In her more adventurous moments—off campus and on summer break—Xavier University nursing professor Susan Namei finds herself navigating rugged whitewater rivers, surging northward through deep canyons. The rushing currents sweep and batter, plummet and rise. The unexpected seems to lurk around every crushing wave, or hovers behind every submerged boulder, obscured by the foamy rapids.

A veteran whitewater canoeist, Namei is just one of thousands of Cincinnatians who’ve discovered the natural wonders and adventurous waterways of North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky.
While the lure of beautiful rivers and scenic mountain ranges have attracted Cincinnatians and Southern Ohio residents for decades, never has the interest been so high, report local travel agents.
Many flock to the Great Smoky Mountains, a major mountain range in the southern part of the Appalachians, the second ridge stretching from south to north of the eastern seaboard and bordering the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
While the Smokies and Blue Ridge ranges cover any number of states, most people think first of North Carolina or perhaps Tennessee.
As the Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way southwest through North Carolina, at an average elevation of 3,000 feet, drivers tread the lands once occupied by Cherokee Native Americans. Between the incredible scenery and very conservative speed limits (15 to 45 mph on the steep and winding road), allow lots of time.
As to be expected in the mountains, temperatures can range wildly from the lower altitudes. Bring a jacket, even in August. You just never know.

Highly touted resorts in North Carolina include the Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock and the Wolf Laurel Resort in Marshall. Many also cite the Eseeola Lodge, a Mobil four-star golf resort in the northern mountains near Linville, N.C. It would be tough to characterize this as a mere hunting lodge; the motif is more English manor inn. The mainstay resort, first opened in the 1920s, has been named one of Best Golf Resorts in America by GOLF Magazine.

Linville, in fact, offers many accommodations for Ohio travelers and vacation home buyers. “The growth and development has been phenomenal; lots of developments, gated clubs, good golf courses, and always, the cool weather. What a great escape from the hot cities,” notes Barbara I. Baker, a Realtor with Baker Realty Group in Linville. "Most of the vacation property owners own one or more homes elsewhere, and come from anywhere that's hot in the summer. The gated communities are very popular because of the ease and availability of service, amenities, and maintenance. We rarely lock our doors, and enjoy a casual lifestyle in the daytime, but have some black-tie parties to attend during the summer, too."
"Banner Elk is a quaint little town bustling with specialty shoppes and delightful restaurants,” says Caroline Schorr, a broker with Appalachian Specialty Real Estate. “We're nestled in the midst of three ski resorts for winter fun and surrounded by majestic mountains filled with trout streams, waterfalls, whitewater rafting, tennis and [10]  golfing communities ... which makes us an ideal, year-round playground for young and old alike."
Wherever you go, you'll find recreational abundance. Hiking and camping abound in the mountains, at state parks and national forests that offer some of the most scenic vistas in the country. Don’t miss glorious waterfalls such as Glassmine Falls (at mile marker 361.1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway) in Buncombe County, or Pearson Falls (at State Route 1102) in Polk County.

Lakes such as Lake Powhatan, Lake Julian and Lake Lure provide boaters and picnickers with plentiful alternatives. For white-water rafting, canoeing and kayaking options, check out Namei’s favorite, the New River-designated a National Scenic River, it is one of the few north-flowing rivers in America-as well as the Chattooga River and French Broad River.

Anglers may want to consider the 30 miles of stocked streams on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, swimming with brown trout and brook trout. No N.C. fishing license is required, but you do need to obtain a one-day Tribal Fishing Permit, available at most businesses on the reservation.

No visit to North Carolina is complete without a stop at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, America’s largest home. Enjoy touring the original art from masters such as Renoir. Magnificent 16th-century tapestries. More than 40 bronze sculptures. Curiosities collected from George Vanderbilt’s excursions to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Napoleon’s chess set. A library with 10,000 volumes. And a banquet hall with a 70-foot ceiling.

Namei has been traversing the region’s waterways and natural parks for decades. “Since each river is different and various water levels create different dynamics on the same river, it is very much of an intellectual as well as a total body sport - contrary to what everyone thinks. The equipment, boat and paddle all affect performance,” observes Namei.

“I started doing this as a tandem paddler, but later, my husband [attorney Firooz Namei] decided to try solo canoeing,” says Namei. “So I also became a solo paddler. It is even more challenging than tandem—it requires greater precision and timing, and there’s no one else to blame if you capsize.”

Namei finds herself remembering the great stories told around the campfire after a day spent navigating the rivers. “We  have a dog, Caesar, who’s a great whitewater dog,” she laughs. “He either swims or rides in the canoe.”

What life lessons does the Clifton couple take from their journeys into the natural wonders of the mountains and gorges? “Our lives are like the river—there are many turns and twists with obstacles appearing out of nowhere. With the right skills, you can use the current to your advantage and maneuver around the obstacles. Canoeing a river is a journey and not a destination.”