Ocoee River, Tennessee – An Olympic Getaway

RR September 7, 2010 2 Comments


A Slow-paced Day Trip to an Action-packed Destination

Labor Day weekend has come and gone declaring summer officially over.  We couldn’t just let this beautiful summer go without another drive to the North Georgia mountains.

If you read 4 Reasons A Road Trip is Better Than Flying, you already know that our family just needs an excuse to get into the car and start driving and good times are guaranteed! Add to that a scenic 2-hour drive, spectacular views, beautiful weather, a 3-day weekend, almost-empty highways and a visit to the Centennial Olympic Center at Ocoee River …and you can see why I’m so excited to share the experience and memories with you.

The biggest takeaway from this trip was that sometimes you don’t have to have a plan or itinerary to make it an enjoyable vacation…or staycation, if you prefer.  There are times when the secret to a great family getaway lies in not knowing what exactly you’ll be doing, where you’ll be getting off, where you’ll eat or what you’ll see.  I usually don’t recommend leaving on a trip with children without a concrete plan and a backup, but this was one occasion when we did just that and what do you know?! It turned out to be perfect.  

Our destination: Ocoee River Tennessee – Venue of the 1996 Centennial Olympics White Water events

Centennial Olympics Center, Ocoee River Tennessee

Getting there

We started at about 10 am and headed North from Atlanta, taking I 75 and US highways 411 and 64. After a couple of hours of driving through gorgeous mountain roads and  enjoying the view from scenic overlooks, we arrived at Cascade Outdoors – a company offering white water rafting trips on the Ocoee, and ventured  in to see if they had any packages appropriate for our family. Unfortunately, they didn’t recommend any for our 4-year old daughter, but were helpful enough to point us towards the venue of Centennial Olympics, where they promised we’d be able to catch some of the action second-hand.  

And so we proceeded to do just that, taking in more of the mountain air and breathtaking views of the Ocoee river alongside the road. We spotted several families enjoying the riverside –walking, riding bikes, splashing around in designated swimming areas and a small beach.  We arrived at the promised Centennial Olympics Center shortly after and were starving by then. I must admit, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed that there were hardly any restaurants, cafes or eateries along the way for miles, so the sign Whitewater Cafe was a welcome relief as we parked and got out. Whitewater Cafe Ocoee River Tennessee

A + for Location – C for Food

Whitewater Café is located on the banks of the Ocoee River, right at the spot where the Olympic events were held.  Location-wise, you can’t complain. It was perfect with a great view of the river and its rapids from the upper and lower decks, easy access to the suspension bridge that takes you across to the other bank, walking and biking trails and plenty of open space to just take in the fresh mountain air and dip your feet in the cool, refreshing waters of the Ocoee.  The menu however, isn’t much to write home about, at least for vegetarians like us. We’re used to not finding too many options in tourist spots and are more than happy to settle for a simple wrap or a garden salad, albeit exorbitantly priced. But this place offered neither and so we had no choice but to order a cup of Curry Macaroni, a few slices of brown bread (that’s right – plain, brown bread) and a bag of Chex Mix for our lunch. This was one of those rare occasions when we didn’t bring our own lunch (unplanned trip, remember?) and it’s not something we intend to do very often, with good reason – as you can see.

Anyway, the view made it easier to enjoy the ‘meal’ (and the curry Macaroni wasn’t too bad – apparently a house specialty).

Experiencing the Ocoee
Suspension Bridge Ocoee River TennesseeWith lunch behind us and no itinerary to rush us, we were all set for a relaxed afternoon by the river. We found a great spot on the rocks from where the three of us could enjoy the afternoon sun, the cool water and all the action on the Ocoee. And action there was plenty of! It was such a treat to watch rafters – experienced and amateur – tackle the gushing class 3 and 4 rapids of the Ocoee.  Who says you have to be in the middle of all the action to have fun? (Who am I kidding – we can’t wait to come back here when our daughter is older and face the rapids head-on!) We spent about an hour watching rafters and kayakers conquer the white water and it was just a very calming, relaxing time for all of us.  If something can hold the attention of a 4-year old and keep her put for as long as that – it has my stamp of approval!

After a while, we decided to take a walk by the riverside. The rocky terrain makes it an interesting challenge for kids. Of course, there’s a walkway right beside it if you prefer.  Ocoee River Tennessee Rafting

We enjoyed a quiet and refreshing stroll over the bridge to the other bank, and back along the riverside to the spot where we had parked.   If you have young children, don’t forget to bring their bikes.  This place has some beautiful trails they won’t want to miss riding on.

Over to Lake Blue Ridge

We chose to drive back heading south via highways 68 and 5 so we could stop by Lake Blue Ridge, another spot we hadn’t been to before.  It is from Lake Blue Ridge that the Toccoa River flows, which changes into the Ocoee at the Tennessee-Georgia border. Unfortunately they aren’t currently offering boat rentals or any other packages this season. So, we’ll just have to come back next summer. We also plan to head to Toccoa River next time, which is a little farther north and apparently more suited to families with young children. If you plan to go tubing or rafting with kids in this area, Toccoa River is where you should be headed.

Bidding farewell to the beautiful North Georgia Mountains, we started driving back, enjoying views of small towns such as McCaysville and main streets along the way.  Another interesting and relaxing way to explore and enjoy the area with kids is to take the 26 mile round-trip train ride from Blue Ridge to McCaysville on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. This is a 4-hour trip, however, so you might have to start early in the day depending on where you live. We considered and then dropped this idea since we take our daughter on the Stone Mountain train ride at least twice a year and have recently been on several train rides during our vacation in India.

Ocoee River TennesseeSo there you have it – a gorgeous day in Georgia, doing pretty much nothing come to think about it, but experiencing so much all the same. We came back relaxed, rejuvenated and refreshed and we have the pictures to prove it!

I’m more convinced than ever that when it comes to a great family trip – sometimes you don’t have to do, you just have to be.

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RR writes on intentional parenting, holistic living, travel and other topics. Visit her blog on reading to kids

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2 Comments to “Ocoee River, Tennessee – An Olympic Getaway”
  1. avatar Katie says:

    Sounds like you had a great trip! I’m a local to the area and wanted to update you on the Whitewater Cafe. We’re vegetarian, too, and went looking for something to eat there just yesterday. They were super helpful and went out of their way to make us something nice. We chatted about possible vegetarian options, and I’d be willing to bet that next time you go you’ll be able to get something you like!

    If you want to take your 4-year-old rafting, I recommend the nearby Hiawassee river. I take my 3-year-old on it quite a bit, and he loves it. (Very tame river–I’ve floated down it on an inner-tube.)

  2. avatar RR says:

    Thanks Katie. That’s great info – will surely check it out w our daughter this summer.