What’s the difference between the…
6501 Waterlevel Hwy. SE
Cleveland, TN 37323
What’s the difference between the…
It’s one of the most common questions we get asked by people who are first-timers whitewater rafting the Ocoee River – should I raft the Middle Ocoee or Upper Ocoee? First, let’s explain the difference between the two and how rapids are measured. The Ocoee River’s whitewater rafting stretch is divided into two distinct sections – the Middle Ocoee and the Upper Ocoee (aka Olympic section) – which are separated by a small dam. Both are around five miles in length, with their water volume controlled by a series of Tennessee Valley Authority dams.
Whitewater rapids are measured on a scale of one to six in relation to their difficulty. A Class I rapid is small and not very demanding for beginner paddlers while Class VI is large and potentially dangerous, only to be attempted by experienced paddlers. The rapids on the Ocoee River range from Class II to IV, which means they are exciting (and sometimes adrenalin pumping) but not too intimidating and safe for paddlers of all experience levels.
The Upper Ocoee whitewater rafting section begins upstream of the Middle Ocoee in a spectacular canyon that ignites with wild rhododendrons in late June and early July. After a relatively “tame” first mile that gives you time to get comfortable (and become accustomed to your guide’s paddling commands), the action really begins with several Class II rapids before a succession of Class IV rapids. You’ll navigate the rapids known as “Mikey’s” and the “Blue Hole” before arriving at a large pool, which signals the start of the Ocoee’s Olympic Course. Stretching around 1/3 mile, it has the fastest water, strongest currents, and largest rapids you’ll experience on the Ocoee River.
When the Ocoee River was selected as the canoe slalom venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the designers narrowed the river from 300 feet to 50 feet in some sections and placed large rocks in the river bed to create more challenging rapids.
Once you’ve negotiated the Olympic Course, there are two more Class IV rapids along the Upper Ocoee section before you arrive at a small lake. If you are just doing the Upper Ocoee, this is where your adventure ends on the lake shore. Those doing the Full River trip will have the opportunity to relax during a riverside lunch before continuing along the Middle Ocoee.
The Upper Ocoee is only accessible for whitewater rafting when the Tennessee Valley Authority releases water into the river. This takes place on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day, plus the last three Saturdays in May and the first three Saturdays in September.
The Middle Ocoee stretch begins at the end of the lake, just after a dam that’s a whitewater spectacle in itself! After carrying our rafts down the ramp, we’ll launch them just before a challenging Class IV rapid that’s been dubbed “Grumpys”.
Compared to the Upper Ocoee, the rapids on the Middle Ocoee are more continuous but you won’t get anything as large or as fast as those on the Olympic Course. In the middle of the run, there is a short break where you can take a breather. Other than that, it’s one after the other, which is why the Middle Ocoee is the most popular five-mile whitewater rafting stretch in the United States.
Just like the Upper Ocoee, the Middle Ocoee relies on water being released by the Tennessee Valley Authority, which takes place on weekends from mid-March until the end of October. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can also run the Middle Ocoee on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
Good question. We identified three areas to help rafters understand which river section is best for groups.
The Upper Ocoee has the Ocoee’s biggest rapids and drops, and the Olympic Course is the river’s longest continuous section.
The Middle Ocoee hosts the most with more than 20 class III to IV thriller rapids. For reasons of continuous fun action that the Middle Ocoee has held the title of Most Popular River Section for more than 30 years.
The Middle Ocoee is equally beautiful within the National Forest; the Middle is mostly roadside. An added cool factor is the famous wooden flume that diverts the entire river daily.
So which is right for you? It’s kind of like asking if you like chocolate or vanilla. Both delicious but it might just mean picking a flavor your into more at the moment. If you can’t decide, we suggest going on both sections of the Ocoee on a full-day river experience.