KEY SKILL: Rig a tarp shelter
Mild weather and few bugs (May to September), plus big elevation changes and plentiful trees, make this a great trip to go ultralight: Leave the tent at home and use a DIY tarp shelter.
» From a home improvement store get a piece of house wrap (such as Tyvek); this waterproof membrane weighs only 1.9 oz. per square foot. Try a 9-by-7-foot piece for a two-person shelter. Also bring 50 feet of parachute-cord and six tent stakes.
» Tyvek doesn’t have grommets. To attach guylines, create a tie-in point by wrapping the fabric (three inches from the edge) over a marble-size pebble. The sheathed rock creates a “handle” that will hold a slip knot
» For general weather protection, pitch a basic A-frame. Tie a piece of cord between two trees at least 10 feet apart like a clothesline (higher for ventilation, lower for added protection). Center the tarp over the cord and stake out all four corners.
» For ventilation in warm weather, pitch a lean-to. Secure one side of the tarp to a line stretched between two trees. Anchor the other side to the ground at the corners using guylines. Be sure to orient the open side of the shelter away from the wind.
SEE THIS: Ramps
These easy-to-collect perennials combine the flavor of an onion with the scent of garlic, and provide a welcome flourish to backcountry dishes. March through mid-May, look for their shiny, smooth, six- to 10-inch-long leaves in sets of two or three, which taper to a purplish stalk and a narrow white bulb that resembles a green onion. Sometimes you’ll see a whole hillside, sometimes just a smattering of individuals, but most often they grow in patches two to four feet across. All parts of a ramp are edible; eat them raw or baked, boiled, steamed, or sautéed into any meal. Bonus: They don’t have a deadly doppelganger (Lily of the Valley resembles the ramp, but its cold-cream smell is a sure giveaway).
The Cherokee word “Nantahala” means “land of the noonday sun”—describing the deep, narrow gorge formed by the river. Rent a boat, bring your own, or join one of the area’s 12 commercial rafting companies as you charge eight miles through the gorge’s class II and III whitewater. Allow two hours for the trip, which takes you through nine named rapids before the final plunge at class III Nantahala Falls. If you prefer to stay dry, stand on the pedestrian bridge (which doubles as the AT crossing over the river) and watch kayakers and canoeists navigate the slalom course. Better, time your visit to see one of the paddling competitions hosted on the river, including the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup (Sept. 7-9) and the ACA Open Canoe Slalom Nationals (Oct. 5-7). For information, rentals, and guide services, contact the Nantahala Outdoor Center (“Gear up,” previous page).