The U.S. National Whitewater Center, Charlotte, NC

Am I the only one who enjoys being thrown from a raft while traveling down choppy, rocky, and oftentimes violent waters? I like to think I’m not alone in that regard but that wasn’t necessarily my expectation when I ventured out to the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Having lived in the Charlotte area for a few months, I was eager to pay a visit to the center. Plus, I knew there was fun to be had as the U.S. Olympic team trains there, it’s true the sign says so!

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Let me introduce you to the Whitewater Center before we go on. If you haven’t heard of it, and I’m sure if you’re not from the area you probably haven’t, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is basically an outdoor adventurer’s dream, located on I-85 about 10 minutes away from the center of Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s basically a large plot of land turned into a legitimate adventure center, similar to the way an amusement park is set up. The admission is relatively inexpensive and there is tons to do; whitewater rafting, whitewater kayaking, still-water kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, zip lining, trail courses, the list goes on and on.

The great thing about this particular center is that there’s always a wide variety of people enjoying the day; you’ve got families making a fun day trip out of it; buses full of huge parties; teenagers who don’t live close enough to hangout at the beach; daily practitioners honing their craft on the rock wall or rapids; and people who just love the outdoors. Even though, or maybe because, there’s a huge variety of people you never feel out of place. Some centers like this tend to make the people who are just looking to have a good time feel out of place if their not exceptionally proficient at the whole outdoors scene but this wasn’t the case here. As a matter of fact, while rafting I spent a majority of my time trying to get our whitewater rafting guide to hit the rapids as violent as possible in order to flip the raft and throw us all into the rushing water (what can I say, I like to push the limits) but one of my fellow passengers was not too keen on that idea. Long story short, the guide put as much energy as possible into nullifying my efforts so our fellow passenger was able to enjoy the day as well. Hey, I tried right? But in all seriousness, it’s actually quite refreshing to see an adventure center like this looking out for the interest of the group as a whole rather than catering to the more experienced, albeit eccentric, individuals like myself.

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After I was thoroughly drenched from the rafting, I decided to head over to the rock wall and do some climbing. The way they have the rock climbing area set up is pretty unique in that they have two different climbing areas available that cater to different skill levels. The first area is open to anybody and is monitored by staff members to maintain safety and help everyone out. There are three or four different walls that offer thousands of different climbing routes and they use an ingenious self-belaying setup so you don’t have to waste any time belaying someone when you’d rather be racing them up the wall. This section also has a bouldering wall, so if you’d rather test yourself with a little more technical climbing then you have that option. Now, there is a second climbing area, offset from the first climbing area, for more advanced climbers. You have to take certain classes, safety classes mostly, to be able to use this second are and this is where you’re going to find the people who really look like they know what they’re doing. The walls are a lot more technically challenging and some of the routes can get downright absurd…I was intrigued.

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Of course I can’t go four hours without eating so we had to make our way to their restaurant, the River’s Edge Bar and Grill. They have it set up so you can sit outside on the patio, which overlooks some of the rougher white waters, and watch people get thrashed or you can eat inside the much needed air conditioned lounge. The food was a little bit pricey but there was something for everyone; vegan meals, gluten-free meals, hummus, BBQ and they happened to have sweet potato fries which happen to be one of my favorites. They offered one particular meal that I thought was hilarious, it was called The Tree Hugger and it had tofu, beets and some other “appetizing” ingredients.

And finally, I had to spend some time sniffing around the store they have on campus and they had some pretty cool stuff inside. They had just about any gear that you could even think about needing; rash guards, board shorts, shoes (they had Vibram FiveFingers!), flip-flops, hats, glasses, climbing gear, pants, shirts, wet suits, again the list just goes on and on.

So when you go check out the U.S. National Whitewater Center make sure you bring sunscreen, enough water for you and your dog (yep they’re dog friendly), maybe some extra clothes to change into, and an appetite for adventure. Also, stop in the store and pick up some gear and if you happen to pick up an extra rash guard, in black, that is an XL and you want to give it to me…

Disclosure: This was a personal trip and I was in no way influenced by the US National Whitewater Center to write these opinions

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