Rafting Tennessees Olympic-famous Ocoee River

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 9-15, 1998
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Rafting Tennessee’s Olympic-famous Ocoee River

Rafting Tennessee’s Olympic-famous Ocoee River
Question: I want to know about rafting the Ocoee River in Ducktown, Tennessee. I’m looking for rafting companies, places to stay and tourist attractions. Thanks.

Alfred Lyons

Adventure Adviser: The Ocoee offers one hell of a ride. Afterall, this river didn’t host the ‘96 Olympic whitewater events for nothing. Literally dozens of outfitters help less-experienced paddlers navigate their way down these wily waters, so you’re in luck. In fact, unless you have lots of whitewater under your life preserver, then signing up for a guided raft trip is the only way to experience this notorious river. In a five-mile swoop, the southeast’s premier whitewater river boasts 26 class II to V rapids, including favorites like Hell Hole, Double Suck and Veg-a-matic. It’s neighbor, the nearly as frisky Hiwassee River, has more than 20 miles of Class III water. For general info on either river, check in with the Hiwassee State Scenic River and Ocoee River Park (423-338-4133). June through August are the biggest rafting months, and no water flows on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in this dam-controlled river. Minimum age for any rafting trips is 12 years-old.

Cherokee Rafting Service, Inc. (800-451-7238) has been guiding people on the Ocoee for 20 years. Summer prices range from $22 to $40/per person, depending on the day of the week and number in your party (six per raft plus guide). Half-day trips spend two-and-a-half hours on the water. USA Raft (800-872-7238) offers numerous kayak and raft trips, each catered to a different level and type of trip. You can enjoy a one-day romp or a multi-day excursion. Other outfitters include: Southeastern Expeditions (423-338-8073); and Nantahala Outdoor Center (800-232-7238); Ocoee Outdoors (800-533-7767).Beginner and intermediate rafters might be happier on the nearby Hiwassee (Class I to III); check in with Arrowood Rafting (423-338-5352) for details.

As for where to stay on terra firma, spirited Copperhill is minutes from the river and close to the North Carolina border. At Maloof’s Bed and Breakfast (800-475-2016), $80/night will buy you breakfast and a room equipped with a sitting area and fridge. In Ducktown, check into the white-shingled The Company House (800-343-2909). This late 19th-century bungalow now houses six rooms with baths, and post-rafting you can relax in a rocker on the porch. Doubles are $65-70, including breakfast. If you’re looking for more rooms and less atmosphere, your best bet is the Best Western Copper Inn (800-528-1234), where a room with two double beds goes for $72.

Topping the list of tourist attractions is the Cherokee National Forest, which blankets the foothills of the Great Smokies. Hike through dense forests, river gorges and waterfalls. Check in with the Ocoee Ranger District (423-338-5201) for info on the abundant trail system. In addition to hiking, you can ride horses or mountain bikes — there are more than 100 miles of dirt roads within the forest. Fishing in these parts is also good, with bass, trout and perch swimming in the Hiwassee. As for non-active tourist attractions, learn about the local copper mining at the Ducktown Basin Museum, browse and buy at the Old Country Store, and pan for gold at Coker Creek Village.

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