Ocoee: A river runs through it

Rafters negotiates rapids near the Ocoee Whitewater Center.
photo A banner hangs near the Ocoee Whitewater Center.

The Ocoee area of Polk County thrives off its namesake river lying just to the east in the Cherokee National Forest. Renowned as a premier whitewater destination, the Ocoee River celebrated 20 years this summer since it hosted the kayak and canoe slalom events of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.

Ocoee the town is an unincorporated community that is home to several rafting businesses located just off U.S. Highway 64. It is near the Cherokee National Forest, which draws hikers, mountain bikers and campers from around the Southeast, supporting an economy that was once based on the copper mining industry.

The history, natural beauty and recreation opportunities of the Ocoee area make it an ideal weekend getaway destination for those in the Tennessee-North Carolina-Georgia region, including those in the Atlanta area, which is just more than two hours away.

Sitting on the Tennessee-Georgia border, the town of Copperhill has capitalized on the area's outdoor offerings with a revitalized downtown area featuring hip restaurants, outdoor-centric retailers and views of the Ocoee/Toccoa River.

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GET IN THE FLOW OF THINGSThe Ocoee Whitewater Center, a 7,600-square-foot building, greets travelers passing through the heart of Polk County with Olympic heritage and the opportunity to traverse the same course that Olympians competed on in 1996. Open to kayakers on Saturdays and Sundays from late spring to early fall, the Whitewater Center is also a hub for hiking and swimming, even when the water is not flowing for kayakers.>Just a few miles downstream, the Middle Ocoee has a longer canoeing and kayaking season and is a popular destination for rafting groups from around the area.Learn more about all the options at ocoeeadventurecenter.com.

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SPEAKING OF RIVERSWhile the Ocoee River receives attention for its status as a whitewater paddling destination, the Hiwassee River also runs through Polk County and is renowned for its fly-fishing opportunities. Trout can be caught on the Hiwassee River year-round.>It’s a calmer river than the Ocoee and ideal for tubing.

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HISTORYThe Ducktown Basin Museum located in Ducktown provides visitors with a glimpse back in time. Miners began extracting copper from the area known as the Copper Basin in the 19th century, using primitive smelting techniques that left the surrounding landscape void of vegetation. Mining did not cease until the late 1980s.>Environmental restoration efforts have brought green plants and trees back to an area that astronauts could once identify from space for its orange, desert-like appearance.

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CELEBRATEOcoee River Jam, started in 2013, is an annual three-day summer music festival that highlights local musicians, Ocoee culture and raises money for local nonprofits. The event benefits The Boys and Girls Clubs in Polk and Bradley counties, the Polk County chapter of American Red Cross youth initiative, and Stanley Steamers youth kayaking program by Ace Kayaks. Visit ocoeeriverjam.com to learn more.