5 Facts About the Ocoee River and Its White Water Recreation Industry

White water rafting on the Ocoee River is a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else. Not only is this stretch of water ripe for rafting and kayaking, but the Ocoee River is also unusual because only 40% of the river is called the Ocoee River; the remainder of the river is called the Toccoa River. Here are five other facts about the Ocoee River that make it unique:

“Ocoee” is Cherokee

The name Ocoee River originates from the Cherokee word, “ocoee,” which refers to the purple passionflower, the state wildflower of Tennessee. The purple passionflower grows wild throughout the American South where it’s cultivated for its fruit, which is referred to as purple passion fruit, maypop, or passiflora incarnata. The ocoee fruit was an important food source for the Cherokee who also used it for medicinal purposes as a sedative.

The Ocoee River Crosses Two States

The Ocoee River originates in Georgia, where it is known as the Toccoa River. The Toccoa River flows northwest for 56 miles through Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains until it reaches the border between Georgia and Tennessee. It’s at this border that the river becomes the Ocoee River. For the remainder of its 37-mile run, the Ocoee River runs through Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest. Because the river runs through Georgia and Tennessee, it provides access for Atlanta white water rafting as well as providing the best white water rafting in Tennessee.

The Ocoee River Drains the Tennessee Valley

The Ocoee River is a major source of power generation, with three hydroelectric dams numbered 1 through 3. Two of these dams were built in the late 1910s to provide electric power to a local aluminum plant and the third was built in the early 1940s to provide electric power for the war effort. The Tennessee Valley Authority owns the dams and the electricity produced by the dams. As a result of the dams, the Ocoee River is mostly dry whenever the water in the Ocoee River is being used to generate electricity. In 1976, repairs to the flume of one of the dams allowed water to flow again and created a whole new industry for kayaking and river rafting in Tennessee.

The Ocoee River Only Runs Part-Time

The repairs to the flume that began in 1976 were completed in 1983. However, during the repair period, Tennessee river rafting and kayaking enthusiasts had found one of the best places to go white water rafting in Tennessee. The Ocoee River Council was formed to battle the Tennessee Valley Authority both in court and in the U.S. Congress. Eventually, the Tennessee Valley Authority negotiated an agreement under which the Tennessee Valley Authority releases water into the Ocoee River for recreational purposes 116 days per year. This means that Ocoee River white water rafting trips are available on most weekends from March through October.

Olympic White Water Rafting on the Ocoee River

The Ocoee River consistently ranks among the most popular river rafting and kayaking destinations in the United States. Due to the popularity of river rafting on the Ocoee River, the Ocoee Whitewater Center was built specifically to host canoeing events for the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, Georgia. Water was released into the Ocoee River and the Ocoee Whitewater Center for 77 days for training, a pre-Olympic event, and the Olympic competition. Although extensive construction was required to build the Ocoee Whitewater Center, the venue is unique among Olympic white water venues since it is the only white water venue in Olympic history within a natural river. All the other Olympic Games hosting white water events used man-made canals rather than a natural river. Since the Olympic Games, the Ocoee Whitewater Center is available to the public for rafting trips on 34 weekend days during the summer. Ocoee upper river rafting, including the Ocoee Whitewater Center, is more challenging than Ocoee middle river rafting. However, the middle section of the Ocoee River has more days of recreational water releases per year than the upper section.

In sum, the Ocoee River presents some of the most popular white water recreation opportunities in the United States. The challenging upper section and the family-friendly middle section serve white water rafters of all skill levels. For more information about booking and rafting, contact Outland Expeditions today!