, whether on hikes to summits and secluded waterfalls, spelunking through electricity-free cave tunnels, or rafting and kayaking down the Watauga River rapids. For those in search of extended excursions, guides lead children's adventure day camps and combination trips that further an environmental focus and bottle-cap collections through river cleanup projects.
After owning Duffy electric boats in Newport Beach, California, where the company has its headquarters, the Textor family decided to introduce the fun-filled and stress-free world of electric boating to Lake Norman in 2010. Thanks to the electric motor and patented Power Rudder propulsion device, Duffy boats carry passengers over water with a remarkable speed and maneuverability and cost as little as $1 per day to maintain. Since 1970, Duffy shipwrights have constructed each vessel exactly to the client's specifications, outfitting crafts with Duff-Eze cabin enclosures that allow captains to pilot their ship in any climate and ensure that boats never have to be winterized, covered, or sent to Florida because of cold weather.
Customers can rent out 21-foot Avalon models that carry 10–12 passengers for brief lakefront voyages, dancing to tunes from the onboard mp3 and CD hookups, warming themselves with the heater on chilly nights, and sunbathing on the bow. Specialty cruises entertain guests with floating wine tastings, catered feasts from Lake Norman cottage, and movie nights, and a seasonal schedule of special events dazzles families with upcoming attractions such as electric-boat sleigh rides.
Water churns under the circular red paddles of a massive, wooden wheel, and, as dusk falls, the green shoreline slowly waves goodbye. Strings of bright holiday lights shimmer on two wooden decks, reflecting in the water?s darkening surface. The moon looks on.
On both evening and day cruises, Tennessee Riverboat Company?s captains steer the Star of Knoxville and its passengers past the river?s shoreline foliage. Buffet-style meals and an ever-changing lineup of live entertainment captivate guests without forcing them to bunk with prop comedians. Seasoned captains pilot their ships through calm waters, pointing out spots of interest while passengers lounge in air-conditioned or heated interiors. Participants may also take to the dance floor as decks fill with gospel or country tunes on themed music cruises, where performers encourage participation to help expose stowaway Dolly Partons.
NavCal River Rides' canopied boat sends visitors floating down the picturesque Tennessee River, acquainting them with the history and hijinks of steamboat captains and Civil War veterans. The seasoned skipper channels the spirit of Samuel Clemens, spinning family-friendly yarns and sharing 19th-century mustache-combing tips during a 90-minute cruise aboard a craft equipped with a restroom and $1 refreshments. Additionally, youngsters can hone their navigation skills while steering the vessel on the way past the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s famed “body farm” forensic-anthropology center. On select dates, Ms. Drusilla hops aboard to divulge the spookier details of the river’s history during a 45-minute haunted history tour that regales guests with frightening tales of ghostly barges and terrifying legends of a beast that is both cat and fish. NavCal also provides river-taxi cruises to home football games that depart from South Knoxville Bridge, The Landings Riverfront Apartments, and River Towne Condominiums.