Growing up in Cleveland with my mom and my brother, we were always finding ways to burn energy. We moved to Cleveland in 1998 and automatically started exploring. As a single mom, my mom often looked for activities outdoors that were cost effective and fun for the whole family. Some of my best childhood memories are in Ocoee, Tennessee. I've always strived to be as cool as my mom (still) is when it comes to sports and adventures. Reminiscing on my fondest memories, I've compiled a list to help your family have just as much fun!
1. Rock Hop on the Upper
Wear your swimsuit, remember $3 for parking, and take a sandwich. When the dam is switched off, the Upper Ocoee transforms from a whitewater kayaker's dream to a magical playground. Hop across the rocks, find one that looks like a slide, jump off of the tall rocks, or swim through the legendary holes in the underwater rocks (just past the upper bridge, on the left side of the river is a well known swimming hole for this.) Just be careful not to slip as the rocks are quite slick. Find the dam's scheduled times on the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) app.
2. Tube/Kayak the Lower
We started doing this when I was quite young. Buy a heavy duty intertube (with a canvas bottom) or bring your kayak, and bring some water, sunscreen, and lunch. The Lower Ocoee usually has a very minor rapid or two, but is very calm for the most part. This trip can take two to eight hours depending on your exit point and the flow of the water. I must warn: amongst my extended family, there are extremely mixed reviews on this activity. I highly recommend checking the dam schedule at the above mentioned TVA app. If you're caught when the dam is off, you may get mean from the amount of walking and paddling. We typically would put in at the dam just below Parksville Lake. Plan your exit point ahead of time and have a second vehicle at that location.
If you are considering exiting at Nancy Ward Boat Ramp, I URGE you to do so at extreme caution and knowing there is a dangerous risk of drowning (even for experienced swimmers) for getting out at that location. It is so dangerous because the river narrows right at the boat ramp, making it flow faster, there are trees down in the water surrounding the boat ramp that you could get tangled or drug underwater in, and, if you miss your exit, the bridge right after the boat ramp can be quite dangerous as well. Be sure you are not tied to another float in any manner. If you can find another safe upstream location to exit the river, I highly recommend doing so. Stop in the nearby Ranger's Station at the base of Chilhowee Mountain for recommendations and resources.
Super fun way to relax with the family, but be sure you do so safely!
3. Picnic at an Overlook
Three incredible overlooks are located on Chilhowee Mountain, with picturesque views for days. As you climb the mountain, you can see Cleveland in the distance at two of the overlooks, or the mountains of the Cherokee National Forest at the overlook on the back side of the mountain. If you want to impress, any of these three are incredible. Pack a blanket, pack a basket, and enjoy. Don't worry about lugging things too far, parking is located directly at each overlook site, except for one having a gazebo observation area at a fifty foot walk. Another, more secluded, overlook is located on the opposite side of Highway 64, just past the Ocoee Whitewater Center, the Boyd's Gap overlook. No need to even get out of your car to see the views, but there is a beautiful grassy area at the base of the nearby hiking trails, if you prefer.
4. Hike to Benton Falls
This area is known for its hiking. An easy, family friendly hike is to Benton Falls. Who doesn't love a waterfall hike?! No expert experience required for this one. This 3 mile out-and-back is mostly flat, except for some rocky stairs at the very end. Remember $3 for parking in the National Forest. Find this hike by turning off of Highway 64 next to the Rangers' Station, to drive up Chilhowee Mountain. Once at the top of the mountain, follow the signs to Benton Falls Trail. For extra assurance, pick up a National Geographic trail map at Ridge Outfitters.
5. Rent a Paddleboard or Boat
Yep, you can rent a paddleboard or boat right on Parksville Lake (also called Lake Ocoee). Rent a boat from the local marina, or rent a paddleboard from Ocoee Paddleboarding & Watersports, directly on Highway 64 as you approach Parksville Lake. A great way to spend a hot, Summer day!
6. Whitewater Raft the Ocoee River
"But the title says 5 activities!" Yes, it does. When option six is this obvious, it doesn't count. We are talking about the world-renowned 1996 Olympic Games whitewater site! Most companies on the Ocoee have been around for several years and are excellent at what they do! Choose the Upper Ocoee (but note there is a minimum age if you have kids along), or the Middle! The 1996 Olympics took place on this river and it is legendary. We're blessed to have it in our backyard! Whether you're a native, new to the area, or you're just visiting, discover new ways to love Ocoee, Tennessee!