Whitewater fun on the Hiwassee & Ocoee Rivers
The Ocoee River and Hiwassee River Blueway are nationally recognized rivers, well-known for their scenic beauty and water recreation opportunities. The Hiwassee is great for canoeing, rafting and fishing, while the Ocoee provides Class III and IV whitewater rapids. Both rivers flow through the Cherokee National Forest in Southeast Tennessee.
The Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park manages river recreation access points on both rivers. The park’s office and visitor center is located at Gee Creek Campground in Delano, Tenn., which features primitive tent sites, group sites, river access and a 1-mile hiking trail. Forest Service trails for hiking and horseback riding can be accessed across the road from the visitor center.
The Hiwassee River
The Hiwassee River offers family-friendly whitewater adventure and trout fishing in the upper section of the river and motorized water recreation, bass fishing and bird watching in the lower section. The river meanders through the Cherokee National Forest and the historic towns of Reliance, Delano, Charleston and Calhoun, offering spectacular views of the regional natural landscape and numerous cultural heritage sites.
The upper section of the Hiwassee River was designated as the state’s first Scenic River. With gentler rapids than the Ocoee River – primarily Class I and Class II with an occasional Class III – the Hiwassee is a family-friendly river for paddling and tubing. Funyaks, kayaks and tubes are available for rent at two outfitters in Reliance, Tenn.: Webb Bros. Float Service and Hiwassee Outfitters.
For those looking to hike, the John Muir National Recreation Trail is a great way to experience the Hiwassee River by land. The trail begins at Childers Creek in Reliance and follows the river to Appalachia Dam.
The state park also manages river access at a take-out point in Reliance, Tenn., for paddlers who put in at the Appalachia Powerhouse 5.4 miles upstream.
Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park is also home to the historic Fort Marr Blockhouse, which was built as part of the War of 1812 and was also used during the Cherokee Removal of 1838.
A few miles to the south lies the Ocoee River, the Southeast’s most popular whitewater destination, hosting over 250,000 paddlers a year. A recent study determined that recreation on the Ocoee River contributes $43 million annually to the economy within 60 miles of the river.
With Class III and Class IV rapids, the Ocoee features a 4.5-mile stretch of whitewater downstream from Ocoee Dam #2. Another attraction is a section upstream at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, where the riverbed was redesigned for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics whitewater event. U.S. Highway 64 follows the shoreline of the Ocoee River for 15 miles from Parksville Lake’s Ocoee Dam #1 to the Whitewater Center and provides easy access.
The scenic 1,900-acre Parksville Lake, also known as Lake Ocoee, offers a variety of recreational opportunities, including water skiing, jet skiing, pontoon boating, fishing, two public swimming areas, and more. Just upstream from the lake, a 2-mile section of the river before reaching rapids provides good flatwater paddling.
The Ocoee Whitewater Center, operated by the Forest Service, is also the trailhead for over 30 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails known as the Tanasi Trail system.
Recreation areas along the Ocoee managed by the Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park include the Sugarloaf Mountain Park, a day use area just below Ocoee Dam #1, the Big Creek and Caney Creek access points (public and commercial take out sites respectively), Rogers Branch Access at Ocoee Dam #2, and the Upper Ocoee Access just below Ocoee Dam #3.
The upper section of the Ocoee is usually open for paddling more than 50 days each year, with the middle section being open more than 100 days.
When water isn’t being released into the river for recreational use, much of it gets diverted for power generation. A large pipe carries water from Dam #3 to the Ocoee Powerhouse #3 just upstream from Dam #2. From Dam #2, a flume carries water along the mountainside above the river for nearly 5 miles to Powerhouse #2.
Click here for TVA’s recreation release schedules for all three Ocoee dams as well as the Hiwassee’s Appalachia Dam.
Find a list of companies offering guided rafting trips on the Ocoee, local outdoor stores, and businesses that offer kayak instruction or rent funyaks, tubes, standup paddleboards and more here.
Find fishing services here.
For directions, maps, contact information and more, visit the Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park website.
Article by Bob Butters, Nickajack Naturalist