Photograph by Scott Thompson
There are few places in the country where average Joes and Janes can play Olympian for a day, but Tennessee’s Ocoee River is one of them. This waterway hosted the whitewater events for the 1996 Olympic Games, and now, all summer long, raft companies guide aquaphiles on both the Middle and Upper sections of the river. The Olympic course itself, a quarter-mile-long (0.4-kilometer-long) section, was designed by engineers for maximum whitewater fun. And with consistent flows thanks to regular dam releases, the river virtually guarantees a good time, making it one of the Southeast’s premier whitewater runs.
Within driving distance of several big cities, the Ocoee is certainly no secret, however, and some 300,000 people ride its wave trains every year. Picture a riotous, dripping-wet, nonstop party on an all-natural theme park ride. Still, flanked by lush forested hills, sheer cliffs, and blooming azaleas, mountain laurel, and rhododendron, the Ocoee is a large step up from Six Flags. Connect the Upper and Middle Ocoee runs into one 10-mile (16-kilometer) day with more than 30 named Class II-IV rapids. Barreling through tumblers and hearing the roar of cheers from fellow rafters, it’s not too hard to conjure the thrill of an Olympic ride.
Need to Know: Contact Wildwater Rafting (www.wildwaterrafting.com) for the release schedule. Ocoee combo trips on the Upper and Middle are $99 to $104.