Updated Mar 22, 2024 - Things to Do

13 ways to spend a day at the Whitewater Center

Whitewater Center

Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

The U.S. National Whitewater Center is a must if you’re looking to spend an activity-filled day outside.

The latest: Annual passes have dropped by $100, from $249 to $149 for adults and from $239 to $139 for kids.

You'll also notice a change to parking prices. A day pass rose from $6 to $12, while the annual parking pass dropped from $60 to $40.

  • A day pass for adults rose from $75 to $79 and from $65 to $69 for kids.
  • Keep in mind, your annual pass is good one year from the first day of use. Parking passes are good for the calendar year (January through December).

What they're saying: The goal is to encourage repeat visits, Whitewater Center spokesperson tells Axios, adding that annual pass purchases are up since the end of 2023, when the new prices took effect.

By the numbers: The Whitewater Center, which had 1.2 million visitors in 2023, includes more than 1,300 acres of protected land, 50 miles of trails and access to the Catawba River and Long Creek.

Pro Tip: Start your day with a dry activity like rock climbing, zip-lining or a ropes course before a water activity like whitewater rafting or deep water solo, both of which will leave you soaked. Bring a towel, a change of shoes and maybe even a change of clothes for the ride home.

  • Of note: If you opt for an activity pass, it can be purchased either online or onsite.

Here's our guide on how to spend a day at the Whitewater Center:

Rock climb one of the 95+ routes

Details: The Whitewater Center’s outdoor rock climbing complex is one of the largest in the region with 35-45 top-rope routes, nearly 50 bouldering problems and a 46-foot tall spire.

Cost: $25 for an activity pass/included in a day or annual pass.

What to wear: Shirts covering your mid-section, shorts or pants and closed-toed shoes. You can rent climbing shoes for $6-$9.

USNWC climbing wall.
Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Zip line over the rapids and through the trees

Details: Soar through the trees and over the water on one of the Whitewater Center’s zip-lining routes. Choose between Figure 8 (into the woods and over the water), Double Down (over the water, twice), Canyon Crossing, Canyon Zip, Pine Zip (a zip line/jump combo) or the two new zips that opened in September: North and South Rim Zips (over the canyon).

Cost: $79 for adults and $69 for kids, plus a $10 reservation per person for Figure 8 and Double Down, which can only be made at the Whitewater Center.

What to wear: Shirts with midriff covered, shorts or pants and closed-toed shoes.

Related guide: 14 places to zip line within 3 hours of Charlotte

USNWC zip lining
Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
One of two new ziplines at the Whitewater Center. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
One of two new ziplines at the Whitewater Center. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Hit the trails

Details: Hike, run or bike along more than 50 miles of trails. Make sure you check to see if trails are open that day. Find trail status on the Whitewater Center’s daily activity schedule.

Cost: Use of the trail system to run, hike or use your own bike does not require an activity pass, but you still have to pay for parking. A mountain biking activity pass costs $35.

What to wear: Closed-toed shoes.

Whitewater Center Trail
Photo: Axios archives

Don’t look down. Just jump!

Details: Take a leap from heights up to 100 feet. These jumps use a belay system to simulate a brief free-fall experience before slowly lowering participants to the ground.

Cost: A day pass is required for this activity. $79 for adults and $69 for kids.

What to wear: Shirts with midriff covered, shorts or pants and closed-toed shoes.

Reach new heights on a ropes course

Details: Traverse between suspended platforms, rope bridges and cargo nets through the trees and over rapids. Two new suspension bridges spanning more than 700 feet above the canyon and new ropes bridges opened in September. The new section, which also includes new zips, encompasses more than half a mile.

Cost: You’ll need a day pass for this activity. $79 for adults and $69 for kids.

What to wear: Shirts with midriff covered, shorts or pants, and closed-toed shoes.

Whitewater Center Ropes Course
Photo: Axios archives
One of two new ropes sections at the Whitewater Center. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
One of two new ropes sections. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Whitewater kayak or SUP

Details: Kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) through class II-IV rapids on the world’s largest manmade whitewater river.

Prerequisites: You must have experience in class III rapids and provide your own kayaking or SUP equipment. The Whitewater Center center offers instructional packages to provide experience.

Cost: $59/included in an annual or day pass. $130 for lessons

Whitewater rafting

Details: A professional guide will lead you and up to seven other rafters through class II-IV whitewater rapids. There are four options:

  • Family rafting, which takes you down the wilderness channel in class II-III rapids You must be at least 8 years old.
  • Adventure rafting includes both the wilderness and the competition channels and goes up to class IV rapids. You must be at least 11 years old.
  • Big water sessions increases the intensity of the rapids and are available Thursday and Friday evenings May through September. You must be at least 16 years old.
  • Rodeo rafting puts you in a smaller raft and requires a swim test. You must be at least 16 years old.

Cost: $59/included in an annual or day pass. Reservations are made onsite on a first-come, first-serve basis. Time-specific reservations are available for an additional $5 per person. Rodeo rafting requires a $15 upgrade.

What to wear: A bathing suit, shorts and a T-shirt are recommended during warmer weather. Opt for waterproof rain jackets/pants, splash jackets and wetsuits during cooler weather. You can rent wetsuits, booties and splash jackets. You must wear a bathing suit under wetsuit rentals.

Whitewater Center Rafting
Photo: Axios archives

Relax on flatwater

Details: Paddle along the Catawba River and Long Creek and explore its islands by flat water kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP). You must be at least 8 years old to kayak or SUP solo. Kids as young as 4 years old may tandem kayak.

Cost: $39/included in a day or annual pass.

What to wear: A bathing suit or shorts and a tank top or T-shirt during warmer weather.

Rock climbing with a twist: deep water solo

Details: Climb as high as you can before you let go and fall into a deep pool. Deep water solo has five walls stretching 20-45 feet high.

Cost: $35/included in a day or annual pass.

What to wear: A swimsuit and secure shoes that completely cover your feet.

Deep water solo at the Whitewater Center. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Practice yoga

Details: The Whitewater Center offers multiple classes per week on the South Ridge (all the way to the left if the main entrance is behind you). Check the schedule here.

Bonus: The Whitewater Center offers SUP yoga, meaning you practice on stand-up paddle boards on the Catawba, on the first and third Sunday of each month at 11am May through September. You must be at least 14 years old.

Cost: Most classes, except SUP yoga ($35), are free, but you will need to pay for parking. You can also rent a matt a guest services for $5.

What to wear: Clothes you can comfortably move in, like leggings and a sports bra or shorts and a T-shirt.

USNWC Flow Fest yoga
Photo courtesy of the Whitewater Center

Tackle a race

Details: Check out the Whitewater Center’s race series for everything from a New Year’s Eve trail run to a deep water solo climbing competition to a paddle, bike and run competition.

Cost: Prices vary.

Whitewater Center race starting line.
Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Check out a festival

Details: Whether you’re celebrating a holiday, hanging with friends or jamming out to live music, there are plenty of festivals to catch at the Whitewater Center throughout the year.

Cost: Just parking.

The U.S. National Whitewater Center river dyed green for St. Patrick's Day. Photo courtesy of the Whitewater Center
The U.S. National Whitewater Center river dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo courtesy of the Whitewater Center

Grab some food

Details: After a long day of activities, you’ll need to refuel. The Whitewater Center has five on-site food options ranging from grab-and-go to full-service.

  • River’s Edge: A full-service restaurant serving food, beer and wine with a view of the rapids. Check out the menu here.
  • Pump House Biergarten: Expect around 60 craft beers on tap and made-to-order food options like burgers and salads. Check out the menu here.
  • The Market: Mainly a selection of lighter, quick-grab options like wraps and salads. Check out the menu here.
  • Trail Center: Choose from a variety of salads and sandwiches, plus beer and wine. Check out the menu here.
  • Outfitters: This is the spot to grab snacks and rotating craft beers.
Crispy polenta bites ($8.25) at River's Edge. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Crispy polenta bites ($8.25) at River’s Edge. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Cilantro lime shrimp ceviche ($13) at River's Edge. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Cilantro lime shrimp ceviche ($13) at River’s Edge. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Banh mi steak flatbread ($11) at River's Edge. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Banh mi steak flatbread ($11) at River’s Edge. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
U.S National Whitewater Center fried cheesecake from River's Edge.
Fried cheesecake from River’s Edge ($6). Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Whitewater Center The Pump House
Photo: Axios archives

What’s next: Head back out to the Whitewater Center this winter for ice skating ($25/included in a day or annual pass).

  • A 70-acre dog park is scheduled to open this spring.
  • The first phase of Wildwoods, a new 3-acre site with tree houses, swinging bridges, cargo net climbs and floating hammocks, will open in winter 2024. It will be open to all ages. 

Go deeper: Scoop: Whitewater Center will add a massive off-leash dog park, biergarten and beach 

Whitewater Center off-leash dog park. Rendering: Courtesy of the Whitewater Center
USNWC Rendering: Courtesy of the Whitewater Center

FAQ:

Can I bring my pets? Yes, but keep them on a leash.

Can I bring my own food and beverage? No, but you can bring a water bottle and there are plenty of fountains where you can fill it up.

Can I walk around for free? Yes. It’s free to hang out, but it’s $12 for a day parking pass and $40 for an annual parking pass.

Editor’s note: This guide was first published in May 2021 and was updated March 22, 2024.

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