The U.S. National Whitewater Center is not just for tourists.
Sure, it’s probably featured in every visitor’s guide and travel itinerary and it’s the place that you tell out of town guests they “must visit.” But the Whitewater Center doesn’t have to be a place you only visit when your mom, sister or BFF makes their way to the Queen City and you need to show them that Charlotte is cool.
Instead, you should take advantage of our little outdoor oasis just 20 minutes outside of Uptown all year long. Yes, all year! Not just summer.
(1) You don’t have to pay to enjoy the Whitewater Center.
Yes, you read that right. You can go and experience and hang out at USNWC for free (totally and completely gratis, except for parking, which we explore more before). Yes, the adventure activities do cost money, but you can forget the passes and do a lot of different things at USNWC for zero dollars:
- Explore the 20 miles of trails on foot (perfect for a romantic stroll, dog walking or trail running).
- Bring your own bike and traverse the same trails on two wheels.
- Pack a chair, blanket, hammock – they recently installed hammock hookups – and a good book and spend the afternoon sunning while watching rafts and kayaks navigate the rapids. Also, you get bonus entertainment when someone falls out.
- Catch live music while soaking in the summer sunset at River Jam, more below.
- Watch dog jumping, SUP (stand up paddleboard) racing, trail races, kayak competitions, cornhole tournaments, build your own boat contests, fireworks and so much more at one of USNWC’s annual festivals. Tuck Fest will kick off the season this weekend (April 22-24) with days chock full of competitions and live music. You’ll find other festivals throughout the summer including major holidays: Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
Spend a perfect summer evening at River Jam.
If you’re not going to River Jam you’re doing summer in Charlotte all wrong. On Thursdays and Saturdays, relax with a cold beer and groove to some live music as the sun goes down. USNWC’s free concert series brings national acts to Charlotte and provides the perfect backdrop for a relaxing, fun summer. It runs May through September.
Invest in a parking pass.
Every sojourn you make to the USNWC will cost you $5 in parking. For $40 for the entire year (lasts until December 31, 2016), the investment in a parking pass is definitely worth it for two reasons: a parking pass pays for itself in just eight visits (and remember all the free things you’re going to do at USNWC?) and you won’t have to worry about shelling out cash each visit.
While you’re at it, get an annual pass too.
With an annual pass you can raft, kayak, paddleboard, zip line, rock climb, mountain bike or just hang out at the Whitewater Center all year long. Let’s compare: to get access to whitewater rafting and USNWC’s 27 other activities for one day it costs an adult $59. To get unlimited access to whitewater rafting and USNWC’s 27 other activites for one year it costs $199.
While four rafting trips justifies an annual pass purchase, your desire to go kayaking or mountain biking for a few hours on a whim also makes it worth it. You’ll thank me when we have a warm October Saturday and you can go enjoy unlimited rafting.
Make dinner an adventure.
How many times do you grab dinner and drinks for date night or tell your friends you’ll meet up for beers at a South End brewery? Skip the same old restaurant and bar on your next night out and instead enjoy pre-dinner stand up paddle boarding, kayaking or zip lining before settling down for dinner with some craft beer or a bottle of wine.
USNWC’s Adventure Dining series pairs two-hour excursions with craft beer and wine tastings and meals for a fun twist on eating out.
Get there early.
Of course, USNWC can get busy, so my best tip for you is to get there early. I can guarantee you’ll be mad if you make the trip out I85 and I485 and get there only to have all of the rafting trips booked for the day, or even worse, to be denied access because the facility is at capacity (it’s a thing that happens. At their St. Patrick’s Day Green River Revival they had to block the parking lots and turn people away).
Seize the day, get up early, and get out there. you’ll be able to get your adventure on without any lines. As the crowds increase when the sun approaches high noon, pat yourself on the back and reward yourself with a cold beer; you’ll be so happy you’re not waiting an hour for the zip line.
Cover image via usnwc.com