The U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) is what happens when the concept of “playground” grows up. Children’s jungle gyms become rock-climbing walls and canopy tours. Tricycles on the sidewalk give way to mountain bikes on wooded trails. Floaters in shallow swimming pools evolve into kayaks and canoes in adjustable, man-made rapids. Swings become mega zip lines and mega jumps. It’s like a playground on steroids.
The USNWC creatively captures more than 20 adventure activities on 400 acres of land just 15 minutes from downtown Charlotte and only a few miles from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. On the entrance road, vehicles loaded with bikes, watercraft, and active wear tell you that people are here to play hard.
With expectations of finding man-made waterways, visitors also find heavily wooded land with trails for mountain bikes that range in rider levels from novice to advanced. They surround and extend from the whitewater channels, which issue a refreshing and constant audio background – especially from the competition channel.
Climbers of all ages work their way up the walls of the large climbing center, which overlooks the whitewater competition channel and the upper pond, where rafts, kayaks, and canoes set sail. The mega zip lines cross above the competition channel and the lower pond.
If you get the idea that the center has a constant flurry of activity, you’re beginning to understand what it’s like to be there. Much of the facility’s climbing and paddling activity is visible from the River Center just off the first parking lots. But trees hide most of the biking and trekking trails, canopy tour, flatwater dock on the Catawba River, and other activity points from view. Visitors have to stroll or hike the grounds to see them.
In the midst of it all, some visitors are here to find peace of mind. The surrounding forest contributes to that tranquility, as does the sound of the rushing water. Watching that water can be mesmerizing, too.
While the center promotes healthy, active lifestyles, it also brings together the community for such events as concerts, fireworks, campouts, and dining. Stop for unique food at the River’s Edge Bar & Grille in the main building.
For lists of water and land activities, instructional programs, and events, click here.
- USNWC offers more than 20 different activities
- USNWC covers 400 acres
- The free Whitewater River Jam concert series takes place every Thursday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., April through September
- GoPro HD Helmet Cams are available for rent
- The whitewater channels are drained in the winter; draining takes 7 days
- Water to fill the channels comes from the USNWC’s wells, not the nearby Catawba River
- Filling the channels with 12 million gallons of water takes 6-8 weeks
- The competition channel is 300 meters long
- The whitewater channel pumps can fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 20 seconds
- Mountain bike trails range from 0.6 mile to 3.5 miles in length