U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte

One of the best places to take your first -- or your hundred & first -- whitewater rafting adventure!

Nothing beats a whitewater rafting adventure at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. This premier outdoor facility brings the water–and the raft or kayak or paddle board–to the city, along with a range of extreme sports (and easy levels too) from canyon crawling to ziplines to biking trails. There are also lots of free activities, including concerts and picnic spots.

Whitewater Rafting Adventure at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

The U.S. National Whitewater Center has a man-made course for rafts and kayaks.

The U.S. National Whitewater Center has a man-made course for rafts and kayaks. Here, a paddle board is coming over the first Class I & II rapids of the family course.

Whitewater rafting is one of those things that gives me the shivers, even when it’s as hot as it gets in Charlotte, NC, in the summer!

My rafting adventure in North Carolina began with a group of travel writers all ready to get splashed. I was excited as I’d had earlier experiences on rafts in Maine: the Kennebec River and the Dead, which David did with me.

Both of those raft adventures were on rivers, though, and the U.S. National Whitewater Center is on a man-made course that opened in 2008. That makes it a concrete river!

And a concrete river has advantages:

  • Guides know the rapids extremely well, similar to rafting rapids created by a dam release like the Kennebec.
  • By moving the rocks around, the rapids can be changed on a regular basis, so season-ticket holders get variety in their paddle.
  • You don’t have to spend time getting to the river on a bus — or back from the river. So, all of your time is spent having fun.
  • Everyone in the raft doesn’t have to carry it over rocks, down riverbanks, to get it to the water. All you have to do is jump in!
  • Rafters are never far from immediate assistance if anything goes wrong as the course covers just 1200 yards on the park grounds.

Hitting the Water

Group of travel writers rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Photo by Kristen Moore.

Group of travel writers rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center — I’m the one in the middle on the right side. Photo by Kristen Moore.

All of us, but one, in our whitewater group had already rafted at least once. And she got caught up in the excitement pretty darn quick!

Of course, a whitewater rafting adventure begins with a training session where you learn the techniques and the rules. Basically it boils down to a couple of things: when to paddle and what to do with the paddle when it’s not in the water. Paddles are your lifeline in whitewater rapids, so learning how to hang on to yours is important!

After that, it’s climb in the raft (or kayak) and let the adventure begin.

Adventures at the Whitewater Center come packaged to suit the experience level of the boaters. You can do family rafting (mostly Class I and II rapids) or adventure (more Class III and IV rapids). Our group started out easy, then dived right into the adventure.

Our first lap around the course splashed us a few times, but basically it was an orientation to the course. I found the neatest thing about finishing the lap was getting a “free ride” up the ramp to start around again. Below, you can see three kayaks heading up and over.

The Adrenaline Rush of Riding the Rapids

Ramp that takes rafts and kayaks from the end of the Whitewater Center course to the start, so they can begin again.

Ramp that takes rafts and kayaks from the end of the Whitewater Center course to the start, so they can begin again.

So, we made an another easy lap and then raised the bar a notch and hit the adventure course. This was more what I remembered from my river rafting experiences. Up, down, spin and twist. The guide shouting, “Paddle!” Riding the rapids was never more thrilling.

Indeed, I can guarantee that this man-made course can give you the same adrenaline rush you’ll get on a river. We even had the full experience of a man overboard — luckily, that’s never been me. But with the pre-training and our guide, Shaun’s, instructions, he was pulled back in without even losing his paddle.

Whitewater & Flatwater Activities

Whitewater at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

Paddle boarder at Whitewater at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

The great thing about visiting the U.S. National Whitewater Center is that the adventure truly never ends. Buying a full day pass gives you access to everything that’s available. So, there’s still a lot to do!

If it’s all about the water for you, then you can do both rafting and kayaking around the whitewater course. They also have stand-up paddle boarding on the whitewater, if you’re up to the challenge.

Of course, they also have flatwater if you’d like to relax a bit. That includes kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.

Land Activities

Canopy course at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Canopy course at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Even if you thought you’d had every land adventure you could, there’s likely something new for you at the Whitewater Center!

Indeed, the 1100 acres of woodlands at the Center provide everything from ridge courses and and canyon crossing, to canyon zips and mountain biking (25 miles of trails). If you’ve always dreamed of being Tarzan, you may even want to try the canopy tour. It’s a guided trip along the Catawba River using 14 platforms via cargo net climbs, rappel stations, sky bridges, seven zip-lines and more.

Whether you’re doing everything left on your bucket list of adventures — or sharing adventures with your grandkids, there’s no better value for your buck.

Visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center

Overview of the Whitewater Center near the time of the Solar Eclipse in 2017.

Overview of the Whitewater Center near the time of the Solar Eclipse in 2017.

The Center is free to visit and enjoy a picnic whenever you’d like — you can even attend festivals and music events without a gate charge (a $5 parking charge may apply). Find dates of upcoming festivals, lists of films and dates they’ll be shown, information on river jam sessions, and more just outside Charlotte.

Interested in the adrenaline rush activities instead? They run from spring through fall (until October 31, 2017). Booking information and costs are online at: http://usnwc.org/visit/activity-passes/

The address of the Center is:
5000 Whitewater Center Parkway
Charlotte, NC
Call: 704.391.3900
Website: http://usnwc.org/

The Google map below is from the hotel where I was hosted, the very comfy — and new — SpringHill Suites by Marriott Charlotte Uptown in Charlotte, to the Whitewater Center.


I visited the U.S. National Whitewater Center as part of a pre-trip to Travel Media Showcase 2017, hosted by the city of Charlotte, North Carolina.

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