The Best Reason to Visit Oklahoma City Is Its Surprisingly Legit Whitewater Rafting Course
A thing I learned today is that Oklahoma City has a boat district with a whitewater rafting course, which is the kind of hustle I admire in the capital of a landlocked state. And not, like, a dinky little rafting course either. Olympic kayakers train there.
Last summer the rafting drew visitors from all 50 states and several countries. (I called maybe two dozen restaurants, bars, and other local businesses on the district’s perimeter, and most of the people who picked up and were not mad that a journalist was asking them stuff during lunch rush said it seems like a mix of locals and tourists who go there.) By the description of people who have been on it, the man-made rapids course is even more intense than God-made ones, since rather than a few minutes’ intense paddling followed by an hour of floating downriver you’re pretty much just battling from start to finish. It’s popular enough to attract season pass-holders.
“We drive two-and-a-half hours to get there,” says Ron Middleswart, a firefighter who visits along with his daughter. “It’s awesome. I’ve met people from all over. We go all the time to meet people from all walks of life, everyone really outdoorsy, just fun, carefree people that enjoy being on the water.”
Middleswart went on a class trip with his 12-year-old daughter a year ago, “got hooked,” bought a season pass, and now visits with his daughter about once a week. “They also do firefighter training there, swift-water rescue,” he says. “I didn’t even know about that when I first started going there.”
This looks bad for my home state of Colorado, which I’ve always considered the superior landlocked state, handicapped in its splendors only by its lack of large bodies of water. But in Oklahoma they just went and built what nature left them without, all to keep the residents active and outdoorsy, so I dunno why we don’t have one of these somewhere around Boulder. Especially now that we’re taxing all that good legalized weed.
Rafting is actually only one of the draws; there’s a whole mess of other activities if you prefer to stay dry. Oklahoma is a state against which I have long been unconsciously prejudiced because my only real reference point was the musical, but this set-up is truly something: There’s the world’s tallest ropes course (80 feet), from whence you can come back down via your choice of A) the country’s tallest high-speed slide B) a zip line that runs you across the Oklahoma river or c) the popular Rumble Drop, which is kind of a free-fall situation that mimics skydiving (you can also take stairs back down if you get scared, this isn’t a test or anything).
“The Rumble Drop is pretty neat, but to me it doesn’t have that thrill factor,” says Middleswart, who is, as we say, a firefighter, yet one who does not care for heights. “Just the fear factor.”
During the summer, they turn the rapids’ current off so everyone can float in tubes while they screen movies. Jaws remains the most popular.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.