There’s nothing more refreshing than cool water splashing on your skin on a hot summer day. Add an adrenalin rush as you navigate challenging rough white waters in your raft or kayak, and you have a perfect summer sport. It used to be Midwesterners had to travel to mountainous areas or at least to remote areas in northern Wisconsin or southern Indiana to go whitewater rafting, but now you can experience the rapids in two Midwest cities. Charles City, Iowa, and Sound Bend, Indiana, both offer man-made rafting adventures right in their downtown areas.
Charles City, Iowa
On a visit to North Central Iowa last summer with a group of writers, the plan was to sample the rapids on Cedar River at Charles City Whitewater at Riverfront Park. I had been on a rafting trip once before—in Colorado—and looked forward to the Iowa adventure. Unfortunately, heavy rains the night before made the beginner rapids too rough for beginners, so we stayed off the water but watched as an experienced rafter demonstrated.
The man-made rapids, with a 13-foot drop in elevation through the Riverfront Park area, were designed with safety in mind, moving water to the shore right after the rapids. Should a tip occur, whatever or whoever lands out of the raft would end up at the shore rather than floating farther down the river. Large boulders that help to direct the water flow are cemented into place.
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Three rapids features are built into the river, with varying degrees of difficulty. Bob Kloberdanz, Charles City Park and Recreation Board Chairperson, noted that rafters come from all over the country, even from Colorado, to experiences the Cedar River rapids, because of the challenge and consistency the more advanced features present.
Access to the river is always available and rafting is free. Currently there is not an equipment rental facility on site; however, you can rent equipment locally or bring your own. Riverfront Park is located at 700 Riverside Drive in Charles City, Iowa. Visit the Charles City Whitewater at Riverfront Park web site for further details.
South Bend, Indiana
South Bend’s East Race Waterway man-made white water course is a bit more structured than the Iowa attraction. Located in the heart of downtown South Bend on the St. Joseph River, you ride the rapids down the 1900 foot course using provided equipment. The cost is $5 per trip, which takes about five minutes. Kayaking is also allowed for $15 per day, but you must provide your own equipment.
The East Race Waterway was on my “must do” list of attractions during my visit to South Bend last July. But wouldn’t you know, on the day we were scheduled to do it, the weather was cold and rainy. So I once again didn’t get to experience it myself. However, a friend had done it in the past and enjoyed it so much that she and her boyfriend rode the course four times.
The East Race Waterway, located at 125 South Niles (Niles Avenue at Washington Street), is open weekends only June through August. Check the web site for exact hours.
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So personally experiencing the rapids in the Midwest cities remains on my list to do the next time I pass through either area. In the meantime, if you’ve done either of them, please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
Note: Neither the Charles City nor the South Bend whitewater experience locations have changing facilities (with the exception of a handicapped-size porta potty in South Bend) and you will get wet, so be prepared for that.
Disclosure: My visit to Riverfront Park was hosted by the Iowa Tourism Office, and my visit to South Bend was hosted by Visit South Bend Mishawaka. However, any opinions expressed in this article are my own. East Race Waterway photo provided by Visit South Bend Mishawaka.
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