LEARN About The
About the Ocoee River
Thrilling, nonstop Class III-IV rapids make the Ocoee River America’s Favorite Whitewater rafting! The dam-controlled river has two distinct sections available for white water rafting, kayaking, and canoeing – the Middle Ocoee and the Upper Ocoee. Spend a few hours or all day on the river. The internationally famous Upper Ocoee section hosted the 1996 Olympic canoe and kayak slalom events and runs on weekends in the summer. The Middle Ocoee section is the most popular and runs 5 days a week all summer long. There are several outfitters offering rafting experiences along both the Upper and Middle sections of the Ocoee.
Three Rafting Trips Offered
- Middle Ocoee – Most Popular!
Thursday – Monday, half-day
- Upper Olympic Ocoee
- Full Ocoee – Upper + Middle
Weekends, full day with lunch
Middle and Upper Ocoee River
Middle Ocoee River Rafting
Home to one of the most popular fully-guided 5-mile stretches of Class III-IV rapids in the United States, the Middle Ocoee River is a…
Upper Ocoee River Rafting
Home to the historic 1996 Olympic course, the Upper Ocoee River is a fully guided 5 1/2-mile stretch with many Class III-IV rapids…
Full Ocoee: Upper & Middle
Spend the entire day on the river and experience the thrills of the full Ocoee River. Discover firsthand why the Ocoee has been…
What Do Whitewater Rapids Classifications Mean?
International Whitewater Rapid Classification ranges from I-VI (1-6). Class I rapids are gently moving water. In comparison, Class VI (6) rapids are not considered navigable and are not run commercially.
The Ocoee River is Class III-IV (3-4) whitewater. Since the Ocoee River Middle and Upper sections range from Class III-IV rapids, they require technical paddling knowledge to successfully navigate. This is why Ocoee River Middle and Upper commercial rafting trips are exclusively fully guided experiences. All Ocoee River Corridor rafting outfitters provide expertly trained whitewater guides to captain each raft with guests. This is also why rafters do not need prior experience to raft the Ocoee River – your guide will teach you basic paddle strokes and lead you down the river.
Which Section of the Ocoee River Should I Choose?
Both sections are exciting but thrilling in different ways, and both are suitable for first-timers and avid rafters alike (12+). Each part of the river is approximately 5 to 5 1/2 miles in length with Class III-IV rapids.
The Upper Ocoee River contains the classic Olympic stretch with more extensive and fast higher class rapids that are wider set apart. The Middle Ocoee has a variety of big and small rapids that are more continuous for nonstop thrills.
A really important difference is that the Middle Ocoee runs five days a week, except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Upper Ocoee only runs on the weekends. Full combo Upper & Middle trips also therefore only run on weekends.
The History of the Ocoee River
How Ocoee Rafting Started in 1976
Surrounded by the lush Cherokee National Forest, the Ocoee River is a 37-mile river flowing north and west through the South Appalachian Mountains into a tributary of the Hiwassee River. Hydroelectric dams have controlled the river for over 100 years. Between 1910 and 1913, Eastern Tennessee Power Company owned the Ocoee River. The organization constructed three dams (Ocoee #1, Ocoee #2, and Ocoee #3) to divert the river water to power hydroelectric turbines. In 1939, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) purchased the Ocoee River. The entire Ocoee River in southeastern Tennessee was essentially dry – all river water was diverted into flumes and pipelines for power generation – over 66 years. Then, in 1976, the historic, original wooden flume coming out of Ocoee #3 Dam needed repairs, so the water was diverted back to the river bed. This was the start of Ocoee River rafting!
The flume took two years to repair, and in that time, private boaters recognized the incredible whitewater of the Ocoee River and flocked to the river from all across the Southeast. The first commercial rafting companies started in 1977. The rafting companies then had to negotiate with the TVA to win consistent water releases – which resulted in the five day a week schedule of daily water releases on the Middle Ocoee River. The river is literally turned “on” in the morning, and “off” in the afternoon by TVA. When on, water fills the Middle Ocoee river bed, creating the world-class rapids. When off, the water is diverted back into the wooden flume running high above the river on the mountainside of the gorge. This is also why the river does not run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays – those days are for 24 hour TVA hydropower generation and the water is diverted to the flume.
Historic flume construction image courtesy of Ocoee River Corridor tourism Partner Tennessee Overhill.
1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics on the Ocoee River
The Upper Ocoee riverbed remained dry and was used exclusively for hydropower generation in the 20th century up until the early 1990s. The Upper section was selected for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic whitewater slalom events, thanks to its incredible natural riverbed features.
Construction began on a world-class racing course, channelizing the riverbed in places, creating additional features, and building up the support infrastructure around the river to host the 1996 Olympic whitewater canoe and kayak slalom competition. This Olympic event drew nearly 15,000 spectators to the river to witness 135 of the best paddlers in the world take on the Upper Ocoee. The Upper Ocoee River is the only natural river Olympic course in the entire world! And, it’s a course that has been thrilling over 250,000 yearly paddlers for almost 30 years. The Olympic Whitewater Center, built for the Olympic Games, burned down in a devastating fire on April 26, 2022. Plans to rebuild the Center are in the works, with an expanded community recreation vision.
Parksville (Ocoee) Lake & Other Ocoee River Sections
Parksville (Ocoee) Lake
Even though the rapids are the most significant draw to experience the Ocoee River, there are other great experiences on the river. When East Tennessee Power Company constructed the first dam on the river, the company created a 1,930-acre reservoir known as Parksville Lake, which is the oldest lake in the Cherokee National Forest. It is also commonly called Lake Ocoee, and separates the Middle Ocoee river section from the Lower Ocoee. This lake is a popular recreation area for kayaking, paddle boarding, motorboats, and swimming. In 2017, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency stocked the lake with native muskellunge, or musky, to the delight of many anglers.
Lower Ocoee River
Unlike the other parts of the Ocoee River with thrilling whitewater, the Lower Ocoee is ideal for a lazy afternoon paddling or tubing. Set in the Appalachian foothills, the Lower Ocoee River section starts below Lake Ocoee/Parksville Lake and comes out of Ocoee Dam #1.
The Ocoee River flows in more than just Tennessee, but it has a different name in the neighboring state of Georgia. There it is named the Toccoa River. The Toccoa/Ocoee River is part of a 93-mile-long river flowing northwestward through the southern Appalachian Mountains in the Southeastern United States. It is also a tributary of the Hiwassee River, which it joins in Polk County, Tennessee.
Both river names derive from Native American Cherokee terms. Ocoee means passionflower, and Toccoa means beautiful.
The Toccoa River in McCayesville, GA goes to the TN border at Copperhill. It is Class I-II and perfect for relaxing float trips. Tubing, kayak, and SUP paddleboard rentals are available to enjoy the river. It is also home to world-class trout fishing.