Nestled in a narrow, twisting, rocky river gorge, the Ocoee Whitewater Center on the Cherokee National Forest offers something for everyone. Chose to relax in a rocking chair, hike, stroll the walkways, picnic, watch whitewater rafters drift by, learn about history and nature, play in the water, or test your mountain biking skills.
Relive Olympian dreams
The 1996 Summer Games put the Ococee Whitewater Center on the map when it hosted the world’s first Olympic canoe and kayak slalom events on a natural river. The center marries the best of the natural and artificial worlds. Natural river boulders and artificial rocks were placed in a quarter-mile section of the Ocoee River to create a challenging and internationally acclaimed whitewater course. Some 20,000 tons of quarried limestone, 40,000 tons of larger surface boulders and 8,000 cubic yards of cementing compound were meticulously placed in the competitive channel, one boulder at a time.
Year-round regional recreation destination
Since the 1996 Olympics, the center has become a hub for outdoor recreational activities, drawing some 300,000 visitors each year. There are more than 30 miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers, including the looped Bear Paw and Chestnut Mountain trails, and the Thunder Rock Express. The Old Copper Road Historic Trail allows hikers and bikers an easier paced adventure along the restored path, which was formerly used to transport copper by wagon from Ducktown to Cleveland before the arrival of the railroad from Blue Ridge. The Rhododendron Trail follows the river downstream with sections built on wood walkways above the Ocoee River.
The Cherokee National Forest covers 650,000 acres in 10 eastern Tennessee counties from Chattanooga to Bristol. It lies in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains with elevations ranging from approximately 1,000 to 5,000 feet. The Cherokee offers an array of outdoor recreation opportunities and is home to nearly 600 miles of trails, including 150 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail; 500 miles of coldwater streams; 30 developed campgrounds and 45 day use areas; 11 designated wilderness areas; and scenery second to none in the southeast.
Whitewater activity generally runs from June to September when releases from Lake Blue Ridge dam increase the flow of the water on the Toccoa/Ocoee River.
Interpretive hikes on the Old Copper Road Trail are offered.
Conservation Education programs can be scheduled for students.
Amenities: Restrooms, potable water, picnic area, and gift shop offering a selection of local crafts, souvenirs and outdoor wear. Fuel, food, shopping and sleeping accommodations are available in Ducktown, Copperhill, Benton and Cleveland, Tenn., reachable in under an hour.
Hours of operation: The center is open from 9 a.m-5 p.m. daily from mid-March to mid-November and from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from mid-November to mid-March; closed Christmas and New Year’s weekends. The outdoor areas are open year-round.
Fees: $3 for the lower main parking area. The administration building parking lot is free but is limited to 30 minutes.