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Rafting Tennessee’s Ocoee River erases memories of pandemic couch surfing
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting activities logical for Americans as they venture out in a time of coronavirus.)

ocoee river
Dry Ocoee; image by Tom Adkinson.

DUCKTOWN, Tennessee – The surge of adrenaline after emerging on the good side of a raging rapid named Broken Nose or Tablesaw makes memories of the slow and isolated months of the coronavirus pandemic disappear for anyone who challenges the Ocoee River this season. In a normal year, more than 300,000 people raft this roaring river 60 miles east of Chattanooga that the Tennessee Valley Authority can turn on and off like, well, a light switch. Numerous rafting companies are providing that thrill to as many people as possible and are employing prescribed health safety precautions for this exciting outdoor experience.

ocoee river
Raging Ocoee; image by Tom Adkinson.

Releases from TVA dams dictate whether water is in the river or diverted to powerhouses for electricity generation. Commercial rafting began in 1976, and the TVA guarantees 34 days of rafting water on the Upper Ocoee and 116 days on the Middle Ocoee every year April through October. Both runs are about five miles long. The Upper Ocoee gained fame during the 1996 Summer Olympics because it was the site for the games’ kayak competition. It features a half-mile-long stretch of continuous Class IV rapids. The Middle Ocoee, which begins with the bang of a Class IV rapid, offers 20 continuous Class III and IV rapids. The river is in the Cherokee National Forest and is easily accessible to people from Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama wanting a day of wet thrills and a reason not to think about the coronavirus.

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(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published August 7, 2020

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