For many of us, adventure sports, craft beer, and live music are key ingredients for a perfect weekend. Just imagine mixing that with sunshine, street food, and some friendly competition, all in one riverside park. It’s called Tuckfest, and it happens every spring at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
For four days in April, thousands of outdoor-loving athletes and spectators come out for trail runs, open-water swims, and climbing competitions. And that’s just the start. You can kayak with the kids in the morning, do yoga at lunch, and learn to make a camp stove in the afternoon. Or, you can grab a beer, sit in the sun, and watch pro playboaters and stand-up paddleboarders run the rapids all day long. Check out your options and put together your dream weekend with our guide to an all-in weekend at Tuckfest.
1. One Registration for More Than 35 Events
A one-time registration fee enters you in almost every event over all four days of the festival. Races are held from sunrise to sunset and into the evening, with everything from a family-friendly dog jog to head-to-head whitewater kayak races. If you’re in it to win, there’s a list of chip-timed and performance-ranked events, where top male and female competitors in each race win medals.
2. Obstacle Races
Kids can test their speed, coordination, and strength on a 10-obstacle challenge course. Three solo qualifying rounds lead to a final heat on Sunday, or the whole family can team up for the Family Obstacle Race on Friday. An adult-only nighttime adventure race kicks up the intensity on Friday night.
3. Climbing Competitions
Bouldering and top-rope climbing competitions test your skills on one of the largest outdoor walls in the Southeast. There are problems and routes for any level of climber from beginner to expert, plus a head-to-head tournament with some of the top climbers in the country competing for a $15,000 purse. If you’re a seasoned climber, consider applying for one of six wildcard slots in the Deep Water Solo competition on Friday and Saturday.
4. Whitewater Races
Running the man-made Class I-IV whitewater channels by raft, stand-up paddleboard, kayak, or canoe is as tough as paddling most rivers in western North Carolina, and it’s not for novices. Experienced paddleboarders race head-to-head in the Paddle Royale and race in competitive heats in the SUP Cross and Half Dozen SUP competitions on the Class II-III Wilderness Channel. The Class III-IV Competition Channel is the venue for a battle to see who falls first in the Last One Standing.
Two raft races, a beginner-friendly guided event and one for expert paddlers, run the Class III-IV Competition Channel for fastest time to the finish. Playboaters show off technique and style in Citizen Slalom and Freestyle events, while experienced whitewater kayakers run the rapids for the fastest time in the Baker’s Dozen and Boatercross events.
5. Flatwater Races
Stand-up paddleboarders compete in 1.25- and 2.5-mile heats around Sadler Island on the Catawba River on Sunday morning, while kayakers run the same course on Saturday. If paddling runs in your genes, enter the tandem family paddle on Sunday afternoon.
6. Open Water Swim
You must have experience in open water to swim the Catawba River at historic Tuckaseegee Ford on Saturday morning. Enter the .75K sprint triathlon distance swim, or go for double the distance in the Olympic tri event.
7. Trail Races
No matter your pace or distance, there’s a trail run for you at Tuckfest. Start with a warm-up on the two-mile Dog Jog Friday morning, and then go the distance with the half marathon later in the day. There are plenty of options in between, like a four-mile night race, quarter marathon, 1K youth race, and a twilight 5K. If you enter multiple races, you can qualify for the Tuckfest Marathon Challenge, a timed competition of combined races adding up to or exceeding 26.2 miles over the four festival days.
8. Mountain Biking Competitions
Challenge your riding skills with an aggressive line-up of mountain bike races on the Center’s intermediate-to-expert singletrack trails. Bomb down Goat Hill, grind through the MTB half marathon, and push your speed on short-track events. A short-bike championship brings out the kid in everyone at the end of the festival on Sunday afternoon.
9. Yoga Classes
Every athlete needs some recovery time, and outdoor yoga is the most popular option at Tuckfest. Try slow flow, power flow, and acro yoga, or take a foam rolling technique class. There’s also slackline yoga, Budokon, and SUP yoga on the Catawba River. Classes are for all levels, including yoga for kids on Saturday and Sunday.
10. Clinics & Demos
Learn raft guiding basics, practice belay techniques, and get bikepacking, rock climbing, and whitewater kayaking instruction at Tuckfest clinics. Bike maintenance, map and compass skills, and wilderness survival skills are also part of the line-up, and everything is free. You can also meet pro athletes at freestyle kayak, tandem kayak, whitewater racing, climbing, and cycle stunt demos.
11. Food, Music, & People-Watching
Tuckfest can draw more than 50,000 people, so you’ll want to get there when the gates open to string up your hammock in the pines overlooking the rapids or spread a picnic blanket on Belmont Abbey Island. Watch the bands and sample craft beer, tacos, and burgers from the Pump House Biergarten. Regular Whitewater Center activities like rafting, high ropes, and ziplines are open for business during the festival with a day pass.
Written by Ann Gibson for Matcha in partnership with OrthoCarolina.