I love road trips. I remember driving through Tennessee on family road trips when I as little and it was such a fun bonding time for my sister and I. Now, as parents, my husband and I have taken our kids on several road trips and they are always memorable experiences. This year, we decided to start the summer vacation off with a short road trip in the state of Tennessee. We love outdoor adventure and we had heard that the Southeast Tennessee Overhill area offered adrenaline pumping thrills, nature adventures, and historical experiences. So we loaded up our car and took a road trip to go Ocoee white water rafting, hiking in the Cherokee National Forest, and horseback riding with a tri-state view!
This post is brought to you in partnership with the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association. I was provided with a cabin stay as well as a portion of the costs for Ocoee attractions and dining in order to facilitate sharing my experience with you.
Map Of Places To Visit In Ocoee Area
Road Trip In Tennessee- Nashville To Chattanooga To Ocoee TN
My family lives in Nashville so this road trip in Tennessee was pretty easy. In fact, my son’s school does a day trip to Ocoee white water rafting every year! Ocoee TN is about a three hour road trip from Nashville so I prefer it as more of weekend getaway type of experience. Not only am I keen to break the driving up into different days, there is also way too much to do in one day. Especially, since a lot of the Ocoee area attractions are active physical adventures! You can do the drive from Nashville straight on through to Ocoee in about three hours or you can break it up with a stop over in Chattanooga for a bit to eat and a bit of sight seeing. Nashville to Chattanooga is about 2 hours and Chattanooga to Ocoee is about 1 hour.
Don’t Miss Ocoee White Water Rafting
Ocoee Rafting Whitewater Center
We started our trip with white water rafting in Ocoee, Tn. You may have heard of of the Ocoee Rafting before as a popular whitewater destination. In fact the Ocoee River in Eastern Tennessee was home to the 1996 Olympic games whitewater slalom course! Needless to say, Ocoee is one of the best places in the world to go whitewater rafting. If you are a novice, you can take the 5 mile, class III rapids white water rafting trip. Or if you are more experienced, you can take the 10 mile, continuous class III-IV whitewater rapids Ocoee rafting trip. This full river trip includes the Olympic course section and is a full day trip. If you can’t go on the thrilling adventure of white water rafting due to mobility issues, you can still enjoy the the Ocoee Whitewater Center (OWC) where there is plenty of room to park and walk along side the famous course and look at the flags of countries that participated.
One very important thing to know about Ocoee white water rafting is that all rafting places are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These are their days off. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) uses the water from the Upper Ocoee River on those days to harness hydroelectric energy. It is pretty amazing really and I found it fascinating to see the same river we had rafted on Monday almost empty the next day.
If you can go white water rafting (paddlers of all skill levels 12 years of age and up), you absolutely should. You can’t beat the thrill and excitement of whitewater. It is so much fun!! I found myself laughing out loud so many times during the trip as water splashed our faces, as we plummeted down a level, as we “surfed” on the rocks, and as we twirled our boat through a particular rapid. I also found that as a parent I was filled with great pride to watch my kids step up to the challenge of rowing, following directions from our guide, and working as team to row together in time. It was a great experience for groups that need to learn to work together such as families, friends, schoolmates, etc.
We scheduled a 1:30 Ocoee rafting half day trip with Cherokee Rafting, a commercial rafting outfitter. It was nice and easy to find, right on Highway 64 and the perfect way to start our adventures off upon our arrival from Nashville. The folks at Cherokee Rafting were very helpful, organized, and experienced. We joined a large group of teenage girls visiting from Alabama for the bus ride to the drop off point. Each boat had 4 or 5 people plus a guide. The experienced guides tell you everything you need to know to keep you safe. Great for first time rafters like my teens! Our guide was also funny and informative as he shared fun facts the whole way down the continuous rapids of the Ocoee River.
10/10 for sure! Also, what better way could you get your kids and husband off the electronics and having fun all together while doing physical activity? I can’t think of any! This was definitely more of an adventure activity in the outdoors through nature than it was a wildlife viewing activity but we did spot a Zebra swallowtail butterfly and a Blue Heron. Experience Ocoee river rafting for yourself. It is a real thrill to use team work and make your way down Southeast Tennessee’s iconic whitewater river.
Cabin Rentals Ocoee Tn Area
If you are like me, you will want to crawl out of the river and relax for awhile. We went on back to our cabin on Ocoee River and relaxed on the porch swing for a bit! If you are interested in cabins in Ocoee TN area, we stayed at Welcome Valley Village and we loved it. Visit that website for photos of the inside of the cabins.
Welcome Valley Village offers 5 large fairly log cabins spread out on their 17-acre Ocoee River front property. Each luxury cabin has its own unique floor plan, but all cabins offer great views of either the river, creek, or native woods. I call them luxury log cabins because they all have generous covered porches, beautiful furnishings, ceiling fans, central heat and air conditioning, fully-equipped kitchens, charcoal grills, TV/DVD players, linens, and towels. All cabins feature wood-burning fireplaces, jacuzzis, or both. The larger cabins can sleep up to 8 or 9 people.
As I was sitting on the porch with my husband looking at the relaxing view of the Ocoee River and woods, he said I wonder if you could rent the whole property. I thought that was funny because I was just thinking what a great spot it would be for a family reunion or a wedding. Funny story- the next night, while dining at a local restaurant, the waitress told us that she was actually married at Welcome Valley Village. It is just such a lovely spot!
More Fun Things To Do On Your Southeast Tennessee Road Trip
Ok, you’ve come for the Ocoee white water rafting. Now what else is there to do Ocoee country? Plenty! The greater Chattanooga region of Southeast Tennessee is part of the reason that Chattanooga was voted one of the “best town ever” in 2015 by Outside magazine. It spans from Monteagle, just a short drive outside of Nashville, down to Chattanooga, and out east to the Cherokee National Forest. This Tennessee Overhill area is known for a plethora of outdoor activities – hiking, biking trails, whitewater rafting, paddling, rock climbing and SO much more. It’s a fantastic place to reconnect with nature, stretch your legs after the chill of winter and enjoy the Ocoee outdoors!
Chilhowee Recreation Area
Take a scenic drive and stop at the three Chilhowee Overlooks for beautiful views of the Ocoee River, Parksville Lake, and surrounding Appalachian mountains in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. I have to tell you I was surprised just what great views these overlooks provided. It really is beautiful up there!
Benton Falls Trail is a 3-mile hike (roundtrip) located near Reliance, Tennessee that features a 65-foot waterfall and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, running, nature trips, and mountain biking and is accessible year-round. Dogs are allowed on leashes. The Benton Falls Trail hiking is accessible from the Chilhowee Recreation Area ($3 usage fee). This is a must do. The waterfall is quite stunning and totally worth the easy hike. You have no choice but stand in awe of how spectacular nature can be while looking at this wide and tall waterfall and listening to the water pour over the side and come crashing down.
Also available at the Chilhowee Recreation Area is 7-acre McKamy Lake. You can enjoy swimming with a sand beach and fishing from the bank. There are also lots of picnic tables and grills available for public use.
Horseback riding is a great way to see the world from a new point of view! Climbing up on top of a horse can sure change your perspective. It is a great way to connect with animals and get unusual views of trails, streams, woods, and the mountain scenery. In fact, Blanche Manor Horseback Riding in Copperhill brought us on a trail where we got to see three states at once. The guide was great for explaining how to handle the horses and making sure everyone was comfortable. We also learned interesting tidbits about the horses and the Blue Ridge Mountain area. I thought it was a super fun memorable experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat!
There are canoe and paddleboard launches near the Cherokee Removal Memorial Historical Park, which is right along the Hiwassee River. In addition to this activity, the park features important educational displays about the history of the Cherokee Nation in the area.
Take a historic train ride through the Cherokee National Forest! The Hiwassee River Rail Adventure is a scenic train ride along the Hiwassee River, and takes you right through the beautiful surrounding forest. The glass tops on all of the train cars make it a truly unique experience!
Take A Ride In A Glider
Experience the thrill of motorless flight as you fly along the Appalachian Mountains and Tennessee Valley. Chilhowee Gliderport offers rides and/or instruction. It is a great place to spend the day watching the beauty of soaring flight. Or take a ride in a glider!
Experience Small Town Charm
Southeast Tennessee is full of small town charm. The communities of Southeast Tennessee are home to unique antique stores, boutiques (such as Mountain Attitude in Copperhill, TN), local craft breweries (such as Buck Bald Brewing in Copperhill, TN), and local artisans and makers.
You can check out treasures like the Appalachian Bee Farm and tour their unique facility for a hands on look at how their delicious honey and artisan soaps are made! Or explore Savannah Oaks Winery, tasting room, and gift shop.
Brush Up On Your History
The region also has several museums that highlight many aspects of the area’s past, including historical sites dedicated to the Cherokee Native Americans that used to reside there. We visited the Ducktown Basin Museum and Burra Burra Mine in Ducktown, Tennessee. It was once the headquarters for the Tennessee Copper Company and the site chronicles the history of copper mining activities in the area. There is also a self-guided walking tour where you get to stand by the actual equipment that was used in the mines. Look how huge that smelting pot is next to Leo!
Grab Some Local Food
Your road trip in Tennessee wouldn’t be complete without stopping to try some local eats! Here are some of the best restaurants in Ocoee Country that we tried while there.
Bakery On Main, Benton, Tn
Bakery On Main was some good eats! We got it to go and enjoyed it back at our cabin. This is the finger-lickin’ good BBQ you’d expect from stopping along the Southeast Tennessee BBQ Trail. They had great pulled pork with well prepared standard Southern sides- cole slaw, potato salad, and baked beans. They also had some great cookies and brownies. Yum! We got banana muffins for snack and they were so good. Make sure you get some!
Ocoee Dam Deli and Diner, Ocoee, TN
Huge menu with all American and Southern Classics. I particularly enjoyed the Pimento Cheese Burger. My husband loved his catfish dinner with fresh fried okra and homemade mac ‘n cheese. I saved room for the berry cobbler and I was glad I did! You can get a look at the Ocoee Dam Deli and Diner menu here.
Ggs Diner, Benton, TN
We had breakfast here. The service was friendly and the food portions were nice and big. I enjoyed the giant biscuits and gravy.
Apricot Place Cafe, Ocoee, TN
We had lunch here and they had some fun sandwich options. It is casual dining under a covered porch.
Yellowbird Coffee Shop, Copperhill, TN
We stopped by here for an afternoon pick me up. The lemonade was homemade and the so were the delicious blackberry ice tea popsicles. Yum!
RiverSide Spirits, Benton, TN
I got the best blackberry wine here from Georgia Winery. So good!
So go ahead, have fun! Explore Southeast Tennessee, where the natural world opens up to greet you with mist-covered mountains, craggy ridges, waterfalls, whitewater rivers and huge lakes. Ocoee country feels a lot like the Great Smoky Mountains only a lot less crowded!
Ocoee rafting is a fun experience you will never forget. The world class Ocoee river is one of our country’s premier rivers. Don’t miss the adventure of whitewater!
You’ll also feel welcomed by the region’s small-town charm and intrigued by its storied past. Check out the hashtag #SoutheastTN on Instagram for a sneak peak of some of the things to do and see!
Have you been Ocoee white water rafting yet? Taken a road trip in Tennessee lately? Share any of your favorites in the comments or on social media @familyfocusblog @southeasttennessee!
Attractions in Chattanooga, TN
Margaret Rogers says
What a great article! Having traveled throughout the southeast USA, I understand why you enjoyed your visit to my native Ocoee! When I worked as a receptionist with the Cherokee National Forest in 1970, I remember meeting a couple from Florida who had camped at Chilhoswee for 27 summers. And, to answer your husband’s question, yes the entire Welcome Valley Village complex can be rented. It is a great location for weddings, conferences, and family reunions!
I am glad you had a good time on Ocoee river whitewater rafting trip. I hope you will return to enjoy the beauty of the area and the recreational opportunities. I bet you will begin to feel at home here. Safe travels.