As former designers of water courses at the 1996 Summer Olympics, Whitewater Express opens up the wonders of Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina to youth groups, coworkers venturing out on corporate outings, and outdoorsy vacationers with a wealth of activities and exploration opportunities at four different camps. Visitors hike and bike through the fresh, pine-scented air of the Great Smoky Mountains at the Ocoee location, which features 225-plus acres of unspoiled wilderness—or raft past downtown Columbus on a Chattahoochee River trip. Guests can survey the scenery as guides pilot whitewater rafts and kayaks down the scenic Ocoee and Nantahala Rivers; relax in rustic log cabins; or play paintball on a woodsy outdoor course.
At first glance, Purdy's Petting Zoo looks like a traditional barnyard: ducks quack and waddle, lop-eared rabbits silently hop, and pygmy goats nibble stalks of grass. But in addition to these familiar creatures, the zoo is home to exotic animals such as kangaroos, peacocks, zebras, and African tortoises. After feeding and petting the animals, visitors can mine for gems or fish for blue channel catfish in an onsite pond. The zoo also hosts field trips and birthday parties with pony rides.
In 1975, four friends with hearts full of the great outdoors decided they needed a place to get gear indoors. This quest for adventuring equipment lead Bubba Sloan, Gerald Marshall, Denny Mays, and Ned Buxton to found High Country Outfitters as a gear shop for all manner of activities performed under the sun. These days, Bubba runs the retail side of things in Buckhead, while Gerald continues to captain daring cruises down the Ocoee River's relentless rapids. The store kits out customers for safe communing with nature with tools and togs from manufacturers including The North Face, Patagonia, and Big Green Egg, whose verdantly painted smoker grill creates hot meals in the midst of a long trip or particularly boring wait in the airport. Meanwhile, guides lead expeditionary parties along on waterborne trips down the Middle and Upper Ocoee’s burbling banks, recapturing the sun-dappled fun that inspired the store's creation in the first place.
Each trip from Big Frog Expeditions lasts approximately three-and-a-half hours, and provides all of the necessary whitewater equipment––Coast Guard–approved personal-flotation devices, paddles, and helmets––to pit you against Mother Nature's flowing water tresses on the Ocoee River. Today's deal includes transportation to the launching site, pre-trip orientation, and a gearing-up session before you hit the aqueous road. Big Frog's professional guides will climb aboard the self-bailing raft and help you steer through the thrilling sights and frothy spumes of continuous class III and IV rapids. With today's Groupon, you can choose between exploring the Upper Ocoee River or the Middle Ocoee River from the available rafting dates on the calendar.
On any given day, visitors to the tasting room at Blue Ridge Cellars can explore the world through their taste buds. Here, oenophiles pour glasses and curated flights of wines crafted locally on the North Georgia Wine Trail or internationally in Europe, South America, or South Africa. Meanwhile, a simple menu of artisanal small plates helps guests discover their own perfect pairings for the wine.
And yet the selection doesn't end there: an adjacent boutique houses shelves of local reds and whites, including organic and sulfite-free vintages, as well as a deli counter stocked with Boar's Head cheeses and Columbus cured meats. Because they know that tasting wine should be a true experience, Blue Ridge Cellars also hosts live music and organizes its own tours of the North Georgia Wine Trail. These tours may include visits to several wineries, stops for taking pictures and eating a picnic lunch, and the chance to spend the night in an old wine barrel.
Launching into the Ocoee River, Sunburst Adventures' rafts of whitewater adventurers bump and glide over currents with gradients up to 50 feet per mile. An experienced guide mans the helm, offering instruction and zany anecdotes, as rafters navigate past bushes and trees and around three risky undercuts for a challenging, yet safe, excursion. Sunburst's carefully selected team of enthusiastic rafters has been taming the rapids of the Ocoee and sharing their love for the sport and the great outdoors since 1976. Groups of experienced and novice boaters quickly become familiar with a good soaking as they tackle roaring rapids such as Hell's Hole and Godzilla attempting to bend their boats in two as they jostle their way down the river's 10-mile stretch. For a more leisurely way to enjoy the natural splendor and warm waters of the river, aquatic types can tube the Lower Ocoee, which is known for expressing much calmer waters ever since it kicked its pot-of-coffee-a-day habit.