If You Build It: Wausau, WI Whitewater Park

A 20-year-old whitewater park that's perfect for beginner and intermediate paddling

Photo courtesy of wausauwhitewater.org
Photo courtesy of wausauwhitewater.org

For decades, European racers have modified natural waterways to create competitive whitewater courses. One of the first American communities to adopt this approach was Wausau, Wis., where a nonprofit group of slalom enthusiasts envisioned a downtown whitewater training location on the Wisconsin River. By 1974, volunteers had optimized features for slalom gates along a stretch of river spanning about six football fields.

Local boaters formed the Wausau Area Canoe Kayak Association, led by visionary paddler Ray McClain. Paddling is dependent on dam releases, which are scheduled at least one weekend per month from May to September and push flow rates to 650 cfs—enough to produce Class II to III whitewater. The course has been updated over the past 20 years to reflect the rise of freestyle kayaking.

On dam releases, Wausau bustles with activity. This summer, Wausau Whitewater is hosting the US Open Canoe Slalom Nationals in July and the Midwest Freestyle Championships in August. The balance of release weekends is dedicated to recreational paddlers, with beginner to intermediate instruction and freestyle clinics.

Click the links below to read about more of America’s best whitewater parks:

Columbus, GA

With features at all water levels and proximity to downtown, the Columbus Park is a centerpiece of the community.


Salida, CO

Salida, CO, built a whitewater park that cleaned up the river bed and became a centerpiece of the small community.


San Marcos, TX

Born from the remains of a decrepit dam, the Rio Vista Park includes several features and lights for night surfing in San Marcos, TX.


Charlotte, NC

The USNWC pumps 12 million gallons of whitewater to create Class IV whitewater rapids for rafters, kayakers, and paddle boarders.


Bend, OR

A boom adventure town, Bend, OR, built a whitewater park as part of a dam removal project.


Oklahoma City, OK

Legendary Olympian Scott Shipley spearheaded the $45 million River Sport Rapids in Oklahoma City.


Charles City, IA

Charles City reshaped a seven-foot-high dam to create a world-class wave in an unlikely location.