U.S. National Whitewater Center
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On Gaston County’s eastern edge, along the Catawba River, lies a 1,300-acre playground. The nonprofit U.S. National Whitewater Center has one goal: to encourage people to get outdoors. The centerpiece is the largest manmade whitewater course in the world, where paddling novices as young as 8 years old navigate class II and III rapids and elite athletes up their training on class IV rapids in preparation for the Olympic games.
The center also embraces its natural neighbor, sending kayakers and paddlers along the Catawba River’s flat water. River trips afford floaters wildlife views and a peaceful serenity that comes with gently drifting water. In all, the USNWC offers more than 30 land- and water-based activities. The center also supports complementary components of an active lifestyle, such as live music, fresh food and craft beverages. A visit here stirs a desire to make the outdoors a daily destination.
Paddle, Climb, Hike
AND BIKE AT USNWC
Whitewater rafting is a must at USNWC — it’s in the name after all. Rapids range from classes II to IV, and experiences vary from beginner to advanced. All options include a professional guide. Experienced paddlers may take on the whitewater course by kayak. For a flat-water float on Catawba River or Long Creek, choose from single and tandem kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Zipline courses stretch across the center’s campus. Varying from 200 feet to more than 1,000 feet long, ziplines carry passengers above the tree canopy and across the whitewater course. Traverse platforms, cargo nets and bridges on one of several ropes courses, or inch to the top of the rock at one of the region’s largest outdoor climbing facilities. The property contains 45 miles of trails ideal for hiking, mountain biking and trail running. Most USNWC activities require a pass. All-access passes cover every activity for one to two days, or single activity passes cover one activity for a certain day. Annual passes are also available.
Disconnect & Reconnect
The center encourages friends, couples and families to spend full days here, not only playing outdoors, but also eating together, listening to music, laughing and making memories. River’s Edge restaurant serves a hearty menu of salads, sandwiches, burgers and protein-packed plates. Vegetarian options are plentiful, and kids enjoy their own menu. A large deck overlooks the whitewater river. Pumphouse Biergarten is a favorite spot for cooling down and toasting the day. Choose from 60 craft beers and several casual food options. The Adventure Dining series pairs paddling or ziplining with a chef-curated meal.
Music events at USNWC have become nearly as popular as outdoor activities. An outdoor stage and lawn play host to River Jam from May through September. The concert series brings roots rock, Americana, bluegrass, folk and funk acts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. During the year, festivals pair races, runs and athletic competitions with music and food for an all-day outdoor experience.
Just for Kids
Kids learn through play at USNWC. A series of weeklong summer day camps encourages children to build physical skills, work together as a team and develop an active lifestyle that will serve them well for many years. Designed for ages 8 to 18, camps cover adventures from paddling and climbing to biking and hiking. Survival camp and backcountry camping take kids into the forest to teach the basics of wilderness know-how, from setting up a tent to building a fire.
USNWC field trips encourage students to appreciate their natural surroundings and teach skills for outdoor enjoyment. Classes and activities parallel North Carolina educational standards and add a hands-on component to supplement classroom instruction.