The Ultimate Backyard Playground

U.S. National Whitewater Center is home to outdoor adventure seekers or those who simply want to unwind

By Alexandra Argila
Photographs courtesy of Fourmile Media / U.S. National Whitewater Center

The sun is setting. A soulful band is grooving on stage, and you’re sipping on an ice-cold, locally brewed beer. Rafts full of people maneuver down rapids within arm’s reach while guests zip line overhead. Welcome to the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Upon arriving at the center, your jaw might drop for a few moments while you take in the vast natural landscape mixed with the man-made structures that stagger around the Catawba River.

A circuit of zip lines traverse the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C.

“We want to create the best backyard in the world, and I think we are doing a pretty good job of that,” said Eric Osterhus, brand manager at USNWC.

Osterhus isn’t exaggerating. Since 2006, the center, located in Charlotte, N.C., has been a well-known hot spot for adventure junkies and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the country. With a recent acquisition of land, the USNWC now sits on 1,100 acres of preserved woodlands that hold up to 31 different land and water activities.

While the center is best known for whitewater rafting on the world’s largest man-made recirculated river, the facility boasts new thrilling attractions as well. The first man-made Deep Water Solo climbing complex in the world opens this spring. Guests can free climb up to 45 feet high while hanging over a 20-foot-deep pool of water ­— no strings attached.

If mountain biking down steep inclines or zip lining from 50 feet in the air isn’t your cup of tea, don’t fret. The center has something for everyone. Located on the largest man-made whitewater river is an island featuring the Pump House Biergarten, which offers 40 taps from local and regional breweries. Visitors will find a total of 96 craft beers from the best breweries the region has to offer. There are also fresh dietary options from the food truck, the market, the trail center, or River’s Edge Bar and Grille.

May kicks off the summer concert series known as River Jam, where friends, families, and canines gather every Thursday and Saturday evening to enjoy a variety live music throughout the season. The spot averages 70 performances per year. The stage backs up to the Catawaba River, and rafts continue their ventures into the early evening as the music echoes through the stunning landscape. Bring a picnic blanket and sit by the stage or cozy up by a fire pit and listen from afar. Don’t forget a camera; visitors are often amazed by the golden sunsets.

Visitors can enjoy summer concerts as well as athletic adventures.

Another noteworthy feature of USNWWC is that it provides unique ways to spend time with your significant other while putting a new spin on date night. Give adventure dining a shot. With three options a couple or a group can partake in Zipline & Dine, Unwined, or Micro Brews Cruise. Each is a unique excursion that joins thrill and romanticism in one package. With Unwined, you begin the night with stand-up paddle boarding. From there, you enjoy a chef-prepared fireside dinner by the water and an intimate wine tasting from a local or regional winery. The other two activities have a similar concept but involve different activities and beverage tastings.

The USNWC hosts nine unique festivals throughout the seasons that incorporate exercise and outdoor activity with the corresponding holidays and celebrations. These themed festivals help bolster the USNWC goal of promoting environmental stewardship and civic and family engagement in the active outdoor lifestyle.

With the city of Charlotte growing rapidly, an array of activities is needed to occupy residents and visitors. People move to cities seeking a work-life balance and quality of place. The USNWC has taken that challenge to an entirely new level by establishing a one-of-a-kind facility.

“Charlotte offers great careers … but it also offers great resources now like the Whitewater center to make it a unique place to live,” Osterhus said.

Eric Osterhus is brand manager of the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Osterhus and the developers of the Whitewater Center have adapted to this growing need and given Charlotte an outlet for trying something new, whether that be a new sport to conquer or simply a place to unwind. The USNWC is a testament to how much Charlotte has grown over the years and is a resource to keep up with the culture as it matures.

“It’s that third space. It’s not home. It’s not work. It’s a place for you to go and truly enjoy your spare time. That’s why it’s been developed for everyone to enjoy in their own way,” Osterhus said.

People can easily find themselves in awe when exploring the center for the first time, and if you’re having trouble visualizing this concept, you’re not alone. Osterhus said that even the developers of the facility say, “It’s like describing an elephant to someone who has never seen an elephant before.”

The U.S. National Whitewater Center is a nonprofit, with all profits put back into the operations and future of the center so it can continue to provide a playful, relaxing and educational resource for those who seek it.

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