I recently found myself in Tennessee for work – prior to the trip I didn’t really have any expectations for what the state would be like. For one, I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful. If someone were to say to me, “what’s one takeaway from your visit to Ocoee?”, I would respond by letting them know just how beautiful the area truly is! Coming from Montana, I have a different perception of what mountains are supposed to look like – tall, rugged, and inhabitable. This wasn’t the case at all – the mountains are short, densely forested, and appear to be a wonderful habitat for life of all sizes. I left Tennessee with a newfound appreciation for their mountains. I also didn’t realize how close the river is to so many major cities – it’s just a short drive from Chattanooga and Knoxville, and it’s even really close to Nashville and Atlanta – we drove down the morning of from Nashville.
The trip was a bit of a whirlwind. We flew into Nashville, rented a car and drove to Memphis for meetings, drove back to Nashville the following night, and then headed south to Ocoee early the following morning. I’ve heard the legend of the Ocoee River, but I don’t think I fully grasped what a hotspot it is for river enthusiasts. We passed outfitter after outfitter on our way to meet up with our guides at Ocoee Outdoors and were constantly being passed by a stream of loaded down yellow school buses with rafts strapped to the top returning from the river. We later found out from our guide that there are upwards of 8,000 people being guided down the river on a busy summer day, and this is where I think it really became evident to me and my co-workers that we made the right decision by booking with Ocoee Outdoors. You could tell that they were in it for all of the right reasons – they truly cared about giving us an unforgettable experience rather than just getting us down the river as quickly as possible.
The Meeting – What to Expect at the Office?
Here’s a little run down of what you can expect from a day with Ocoee Outdoors. We met up with the office staff – Meg, Dawn, Michelle, and Nate who got us situated with our liability waivers, told us a bit about the property and were overall just very kind and eager to share a little history of Ocoee Outdoors with us. For example, you might not know that the river is in a way run by TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), as the Middle Ocoee is dammed at the top with a hydroelectric plant at the bottom of the river. Every night the flow to the river is cut off and water is redirected to the hydroelectric plant at the bottom of the river – pretty amazing to think about when you’re on the river! The office staff, of course, plays a major role in the entire process as they are the ones you first speak with, the ones who get you all set up for your day on the river, and the ones there to greet you when you get off the river. The Ocoee Outdoors office staff is as good as they get and they truly made the entire experience that much better!
So, let’s jump ahead a few hours to 1:00 pm for our Middle Ocoee river tour – we filled out our waivers and headed over to meet the rest of the group for the safety talk before being ushered through the building to grab life jackets, helmets, and paddles. After grabbing our equipment we piled on to a big yellow school bus and headed down the highway towards the river. The excitement was really building now as we’d seen bus after bus heading down this stretch of highway earlier in the day, and it was finally our turn to head to the water.
The River – What’s the Ocoee River Like?
We pulled up to the river put in to be greeted by a sea of people – at this point, I wasn’t aware that some 8,000 people/day go down the Ocoee River. We offloaded the bus and went to meet up with our guide, Nickie, who was sitting on a raft waiting for us. She asked for volunteers to ride up front, so my coworker and myself quickly volunteered to take the spot, and then everyone else piled into the boat. The next few minutes were spent practicing paddling and she gave us a little run down of the river. For other whitewater rafting trips I’ve been on, they just practice paddling on the river, but there’s a pretty crucial rapid right out of the gates so the practice needed to take place on dry land.
After our little land practice session, we all carried the raft down to the put in. We were moving with the sea of people, and it was hard for me to envision all of us moving down the river at the same time, but it honestly worked just fine! Once at the bottom of the ramp, we put the front of our raft in the water with the back little bit set up on the concrete. After a little rocking from Nickie, we were finally off and making our way down the famous Ocoee River! We had about 20 seconds of casual water to start and then it was full-on – there were really only a couple of slow spots on the river, and the rest was non-stop adventure. This stretch of the river is just riddled with rapids and once we started it was pretty relentless the whole tour – until we stopped at Jump Rock of course. Jump Rock is a bit of a gem that only those who go with Ocoee Outdoors get to experience! We pulled over at Jump Rock and tied the boat up to some bolts on the rock, and then all the other boats tied onto ours… except for 1 boat – this boat was (intentionally) flipped upside down on the rock so we could use it as a slip-n-slide! Everyone got to start at the top of the rock, run down a few steps, and then jump onto the raft – you would then slide out into the river and then swim back to catch the eddy. We hung out here for about 20 minutes or so with the entire fleet of Ocoee Outdoors groups that was going at the same time (about 7 boats in total) – we did this while the other groups floated by looking on with jealousy.
Jump Rock was a little before the halfway point in our trip – once back in the boats, we picked our way through some extremely technical sections of the river. Our guide, Nickie, did an incredible job of getting us through these sections – sections, where other companies’ guides got hung up, were no problem for ours. That’s another really awesome thing about Ocoee Outdoors – all of their guides are lead guides meaning they have years and years of experience, and for a river like the Ocoee, this is something that is really important when looking for a guide service to raft with. From Jump Rock, we had a few more really exciting rapids to make it through – and shortly after that, we made our way to the takeout.
The Post Trip – What to Expect at the End?
We got off the river a couple of hours after the tour started – soaking wet, and smiling from a great day on the river. We loaded up on the bus while our guides loaded the rafts on top of the bus and made our way back to the Ocoee Outdoors headquarters – said our goodbyes to Nickie and the rest of the staff, bought t-shirts, and photos from the day, and hit the road. I’d always heard amazing things about the Ocoee River, and it truly did not disappoint! I would say I’ve rafted quite a bit in my life, and this was hands down the best river that I’ve ever been on – I can’t recommend rafting the Ocoee enough, and I strongly urge you to book with Ocoee Outdoors when you do – the friendly, accommodating staff, the world-class guides, and their enthusiasm for the Ocoee River really made the trip the great experience that it was.