Free Things To Do At The Whitewater Center In Charlotte

The Whitewater Center is a must-visit activity whether you live in Charlotte or are visiting. For those on a tight budget, there are many free things to do at the Whitewater Center.

Charlotte is now one of the largest cities in the United States, the de facto headquarters of the Carolinas, and has the most extensive skyline between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. You know the town is bustling if you spent time hanging out along the Rail Trail in Southend. It’s a professional city with a fun urban vibe.

This is one of the reasons that it is so impressive that the U.S. National Whitewater Center sits on the edge of Charlotte, N.C., just miles from one of the busiest airports in the nation.

What Can You Do For Free At The Whitewater Center?

You can do plenty for free in the Whitewater Center, including hiking and trail running. The Whitewater Center is also a great place to relax while watching rafting. And the River Jam concert series offers free concerts on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays during the summer.

You will need to pay for parking, but parking only costs $6 per vehicle. You can save money here by carpooling or going with someone with an annual pass. The annual parking pass is also available for $60, which isn’t free. Still, once you have the pass, you can then go to the Whitewater Center as often as you want without paying a dime.

You can visit several times a month and never get bored because there are so many possible activities that a $60 parking pass is a steal if you visit that often.

The Whitewater Center sits atop the list of fun things to do in Charlotte.

Relax And Have A Good Time

The Whitewater Center is a great place to hang out with friends and family or just relax on your own. One of the great things about the Whitewater Center is that you don’t have to have any reason to go.

I often take my young kids to the Whitewater Center on Saturdays. Doing so gives my wife time to do whatever she wants. It also allows me to relax while spending time with the kids.

Watch The Rafting and Other Activities

On any given afternoon during the warm season, hundreds of people may be lounging on blankets, hammocks, or folding lawn chai on any given afternoon during the warm seasons. And honestly, nothing is more relaxing than feeling the warm sound as you listen to rapids crashing down the river. 

The Whitewater Center does not allow outside food and beverages since they sell food on-site. The River’s Edge and the Pump House Biergarten both have good food and cold beverages. Several other on-site locations sell other snacks. 

You will find people lounging at the Whitewater Center similar to how they might chill at the beach. Visitors are relaxed, enjoy the fresh air, and many enjoy a cold drink. While we love the beach, if you live in the Charlotte area, USNWC is much closer than the beach. 

Watch Rafting at Whitewater Center
Watch Rafting at Whitewater Center

Enjoy a Concert

The Whitewater Center hosts a concert event series called River Jam that takes place every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from May through September.  An event like a River Jam Run, a Big Waters Session on the rapids, or yoga usually precedes the concert.

You would need an activity pass for the Big Waters Session or any other activity for which you would typically require a pass, but you don’t need a particular concert pass or ticket. You just pay for parking and then find a place to settle in. 

Remarkably, an outdoor recreation center offers a free concert series three nights per week during the summer. The setting is one-of-a-kind, with the amphitheater sitting on an island in the middle of the largest artificial whitewater river in the world.

You can set up on the island if you can find space. If not, across the river where there is plenty of room to spare. 

Attend An Event

The Whitewater Center hosts big events, the biggest of which is the annual Tuck Fest. Tuck Fest is a yearly celebration of the outdoor lifestyle that features athletic competitions, concerts, demonstrations, and exhibitions. 

Whether you are interested in watching the Deep Solo competition or just enjoying the concert, there is plenty to do at Tuck Fest and the other festivals that the Whitewater Center hosts.

The Build Your Own Boat competition is another ever-popular event in which 40 participants build their own boat and take it down the rapids. It’s a celebration of ingenuity and fun. At the end of the event, stick around to see who gets the awards. There is an Overall Winner, a Style Award, and a Fan’s Choice Award.

Check out the event calendar, and plan to check out other events like the Green River Revival and the Fourth of July Celebration.

Free Activities

If you are just looking to hang out at the Whitewater Center, there is plenty to do for free. If you want to get your adrenaline going and participate in an activity, there are plenty of options for this as well. 

With over 50 miles of trails, hiking, trail running, and mountain biking at the U.S. National Whitewater Center never gets old. Remember that the trails are free to use once you’ve paid for parking.  We have the annual parking pass, which works out well, and we use the trails. 

The one crucial disclosure we will make is that they will close the trails if they are too wet. This protects both you and the trails from getting torn up. The Parkway Trail is open year-round as the only all-weather trail. 

So if you find yourself at The Center and the trails are closed, you can always utilize the Parkway Trail. Still, check online to see if the trails are open. The USNWC website has an indicator in the top right corner for easy viewing. The red circle means the trails are closed, and a green circle indicates they are open. 


Hiking is a fantastic way to exercise while connecting with nature and maybe get some thinking done too. One aspect of the trails at USNWC that may be surprising is their versatility.  Trails like the Parkway Trail or the Lake Loop are more accessible for beginners; trails like the Carpet Trail are downright challenging.

There is something for everyone. I’ve seen individuals with full hiking packs that look like they are preparing for some time on the Appalachian Trail, and I’ve seen families hiking with young kids. It is essential to stay aware because mountain bikers use the same pathways and often travel at fast speeds, but all are welcome.

I’ve also seen countless leashed dogs on the trails and at the Whitewater Center. Dogs are welcome, but they need to be leashed, and you must clean up after them.

Trails Through The Woods
Trails in the Woods

Trail Running

If you like to go running, then you need to experience what trail running is like. I always assumed it would be similar to road running, but it is almost like an entirely different experience. When you go trail running, you become acutely aware of every rock, every root, and time the trail ascends or descends.

Trail Running is an activity that requires core strength and stabilizing strength from your upper body, in addition to cardio and lower body strength. Trail running will make you stumble and take your breath away, which is fantastic.  If you can master trail running, you will be better for it. 

Consider investing in trail running shoes if you plan to run at USNWC frequently. Wearing the wrong gear will result in an unpleasant experience. It is better to be prepared.

Trail running is an incredible workout that will leave you in awe of your surroundings and satisfied with what you’ve accomplished. And with 50 miles of trails strung together over more than 25 different trail segments, running at the Whitewater Center never gets old. 

Mountain Biking (If You Have Your Own Equipment)

There aren’t many outdoor recreations meccas in the middle of a top 20 U.S. city where you can find 50 miles of maintained trails for mountain biking. Beyond that, there aren’t many places where you can bike 50 miles and finish off your training with a cold drink while listening to a concert, but that is an example of how excellent the Whitewater Center is. 

While the other items in this article are free aside from parking, mountain biking has a few more caveats. You can bring your own bike and helmet to use the trails for free. But that is on the condition that you have your own equipment, which can be a hefty investment.

If you don’t have your equipment, you can still get an activity pass which will give you access to a bike and helmet rental.  This is a great way to try mountain biking for size before making a big investment.

Still, if you have a bike already, the trails are available for use without an activity pass, so it is a free activity open to all.

Cheap Fun At the Whitewater Center

Wood Sign with Whitewater Symbol
Wood Sign with Whitewater Symbol

If you are researching what you can do for free at the Whitewater Center, you will be pleasantly surprised at the number of activities and events available. There truly is fun for everyone. 

If you are feeling adventurous, head over, and knock out a trail run or mountain bike run. Then set up your blanket or folding lawn chair to listen to some live music.  On occasions like the Fourth of July, you might even get to see fireworks. 

There are few places where you can do so much for so little.

Jeremiah moved to the Charlotte area with his wife, Erin, back in 2013. The family has grown over the years, and they now call the Carolinas home. They enjoy hiking and adventures, road trips, backyard fire pits, and pizza night. Jeremiah loves to explore, and looks forward to sharing tips, tricks, and resources for your next trip.