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An Insider's Guide to the US National Whitewater Center

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

When U.S. National Whitewater Center Executive Director Jeff Wise first started talking about building a concrete whitewater river in the Charlotte Metro Area, most people couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept. More than 10 years later, the 1,300-acre facility is not only a reality, but it has become the hub of Charlotte’s growing outdoor adventure scene.

One-third amusement park, one-third nature preserve, and one-third restaurant/concert venue, the center opened in 2006 and offers rafting, whitewater paddling, flatwater paddling, climbing, ropes courses, ziplines, mountain biking, trail running, and yoga. Festivals, concerts, races, an adventure film series, and culinary events like Zipline and Dine and Paddle to Table give regulars reason to come back again and again.

And if that’s not enough, it’s also the U.S. Olympic training site for world-class canoe and kayakers.

What to Expect

Three connected concrete channels of class I-III whitewater flow from a pond at the top of the channels to a pond at the bottom. Continuous, two-hour rafting trips, made possible with a conveyor belt that transports paddlers in rafts from the lower pond back to upper pond, are the center’s cornerstone activity. While not connected to the whitewater channel, the Catawba River just down the hill provides a serene setting to rent a kayak or SUP board and perfect your flatwater paddling technique. The Catawba River, which serves as the border between Mecklenburg and Gaston counties, is a popular destination for flatwater paddling in the region. Visitors will find the closest hotels and other amenities in nearby Mt. Holly and Belmont, N.C.

Back at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, more than 40 miles of beginner to expert mountain biking trails flow along the whitewater and up and down the steep banks of the Catawba. Novice, intermediate, and advanced loops let you introduce your kids to the sport in the morning then shred miles of technical singletrack in the afternoon. Trail use is shared with runners and hikers, and keep an eye to the sky to see people sailing overhead on the Center’s four ziplines. Climb all day on one of the largest climbing walls in the Southeast and the five free climbing spires of Deep Water Solo, where routes up to 45 feet high end with a drop into the pool below. School, church, and corporate groups regular go out for an afternoon of team-building on the high ropes course.

Something for Everyone

While the Whitewater Race Series draws athletes to compete in more than 30 events ranging from the traditional trail runs and climbing competitions to out-of-the box events like building and racing your own boat, festivals give you the opportunity to slow down and be a spectator or simply hang a hammock and enjoy a craft beer. Summer camps and instructional programs in whitewater and flatwater paddling, climbing, wilderness medicine and survival, swiftwater rescue, and first aid introduce younger generations and newcomers to the outdoor lifestyle.

From the very beginning, the non-profit USNWC was designed to give people who love adventure sports a convenient place to indulge their passion while encouraging active living and environmental stewardship in those who have never experienced or had access to the outdoors. Each year, new trails, sports, and events give regulars a reason to come back and let visitors experience something they might otherwise only see on TV.

Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with Gaston County Gov.


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