Thursday, November 28, 2019

U.S. National Whitewater Center Dazzles and Delights

The verdict is in: The winter wonderland at the U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) is every bit as cool as it sounds. This sprawling outdoor adventure center is fun on any given day of the year, offering everything from whitewater and flatwater paddling, to hiking and biking, to ropes courses and ziplines. But, with the new seasonal ice skating rink and lights display it's a particularly spectacular venue for some winter fun.

Unlike other commercial holiday pop-up attractions, the USNWC ice skating activity and lights display have a more enduring appeal. Nestled in the woods under an open sky against the backdrop of zipline towers and ropes courses, the rink offers a rustic vibe. With the wooden guardrails (devoid of billboard advertisements), the simple lights strung over the ice, the iconic Airstream refreshments truck, and glowing real-wood firepits, there's something decidedly different and more genuine about this winter sports experience. Kudos to the person on the concept planning team who made the refreshing decision to softly and subtly pipe in Mumford and Sons-genre music, rather than blasting sugar-sweet Christmas pop classics on repeat.

If you're considering a trip, here's what to expect.

The USNWC operates 365 days a year, with grounds and trails (weather permitting) open from dawn until dusk. There are dozens of activity options, many of which are available year-round (check the activity calendar for schedules). While some activities are free, like mountain biking and hiking, others require a pass. You can purchase single activity passes or all-access day passes. Activity costs vary.

A single-activity pass for ice skating costs $20, which includes skate rental. When you arrive, you'll be asked to fill out a waiver for each participant before you can purchase your pass, so plan in a few minutes for that.

The rink is located on the upper pond of the whitewater course. It offers 17,000 square feet of ice, featuring a skating track, a freestyle area, and a contained kids' space. The skate-up Airstream beverage cart, which serves hot and cold drinks, is located in the middle of the rink. Ice skating is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The light display is a half-mile walking trail through a series of nature-themed light installations by local artist Meredith Connelly. Designs include things like honeycombs, cocoons, crystals and mushrooms. The trailhead is adjacent to the skating rink. This activity is free and open to all ages. The lights run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

I would suggest timing your visit for late afternoon. Skate until the sun goes down, then take a hike on the light trail to end the evening. Magical.

The whole experience is well organized and staff are noticeably friendly and helpful. I highly recommend a visit.

How to get there: The U.S. National Whitewater Center is located at 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte, NC 28214. NOTE: It is free to visit the USNWC, but parking is $6 per car.

Don't forget to pack:
  • $6 for parking
  • Tall socks
  • A childlike sense of glee and wonder

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