Owner of the Dillsboro Rafting Company, Williams has been specializing in guiding trips down the Tuckasegee River for the last 13 years. It’s a passion as deep and never-ending as the ancient waters themselves.
“We’ve learned a lot over the years,” he said. “ We feel like we’ve got it really dialed in because if a family comes to us, and has no idea what to do or what’s going on, we can make them as comfortable as possible and give them a product and service that they’ll come back for again.”
Growing up in Oakboro, Williams spent his free time on the nearby Rocky River. It was a pleasant childhood, one filled with fishing, swimming and boating.
“I spent a good bit of time on that river,” he said. “My uncles were trappers and canoers, so we’d always go out on the water.”
That early love for the river influenced Williams to attend Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. Majoring in parks and recreation, he became a student employee for the school’s outdoors program. With Western North Carolina being a wilderness paradise, Williams found himself learning about guiding river trips, only to eventually become a fully trained guide himself.
“Rafting is nice because it’s a quick path and an easy path to have a wilderness experience instead of having to climb to the top of a mountain or bike way out into the woods,” he said. “You just hop into the raft — it’s a very accessible path to fun.”
Following graduation, Williams became a guide, then an instructor, at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Located within the Nantahala Gorge, the NOC headquarters cruises the Nantahala River, one of the top waterways in the country to raft and experience.
Williams soon found his way back to WCU and became a staff instructor and guide for their outdoors program. That door opened up other opportunities to lead rafting trips in Honduras, Panama and Jamaica.
“It’s about meeting different people everyday, from all walks of life,” he said.
Williams noted how impressive and storied the river system in Western North Carolina is, where one can find multiple avenues of aquatic adventure and unique characters ready to show you the way.
“You get the best of both worlds here. Within a two-hour drive you have Class 1 to Class 5 rivers,” he said. “It’s pretty unique because in the springtime you have rivers like the Chattooga, Nolichucky, and French Broad that are rain dependent rivers. Come summer, the temperature goes up and those water levels drop, but then Tuckaseegee, Nantahala, Ocoee and Pigeon rivers pickup, and they’re all dam controlled rivers, so you’re in the prime area.”
In 2001, Williams and his wife located a waterfront property in Dillsboro to start their own rafting company. What was previously the Carolina Mountain Outdoor Center, the couple started from scratch, purchasing piece by piece of equipment and attracting curious customers that have become loyal clients over the last decade.
“We’ve got folks that have been coming back to us since year one,” he said. “And to watch their kids then at 4 and 5 years old, and to see them now all the way through into high school, into college — it’s amazing.”
And with those returning families comes an array of new people, all of which excited to take on the Tuckaseegee River. That feeling of sharing his passion and skill set is something that never gets old for Williams and the Dillsboro Rafting Company.
“It’s pretty wild watching folks when they first start out on the river,” he said. “They’re very apprehensive and out of their comfort zone, but by the time you’re at the bottom of the river they’re dialed in and they want to keep going.”