Photos Courtesy: Miami Conservancy District
Around the turn of the 19th century, the Wright Brothers–aviation pioneers credited with inventing the world's first successful airplane–tinkered away in their bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. They were key players in more than just aviation — they hopped on the bicycle craze early and were editors for the local paper in Dayton, The Dayton Tattler. With their eyes set on the sky, the Wright Brothers may not have realized the ground they laid to launch Dayton into a future of recreation tourism, from on-water adventures along the Great Miami Riverway to trails across the land and the open sky above.
Today, the Great Miami Riverway claims the largest paved trail system in the nation, with over 330 miles of connected bike trails weaving alongside the scenic Great Miami River. The Riverway itself is one of only 22 National Water Trails, spanning over 150 miles to its confluence with the Ohio River.
However, the presence of trails and recreational amenities alone is not enough to attract hikers, cyclists and paddlers. If you build them, they will not come unless you have powerful resources to communicate and market those recreational opportunities and their significance to the public. The Wright Brothers had the right idea — pairing communication with recreation is a powerful combination. We can see that same synergy at work in Dayton today.
The Great Miami Riverway includes 99 miles of the Great Miami River from Sydney to Hamilton. Nineteen partner groups work on everything from destination marketing to riverfront revitalization and development to improved signage and paddler amenities. Groups like these work behind the scenes to create the best recreational experience for us paddlers.
While Dayton is just one of the cities in the Great Miami Riverway, it is a great place to get your feet wet and start your paddling adventure. If you’re looking to get on the water for just a few hours, rent a kayak from Whitewater Wearhouse and paddle the seven miles through downtown from Eastwood Metropark on the Mad River to Carillon Historical Park. The city of Dayton retrofitted a low dam on a downtown section of the Great Miami River into a whitewater park called River Run with two passageways, one for novice paddlers and one for more experienced paddlers.
"It's fun just to watch the kayakers do tricks and flips in the rapids," said Elizabeth Connor, the Great Miami Riverway Coordinator with the Miami Conservancy District, an organization working to protect, preserve and promote the Riverway and its communities. If you're not ready to get wet, join the ranks of spectators on the riverbank to watch the kayakers play.
Want to stay by the water after working up an appetite on the river? Stop into Basil's and enjoy great food, drinks and outdoor patio seating with a stellar view of the Great Miami River. Dayton is also home to Century Bar, one of the top 10 bourbon bars in the U.S., and niche bars like the Proto Buildbar, a 3D printing lab and cafe with classes and technology experiences for the whole family.
Dayton is just one stop on the Great Miami Riverway. Paddlers can choose their own adventure on part of the water trail (using 10-mile segment maps) or explore the whole 99 miles with a plethora of places to eat and stay or camp for the night. For a full day on the river, paddle the 25 miles from Troy to Dayton. Fuel up on coffee at the Boston Stoker and either bring your own lunch or pop into Canal Street Deli for a sandwich and beer to go (and if you're not on a time crunch, play some of their free arcade games). Drive your boat to Troy or rent one and arrange shuttling services through one of the outfitters in Dayton, Tipp City, or Troy (links below).
Looking to get pumped up before hitting the water? Troy is home to the WACO Air Museum, one of twelve stops on the Aviation Trail, where visitors can fly a biplane for a quick 12-minutes — a great way to get your energy up before a long paddle. Of course, viewing the planes from your kayak might suffice for those with an aversion to altitude.
The Great Miami Riverway can be seen through a variety of lenses: recreation (water and land trails for days), history (beyond aviation history, check out the ancient mounds at Johnston Farm and Indian Agency), and art (nearby Hamilton is known as the City of Sculptures with a must-see, drive-through sculpture park). There is already something for everyone but the river is about to get even better, especially for paddlers. According to Connor, the Riverway invested over $16 million in riverfront developments last year alone and has plans to improve signage, provide kayak lockers along the water trail, increase access points and improve online resources for route planning.
On par with their aviation history, the sky’s the limit for the Great Miami Riverway through Dayton, Ohio. If the Dayton Tattler were still in print, the daily gossip would probably be about which trail is the best and what people have heard about upcoming plans for greater paddling amenities in the region.
More of North America’s (Next) Best Paddling Towns:
- Revel in the tranquil Pennsylvania waters that helped shape our nation’s history along the Schuylkill River Water Trail in Phoenixville, PA.
- The departure terminus for a bucket-list canoe circuit in Wells, B.C.
- An urban paddling gem with infrastructure that Twin Cities paddlers in Minneapolis.
- 37 miles of managed water trail on the New River near Pembroke, VA.
- Explore the country’s second largest delta near Mobile, Ala.
- Lively access to the Kansas River National Water Trail in Lawrence, Kan.
- Paddle downstream, both ways, on the Waccamaw River in Conway, S.C.
- A bayou tour through Cajun country in Breaux Bridge, La.
- Mid-Atlantic rivers and bays in Snow Hill, Maryland
- A range of paddling options along the Huron River in Ann Arbor, Michigan
— Check out C&K‘s full list of North America’s Top Paddling Towns