What to do at the US National Whitewater Center

..Do you want to spend a relaxing day by the water, lounging in a hammock and listening to some live music?  Feel like an active day mountain biking on an extensive trail system? How about a day rafting and pushing yourself to the limit on a rope course and zipline?  Maybe you want a chill day doing some yoga or stand up paddleboarding? The US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina can provide all of these activities, and more. It can also make for a great day trip from Raleigh, NC.

Thanks to living fairly close to the USNWC, I have been able to spend over 10 weekends there over the past few years.  On my very first visit, my only plan was to try the rafting as I had no idea all the other activities that they offered.  I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many other activities they offered and the wide variety of events that they host, even in the colder months.  

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USNWC Overview

They have an extensive selection of adrenaline-pumping adventure activities and many calmer activities for those looking to relax and socialize.  Activities I have tried include their trails (both running and mountain biking), ropes course, forest zip line, whitewater rafting, flatwater kayaking, rock climbing, obstacle course race, trail races, and food truck festivals.   A few things still on my list to try in 2020 are the whitewater kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, the zip line over the rapids, and the recently added ice skating rink which includes a skate up bar!

As I mentioned, many people come to the USNWC not to participate in any of the adventure sports, but just to socialize and enjoy the atmosphere at one of their many festivals.  You can bring your own chairs or your own hammock to strap to one of their provided hammock stands and set up right by the rapids to watch all the action.

USNWC Festivals

At the festivals, they usually have a variety of competitions to watch, yoga, food trucks, vendors selling adventure gear, and local bands playing.  The USNWC also offers movie nights which usually highlight outdoor or adventure-themed stories. Are you getting the itch to visit, yet? Let me sweeten the pot for those of you who are animal lovers – they are pet-friendly!  Dogs must be kept on a leash, but are welcome throughout the property. I’ve brought my pup along several times and she loves finding new furry friends there.

What to do at the US National Whitewater Center

My three favorite festivals at the USNWC:

What to do at the US National Whitewater Center

Though I’m not a runner, I have participated in several 5k races at the USNWC to push myself into trying new things.   They have a wide variety of trail races which provide such good scenery in the woods, but all the switchbacks and elevation changes provided quite a challenge as I’d only run street races in the past.

For something a little less challenging, I would recommend the Color Me Green Run that they hold around St. Patrick’s Day.  On this day, they dye the whitewater rapids green for the day, and during the race, you get green coloring thrown at you at intervals along the way, so you definitely won’t get pinched!

Another new option they added in 2019 was their Scrambler Obstacle course race which I believe they will offer again in 2020.  This event was run in teams of 2 and each team had to navigate and work together to get through each obstacle throughout the race.  My teammate and I finished close to the back of the pack on this one as it was quite a feat to get through the obstacles, but we still had a blast.

What to do at the US National Whitewater Center

Cold weather races that are still on my bucket list:

The USNWC is constantly evolving and adding new events and activities. They are installing an ice skating rink for the first time at the end of 2019.  If you’re planning a visit this year or next, go ahead and sign up for their newsletter. Then you can be kept up to date on their entire schedule!

Tips for your first visit to the US National Whitewater Center

  • There is a restaurant that has both indoor and outdoor seating. They also have an area by the rapids where you can purchase food and beer. Plus an area to buy energy bars and sports drinks.
  • There is a gift shop where you can pick up USNWC merchandise along with a lot of other outdoor gear.  If you participate in one of their races, sometimes you will receive discounts at their gift shop.
  • Bring your own sunscreen and chairs or blankets if coming for the festivals, movies, and concerts.
  • There are lockers available to leave your belongings while you participate in the activities.  Fees are $2 per use for small ones or $10 per day for storage bins for larger bags.
  • If going with friends, try to carpool so you only have to pay for one parking fee.
  • If rafting, it is likely you may take a dip in the water because the guides like to do things like send your boat down the rapids backward.  I personally have not fallen in, but have seen many other rafters in the water. Don’t worry though, they have guides with lifelines around every corner, so you won’t be in danger.
  • You can rent mountain bikes and they have trails with several levels of difficulty.
  • There is a climbing wall with auto-belay ropes as well as several climbing walls that are over the water that you see pictured below
  • On Friday evenings from May through September, they offer a wide variety of FREE clinics on outdoor and sporting topics.

Other Activities at US National Whitewater Center

The USNWC offers many other services for those wanting to further their education. It is also great for companies wanting to build camaraderie among their employees.

  1. Certifications and Instruction
  2. Team Development
  3. Field Trips
  4. Summer Camps
  5. Adventure Dining

Pricing and Parking at the US National Whitewater Center

Now that you have a good feel for the activities they offer, you might be wondering if admission costs an arm and a leg!   I have found their prices to be quite reasonable compared to similar venues. You can see the prices below, but one thing I love about them is that you don’t have to purchase a pass to enter the facility.   

After parking is paid (usually $6 per vehicle), you are free to enjoy their festivals and just relax by the water.  To participate in any of the sporting activities, you will need to purchase a pass and a reservation is recommended for the rafting since there are only a certain number of slots each day.  If you plan to visit more than a few times per year, the season pass is absolutely worth the money. I definitely recommend arriving early on festival and race days to avoid the crowds as it is quite a popular place.

Whether you live in the Southeast US or if you’re looking for vacation inspiration for 2020, you won’t be disappointed with a trip to the US National Whitewater Center.  I’d recommend making a whole weekend out of it.  

So, what do you think?  Will I see you there in 2020?  If you’re looking for something unique to do for New Year’s Eve, why not join me at their inaugural New Year’s Eve Trail Race?  Start your race in 2019 and end in 2020!


Emily is a nutrition and movement coach certified by The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has made it her goal to plank in every continent. After struggling with serious health issues for several years, she learned the importance of embracing healthy living both at home and on her travels.

She started her blog, The Planking Traveler as a way to share her passion for wellness with others. Her goal is to inspire you to embrace enjoyable movement and optimal nutrition as a sustainable lifestyle instead of just a temporary fix to lose weight. Follow along with her healthy adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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