For the outdoors lover, stepping into NOC’s Great Outpost in Gatlinburg is like being a kid in a candy shop.
The outdoor gear and paraphernalia is as extensive as that found in major stores like REI or Bass Pro, but has a distinctly mountain feel similar to that found in Mast General Store.
“We wanted to be known as an experiential retailer. We wanted the store to be as much about having an experience in the store as the merchandise itself,” said Sutton Bacon, the CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Inside the front door, you’re greeted by a two-story climbing wall rigged with ropes and harnesses for the public to try. The layout of the store is well–organized: hiking, camping, fishing, climbing and paddling all have their own sections. There’s an entire floor dedicated to footwear and outdoor apparel from brands like Patagonia, North Face, Columbia and Keen.
The store is designed with kids in mind, too. They can climb through a rock tunnel into a “cave,” and bounce over a swinging bridge strung above the first floor of the store. There’s even a kid’s section for youth outdoor gear and outdoor toys.
A “Base Camp” area offers a passport to outdoor adventure, where you can sign up for rafting trips, learn-to-kayak classes, guided fishing trips and hiking or nature tours. Like an outdoor concierge service, staff can also offer hiking and camping suggestions for those trekking on their own.
“We have folks trained to assist anyone with any question,” said Brian May, NOC’s outreach manager.
It has outdoor gifts and souvenirs, from trinkets like old-fashioned candy and locally made soaps to more substantial finds like a national parks’ version of the Monopoly board game.
The store has quickly become popular with Appalachian Trail hikers. The AT passes through the Smokies at Newfound Gap, about 8 miles from Gatlinburg. The Great Outpost has free shuttle and Internet for hikers, and runs the shuttle three times a day to take hikers back to the trail. The Outpost also serves as a mail drop for hikers — a point along the trail where hikers send themselves care packages stocked with supplies for the next leg of their trek.
It’s fun for other guests at the store to see the hikers coming and going with their full-loaded packs.
“It is connecting us with a very authentic experience in the park,” said May. If hikers happen to stock up on supplies like camping fuel while at the store, all the better, but “It is not a hard sell. They can come in and just hang out,” May said.
NOC has been recently recognized by The New York Times as the “Nation’s Premiere Paddling School,” “The Best Place to Learn” by Outside Magazine, and as “One of the Best Outfitters on Earth” by National Geographic Explorer.