I consider myself a thrifty traveler by finding adventures close to home; however, rafting a river is worth the extra time to plan and travel. Not far from the Georgia/Tennessee border, approximately a six-hour drive from Statesboro and just north of Chattanooga, the Appalachian Mountains begin to regress into North Georgia. Rivers and waterfalls cascade throughout these areas all the way into Oconee National Forest in Georgia. The famous Ocoee/Toccoa River has carved a home stemming off the Hiawassee River 37 miles through Tennessee and into Georgia. Over the last 15 years I’ve been down the middle section run of the Ocoee three times. It has not once been a disappointment. It is not a relaxing float through the gorgeous East Tennessee mountains. It is a thrill ride with a few moments to appreciate the surrounding scenery and natural state of the free-flowing river.
In the early 1900s the Ocoee was dammed to build hydroelectric plants and management by the Eastern Tennessee Power Company. There were three dams built featuring wooden flumes that diverted the waters of the Upper and Middle Ocoee before they dropped into the hydroelectric powerhouses. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) purchased the power system in 1939. During the 1940s rivers were attracting attention all over the country and the first commercial rafting trips began taking place along the Snake River in Wyoming. The Ocoee stood dry due to the diverted water used for power.
In September 1976, the wooden flume diverting water on the Middle Ocoee was shut down after a damaging rock slide. The river, previously dry, ran wild without the diversion. The Ocoee gained the attention of paddlers and rafting companies who offered rafting trips to the public while the repairs were taking place.
When the flume overhaul was finished, the Ocoee River Council was formed in order to secure future recreational releases from the TVA. After an extensive resistance and requiring an act of Congress, recreational releases were conceded by the TVA. Since the act, the river runs most weekends from March through October. The rafting companies basically pay the TVA rent to keep the river free-flowing during the warmer season.
Whitewater racing events have been held on the Ocoee since 1978, bringing the river to the attention of the world. The Ocoee has become one of the most popular whitewater rivers in the world, attracting over 250,000 visitors annually. A scenic portion of the John Muir trail also winds through the river gorge.
If you’re not a history nerd and just love adventures outdoors, this is it! Plan a spring week and get a cabin booked in the area. There are numerous rafting companies to choose from and many provide packages with cabin options along with the rafting reservation. I suggest checking out reviews on trip advisor and comparing some costs. All of the guides are extensively trained; however, they are all different with a variety of knowledge. Our last guide was in his third year of college studying environmental sustainability and had a wealth of knowledge about protected plants and animals in the area. You can also request a guide if you’ve heard of a good fit. You do want a guide that is experience with the river and running the group rafts. Large, expensive rafting companies do not mean your experience will be better. Last year we used Cherokee Rafting. Our guide was great and it was a reasonable cost. Plan ahead and reserve your time, especially if it will be a weekend river run. Once your trip is finished, equipment turned in, and your guide has been tipped, make your way to the Ocoee Dam Deli & Diner. The atmosphere is unique and the food is amazing. While you wind down from the day, you’ll get to watch hours of stressful rafting footage on the restaurant monitors.
If you haven’t started a plan for a spring break trip, this is it. Maybe you have members of the group who have no interest in the river run; there are plenty of relaxing activities in the Ocoee area. It is a beautiful, mountain escape!
Planning a vacation to Ocoee
American Whitewater Association
History of Whitewater Rafting
Tipadvisor for Reviews