In 2011, a small town in Iowa became an unlikely playboating destination when paddling visionaries at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and community leaders completed a plan to turn a deadly low head dam on the Cedar River into a paddling feature. As its name suggests, Charles City’s Riverfront Park celebrates the joy and camaraderie that arise when people gather around free flowing water—proof-positive that whitewater parks bring benefits everywhere. The nearby communities of Elkader and Manchester took note, replacing their own out-of-date dams with paddling features, both in 2014.
At Charles City, a seven-foot-high dam at the top of the run was reshaped to create a broad, glassy wave—the self-proclaimed “premier” standup paddle board surf wave in the Midwest, which is also perfect for kayakers who love the weightless feeling of carving an impeccable wave. Just downstream, a hole feature known as “Doc’s Drop” is big enough for vertical moves, and the run ends with a hole and wave feature called “Exit Exam.” Best of all, city lights and steady flows provide 24- hour, year-round surfing.
Click the links below to read about more of America’s best whitewater parks:
A 20-year-old whitewater park that focuses on beginner and intermediate paddling.
With features at all water levels and proximity to downtown, the Columbus Park is a centerpiece of the community.
Salida, CO, built a whitewater park that cleaned up the river bed and became a centerpiece of the small community.
Born from the remains of a decrepit dam, the Rio Vista Park includes several features and lights for night surfing in San Marcos, TX.
The USNWC pumps 12 million gallons of whitewater to create Class IV whitewater rapids for rafters, kayakers, and paddle boarders.
A boom adventure town, Bend, OR, built a whitewater park as part of a dam removal project.
Legendary Olympian Scott Shipley spearheaded the $45 million Riversport Rapids in Oklahoma City.