This is a guest post by my husband, Paul Entin. Unfortunately, I was attending a business conference and was not able to whitewater raft with my family, but you can be sure we’ll be planning another trip there in the future.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center desperately needs a new name – one that truly does justice to such an inspiring destination. Sure, this Charlotte, North Carolina facility is known worldwide as a premier whitewater training center – it hosted the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials for canoe events, after all. But while whitewater delivers the big splash, it’s really just the centerpiece of a total outdoor adventure theme park. Mountain biking, hiking, zip lining, rock climbing, eco-trekking, and other dry land activities are set throughout the sprawling 400-acre, wooded area. This is Disney World for a rugged, active outdoor enthusiast. And since I used to be part of that set yet somehow failed to pass it on to my kids, ages 7 and 13, I jumped at the chance to show them that riding rapids in a raft would be far more fun than riding the couch playing video games.
The whitewater rafting trips are held on the largest recirculating, man-made river in the world. Think of the lazy river at your favorite water park. Then add rapids – up to class IV. These rafting trips are billed as Family Rafting, Adventure Rafting and Rodeo Rafting. All of the trips are guided and they all share the same river (it’s a big oval). The difference is in the line taken through the river. Family trips ride through class II and III rapids only, adventure trips add class IV and rodeo trips are promoted as extreme swimming that may include some time in the raft. That one’s not for children but kids as young as eight are welcome on the family trip. Rafting times are reserved at the ticket window and fill up fast.
About 20 minutes before each rafting trip, all participants attend a safety presentation. The focus is on what to do when falling out of the raft. Some might find it alarming and/or scary but it is important and it’s unlikely that family rafters will spill out from the raft. Adventure and rodeo rafters will almost definitely take a spill (or two) so please do pay attention. After the presentation, everyone walks to the water for a personal flotation device, helmet and paddle. Several guides help locate the right sizes for everyone, they help with any adjustments and then check everyone again for proper fit before allowing anyone onto a raft. We were grouped with a family of four who were Charlotte-area locals on a day trip during summer vacation. Our guide, Jose, paid close attention to all of the kids throughout the trip. Jose often commanded “Paddle twice left!” “Paddle back once!” and everyone paddled, though, he really didn’t need anyone to paddle, he was fully in control. The trips last around 1-1/2 hrs. By the third time around the loop my youngest and her new friend had given their paddles to Jose.
Everyone had a phenomenal time rafting. Everyone got wet and nobody fell out, though we came close enough to experience the thrill of the whitewater I’d described on our drive to Charlotte. For the kids, their favorite part was called surfing, where Jose would park the bow of the raft at the bottom of a section of rapids and soak everyone as if under a waterfall. Smiles all around. Now when I mention a rafting or canoeing trip, my kids are far more interested and maybe even excited.
We dried off while eating a fine lunch outdoors at the River’s Edge restaurant. The kids ravaged the bruschetta appetizer – very tasty seasonings. Out-of-staters beware, North Carolina state law requires hamburgers to be charred to at least well done. I couldn’t help but raise the issue with our server, not because I wanted my burger cooked medium but because I object to the state dictating how our food is to be cooked.
After a few minutes climbing on and jumping from a variety of entry level, kid-friendly rock climbing formations, we called it a day, and a good one. If it weren’t so close to the city, they both would’ve slept on the ride back to the hotel downtown. All in all, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is a thrilling family adventure destination that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, families and otherwise. The next time I go to Charlotte for a trade show or conference, I’ll be taking an extra day to go rafting.
A variety of ticket options are available. The AllSport Daily Pass ($54.00 for adults, $44.00 children nine and under) allows use of all whitewater and dry land activities for the entire day. This offers maximum convenience and flexibility so when the kids see the rock climbing wall or decide they really do want to try kayaking or feel ready to try single track mountain biking, these and all other activities are already included. The QuickSport Pass, by contrast, allows purchase of a single activity such as biking or kayaking but requires a separate payment each time. Parking is $5.00.