In Charles City (pop. 7,500), a handful of paddling visionaries and local planners transformed a deadly lowhead dam on the Cedar River into one of the best whitewater features in the country. A pair of similar parks in nearby Elkader and Manchester soon followed, making northern Iowa into an unlikely playboating hotbed. The Charles City park features a pedestrian bridge for viewing, and night surfing by city lights. There's good canoeing and sea paddling nearby as well--the Upper Mississippi is two hours away, while the Great Lakes and Boundary Waters are within a half-day's drive. -- Katie McKy
See more: NORTH AMERICA’S BEST PADDLING TOWNS.
This story will appear in the June 2015 issue of Canoe & Kayak.