Ocoee River Rafting
Introduction to the Ocoee river
The Ocoee River is located in Polk County Tennessee just north of the Georgia State line. Get off that couch and into a raft for outstanding Ocoee river rafting action.The river is entirely in only one county because the river’s name changes as it enters Tennessee from Georgia and it merges with and becomes the Hiwassee river while still in Polk County Tennessee. Upstream from the Gerogia Tennessee state line the river is called the Toccoa River. The Toccoa/Ocoee river begins its journey deep in the Chattahoochee National Forest with headwaters near Suches Georgia. Numerous small trout streams flow together to form the Upper Toccoa; including Coopers Creek, Rock Creek and Noontula creek. The creeks and river flow uninterrupted until it reaches the back waters of Lake Blue Ridge in Fannin County near Blue Ridge Georgia. The Dam which forms Blue Ridge lake is about 15 miles south of the Tennessee state line and is one of four dams and power generating facilities located on the Toccoa Ocoee river.
After the Toccoa waters are released from the Blue Ridge power house they flow gently with only occasional small rapids for about twelve miles before reaching McCaysville Ga and Copperhill, Tn a split town on the state line. The six-mile section of the river above MCaysville is great for tubing, floating and trout fishing. An Iron Bridge across the river in downtown marks the state line and it becomes the Ocoee river. About two miles from downtown the now Ocoee river reaches the confines of Ocoee Lake number three, backed up by Ocoee Dam number 3.
Just below Dam number three starts the Ocoee River Rafting ten-mile section of the Ocoee River. The initial section is the Upper Ocoee Rafting section followed by a very small Ocoee dam number two below which is the Middle Ocoee Rafting section of the river. The Ocoee River is one of the premier whitewater rafting rivers in the world and site of the 1996 Olympic Whitewater slalom event. Three Hundred thousand people come ever year to raft and play in the relatively warm water and Class Three and Four rapids. At the bottom of the whitewater section the Ocoee flows into Parksville lake which has been backed up by the last of the Ocoee dam’s, Ocoee Dam number one. Below Ocoee Dam number one the river is slow moving and without rapids until it reaches the confluence with the Hiwassee. This is again a great section for tubing or flat-water canoeing. A great longer flatwater canoe trip can start below Dam number one and continue all the way past the merge to Hiwassee Island on lake Chickamauga. The Ocoee gets it name from the Cherokee language meaning “Passion Flower”.
What to wear when you come rafting?
For the summer shorts or a bathing suit or swim trunks and a T-shirt are best. Shoes that will stay on your feet are required, which can be river sandals, old tennis shoes, or nylon topped water shoes. No Flip Flops or other shoes that won’t stay on your feet for rafting the Ocoee River!
For the cooler weather we recommend synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene or nylon or synthetic fleece. We have some “spray gear” to keep off the splash and if it is really cold we have wet suits at the outpost –all free to our guest.
History of the Ocoee Dams
Ocoee Dam number one was the first hydroelectric dam built in the state of Tennessee and one of the first in the country. Construction was started in 1910 and in January 1912 the plant initially began generating electrical power. This was 21 years before TVA was formed by the TVA act by Congress. Household electricity was first introduced in 1905 so Ocoee number one was built to satisfy the earliest initial demand for home electricity. It was not until 1930 that a milestone was reached with 70% of households having electrical service. The location chosen for Ocoee Dam No. 1 was just to the east of the more mountainous region currently known as the Cherokee National Forest. The area was a small community called Parksville and a Grist mill stood on the actual dam site at the time. The Dam construction took 18 months and the cost to build was less than three million dollars. A unique facet of the project is that a small town was actually built to house the workers and dam builders. 1500 workers and their families lived in the town which featured its own waterworks department, fire and police, several stores and a hospital. Foundations of some of the town’s buildings are still existing and can be seen from the east end of the lake. Powerlines were then built to transport electricity to Chattanooga, Knoxville and even Nashville, TN.
Ocoee Dam Number Two was completed in 2013 just one year after Dam number one started generation. Dam Number two has unique construction. It is a relatively low dam, only 30 feet in height and originally was a timber structure filled with rock and boulders. On one side of dam is a gate and a wooden flume. The water from the small lake above Ocoee number two enters the flume through the gate. The flume is almost five miles long and only drops 18 feet in elevation in that five miles. Once it reaches the end of the flume the water drops 250 feet down a large metal pipe to reach the generators of power house number two. The drop gives water the force of a much higher dam.
Ocoee Dam Number Three has a construction that is even different from the first two dams. The dam is upstream of Ocoee Dam number two by over four miles and is a concrete dam roughly 110 feet high. Rather than generate electricity at the bottom of the dam however they drilled a tunnel through the mountain to reach the powerhouse four miles downstream. This allowed the engineers to create even more power by utilizing the elevation drop of the river. At the end of the tunnel is a large pipe 180 feet above the powerhouse which releases water for the turbines. The dam and the river in this upper stretch are located in a valley between two major mountains in the area. Big Frog mountain to the south and Little Frog mountain to the north. Number Three was built in 1940 to supply additional power for the area manufacturing expansion for World War II.
Ocoee Dam Number Two flume line collapse
In 1976 the old wooden flume line for Ocoee Dam Number Two, built in 1913, was in disrepair. It was essentially collapsing. There was a small railway on top of the flume that was used for a handcar to haul materials to maintain the structure. In 1976 the flume line could no longer support the rails for the handcar and the flume itself could not be maintained.
There was considerable discussion of removing the old flume line altogether, but preservationists intervened, and reconstruction was begun. It took six years to rebuild the old flume line with treated wood, but by 1983 the flume was back in business. Even the train track was rebuilt, and the flume maintenance materials are hauled by a propane powered small tram. The flume line has now been placed on the national register of historical places.
Commercial Rafting starts on the Ocoee River
With the flume line out of commission in 1976, the Ocoee River was allowed to flow in its natural river bed on a regular basis for the first time since the flume was built in 1913. It did not take long for outdoor enthusiast to take notice and canoes, kayaks and rubber rafts started showing up to take on the powerful class three and four rapids. At first it was just private boaters and local paddling clubs, but soon commercial outfitters developed to seize on a new opportunity. Sunburst Outfitters was formed in 1977 and became the first commercial rafting company to take paying customers down the Ocoee River. They were soon followed by Ocoee Outdoors who can lay claim to be the first commercial Outfitter with a physical Outpost on the Ocoee. Rafting was tough at first since there was no easy access to the river and you had to carry/hump/drag your rafts down banks and over boulders to reach the river.
Soon other commercial outfitters popped up and a full-scale industry was operational. Access points were improved, oversite enacted, and things were going well. As work on the flume line continued however, the Outfitters realized that the party might soon be over.
The Original 1985 water release agreement on Ocoee River
Concerned for their future with a new flume line soon taking the water out of the riverbed, Outfitters joined together to try to secure water releases for operations after the flume was scheduled to be finished. They formed an Outfitters Association and an additional lobbying organization to build consensus for their cause. TVA’s position was that they required full reimbursement for lost revenue due to not generating power. Outfitters view was that the river was a natural local resource that should be shared. This difference led to long protracted and sometimes controversial negotiations about how the river could be managed for power production and still accommodate whitewater recreation. After considerable involvement from the Tennessee Governor and The Tennessee Congressional delegation an agreement was reached. In 1983 the U S Congress passed Public Law No. 98-151 which appropriated $7.4 million to TVA for the purpose of providing recreation on the Middle Ocoee River. TVA agreed to provide 116 days of recreational whitewater releases per year on the Middle Ocoee for 35 years. The $7.4 million was to be reimbursed to the Federal Government via fees placed on commercial rafting customers. Payments were made annually and in 2018 the US government was repaid in full at the end of the 35-year contract.
The History of the Upper Ocoee releases
After the Middle Ocoee agreement was reached commercial rafting growth continued at a steady pace and over twenty commercial rafting companies were in operation by the early 90’s carrying about 200,000 commercial guests down the now famous Ocoee Middle. The next major occurrence in the Ocoee river valley started with Atlanta Georgia getting the bid for the 1996 Olympics. Olympic Whitewater slalom racing had gained traction in the 1992 Olympics held in Spain after being left out of competition since its inaugural debut in the 1972 Munich games. When Atlanta entered their bid for 1996 they included the whitewater event without indicating a venue. Once they obtained the bid and started planning the budget the decision was reached to exclude Whitewater rafting from the Atlanta games. A group of Atlanta whitewater enthusiast reacted quickly at the news of the exclusion and formed a lobby group WIN (Whitewater in Ninety Six). They quickly recognized that the Ocoee was the perfect place, but it could not be the Middle Ocoee because there was not enough river side space to host an event. The Upper Ocoee was chosen because it had the riverside space and the riverbed could be reshaped to form the required level of rapids. The location was decided and partners came on board including TVA, the State of Tennessee and the US Forest Service. Funding was procured from these three entities and the games were on.
The reshaping of the riverbed made the Upper Ocoee much more desirable for Commercial Rafting due to larger continuous rapids and the fame of the Olympics. The Outfitters again formed up to lobby for water releases from TVA for the Upper Ocoee. After a test year in 1997 with seven days of releases, a contract was secured for 34 days per year of water releases on the Upper Ocoee until the same end date as the Middle Ocoee in 2018. The 34 days were weekend days from Memorial Day to Labor Day and some additional Saturdays in May and September. Outfitters could now offer three rafting options for their guest: Middle Ocoee; Upper Ocoee and a full river trip which combined the two sections.
New Contract on the Ocoee. For 2019 there is a new 15-year contract in place for both sections of the Ocoee River. The State of Tennessee negotiated with TVA for water releases for this time period and a 10% will be charged by the Outfitters to repay the funds.
Comparison of the Upper and Middle Ocoee river sections
Both the Upper and Middle Ocoee sections are roughly five miles long and take a similar amount of time to raft (about 2 hours each). Each section has numerous class three and class four rapids. Both are fun and exhilarating and you can’t miss selecting either section. The Upper Ocoee goes back in a remote canyon well away from the highway. The first mile and a half of the Upper Ocoee starts relatively easier with mostly class two rapids and a few class three. There are a couple of nice spots to get the raft into a small hydraulic and surf the wave while staying in one spot. After that you start getting closer to the section where the Olympics were held and the rapids start to really pick up. Once you are in the Olympic Course area there are numerous back to back rapids some of which are the largest anywhere on the Ocoee River—Upper or Middle. After you leave the Olympic sections there are a couple more large class four rapids and then the last mile slows back down until you reach the lunch spot between the Upper and Middle Ocoee.
The Middle Ocoee is the “traditional” Ocoee and has more rapids the Upper has though none quite as large as the biggest ones on the Upper section. As opposed to starting off gentler like the Upper, the Middle has a major class four rapid immediately after you put your raft in the river. The class three and four rapids come one right after the other with only one good sized break about half way down the Middle section. The Middle is one of the most continuous stretches of whitewater anywhere and you are constantly getting splashed …pure excitement!
The Full ocoee river rafting trip
The great thing about the Full River trip is that you don’t miss a thing plus you get a nice break for a delicious river side lunch. The entire trip takes around six hours for this trip and out on the water/lunch for about four and a half hours. The lunch stop takes about 45-minute break which makes for a more relaxing trip.
Rapids of Rafting on the Ocoee River
The start of the Middle Ocoee is spectacular! The water from the lake falls over the top of the 30-foot dam that is Ocoee Dam number 2 making for a giant river wide waterfall. There is a wide walkway on the right side of the Dam which you carry your raft down to put on the river at the base of the dam. The Middle starts right off with a bang! Grumpy’s rapid is only 100 yards downstream from the put in and it is a major class four rapid. It is formed by a ledge that is almost river wide with a narrow slot to shoot your raft through for a clean run. Below Grumpy’s is several hundred yards of continuous rapids ending in large eddy on river right call “Staging Eddy”. Your trip collects here before continuing downstream. Leaving Staging Eddy the next rapid up is called Gonzo Shoals rapid. The river widens out here and there are shallow ledges that are a bit tricky to run and not get the raft stuck. After Gonzo we head for one of the Middle Ocoee’s most difficult rapids, Broken Nose. Not to hard to figure out how this one got its name. The river channels along the right river bank and falls over a series of three drops in succession. The water is “pushy” and requires precise control to prevent bouncing off the river right bank and into any one of the three drops. After Broken Nose you move to the left side of the river for some fun playful class two rapids with nice waves that lead into a rapid called Second Helping. Second Helping is a good sized ledge shallow on the right and middle but with a good drip on river left. It is followed in quick succession by another good wave drop and fun play place. Downstream from Second Helping the river splits into two channels and the right channel is a lot more fun. The right channel contains the rapid Moonshoot and is a fun place for some good spin moves with the raft. Smaller fun rapids continue for a couple of hundred yards before you come to probably the single largest drop on the Ocoee; Double Suck rapid. It is named for two large holes at the bottom which are powerful. If you fall in one of these, hope you swim trunks are cinched up tight. The river continues with some nice waves and rocks to avoid for the next half mile through a section called Hell’s Half Mile because a long swim through here would not be fun. Leaving Hell’s half mile, the river narrows down and channels into a series of large standing waves in the rapid called Double Trouble. On Commercial trips the professional photographers stage here because they can get some good shots of the rafts being tossed about. Next up is Left Right Left rapid which is pretty easy, you start on the left then move right and you guessed it …move back right again. Continuing on down are two rapids, Flipper and Hollywood with nice places to play and surf the raft and show off your moves. At Hollywood you are approximately half way down the Middle Ocoee.
The second half of the Middle begins with the longest “flat stretch” of the Ocoee with moving water but no rapids. This is called The Doldrums and is a great place to hop out of the raft for a cool swim in the river. After the Doldrums the river contains some smaller shallow rapids where the objective is primarily not getting the raft stuck but watch out because there is one somewhat hidden ledge in this stretch called Surprise. We can’t tell you about that one because it’s a ….surprise! Down around the bend however is one of the largest rapids on the entire river, Tablesaw. Tablesaw is a hundred yards of large waves holes and splash with a boulder at the bottom on the right which must be avoided. Closely following is another big Drop called Diamond Splitter. This rapid has a really large rock in the center which sends the water left and right around it. The right channel is pretty smooth, but the left channel has a large hole called Witches Hole. A large eddy on river left allows you to surf Witches hole from below. After Diamond Splitter the river slows down a little although there are some fun rapids that have two names depending on your preference or how long you have been around the river. Slingshot is also called Accelerator where the river really speeds up and is a great place for spin moves in a raft. The second rapid is called both Cats Pajamas and Juicer depending on how long you have been around. For some reason it an easy place to end up out of the raft and in the water. After Cats, the river gets eerily quiet for a hundred yards. Downstream you see the Ocoee number two powerhouse and a bridge across the river and a horizon line but not the rest of the river. As you get close you can see a long sloping big wave rapid with a whole lot of white at the bottom. You have arrived at Hell Hole and it is a boat stopping and if you are not careful boat flipping obstacle. Enter with power and the correct boat angle and you will have a great ride. Hell Hole is followed by the last rapid on the Middle Ocoee, Power House rapid, just stay right through a nice couple of waves and then float down to the Middle take out.
Rules of river rafting
1. Always wear a life jacket, or personal flotation device (PFD) and helmet.
Life Jackets must be worn and need to be worn correctly. All the buckles must be fastened and the jacket should be fitted snug to your body. The jacket should be fitted so can breathe easily, but the jacket should not be able to be pulled up over your head. Always wear your helmet no matter where you are on the river.
2. Dress right for the day.
In early Spring, the water may be a little chilly. Wear a wet suit or splash jacket if it is really cold otherwise quickdry long sleeve shirt and pants may be enough. Don’t wear jeans or thick cotton, it only makes you colder and more uncomfortable! Wear proper river shoes that will stay on your feet and make the trip much more comfortable. In the peak summer season swim trunks and a T-shirt will be plenty. Also don’t forget the sunscreen and a good pair of sunglasses on bright days.
3. Brace in the Raft
Unless you’re looking for a swim, keep yourself planted firmly in the boat. You will have 3 main points of balance
Feet– keep your front foot tucked lightly under the air tube in front of you, or in the foot hold if you’re in the front of the raft. But don’t shove them in too far, because if you do fall out, you don’t want your foot to be trapped.
Seat– Stay on the outer rim of the boat for the best balance, unless your guide instructs you to get down.
Paddle– Believe it or not, sticking your paddle in the water provides an extra bracing point. So when the waves get harder, paddling harder will help keep them from tossing you into the rapids.
4. Listen to your Guide
If you listen up and follow your Guide’s instructions, you will have much more fun on the water. Guides will be calling paddle strokes to maneuver through the rapids and if you make those strokes it will help keep you off the rocks and in the current and having a lot more fun. Guides may also call for you to lean in, get down or high-side depending on the situation. Its important to pay attention.
5. If you do fall out of the boat, don’t panic!
Find your boat. Often you will pop up away. If you are a couple of feet away from the boat, swim to the boat. If you pop up and you are far from the boat, look for other rescue options, other boats or the riverbank. If you are panicking you won’t think about getting back to the boat and the rescue becomes more difficult.
6. Know the proper swimming techniques.
When swimming in the river, whether you fall out or you jump in for fun, there are two techniques. This is on your back, nose and toes to the sky with your head up so you can see where you are going. Feet down stream with your knees slightly bent. This way if you come in contact with a rock you can use your feet and legs as shock absorbers and push off the rock. Arms should be out to your side to help keep yourself in control. A helpful hint here: keep your butt up. Depending on where you are in the rapid and your swimming abilities a second swmmers position may used. Turn over on your stomach and do your best Michael Phelps impersonation. Point to where you want to go and swim until you are back to your boat or out of the river.
7. Never stand up in the river.
If you choose to swim to the shore, swim all the way to the shore. NEVER stand up in moving current. This prevents a situation called “Foot Entrapment” which is where you put your foot gets stuck in a crack in the bottom of the river. This is not a good place to be so don’t put your food down and don’t walk in the river.
8. Have Fun!
Middle Ocoee Pricing
|Number of People||1-11||12-23||24 or more|
|Apr 7—May 20||$39||$37||$35||Book Now!|
|May 26 – Sep 3||$49||$45||$41||Book Now!|
|Sep 8—Oct 28||$45||$41||$37||Book Now!|
*Prices are per person.
Sunday through Friday
|Number of People||1-11||12-23||24 or more|
|Apr 7—May 20||$35||$33||$31||Book Now!|
|May 26 – Sep 3||$45||$41||$37||Book Now!|
|Sep 8—Oct 28||$39||$37||$35||Book Now!|
*Prices are per person.