After too many days inside, it's time to gather up the crew and have some real fun — the kind you have in the great outdoors, the kind that makes the best stories.
The mountains of Southeast Tennessee and the most popular whitewater river in America are just a road trip away. Located in Polk County, Tennessee, the Ocoee River is less than an hour from Chattanooga, and is surrounded by Cherokee National Forest.
The area's main draw is a perfect work/play scenario. Between 1910 and 1913, Eastern Tennessee Power Company completed Ocoee Dams No. 1 and 2, creating sections of the Ocoee (Upper, Middle and Lower) separated by the dams. A wooden flume that diverts water from the river at the dam takes the water into a hydroelectric powerhouse to generate power to provide electricity for the region. Tennessee Valley Authority purchased the power system in 1939.
In 1976, the flume line broke. During the repairs, the river ran free and whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River was born.
Rafting companies began to pop up as TVA scrambled to repair the flume, and before long, the five-mile stretch of Class III and IV whitewater rapids on the Middle Ocoee began to attract attention from near and far. According to a study from the University of Tennessee, the Ocoee River is the most popular whitewater river in America, hosting more than 250,000 fun-seekers annually. Today, 23 whitewater outfitters employ 600 friendly faces ready to host you for the adventure of a lifetime.
The Ocoee River was the site of the 1996 Olympic Canoe and Kayak Competition, serving that year as the only Olympic venue outside the state of Georgia. The Olympic Village housing the whitewater athletes was located at Lee University in nearby Cleveland, Tennessee.
The Ocoee Whitewater Center and a beautiful suspension bridge are giant souvenirs from the Centennial Olympic Games — along with the millions of visitors who have since rafted the same rapids the Olympic athletes rode.
There are two rafting sections of the Ocoee River, the Upper and the Middle. The Middle section is the most popular and recommended for everyone from first-timers to veterans. You'll experience 2.5 hours of whitewater excitement. The Upper Ocoee is the same whitewater course used by world-class boaters at the 1996 Summer Olympic games. That trip lasts about three hours. If you want even more fun and adventure, a full-day trip combines both the Upper and Middle sections, packing more than 20 rapids into six hours of paddling split up by a riverside lunch. (There is a minimum age requirement of 12 years old to raft the Ocoee River.)
But this memory-making trip is not just for adrenaline junkies! Cherokee National Forest offers adventures for the whole family that could keep everyone busy for a full week or more.
The forest contains more than 600 miles of trails, including the Benton MacKaye Trail and 150 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Hikers have the perfect opportunity to hike long distances or choose a shorter, more novice hike like the 1.5-mile out-and-back Rhododendron Trail. Or, you could scream your way down (or up) the 1.5-mile Thunder Rock Express mountain bike trail. Whether you are a hiker, biker or climber, there is a trail for you.
Stunning views and waterfalls will greet you along the way. You can even take a ziplining adventure, with spectacular scenery of Big Frog Mountain and the Cherokee National Forest.
If you prefer to relax on the water, the 1,930-acre Lake Ocoee, also called Parksville Lake, offers amazing fishing and boating, and the Lower Ocoee is perfect for tubing, flatwater canoeing and fishing.
The three sections of this incredible river each have unique personalities. Come meet them! Overnight accommodations range from familiar hotel chains to rustic cabins to campsites under the stars. During your visit, you can dine with the locals in unique eateries in nearby Benton, Copperhill and Cleveland, Tennessee.
Check out TimeToRaft.com for all the details to plan a trip you'll never forget. A big ol' splash of river water will do you good and the memories you make will be revisited smile after smile.