The Ocoee River is famous for being a premier whitewater rafting destination in the southeastern United States. One of the reasons the Ocoee River is so famous is that it was the site of the whitewater canoe and kayak events during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The river’s rapids provided a thrilling and challenging course for the world’s top paddlers, and the event helped put the Ocoee River on the map as a premier whitewater destination.

Since then, the Ocoee River has continued to attract paddlers and adventurers from all over the world, drawn by the river’s combination of challenging rapids, scenic beauty, and rich history. Today, the Ocoee River is one of the most popular whitewater destinations in the United States, and offers a variety of experiences for rafters of all skill levels, from thrilling Class IV and V rapids to more gentle stretches for beginners.

But this slice of Southeast Tennessee has far more to offer than just rafting. Here are our 8 other fun activities that you can do within an hour of the Ocoee River.

1. take a boat ride–on an underground lake

View of the Lost Sea captured by Neverending Field Trip

Deep inside a mountain near Sweetwater, Tennessee is America’s largest underground lake, dubbed “the Lost Sea.”  Part of the Craighead Caverns cave system Lost Sea Adventure offers tours of the cave that include a ¾ mile guided walk that winds underground to the shores of the subterranean lake. There you’re invited to board a glass bottom boat to explore the four-and-a-half acre underground lake. Afterword try your hand at  gem mining or explore the on-site museum. For truly adventurous groups, private wild cave tours are available where you’ll wriggle through narrow passages and view rooms where ancient jaguar roamed, moonshine was made, and saltpeter was mined for gunpowder by Confederate soldiers.

2. go chasing waterfalls

Benton Falls, in the Cherokee National Forest. Image Credit The Outbound Collective

East Tennessee is home to hundreds of breathtaking waterfalls, but one of our favorites is Benton Falls, located just off the Ocoee river in the Chilhowee Day Use section of Cherokee National Forest. An easy 1.5 (each way) mile hike from the trailhead leads you to this picturesque 65 foot cascading waterfall. Benton Falls is a popular hike for people visiting Cherokee National Forest, so we recommended leaving early so you have the falls to yourself. The drive up to the trailhead will give you ample opportunities to take in amazing views of the Ocoee valley.

3. see rock city

Overlook at Rock City and Rock City advertisment on the side of a barn Image Credit

If you’ve driven anywhere within 100 miles of Chattanooga, you’ve undoubtedly seen those words emblazoned across barns and billboards. Rock City, located on top of Lookout Mountain, just 40 minutes from the Ocoee, features a ¾ mile walking trail that takes visitors through a stunning natural landscape filled with unique rock formations, gardens, and waterfalls. One of the most famous features of Rock City is the “Lover’s Leap” rock formation, which offers panoramic views of seven states. Visitors can also explore the Fairyland Caverns, which are filled with gnomes, fairies, and other whimsical creatures. If you’re visiting i the winter, don’t miss the annual Enchanted Garden of Lights, where the entire trail is decorated with over a million sparkling lights. While you’re there You can take a ride up the historic Incline Railway and enjoy some locally made ice cream at Clumpies in the St. Elmo Neighborhood.

4. go ziplining

Person Ziplining Image Credit Ocoee Ziplines and Canopy Tours

Ocoee Ziplines and Canopy Tours is an adventure park located in the scenic Ocoee River Gorge. The park offers a thrilling and unique experience for visitors, combining the excitement of ziplining with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests. Visitors can choose from a variety of zipline tours, ranging from a beginner-friendly course to an advanced course that includes long, fast ziplines and challenging aerial bridges. In addition to ziplining, the park also offers a variety of other activities, including horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking.

5. explore an abandoned prison

Abandoned Cell Block at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

The Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary is a fascinating destination for those interested in history and true crime. The prison, located in Petros, Tennessee, was in operation from 1896 to 2009, and housed some of the state’s most notorious criminals. Today, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the prison, exploring the cells, mess hall, and other areas of the facility. The knowledgeable guides share stories and insights about the prison’s history and notorious inmates, providing a glimpse into the lives of prisoners and the realities of prison life. After exploring the prison, visit the on-site Brushy Mountain Distillery for a taste of the world’s first legal prison moonshine.

6. take a drive on the skyway

Ariel Vew of the Cherohala Skyway Image Credit

The Cherohala Skyway is a stunningly beautiful scenic drive that winds through the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. This hidden gem stretches across 41 miles of uninterrupted forest between Tellico Plains, Tennessee and Robbinsville, North Carolina. The Skyway passes through both the Cherokee National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest, offering incredible views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and forests. There are no services on the Cherohala Skyway, so make sure you stop for gas in Tellico Plains, and don’t forget to stock up on delicious locally made pastries, sandwiches, jams, jellies, and other products at Tellico Grains Bakery (We recommend the bananas foster scone).

7. visit babyland general hospital

Exteror View of BabyLand Gerneral Hospital Image Credit

Have you ever wondered where Cabbage Patch Kids are born? Wonder no more, just Babyland General Hospital located a two hour drive from the Ocoee and is home to Cabbage Patch Kids. At this quirky attraction, visitors can take a tour of the facility, which is designed to look like a hospital, complete with a nursery, delivery room, and recovery area. The tour guides take visitors through the entire process of creating a Cabbage Patch Kid, from the “birth” of the dolls to the adoption process. The highlight of the tour is the “Mother Cabbage” patch, where visitors can see rows of cabbages with Cabbage Patch Kids “growing” inside. In addition to the tour, visitors can also shop for Cabbage Patch Kids and other related merchandise in the gift shop.

8. soar above the ocoee river

Glider Flying Above the Ocoee Region for Tennessee Image Credit Chilhowee Gliderport

Located between the Ocoee and Hiawassee rivers, Chilhowee Gliderport is the perfect place to experience the thrill of soaring through the sky. Visitors can take a ride on a glider, piloted by an experienced pilot who can teach visitors about the basics of gliding and soaring. In addition to glider rides, Chilhowee Gliderport also offers instruction and training for those interested in learning how to fly gliders. Visitors can take a tour of the facility and watch gliders take off and land, or enjoy a picnic in the beautiful surroundings. This post just scratches the surface of the activities there are to do around the Ocoee River. Whether you’re looking for adventure or just want to relax and take in some beautiful scenery, there’s something for everyone. There’s no better home base for your adventure than Welcome Valley Village.

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welcome valley village

ocoee, tn

Step back in time on this this beautiful 17 acre property has over 900 feet of riverfront on the legendary Ocoee River. With six rustic cabins, three covered pioneer wagons, as well as a beautiful riverside pavilion for gatherings Welcome Valley is the prefect place to gather with friends and family, or take some tie for yourself. Situated on the river and close to Cherokee National Forest, there is no finer place to stay as you explore the region.