Life in our Foothills April 2023 – Saluda’s Green River Adventures Lives up to its Name

Published 2:51 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2023

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You can check a few things off your bucket list at Saluda’s Green River Adventures, whose business name pretty much sums up the experiences it offers, from whitewater kayaking to ziplining.  


It sits on the edge of the Green River Gorge, a mostly undeveloped tract of land that traverses Henderson and Polk counties and is split by the river for which it’s named. 

The Green River Gorge

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“There are three distinct sections that provide the full spectrum of whitewater rapid classes,” says co-owner Tim Bell, whose wife Sara opened Green River Adventures in 2007. “Also, the Green River is a dammed river that only runs when Tuxedo Hydro Station is generating electricity. While many rivers are similarly controlled, the Green has the most consistent daily releases of any river I’m aware of.”


The Bells should know. They’re both experienced whitewater kayakers and outdoor enthusiasts who met at the Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education degree program at Brevard College. They graduated in 2002, married and took jobs operating adventure travel camps for American teenagers in Costa Rica. They moved to Vermont for a few years then back to western North Carolina in 2005. Tim worked as a cabinet maker while Sara took a job with Pisgah Whitewater, a local kayaking school. 


“Sara is from a family of entrepreneurs and she has always had an instinct for entrepreneurship,” says Bell. “She was also very passionate about teaching whitewater kayaking. Put the two together and voila, Green River Adventures.”


The Bells saw Saluda as the perfect location. The town was famous for being at the crest of the steepest mainline rail grade in the US. Passenger trains used to bring people to Saluda for the air quality and to escape the summer heat. Main Street, which is also Highway 176, was a busy thoroughfare to the mountains and lined with gas stations (Green River Adventures is in a building that used to be an Esso station). After the passenger train stopped running and Interstate 26 re-directed traffic, Saluda’s tourism economy evolved into an outdoor recreation destination. 

“Protected lands including the Green River Game Lands and the Greenville Watershed shield Saluda from being enveloped by development making it an oasis between the growing population centers of Greenville, Asheville, and Charlotte,” says Bell. 

“A lot of our adventures are almost untouched by the hustle and bustle of mainstream cities which is amazing because you get the green trees, you get the clean water and you’re just out in nature in this moderately remote area with guides who know what they’re doing,” says general manager Samantha Miller.

Since it opened Green River Adventures has moved away from retail sales and instruction and more towards tourism, providing experiences for its customers including guided and self-guided inflatable kayak trips, guided waterfall rappels and treks, and gear rentals. 

If you’re new to whitewater kayaking GRA’s Lower Green River Adventure with its class one and two rapids is a good place to start.

“It’s great for a variety of age ranges,” says Miller. “And we can take kids as young as five so it’s amazing for groups or families.”


There’s a three-mile trip and a six-mile trip both self-guided and guided. 


“We’ve never been on this body of water before so figured guided was the right way to go,” says Matt Dorsey of Charleston, who went on the lower trip with his wife and two young children. 


For more experienced whitewater kayakers the Upper Green River Adventure offers a more challenging experience with its class two, three and four rapids. 


“It’s awesome for high adventurers that still want to be on a guided trip,” says Miller.


GRA also offers a 100-foot waterfall rappelling trip down Little Bradley Falls and a 200-foot rappelling trip down Big Bradley Falls.


“We do ask that people have some type of harness or repelling experience prior to doing that just because it is a little bit more technical,” says Miller about the Big Bradley Falls trip. 


Green River Adventures also offers a waterfall trek that it describes as an amphibious adventure. 

Waterfall trek

“That involves hiking and boulder hopping,” says Miller. “There’s some rock slides, swimming holes, jumps, the whole gambit.” 


The Bells’ experiences ziplining during their time in Central America inspired them to open The Gorge Zipline on the other side of I-26 from Saluda in 2013.  


“We were able to acquire a spectacular 105 acres of land that stretched from the rim of the Green River Gorge all the way to the river,” says Bell. “Since much of that land was too steep to log, the stunning forests featured several groves of old-growth trees.”

The author on the zipline

The Gorge Zipline winds its way on an 1100-foot vertical drop through the tree canopies. At the end, with help from guides, customers rappel down to the ground from the zipline platform. 


“I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I love skydiving and mountain biking and anything that’s going to give me a little pump in my chest,” says Samantha Halstead of Charlotte, who took her boyfriend ziplining to help him get over his fear of heights. “And he’s not afraid anymore. He was the one that was like leading everything.”


That’s at the heart of what Green River Adventures is all about. 


“We want our customers to experience unique, empowering adventures that challenge comfort zones and expand perspectives,” says Bell. 


Green River Adventures is located at 111 East Main Street in Saluda. For more information go to

GRA headquarters in downtown Saluda