Whitewater Parks


Whitewater parks are becoming increasingly popular across the United States, but what are they?  In most cases these parks are in a river that has been modified to enhance the opportunities for recreation, generally kayaking and sometimes surfing or stand up paddle boarding.   Done properly a smooth-flowing stream can become a complex whitewater adventure.

In a few cases, these are man-made channels with pumps that recirculate the water. This type of whitewater park is usually designed for white water rafting adventures or competitive kayaking.  In this post,  I’ll talk about the type of whitewater park that uses  a natural stream and its flow of water.

Building a Whitewater Park

Whitewater parks require a great deal of careful planning.  Typically, a community will identify a segment of a stream or river that citizens think might work as a whitewater park.  If the stream and its banks are publicly owned and suitable as a park, a professional design engineer is brought in to examine the possibilities and determine whether a whitewater park is feasible at the given location.

Building a Whitewater ParkDesigners of these parks are experts in fluid dynamics, so they understand what will happen to the water with various river modifications.  They also understand kayaking and the other uses of these parks so they can create attributes that users want.  They will evaluate the existing shape of the channel, underlying rock formations, variations in water flow over time, bank stability and many other factors to determine whether or not it’s worth creating a park in the given location.

If all looks good,  the process moves on to preliminary design and ultimately final design.  The design phases are exceptionally complex and typically use a variety of computer programs.  They start with developing a digital terrain model of the existing river bed and a model of the way water flows through the river section.  The flow in most natural streams varies considerably, so the design engineer needs to understand how the river behaves at different flow levels.

Once the existing system is well understood, the designer analyzes the effect of placing rock features and barriers at different locations.  While the flow characteristics would make the created water behavior vary over time,  the designer seeks to have the system offer a high quality recreation experience over the widest possible range of flow levels.

Once a final design that would make the stream behave in ways that are desired by kayakers is completed, construction can begin.  Construction requires heavy equipment and skilled operators that can convert the plans into reality.  When complete, or nearly so, expert kayakers take to the water to test the system.  Often adjustments are needed to get the best possible attributes for kayakers.

U.S. Whitewater Parks

There are a lot of whitewater parks scattered across the U.S.  here are just a few to illustrate the different types that have been constructed.


Gore Canyon Whitewater Park

GoreCanyonThis park is located on the Colorado River outside Kremmling, Colorado near the Bureau of Land Management’s Pumphouse Recreation Area. It took six years and $1.7 million to make the park a reality.  It opened just a year ago to provide an exciting experience to kayakers, boaters and even stand up paddle boarders that can surf in the  large wave. Huge boulders were placed in the river bed to create a wave system that allows users to paddle through an eddy and move back and forth among the waves.  This allows long term water play in this special area without being forced downstream by the river flow.


Bend Whitewater Park

Bend Whitewater Park - by Patricia HaugenBend, Oregon has a great whitewater park in the Deschutes River in the Old Mill District of the city.  The park offers three channels:

  • a bypass channel for people that are rafting the river and want to avoid the park.
  • a whitewater channel that offers four whitewater waves to challenge whitewater enthusiasts
  • a nature habitat channel that protects an area for wildlife and excludes people.

The whitewater channel is suitable for kayaking, standup paddle boarding and surfing – if you’re good enough!   You can see a live webcam view of this park at eyeonbend.com.


Clear Creek Whitewater Park

Clear Creek Whitewater ParkThe city of Golden, Colorado, dedicated this park in 1998 for recreational canoeing and kayaking.  It is right in the city and runs about ¼ mile.   Its drops, pools and fast eddies requires proficient paddlers that can handle fast-moving, cold white water.  The park becomes the setting for  the annual Golden Kayak Rodeo Competition and the Golden Games.


Truckee River Whitewater Park

renoThis park is located in downtown Reno, Nevada.  It’s a half-mile long and features eleven drop pools created from 7,000 tons of flat-top rocks and boulders placed in the river.  It’s a class 2 experience suitable for kayaks, canoes, rafts and inner tubes.  There is also a webcam at this park.



Manchester Whitewater Park

Manchester IowaManchester, Iowa has a whitewater park in the  Maquoketa River, right downtown.  The 900-foot stretch of river offers six 18-inch drop features.  It’s suitable for kayaks, tubes, canoes, rafts, boogie boards and paddle boards.  The features were created with large rocks grouted together and anchored into the river bank



But Why?

For the most part these types of facilities are paid for with public funds (taxes) and grants from foundations.  Besides offering great recreation opportunities for local residents and all the benefits that brings, they serve as economic engines for many communities.  Typically, the economic development aspect involves the draw of recreationists from outside the area who spend their money at motels, restaurants and the like.  These parks are often surrounded by rental operations that offer an array of canoes, kayaks and other equipment creating a new or enhanced economic sector in the community.  In addition,  unique recreational opportunities like this can draw businesses and entrepreneurs that like to be located near outstanding recreational opportunities.

Using a Whitewater Park

Most of these parks are free to use and typically lack supervision.  Parents are expected to supervise their kids and users are expected to be capable of handling themselves and their equipment safely.  Often use is limited to daylight hours.

Take your own equipment or rent what you need nearby, but if you can get to a whitewater park, get out there and try it!

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