6501 Waterlevel Hwy. SE
Cleveland, TN 37323
Upper Ocoee River
When rafting the Upper Ocoee river, you take on the challenging rapids of “Tombstone”, “Mikey’s” and the “Blue Hole” before a large suspension bridge signals the start of the Olympic Course. After the first drop known as “Best Ledge”, you head directly into “Smiley Face”, which is named for the smiley face painted on a rock in the middle of the rapid. Next up is the biggest single drop on the course – “Slam Dunk” – whose name says it all! The Upper Ocoee can be rafted during scheduled water releases on weekends from mid-May through mid-September.
Whitewater rafting events are often held in this section. Made popular because in 1996 a section of the Upper Ocoee was selected as the location for the Summer Olympics! Dubbed the “Olympic Course”, this section now forms part of the Upper Ocoee’s five-mile stretch, which is tackled on our river rafting trips.
The Middle Ocoee begins just after the end of the Upper Ocoee and boasts 20 Class III and Class IV rapids along its five-mile stretch. Learn more about Middle Ocoee rafting here.
- Trip Length: 3 hours
- River Miles: 5 miles
- When: Saturdays and Sunday in June, July, August.
- Class: III-IV
- Minimum Age: 12 years
Who Should Raft the Upper Ocoee River – Olympic Section?
(min age 12)
If your group wants the remote wilderness experience packed with Olympic action, sustainable eco-tourism history, and group bonding experiences then consider the Upper Ocoee River. Yes, the rapids are the biggest on the Ocoee. That’s why Outland vets only the best guides for this section keeping rafters safe and challenged.
You are in a gorge floating through a forest in the middle of nowhere with your life in the hands of a mountaineer thinking, “This is most awesome thing I’ve ever done…”
The bus winds around cliffs into the deepest section of the Ocoee Gorge a buzzing anticipation builds. A trip leader seems to be a master at scaring you with a bagful of local folklore. You spot what looks like swift rapids as an assortment of river mountaineer guides wave you over for life-preserving paddle strokes training. They call themselves professionals, but you’re not so sure. Then in a blink, “Pick up the raft, slide it in the water, get in, ALL FORWARD…” What! No warmup, the raft goes from zero to river speed into a forest. The guide shrugs saying, “Be ready. If we get pinned in Bush Gardens you could swim, then I’ll have to rescue you.” This is awesome. This is Outland Expeditions.
Upper Ocoee River Action
The Upper section is often distinguishable by the Ocoee’s most remote wilderness zone followed by the most continuous whitewater on the 1996 Olympic course. Your crew must work together as a team to navigate and conquer (hopefully) the challenging rapids such as Tombstone, Mikey’s, and the Blue Hole. Every part of your body senses the remoteness as you drop waterfalls, then celebrate surviving with your new best friend. Remember that mountaineer. She laughs as she helps your friend up from the raft floor. These rapids are bigger than you expected.
A peaceful float and swim drifts under a large suspension bridge signaling the end of the wilderness section. “Eddy out! This is the 1996 Olympic Course section. It’s about to get REAL.” You think, “What does she mean about?” Drifting the pool toward Best Ledge you’re on the edge of your seat paddle ready and hear, “Give me some SPEED! ALL FORWARD!” Five hard strokes and your raft drops. Water punches your face, and you get up to celebrate. No time, “PADDLE. ALL FORWARD!!!” You’re off-course with Smiley Face seconds away, “ALL FORWARD…DIG IT IN!” It was an easy hit, drift, and relax as the guide laughs. She points out the painted smiley face on a rock. You listen like never before to your guide, “Next, is the biggest single drop on the course – Slam Dunk – Are You READY?” Then before you answer, “GIVE ME SPEED! ALL FORWARD!” Your crew surges forward… This is awesome. This is Outland Expeditions.
The Upper Ocoee is rich in history as it once drained the nation’s most infamous Copper ore smelting basins. Catastrophically, Copper Hill and Copper Basin clear-cut forests from the mid-1800s to late 1900s to fuel giant copper smelting pots. Copper hills and basin were a baron red landscape from the copper oxides causing problematic erosion and acid rain. Eventually, environmental reclamation projects during the late 1900s began changing the landscape, and new sustainable models were launching.
1996 Olympic Course and Sustainable Eco-Tourism Successes
When the 1996 Atlanta Olympics needed a whitewater course, the Ocoee River’s easy location, controllable levels, perfect gradient, and challenging whitewater attracted international funding and Olympic crowds. Constructed features were safe to navigate, providing the Olympians excellent whitewater. Environmental advocates and the region gained a sustainable eco-tourism model. Today, the whitewater section attracts rafters, kayakers, and tourists from around the globe.