Flowing through the southern Appalachian Mountains is the mighty Toccoa/Ocoee River. This tributary of the greater Hiwassee River flows through the states of Georgia (where it is known as the Toccoa River) and Tennessee (known as the Ocoee River). The Ocoee is well-known for its whitewater rapids rafting, and in fact, served as the host to whitewater slalom (also known as canoe slalom; a competitive watersport) events during the Centennial 1996 Summer Olympics. This body of water is extremely important to the surrounding area economically — not only because of the power-generating dams that operate along its banks, but also because of the tourists that are attracted season after season to this beautiful corner of the world.
The name “Ocoee” originates from the Cherokee word “u-wa-go-hi” (which sounds a bit like “ocoee” if you think about it), referring to the perennial bloom of Passiflora incarnata, more commonly known as wild apricot or passion flower. The Ocoee River Gorge was once referred to as the “apricot place” by the Cherokee people that lived along the length of it and enjoyed the wild apricot vines that once flowered abundantly. In fact, Cherokee influence can be seen all over this region of the United States — many towns reflect what they or neighboring towns were once called by the Cherokee people, like Ducktown (named after the nearby town, Gawonvyi, which translates to “duck place”).
In the early 1900s, the Ocoee River was recognized to be a great potential source of energy, so in 1911, the first major dam was built on the river by the East Tennessee Power Company. Standing at 135 feet high, this major player creates the almost 2000-acre Parksville Lake Reservoir, also known as Lake Ocoee. Of course, since we’re near the best river for whitewater rafting in North America, Lake Ocoee is a fantastic spot for a variety of watersports, such as motor boating, lake kayaking, paddleboarding, and of course, swimming!
After the first dam was built, the East Tennessee Power Company decided they weren’t finished. In 1913, they built the second principle dam. Though it is dwarfed by its older sibling, this dam still stretches 450 feet across the river and diverts tons of water down to the powerhouse every day. Years later in 1939, the Tennessee Valley Authority purchased the first two dams and began building the third. Fun fact: the 110-foot-high dam was used to generate power during World War II.
Of course, the Ocoee River is well-known for its whitewater rapids that are perfect for rafting, and the dams help to break up the river into more manageable chunks for the perfect morning or afternoon (or all-day!) trip. Whether you’re coming for an outdoor day trip from Atlanta, Georgia or an outdoor adventure from Nashville, Tennessee, Cascade Outdoors is happy to help you out. We even offer a trip that will take you on the ten-mile 1996 Olympic whitewater slalom competition course!
The 1996 Summer Games took place in Atlanta, Georgia, and hosted over 450 participants from all over the world! Though the flatwater events were held in Georgia itself (on Lake Lanier, to be exact), the whitewater competition events were held on — you guessed it — the Ocoee River that we all know and love. There was a section of the river that had been dry since the building of dam #3 that we mentioned earlier and would have made for a satisfactory “artificial” course, as had been done in previous years. However, this round of the summer games the organizers wanted to change things up a bit and make it more realistic — it was time to start setting the precedent of a natural whitewater course. And what better place than the Ocoee River? After all, it is known nation-wide for its challenging whitewater rafting scene.
So, if you’re looking to get a taste of the history of the area for yourself, what are you waiting for? Cascade Outdoors is here to receive you with open arms. Check out our half-day whitewater rafting trip if you’re just starting out, or if you’re more into seeing how the Olympic competitors of 1996 saw the Ocoee, then our full-day Olympic rafting trip is the one for you. And of course, if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you!