Float #82: Ocoee River

28 Aug

Upper and Middle Sections

F82_Ocoee

Ocoee River
Polk County, Tennessee
Sunday, August 11
10 Miles

We recently went on vacation to Asheville, NC with our friend Jake from Nashville. While in the area we wanted to check out some whitewater rafting. We haven’t done much rafting outside of Colorado, so we were eager to see what the area had to offer. On the recommendation of a friend we decided to raft the Ocoee river in eastern Tennessee. The outfitter we used is Endless River Adventures. The price was very affordable for a full day trip, the guides were friendly, entertaining, and showed us a great time. Everyone had a blast!

We left from DW’s cousin’s, Chris & Cynthia’s house in Asheville early in the morning to make the hour drive to the guide outpost in Bryson City, NC. From there our guides loaded up a couple rafts on the trailer and loaded us in the van to drive another hour to the Upper Ocoee access. On the way we chatted with our guides and learned a bit about them. Being a whitewater guide sounds like a really fun job, but the pay isn’t great and you have to work every weekend. Once we arrived at the access we went through the safety talk and another group of rafters arrived to fill the second raft. Since there were 5 in our group we got to have a raft to ourselves, which is always fun. Our third guide floated the upper section in a kayak and was our safety boat, staying behind the rafts to pick up any swimmers.

The Ocoee, like many rivers in Tennessee, is controlled by dam release. The upper portion of the river is only navigable on weekends during a set season. Because of this, there are many small trees and brush that are out of water most of the time, but get partially submerged when the water is flowing. It was kind of strange to be rafting amongst all the greenery! On rare occasions when there is too much rainfall the dam release is open more often. Our guides mentioned that a few years ago there was so much rain the dam release was open every day for the whole summer. They made a lot more money that year!

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

The float starts out with a stretch of class II rapids where we warm up and get used to our boat. We then descend into a series of ledge drops and class III rapids. I like to sit on the right side of the raft behind the front person. I find this position gets the most splash without getting bounced around a lot. We put Jake in the front of the boat since this was his first rafting trip. The front gets the best view and a little more excitement over the drops. The back of the boat is where you’re most likely to fall out if the boat gets grabbed by an eddy or rocked in a rapid. The back is also the most bouncy and guides will sometimes find themselves launched from the back to the front if they hit a rapid the wrong way!

The next section of water is the Olympic section, host to the 1996 Olympics whitewater competition. There are many large waves and rocking rapids one after another with no space to catch your breath. We then enter the Roach Motel rapid and the Edge of the World, the last rapid of the Upper Ocoee. Edge of the World is a man-made ledge rapid that was a lot of fun. After that rapid the river flows into a small lake. We were able to get out of the raft and swim from this rapid to our lunch spot at the lake.

Ocoee River

Edge of the World rapid

Ocoee River

A raft plunges over Edge of the World

Ocoee River

Jake swimming before the lake

Ocoee River

DW swims

Ocoee River

The lake above Middle Ocoee

We took a break for lunch at the lake above the Middle Section of the Ocoee. Lunch was provided by our outfitter; sandwiches, chips and cookies. It was nice to take a break to warm up in the sun. The water on the Ocoee wasn’t that cold (by my standards) so we enjoyed the splashing and the swimming at the end. Once lunch was over we paddled the raft to the portage on the right side of the dam and carried it down to the Middle Section of the river. This dam was built in the early 1900s and features a long wood flume that carries water to the next power house at the end of our trip. The flume does not drop in elevation, so it was a good visual along the way to see how far the river drops as we travel downstream.

Ocoee River

Looking over the dam

Ocoee River

Water pours over the dam

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

The Middle Ocoee starts out with a class IV rapid and keeps up the excitement throughout. There were many drops and rapids that kept us having fun. I got the full brunt of many waves on this section, including a couple that hit me right in the face! If your guide is feeling plucky and your raft crew is strong,  you might be lucky enough to surf some of the rapids, and we did just that. We also did some maneuver where the guide had us all sit down in the bottom of the boat while surfing a rapid. The boat gradually filled with water until the wave was nearly washing over the boat and all around us. He then pulled us out of the surf and we all returned to the edge of the raft, soaking wet.

Another cool rapid is the Cat’s Pajamas, a torpedo rapid that shoots you downstream really quickly. After taking the boat through the rapid, we eddied out and pulled up to a large rock. If you jump off the rock into the hole, you will be swept downstream and emerge about 30 yards away. DW, Jake and Chris all jumped several times. After the Pajamas there were a couple more large rapids, including Hell’s Hole and Powerhouse with huge waves and big drops. These last two were the rapids where we were most likely to fall out or flip the boat, but we made it through just fine.

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

DW emerges from Cat’s Pajamas

Ocoee River

Powerhouse rapids

If you look closely behind the blue boat in the photo above you can see a raft getting vertical in the Powerhouse rapid! I don’t know if they fell out, but it looks close. The large red building is the actual powerhouse where water from the wooden flume powers the turbines. After these last two rapids we arrived at our take out just as it began to rain. We all soggily piled into the van and were taken to the area where the other group of rafters were parked and we were able to change into dry clothes for the long haul back to Bryson City. We had an excellent time and I would definitely recommend this Ocoee trip. It was well worth the money.

Me, Cynthia, DW, Chris and Jake rafting the Ocoee like champs!

Our guide Danny, Cynthia, DW, Chris, Jake and Me, rafting the Ocoee like champs!

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