Wild River Trips: Ocoee River

Olympic whitewater in Tennessee's Appalachians

For having two of the country’s premier whitewater runs in a ten-odd-mile stretch, the Ocoee River is a strange beast. On its brief way through Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee, the Middle and Upper Ocoee are cut off by two dams and a power station, leaving the riverbeds dry for most of the year. Drivers on U.S. Route 64 might even scratch their heads when they pass Ocoee Whitewater Center, home of the whitewater slalom in the ‘96 Olympics, only to see... nothing.

Don’t be fooled. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the dams, begins scheduled releases every spring for the sole benefit of recreationists. Although the Upper Ocoee is stacked with class III’s and IV’s—both natural and man-made—it’s only slated to see 34 days of action this year.

The Lower Ocoee, on the other hand, is a magnet for rafters and sport kayakers, drawing over 250,000 visitors annually, according to American Whitewater. With releases beginning in March, outfitters like Ocoee Rafting can send you downriver for between $30 and $49, depending on the date and day of week.

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