Spotlight: Ocoee Whitewater Center, Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee
Surround yourself with natural beauty, adventure, history and outdoor fun in this southern mountain recreation destination.
What You’ll Find
The Ocoee Whitewater Center offers canoe, kayak and slalom whitewater courses on a modified section of the Ocoee River. The sleepy river set in a lush, rocky, river gorge was carefully modified during the 1996 Summer Olympics to become a premier whitewater venue for athletes from all over the world. Now you can test your skills and enjoy it too!
Normally, whitewater runs from mid-May to September for about 35 days, when releases from Ocoee Dam #3 increase the flow of the water on the upper Ocoee River. Rafters, canoers and kayakers all journey to the Center for the whitewater. If you want to hone your skills, whitewater instruction clinics are also offered through private companies in the area.
From Interstate 75 near Cleveland, Tennessee, take exit 20 and head northeast on APD 40 (bypass) for about six miles to U.S. Highway 64/74 East. Travel east 26 miles on Highway 64. You will pass Lake Ocoee and travel through the Ocoee River Gorge. The Center is on the right and quite visible from the highway.
If the scenic route is your style, the Ocoee Scenic Byway is the first national forest byway in the nation and winds through the Cherokee National Forest. It includes 26 miles of U.S. Highway64/74/State Rt. 40 and Forest Service Road 77. The route takes you past Lake Ocoee, through the scenic bluffs of the Ocoee River Gorge past the Ocoee Whitewater Center. Take a side trip up FS 77 to the top of Chilhowee Mountain to capture magnificent views of the Tennessee Valley, the Cumberland Plateau, the Blue Ridge Province and on a clear day, views of North Carolina and Georgia.
Make Sure You
The Ocoee Whitewater Center also offers great hiking and biking trails for families, including a one-mile hiking trail which crosses a 330-foot suspension bridge and circles the center. The trail is entirely accessible for those who are physically challenged.
Ocoee is a regional recreation destination for many seasonal uses. Since the Olympic Games, the Center has become a hub for outdoor recreation opportunities in southeast Tennessee, western North Carolina and northwest Georgia. It serves as a regional visitor center and day-use recreation site for approximately 300,000 visitors each year. The Center is surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest where developed campgrounds and other day use sites are just a short drive away. The surrounding area is spectacular during the fall when tree leaves turn red, gold, yellow and scarlet.
The Cherokee National Forest lies in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and offers an array of outdoor recreation opportunities. Fuel, food, shopping and sleeping accommodations are available in Ducktown, Copperhill, Benton and Cleveland, TN. There are plenty of camping options available just minutes away at Thunder Rock, Parksville and Chilhowee campgrounds. There are also picnic sites, swimming areas and boat launch sites nearby.
A visit to the Ocoee White Water Visitor Center is a great way to begin this adventure. The curvilinear form of the administration building follows the flow of the Ocoee River. It is designed to be a subtle, low-profile addition to the adjacent hillside ensuring that the river and natural setting of the surrounding mountainous area dominate the overall look and feel of the Ocoee Whitewater Center.
Did You Know?
In 1996 the eyes of the world were on the Ocoee Whitewater Center as it hosted the world’s first Olympic canoe and kayak slalom event on a natural river. The Center blends the best of the natural environment with human-made structures. A quarter mile section of the Ocoee River was carefully modified into a channel with rapids worthy of Olympic competition. Today, visitors must look hard to tell the differences between the natural river boulders and the artificial rocks that were placed in the channel. In order to create a world class whitewater venue, 20,000 tons of quarried limestone, 40,000 tons of larger surface boulders and 8,000 cubic yards of cementing compound (grout) were meticulously placed in the competitive channel, one boulder at a time. Artificial or “faux” rock was used to seamlessly join multiple boulders in the channel to create new or to enhance existing features. The result is a whitewater course recognized internationally as one of the best.