Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
If you're looking for a local outfitter, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports is in your new hometown. But to visit my real favorites, you'll have to take a little trip. These operations are all exceptional, with prime outdoorsy location, top-notch gear, and knowledgeable staff and clientele. It probably won't come as a surprise that three of the four lie near—or, in one case, above–the Appalachian Trail.
The Best Southeastern Outfitters: Nantahala Outdoor Center, Wesser, North Carolina
Built within a deep fissure carved in the North Carolina mountains by the Nantahala River, Nantahala Outdoor Center is a gearhead’s paradise. It was founded 40 years ago as a river guide center, but its stock and operations have expanded far beyond just rafting. The Appalachian Trail actually runs through the broad property, and on any given day you’ll find paddlers of all levels, as well as river guides, backpackers, and mountain bikers. If your adventures take you further west, NOC recently opened up a second shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The Best Southeastern Outfitters: Mt. Rogers Outfitters, Damascus, Virginia
Mt. Rogers Outfitters becomes the center of the backpacker universe for a single day each year, during the annual Trail Days festival that’s held every May in Damascus. The town is a popular stopover for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, and nearly every one of them makes the pilgrimage to this humble shop to load up on equipment and fuel. Mt. Rogers Outfitters also runs a hostel, and operates a shuttle service for bikers and hikers to the Virginia Creeper Trail and the nearby wilderness.
The Best Southeastern Outfitters: Rock/Creek, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Founded in the late 1980s, this powerhouse is the undisputed champion of gear shops in the Southeast. Chattanooga’s renaissance as one of the top outdoor towns in the region has been aided and amplified by this store, which began as a specialty shop for climbing and paddling gear, but now runs the gamut of outdoor equipment. If Chattanooga is too far to travel, you can shop on their site.
The Best Southeastern Outfitters: Mountain Crossings Outfitter, Neels Gap, Georgia
Also known as Walasi-Yi, this tiny store, which occupies a stone building constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps nearly 80 years ago, doesn’t boast an amazing selection of products. Instead, its advantage is in its location: the Appalachian Trail actually passes through the building. The store is a three-day hike from the AT’s starting point, Springer Mountain, so most hikers use the stop here to stay at Mountain Crossings' hostel and assess what gear they need to jettison or buy at the shop.