East Race Waterway, South Bend, Indiana

East Race Waterway sign

South Bend, Indiana is home to the East Race Waterway, an opportunity for rafting here in the Midwest. We went on Saturday, July 4th (what a way to celebrate!), and had a great time.

Originally dug  to glean power from the St. Joseph River, the Race was filled in and lay unused for many years. In 1978, plans were made to use tax dollars to recreate the Race as the first artificial whitewater center in North America (who’d a thunk it?!).  It opened to the public in 1984 and did as the planners hoped, helping to revitalize South Bend’s downtown.

The race is about 1,900 feet in length and more than a thousand cubic feet of water per second rush through the Race when all three of the dam gates are fully opened. Typically the public enjoys Class II whitewater: some rough water, some rocks, small drops, waves and maneuvering to avoid capsizing.

Required height for rafting is 54″ (this was the first year my youngest was that tall and the main reason I haven’t tried this sooner). Children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult in the raft.

Kayakers are welcome on the East Race, but must supply their own equipment. We saw some people working the rapids pretty well in actual whitewater kayaks, how cool it would be to live nearby and have this resource.

You can buy tickets online or at the trailer onsite and, as of today, tickets are $6 per ride per person, or $5 per ride per person if you buy 2 or 3 rides at a time.

It’s a simple system – you get your tickets, fit a PDF and helmet, grab a paddle and get a raft (several sizes are available to accommodate two or more people in a group). You take the raft down to the launch, get in the raft, and off you go. At the other end, you navigate to a landing ramp, drop off the equipment, and walk back along the Race to the start.

We did three trips down the Race, and if you want to get wet, sit in the front, where you are sure to get a dousing. Middle and rear spots in our raft got a bit wet, but nothing like being in front.

I’d say pretty confidently that almost anyone can do this. Our group consisted of family members aged 9 to 54, and only I have any sort of paddling experience. We had no issues navigating the obstacles, small waves, and got down safely each time.

One of the best things about this, especially in terms of safety, is that the Race is neither deep nor particularly fast. If you fall out (we didn’t but others did), the water appears to be waist deep or so in most places, so it’s easy to get under control. Alternatively, you can lay back, feet downriver, and enjoy the float. We saw both happen.

This is a fantastic way to spend a Summer afternoon – at this time the Race is open weekends throughout the Summer.

More paddling fun:


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