5 Reasons to Visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center
An Olympic training ground and a family-friendly attraction, the U.S. National Whitewater Center offers wet-and-wild fun for all.
by Roketa Dumas
Home to the world’s largest man-made whitewater river, the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which sits on approximately 1,300 acres of land alongside the Catawba River, plays host to everything from Olympic slalom trials to family-friendly music festivals.
Whether you’re an adventure seeker or a professional people watcher, have only been on a couple of dates or you’re a couple of newlyweds, the USNWC is a must-stop on any Charlotte visit. Before booking your passes and tours, learn more about the park’s ultimate experiences.
1. There's water, water, everywhere.
As the name implies, the USNWC has a variety of whitewater options, ranging from class II to IV, to jostle you around a bit. But the facility’s other extreme water activities also make a big splash: Stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, adventure rafting and rodeo rafting are just a raft, boat or board away. If you have kids in tow (ages 8 and up), book a family rafting excursion for a more relaxing—aka less treacherous—introduction to adventure.
Not ready to dive in just yet? Ease into your visit by participating in flatwater stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking. If you’ve got younger kids who are just breaking into the adventure scene, this is the option for you; 8 year olds and up are able to participate in kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, while kids as young as 4 can participate in tandem kayaking.
2. But there's plenty to do on land, too.
At the USNWC, you can choose from bouldering or wall climbing. Want to combine your love for land and water? Try the world’s first permanent Deep Water Solo Climbing complex. The complex features walls varying in heights from 25 to 45 feet that arch over a pool of 20-foot-deep water, so you can dive in after you finish off your climb—or fall safely if you just can’t make it to the top.
Feel the breeze on your face, and the pounding in your chest, as you plummet from upwards of 100 feet. Don’t worry, you’re harnessed. At the USNWC, advanced high-jumpers can choose from either the 60-foot or 100-foot Hawk Jump. But if you’re just starting out—or like your heights closer to your speed limits—Canyon Jump takes you up 45 feet, while Ridge Jump takes you up just 30 feet.
For a view like no other, whisk through the USNWC’s treetops on a zip-lining excursion. At 1,625 feet across and 110 feet up, Hawk Tower is the center’s longest zip-line, taking you over portions of the whitewater river. If you prefer to start out small, Canyon Zip is only a 200-foot ride over the trails and takes you 42 feet up.
If you like feeling a bit more in control of your speeds, the ropes course offers nine different challenges, ranging in difficulty. Heights go from the Adventure Course, taking you 20 feet off the ground, to an Obstacle Challenge for little ones as young as 5 years old that will only take them about a foot or two up.
The USNWC has more than 30 miles of trails where you can walk, jog and run to your heart's content. Feel the need for speed? Pack your two-wheeler and bike the challenging mountain paths.
3. They know how to bring people together.
The USNWC likes to have a good time. On Independence Day, Labor Day and Memorial Day, pack up the family for a fun-filled holiday outdoors. Join in a race and stretch and sweat during outdoor yoga. Or if you prefer lounging over lunging, bring your blanket, grab a craft brew and listen to the live music provided by one of several touring bands while you wait for the fireworks display. Music lineups can be found online if you want to see what bands and genres will be featured that night. In March, stop in for St. Patrick’s Day’s Green River Revival, when the whitewater river becomes a spirited shade of green.
In that same vein, the USNWC’s seasonal River Jam event is a local favorite. May through September, the free outdoor showcase features live music and food and drink for purchase. Grab your friends, or a date, and hang out waterside on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
4. They put on some awesome free festivals.
The USNWC weaves its love for the outdoors into several festivals throughout the year. They last from sunup to sundown and always have something for everyone. The most popular is April’s Tuck Fest, a multi-day festival filled with outdoor competitions, live music and so much more. Reeling in about 40,000 attendees (participants and onlookers), this festival features a variety of sporting competitions, including trail running, kayaking, biking, climbing, stand-up paddleboarding, slacklining and adventure racing. Throughout the four days of competition, bluegrass, folk, rock and Americana musicians rock out on stage, so if you’re not an adrenaline junkie, you can tune into top-tier touring acts.
5. You won't go hungry (or thirsty).
Enjoy a sit-down dining experience at River’s Edge, which has a patio view of the whitewater rafting. The menu offers a wide selection of American food ranging from healthy bowls to sinful New Orleans pecan pie. If you’re avoiding meat, they’ve got a selection of vegetarian entrees to please your palate. Jackfruit jambalaya … yes, please.
You can grab things like salads, sandwiches and smoothies in the Market. They do have warm options as well, like chicken fingers, which are sure to get any child’s stamp of approval. For even faster fare, make a quick stop at the Trail Center, Kayak Center, or Outfitters and grab some chips or a granola bar for that boost of energy.
The Pump House Biergarten has 60 craft beers on tap. Need we say more?
Foodies, this one’s for you. With the center’s Adventure Dining packages, you can pair an outdoor excursion with a three-course meal. Paddle to Table gives you the option of kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding to a fireside dinner, while Zipline and Dine lets you soar through the air on your way to your supper. Both adventures come with the option to purchase beer or wine and the menu does change every week, so make sure to check out the menu if surprises aren’t your jam.