Whitewater Rafting in the City

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.

Charles City Whitewater at Riverfront ParkThe 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.

East Race Waterway, South BendThe 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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6 thoughts on “Whitewater Rafting in the City

  • May 15, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Not heard of man-made white water rafting courses before – how interesting. Something I’d love to try one day.

    • May 16, 2015 at 10:19 pm

      It’s a good way to try out whitewater rafting to decide if you want to go on a longer trip.

  • May 15, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    I love white water rafting! Weather can sometimes make for tough conditions, but when you time it right it is such a blast! I have never heard of courses in this area before, but it’s always good to keep in mind 🙂

    • May 16, 2015 at 10:18 pm

      I hadn’t heard about it until a couple of years ago and then found two of them in a short time, I believe the only two in the Midwest.

  • May 16, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Sorry you didn’t get to experience the rafting, but I hope next time you’ll have better luck. I like kayaking, I’ve never done white-water rafting. Might be thrilling, but I’m also a bit scared to do it. Maybe some day I’ll push myself into doing it. 🙂 YOLO, right?

    • May 16, 2015 at 10:13 pm

      White water rafting always looked like so much fun to me, but my husband wasn’t thrilled with the idea since he is a non-swimmer. I talked him into a half-day trip in Colorado a few years ago. Afterward he wished we had done the full day. We had an excellent guide, who was at the back of the raft yelling instructions to everyone. We shared a raft with a family, the youngest about 10 years old. No one fell out. The rapids do get the adrenalin rushing, but it was great fun.


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