I’m a big believer in the notion that if you find your fitness passion, you’ll have no problem staying in shape. Trouble is, it can take a while to find that passion, especially in the outdoor adventure arena. It can take a while, but it doesn’t have to.
Not when you can do nearly all your searching in one spot. Like the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. Despite its paddle-centric name, the Whitewater Center is a Disneyland of outdoor adventure.
When it opened in 2006, it was touted as a state-of-the-art training facility for the U.S. Olympic Team’s paddling athletes. (The Center was key to USA Canoe & Kayak’s decision to relocate to Charlotte.) Yet the non-profit’s mission is far greater: to promote healthy and active lifestyles, develop environmental stewardship and “encourage family and civic interaction.”
What that means to you: A 400-acre playground where you can get a taste of the mainstream and the eclectic in outdoor adventure. Including:
- Whitewater rafting. The center’s most popular activity, according to spokesman Stephen Youngblade. The park’s manmade river includes an upper run with Class II and III water, a lower run with Class III and IV. After a 20-minute orientation you spend about an hour on the water, making multiple loops thanks to a rubber conveyor belt that takes your raft from the end of a run back to the top. (The river is fed by an underground well, its average capacity is 12 million gallons, it flows about 1,200 cubic feet per second, water is transported back upstream via seven pumps each with about 700 horsepower.) After sharing a boat with guide Natalie, a high school student and three sisters, I came off the river surprised by the authenticity of the experience: I got the same bottom-falling-out-of-my-stomach feeling I’ve gotten on Class III and IV water in the mountains, Natalie rescued a rafter jettisoned from a nearby boat, and while I didn’t abandon ship, I was as just as soaked as if I had at trip’s end. I was expecting a difference comparable to that between a climbing wall and a mountain: it was much closer than that.
Whitewater kayaking. Lessons or bring your own boat.
- Mountain biking. 14 miles of trail that includes some of Charlotte’s oldest trail, dating back to the 80s. BYOB (and pay only the $5 parking fee) or rent one.
- Rock climbing. 46-foot climbing tower with more than 40 roped climbs.
- Flatwater paddling. On the adjoining Catawba River.
- Standup paddleboading. Also on the Catawba, though more advanced SUPers may want to try the whitewater course.
- Canopy Tour. Four hours spent exploring the forest canopy via ziplines from elevated platform to elevated platform.
- Canyon Crossing. Walk a rope bridge across a hardwood forest gorge (you’re clipped in to a safety line, btw). The bridges connect to periodic platforms; reach the last platform and zipline back to the start.
- Adventure Course. Features a variety of elevated obstacles.
Youngblade says with the exception of the whitewater raft trip and Canopy Tour, the average adventure lasts about 30 minutes and that most visitors tend to do three or four activities per visit.
“Most people come to do the rafting,” he says. “But then they get intrigued by the other activities.”
For instance, Brittany Guarna and Jonathan Green stopped by the park on a job-related visit to Charlotte. The two went to college together in upstate New York and were already into outdoor adventure. But, they say, they never envisioned themselves as tree canopy explorers.
“It was great,” Guarna said after dropping off the edge of a 40-foot platform hooked into an automatic belay device. Green grinned in agreement. That may not be their new thing, but they were already making plans to return to the Center and do more exploring.
The price of admission may seem steep at first. An AllSport day pass entitling you to try most of the Center’s activities is $49 ($39 for kids 9 and under). Comparatively, though, a weekend lift ticket to Sugar Mountain ski area this year was $66 — with another $20 for ski rental. And if you live within a reasonable distance, an AllSport season pass is $159 ($129 for the 9 and under set).
If you’re convinced there’s an adventurer within yearning to get out, book a trip to the U.S. National Whitewater Center. The most you have to lose?
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Visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center Web site