So you’ve been in Charlotte for a while, but haven’t done the one thing that it seems like everyone else around you has and you have no idea where to start. Don’t panic.
The Whitewater Center feels admittedly intimidating your first go-round – here’s what you need to know.
Getting there and getting started
The Center is located at 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, about a 25-minute drive from Uptown. Traffic gets heavy on I-485 during events, but there are alternate ways to get there:
Off of I-485, take Exit 14 and turn right. When you reach Mount Holly-Huntersville Road, take a left, and another at Belmeade Road. The entrance will be on your right.
Off of I-485, take Exit 27 onto NC273 and turn North toward Mount Holly. When you’re through Mount Holly, turn right onto NC27 and take a left on Belmeade Road. The entrance will be on your right.
Though on most days it’s easy, during event days and nights, it’s hard to take an Uber or cab all the way to the Center (you’ll end up paying the $5 admission or walking the two miles), so plan accordingly.
Parking is $5, but admission into the Center itself is free. The grounds are open every day from dawn until dusk, but pass activities don’t open until mid-morning (see the full hours here).
If you’re there often, consider the $40 annual parking pass (all parking revenue goes directly to trail upkeep).
What you need to know about what to expect when you’re actually inside is that there are two definitive types of activities: Land and and Water.
Land – Rock climbing, harness jumps from anywhere from 60 feet to off of the Ridge, ropes courses, trails and ziplines.
Water – Whitewater kayaking and rafting as well as flatwater kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Don’t skip rock climbing rope-less over a pool of water, either.
There’s also an in-between in the form of a 60+-foot high Canopy Tour. Participants travel from platform to platform using ziplines, sky bridges, cargo nets and rappels around a 90’ foot deep canyon and to the banks of the river. A Twilight version of the tour is also available. Details on both.
It’s important to note that peak hours for activities tend to be between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and that they do fill up quickly.
While you can walk into the Center for free, activities that you can participate in are limited (down to things like walking and biking the trails and yoga). That’s when the activity passes come in.
A single-day pass ($49/$59) will get you access to all available and open activities.
Single activity passes ($25) allow a single experience to one qualifying activity. Whitewater rafting, the new Deep Water Solo, Figure 8 and Double Down are all out of the question with this one.
Season passes allow pass holders access to all available activities through December 31. $169 for children, $199 for adults.
For all activities, the necessary gear is provided by the Center – in addition wearing the right kind of clothes for the activities you’re planning on participating in, just bring a towel and extra set of clothes if you plan to get wet. They’ve got a helpful What to Bring page here.
When it comes to changing and storing your belongings, there are locker rooms on-site that have showers, restrooms, changing rooms and lockers ($2 for a one-time use locker).
But there’s so much more to the Center than just its water and land activities.
Eat and drink
See hours, details and more here.
Land Yacht – Pizza out of an Airstream Land Yacht from the 70s on the Island? Yes, please. There are only three 10” pizzas to choose from, so you can’t go wrong: Three Cheese, Pepperoni and Vegetarian. $9 each.
The Market – The Center’s casual quick-grab, bodega-style spot with items like sandwiches, salads, smoothies and beer. It’s got an outdoor bar, too, that highlights a new brewery every other week during the summer, making it perfect for the nights with events and concerts.
Pump House Biergarten – Options aren’t limited here. Choose food from the Island’s Biergarten, Pump House Press, Taqueria or USNWC food truck menus to go with one of sixty beers on tap while you watch the paddlers on the whitewater channel.
River’s Edge – Grab a seat on the patio that overlooks the whitewater channel. The menu is extensive, with starters like fried pickles, pimento cheese and charcuterie, entrées that include chicken and waffles, jambalaya and burgers along with, of course, dessert. There’s even a dedicated vegetarian section of the menu with jackfruit sopas, marinated tofu and a veggie burger. See the full menu.
The Trail Center – After you’re done biking, stop by the back of the bike shop to get a beer and a snack from the simple menu.
The Center also offers a pair of popular adventure dining series. Paddle to Table sees participants go flatwater kayaking or paddle boarding to a fireside dinner with craft beer and wine ($55, June and July, details) while Zipline and Dine offers a trip through portions of the Canopy Tour to a multi-course meal at the Ridge Pavilion ($75, June and July, details)
There are 30+ miles of free, single track trails on the property and along the Catawba River. Trails are all graded according to difficulty, are dog-friendly and are shared by runners, bikers and hikers.
If you’re into making it a competition, don’t sleep on the Center’s numerous races. Happening soon: XTERRA Whitewater Triathalon, Tread Nightly & Tread Brightly and Amphibious Dualthon. See the full list and calendar of races here.
The Center’s summer lineup, with free festivals and movie nights, is one unlike any other in Charlotte. If you’re bored this summer, that’s on you.
Brew Stash Bash – An ode to regional and national craft breweries complete with beer sampling, live music, yoga and, of course, a 6K.
Cyclofest – A cycling demo during which participants ride new bikes from top brands during races, road rides and a bike rodeo. Live music will also be on deck, though this year’s lineup is still to be determined.
Fall Finale – Say goodbye to summer with a cider sampling, Build Your Own Boat competition, a Dirty Dozen Obstacle Adventure Race and the final musical performance of the year. October 6 and 7.
River Jam – From May until September, head out every Thursday and Saturday night for dinner and drinks with a free concert from acts like Elonzo Wesley, Ancient Cities the Get Right Band. 7 – 10 p.m. Thursday and Saturday.
Tuck Fest – A weekend of demos, outdoor competitions and activities along with live music. The Revivalists kicked off this year’s celebration.
Uncorked – Sample wine from local, regional and national wineries along with a handful of trail and river races, yoga and live music. September 23.
Whitewater Film Series – The Center partners with the Great Outdoor Provision Co. to put on a series of feature-length films that focus on the outdoors and those living their best lives in it. It happens every Friday night at sunset in April, May, September and October. This year’s lineup included Sherpa, Trails in Motion and 180 Degrees South.
Yoga – Yoga happens throughout the season, during festivals and on Tuesday and select Saturday mornings. Class is free, but you do need your own mat.
Fourth of July Celebration – A two-day celebration with yoga, live music, fireworks and live music. July 3 and 4. Details.
Green River Revival – Every year for St. Patrick’s Day, attendees run the trail in hopes of avoiding green dye and then listen to live music, do yoga and play cornhole while the river turns – you guessed it – bright green. See details of this year’s celebration here.
Labor Day Celebration – This year’s celebration will include both a 5- and 15k trail race, cornhole tournament, live music and a fireworks show. September 1 – 3. Details.
Memorial Day Celebration – Ever year, there are trail races, yoga, film screenings and live music with fireworks to finish it off. See this year’s celebration here and add next year’s to your calendar.
The Center is dedicated to teaching people of all ages through camps, team development, field trips and certifications.
Field Trips – The Center has created a handful of field trips that are both mentally and physically challenging as well as correlated to the state’s Essential Standards for grades K-12 and range in price from $30 to $59 per student. Field trips tailored to homeschooled children are also available. Details.
Instruction & Certification – Master things kayaking, paddle boarding and climbing with group clinics and then take it one step further when you get certified in things like wilderness medicine, raft guiding and land navigation. Details.
Team Development – Programs range from a Low Challenge Course to the Raft + Zip Tour to a Traveling Team Challenge, which brings a program to a location of your choosing and tailors it to your needs. Each program is different, but they all focus on things like leadership and character development, professional development, emotional and academic growth and personal challenge. Details.
Summer camp – The Center offers eight different summer camps for kids and teenagers, most of which accept deposits through May 1. A quick overview:
Advanced Whitewater Kayak Camp – Campers will learn rescue techniques and other advanced kayaking skills to give them the ability to enjoy kayaking on a number of rivers. $400/week, ages 10 to 18.
Backcountry Camping 101 – Kids will learn the art of proper packing, land navigation, campsite preparation and cooking – and they’ll prove their skills when they go to South Mountain State Park for an overnight stay. $450/week, ages 11 to 13.
Rock, Ride & Paddle I – A skill-building camp focused on mountain biking, rock climbing and whitewater kayaking. $370/week for kids 10-16.
Rock, Ride & Paddle II – The next step in the Rock, Ride & Paddle camp series. This go-round, campers will participate in two off-site trips to climb Crowders Mountain and paddle the lower Green River. $450/week for kids 10-16.
Survival Camp – Kids 10 to 12 will learn how to survive in the wilderness with skills like shelter-building, first aid, fire building and map and compass skills. $370/week.
Teen Adventure Camp – Whitewater rafting, rock climbing and high ropes courses for teenagers 13-15. $320/week.
Whitewater Kayak Camp – A full-day, introductory camp into the world of whitewater kayaking for kids 10 to 18 years old. $400/week.
Youth Adventure Camp – Whitewater rafting, rock climbing, kayaking and team development activities. $320/week, kids 8-12.