Zip and Zen at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
Looking to add a little zip or zen to your fall to-do list? Plan an excursion to the U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) in Charlotte and discover a wealth of activities that will get your pulse pumping and your soul singing – from trails to rafting to the ever-popular canopy zipline tour.
Located on approximately 700 acres of woodlands, the USNWC is a locally owned nonprofit that has been promoting the thrill of the outdoors since 2006, with programs that encourage the art of playing, relaxing and pushing your boundaries.
“The U.S. National Whitewater Center’s mission has always been to promote healthy and active lifestyles, develop environmental stewardship, and encourage family and civic interaction,” says Eric Osterhus, USNWC brand manager. “We want to provide a place where people can enjoy all that the outdoor lifestyle has to offer, which is why we continue to develop new and creative ways for guests to play, relax and learn outside.”
Elisabeth Podair is a regular visitor to the center; she enjoys running the trails, mountain biking, rock climbing and stand-up paddle boarding.
“I highly recommend stopping by and getting in some active time before kicking back with a beverage, enjoying some music and being outdoors,” she says. “Usually, we try and make a few hours out of it. We get a run in, and then grab some food or drinks while relaxing by the whitewater.”
But for a special autumn afternoon, you can’t beat the canopy tour, which offers a chance to feel at one with the paint-by-number view of the changing fall leaves. The canopy tour challenges participants both athletically and mentally, and gives the sensation of being a part of the trees.
“The canopy tour is like kissing the trees,” Podair says. “It’s exciting enough to push your boundaries if you are a fairly outdoorsy person, and a pretty zen way to appreciate nature.”
She praises the staff at USNWC, who can adapt the tour to guests’ comfort level.
“The canopy tour has become an increasingly popular fall activity at the USNWC, offering one of the most unique ways to explore the woodlands along the Catawba River,” Osterhus says. “Our various ropes courses and ziplines have also proven to be very popular, and are available to guests with the AllSport and CoolSport passes. For guests looking to enjoy some hiking or mountain biking, our trail system offers more than 25 miles of trails, ranging from beginner to intermediate and advanced difficulty.”
Christina Snodgrass enjoys the ziplines and the various ropes courses available at the center.
“I think they are a great workout, both physically and mentally,” she says. “Ziplining gives you a chance to relax and take in the scenery while still enjoying an exhilarating rush from being so high off the ground. It is great to see the USNWC from up above. You can wave at rafters and kayaks below you as you go over the rapids.”
Snodgrass says participants need to allot several hours for the ziplines, and it’s best to be comfortable with heights and the feeling of being suspended. The ropes courses require participants to be somewhat physically fit and confident.
Maura Bosbyshell visits the center weekly with her husband, and she enjoys the high-ropes courses as well as rafting. The center offers a range of ropes courses, from low to medium to high.
“They’re fun and challenging, and mostly about confidence and balance,” Bosbyshell says. “You see people of all ages on the ropes courses. There is a new medium height course on the island that is pretty neat. There is a higher course over a ravine that is stunningly beautiful. I find these courses to be both relaxing and exciting at the same time.”
She adds, “Overall, the Whitewater Center is a beautiful facility where you can eat, drink and relax. But the rafting, ropes and trail biking can definitely be exciting!”
The USNWC extends its activities through the end of November, including rafting, which is tailored for a range of skill levels.
Participants can select family rafting for younger guests or for those new to whitewater. Adventure rafting provides a thrilling trip through Class III-IV rapids. Both are available through the center’s AllSport pass option.
Regardless of the activity you choose, the USNWC captivates visitors, tapping into the primal need for outdoor adventures.
“I love the USNWC because it feels like a mountain vacation in my backyard,” Snodgrass says. “It is so lush and beautiful. There is something for everyone, and you can’t help but want to move and be fit while you are there!”
Podair agrees. “I love any time I can be outside, and I love that there are many free activities at the USNWC; you don’t have to have a pass to enjoy the facility,” she says. “It brings people of all ages and walks of life together, and that is beautiful.”
– Karsen Price