Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park

Whitewater rafting!  That is the main reason that you come to Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park in Tennessee.  With plenty of diversity in the water you can find those portions that are as tame or as wild as you want them to be.  The Ocoee is the premier whitewater river in the southeast.  With class 3 through 5 rapids at different points in the river, kayakers and rafters come to this area of the country and the state park for one thing:  to get in the water.

Traveling through this state park is a whole different view of the Southern Appalachians than any other place north of this park.  You are traveling along the Tennessee and Georgia borders through almost all of this area and the river that forms that natural boundary is gorgeous.  The river changes from raging rapids to areas of near placidity.  The mountains on one side and the river on the other follow you from one end of the state park to the next.  As you travel you will see roughly 23 miles of river and you will see kayakers and rafters the whole way.

Ocee Whitewater Center

One of the biggest attractions to the Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park is the Ocoee Whitewater Center.  This is located near the Cherokee National Forest and is the site of the whitewater rafting during the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, GA.  Before the Olympics began that year, this portion of the Ocee was modified to enhance the rapids and make them more formidable for the competition.  Mixing the natural passion that this river has with the modern technology they Atlanta Olympic organizers turned this area into some of the best whitewater that the Olympics have ever seen.  Now you can bring your own kayak and give the same course that they ran in 1996 a try.

Along with the whitewater activities in the Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park, you can camp while you are on your own rafting adventure.  There are also places to escape the water and do some hiking or even some horseback riding.  Like most of the rest of the state parks in East Tennessee, there are always plenty of things to do and more than enough to fill a beautiful sunny day while you explore the rivers and mountains in the southern-most state park in East Tennessee. 

Kayaking in the Smokies

Maybe you have been whitewater rafting in the Smokies a few times and you have decided that it would be fun to try something new.  Or maybe you are a kayaker and you have brought your own boat to the Smokies.  Either way, the Smoky Mountains have a great way for you and your boat to get in the water and have a great time exploring the waterways around the Smoky Mountain area.  Besides the extreme kayaking that can be done while you explore the faster water with rapids, there is also a considerable amount of flatwater kayaking that can be enjoyed in the area as well.

Whitewater KayakingWhitewater Kayaking
There are lots of rapids in the Smokies.  From small class ones that shake the boat a little to class fives that might eat you and your boat for lunch.  Both inside and outside the park, if you can find a boat launch or a place that will get you close enough to the river to put your boat in, you are set.  You still need to plan ahead so that you have a plan to get back to your car at the end of the day but as long as there is water you most likely have the right to kayak in it.  You do have a few options when it comes to whitewater kayaking.

  1. Park and Float – You find a place to park, set your boats off the car and then have someone else leave a car or truck at the other end of the trip so that you have a way to get back and forth.  This is complicated but as long as you have two vehicles you are able to use your own vehicle for transport from the drop off point to the take out when you kayak.
  2. Use a whitewater company – If you are going to be using the same river as one of the many whitewater companies in the area, you will probably be able to work out a deal so that the rafting company provides you with transport to and from the river.  Great solution so that you don’t have to shuffle cars back and forth.

Flatwater KayakingFlatwater Kayaking
For those of you that don’t enjoy the bumps and thumps of a whitewater adventure but would rather drift down the river in solitude while you watch the scenery gradually flow by, there are plenty of places that you can put your boat in the river for some flatwater kayaking.  Bring your boat with you.  Put it in the Tennessee River or the French Broad.  In some of the smaller channels you might run across a calls one or a class two rapid but for the most part it will be you controlling where you go and enjoying your trip.  You can also rent flatwater boats at some of the outfitters in the area and they will help you figure out the best places to put your boat in the water.

Little River Trading Company

Little River Trading CompanyIf you’re looking for outdoor gear just outside the national park, one place that should definitely be on your list is Little River Trading Company (LRTC) in Maryville, TN. The right gear is a must if you’re visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a number of reasons.

Many people come to the Smokies to camp, backpack, and hike. Before setting out on your adventure in the national park you look at your gear to make sure that you have everything you need on your excursion. Looking over your check list, you notice that you’ve left a jacket or maybe some long underwear at home… 10 hours away. You can’t drive back so what do you do?

Take a short drive down East Lamar Alexander Parkway and stop at Little River Trading Company in Maryville, TN. The outdoor store is literally right down the road from Townsend just outside of Walland, TN and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  They have everything you need for a stay in the great outdoors. They also know everything there is to know about the gear they sell and what the types you will need during that particular season.

Little River Trading Company has gear and supplies for any outdoor adventure that you can think of.  From kayaking to camping, mountain biking to hiking and climbing, they have gear and clothing for anything you have planned. There’s even a bike shop at the store. Though you can’t mountain bike in the Smokies, Little River Trading Company can certainly get you ready and  set on the right path to finding trails to bike on.

A few of the Brands that you’ll find at Little River Trading Company:

  • Asolo
  • Birkenstock
  • Camelback
  • Chaco
  • Columbia River Knife and Tool
  • Kavu
  • Kelty
  • Life is Good
  • Marmot
  • Merrell
  • Mountain Hardwear
  • National Geographic
  • Ocean Kayak
  • Patagonia
  • Teva
  • The North Face
  • Vasque
The staff is another reason to stop by Little River Trading Company on your way to the Smokies. All the staffers have used the gear that they sale. They know the outdoors, especially the local outdoors. They hike, climb, mountain bike, camp, and repel, among other things. This isn’t some big outdoor superstore trying to get you to commit to a North Pole exploration. They’re here because they love spending time in the Great Smoky Mountains. They are experts and they can tell you what you actually need when you are backcountry camping or climbing because they have already been there and done that.

Little River Trading Company
2408 E Lamar Alexander Parkway
Maryville, TN

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater RaftingIt is no surprise with the amount of water that flows out of the Smokies, that whitewater rafting is a hugely popular pastime in the Smokies.  Companies occupy almost every major river from the North Carolina side of the Smokies to Tennessee.  Find an outfitter in any of the towns or at shops like the Nantahala Outdoor Center that line the roads.  Here are some things that all of the whitewater rafting companies have in common:

  • Expert Guides – You are not going to be left to your own devices while you are on the river.  Each boat gets its own trained expert guide.  They are there to make sure that not only do you enjoy the trip in safety but to guide your boat so that you get to experience all that the river has to offer.
  • Some of the rivers are controlled by dams  – The whitewater rafting companies depend on the water control from those dams to make sure that you have a great trip.  These companies send boats down the river have been working with these dams for years, they know the best times to go so that you have an amazing experience.
  • Transportation – You park at their office.  They load you and your family and friends onto a bus.  The boats go on top, you go inside.  They drive you to the point that you will start on the river.  When you have finished the trip, soaked and out of breath from the fun that you have had, they pick you up again and bring you back to your vehicle that has been parked in security at their office.
  • Know what to expect – If this is our first whitewater trip or your first time down a new river, it is nice to know what to expect as you step into the boat.  You will know turn by turn, from the discussion you have in the outfitters before you start and from the guide in the boat what is coming next.  This knowledge won’t keep you from feeling the adrenaline surge of dropping into the rapids but it is nice to know what to expect.

Each of the rivers has its own nature and terrific qualities.  The turns, the rapids the structure of the river change day to day and at times if the water is right, the amount of adventure might be double what it was the last time you were on that river.  Find the whitewater company you like and try every river they have at their disposal.  Explore the rivers of the Smokies.  Get wet and have a blast!