What To Wear To The Whitewater Center (Charlotte)

The U.S. National Whitewater Center is a celebration of the outdoor lifestyle. Charlotte is one of the country’s largest cities, making this outdoor mecca even more unique. It is just miles from skyscrapers and one of the busiest airports in the nation. Whether you live in the Charlotte area or plan a trip to the region, USNWC is a must-visit destination.

Still, if you haven’t been before, you might not know quite what to expect or what you should wear to the Whitewater Center.  We will point you in the right direction.

Dropping Off Raft Escalator
Dropping Off Raft Escalator

Whitewater Center (Charlotte): What To Wear

You should wear clothing that aligns with your planned activities. If you plan on whitewater rafting, climbing, or mountain biking, there are specific clothing considerations you should plan for accordingly. If you plan to hang out riverside enjoying a concert, dress comfortably for the season.

The Whitewater Center offers so much to do that you likely won’t be able to fit it in all in one day. Of course, if you are planning a trip to USNWC, you probably have an idea of what you want to do, and we are guessing it involves the largest artificial whitewater river in the world. Regardless, dressing for the occasion shouldn’t take too much effort. 

Water Activities at USNWC

The Olympic-training whitewater river is a one-of-a-kind venue comprised of class II to IV whitewater rapids. There are rafting opportunities for different ages and varying degrees of difficulty throughout the day. 

You must have a reservation to go rafting, but you can make a reservation once you arrive on site. The reservations are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and are necessary to keep the rafting organized and safe. Once on-site, you can also make reservations for a small fee if you want to ride multiple times on a given day.

If you plan to participate in any whitewater activities, you will want to wear appropriate clothing that enhances the experience. 

Rafts Lining Up For Whitewater Channels
Rafts Lining Up For Whitewater Channels

What To Wear For Whitewater Rafting

If you plan on doing some whitewater rafting, the first thing you should consider is your footwear.  This isn’t an activity for which you want to wear flip-flops, and you may not even want to wear Chacos.  Tighten up your Chacos if that is what you choose to wear.

As far as Whitewater Center rules go, you must wear secure footwear. Sneakers, water shoes, and any sandals with a back strap are acceptable. I will say that from experience, if you fall out of the raft, your feet may scrap the bottom of the river.  

You may want to stick with closed-toe shoes, but Chacos and Tevas will do the job.  The rafting guides seem to favor Astral water shoes and Chacos, so take from that what you will. 

Wear quick-drying clothing like you might wear on a boat. Swim trunks and a quick-dry t-shirt work well in warm weather. If you have a rash guard or something designed specifically for water sports, that will work perfectly. Baggy t-shirts get heavy as they get wet, and most rash guards have a slimmer fit.

Still, unless you plan on making a frequent hobby of rafting, swim trunks and a t-shirt will work fine, especially in warmer weather.  As the weather gets cold, you may consider wet suits, splash jackets, and booties – all of which are available for rent. 

The Whitewater Center will provide all safety equipment and other necessary equipment, such as a paddle, helmet, and personal floatation device (PFD). 

What To Wear For Whitewater Kayaking/SUP

Kayaking in Rapids
Kayaking in Rapids

Whitewater Kayaking and whitewater SUP are a little different from nearly every other activity at USNWC in that you must provide your equipment, including the kayak and SUP.  The other thing to know is that you must be experienced at kayaking and SUP before being allowed into the Whitewater River.

If you are still in the learning stage, that is fine.  USNWC offers lessons if you are interested in learning, but you might try out flatwater kayaking and SUP first, just to make sure it is something that you genuinely enjoy.

If you are an experienced kayaker or SUP rider and want to take the next step in conquering the whitewater river, you can do so. Know that you must provide your boat, spray skirt, paddle, helmet, and personal floatation device (PFD).

What To Wear For Flatwater Kayaking/SUP

Flatwater kayaking and SUP are much less intense than the whitewater versions of the same sports, so rental equipment is available for you to cruise the Catawba River and Long Creek.

These events are so relaxed that you can pretty much wear whatever is most comfortable.  There are no stringent requirements, but wearing quick-drying clothing is probably still best if you get unexpectedly wet.

A personal floatation device must be worn at all times, but the Whitewater Center will provide one as part of your activity pass. 

Another thing you may consider for flatwater kayaking and SUP is whether you want to wear sunglasses or a hat.  Neither is required, but both serve very particular purposes. 

The sun can create a bright glare reflecting off the water, and sunglasses naturally help reduce squinting and protect your eyes. Rather than wear expensive Ray-Bans on your kayak, you might consider wearing a cheap brand like Goodr or Kockarounds, designed for athletic endeavors but don’t cost loads of money.

You can’t wear a hat on the whitewater river because you have to wear a helmet, so flatwater sports are very different. Wearing an appropriate hat will keep the sun off your face and help to keep you cool.

Land Activities at USNWC

Dressing for the land activities at the Whitewater Center is an entirely different ballgame because comfort should be the main driving factor. Moisture-wicking clothing is probably still a good idea, as you will likely work up a sweat. Still, land activities offer the opportunity to choose something that genuinely suits your desired comfort level. 

Covered Rock Climbing Wall

Covered Rock Climbing Wall

What To Wear Climbing

The U.S. National Whitewater Center built one of the largest climbing complexes on the entire East Coast. It features a 46-foot tall spire for sport and top-rope climbing, around 40 top rope routes, and 50 bouldering problems. 

If you aren’t familiar with the Whitewater Center, you might assume that the man-made river is the only attraction, but you would be wrong. 

Most clothing requirements maintain decency since you will hang out above everyone else while climbing. Dresses and skirts are not allowed. Full-length shirts that cover your midriff are required, alongside shorts or pants.

For shoes, the only requirement is that you wear closed-toe shoes while you are climbing. Still, for the best experience, you may want to wear climbing shoes. The Center has them for rent if you don’t have your climbing shoes.

What To Wear Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is similar to whitewater kayaking in that you can bring your equipment, but there are a few key differences. First, if you have your bike and helmet, you don’t have to purchase an activity pass.  Just pay for parking and then hit the trails.

Secondly, if you don’t have your bike, they are available to rent with an activity pass, whereas the Center does not rent out whitewater kayaks. 

With that in mind, you mostly have free reign to wear whatever you find most comfortable. Slim-fitting athletic clothing should work well. If you have a biker jersey and shorts, go for it. Otherwise, we recommend avoiding overly baggy clothes that will increase wind resistance or become heavy with sweat.

Closed-toe shoes are also recommended if you aren’t clipping in biking shoes. If you choose to rent a bike from the Whitewater Center, they will require wearing a pair of closed-toe shoes. 

Whether you rent a bike or bring your bike, the one primary requirement is that helmets are required at all times while on a mountain bike. 

What To Wear For Other Activities

Beyond the events that may have specific clothing recommendations, you can do plenty of other activities at the Whitewater Center, ranging from hiking and trail running to yoga. Our best advice for any of these activities is to wear what you would typically for these activities. There aren’t any specific requirements, so do your best to be comfortable!

Wear Clothes That Make Sense For Your Specific Activities

Ropes Course at Whitewater Center
Ropes Course at Whitewater Center

The Whitewater Center opened in 2001 and has grown to cover more than 1,300 acres and 50 miles of trails. Any many senses, it is the outdoor mecca of the Southeast. With more than 30 activities available, there is plenty for everyone to do.

And if you aren’t into any athletic activities, there may be no better place to relax with friends and family. On any given day, you may enjoy hanging out at the Pump House Biergarten to watch people hit the rapids, or you may choose to attend one of the many events that feature concerts (or even fireworks around the holidays). 

Plan what activities you want to participate in, and dress accordingly. Have a great time, and start planning your next excursion to the Whitewater Center! There is so much to do that you likely can’t do all of the activities in one visit.

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.