Charles City Whitewater Park

November 28, 2022
Charles City Whitewater Park

Iowa’s first whitewater park was constructed in the heart of downtown Charles City and opened in the summer of 2011.

Located at Riverfront Park on the Cedar River, this one-quarter mile course is rated at Class II/III levels with three distinct features for paddlers of all abilities: Dam Drop, Tew Shanez, and Exit Exam. Each feature has a canoe/fish passage on the river left for a smoother ride through the rapids, and Dam Drop has been dubbed by paddlers as “the best wave in the Midwest.”

Kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, tubers, canoeists, fishermen and all river enthusiasts can all enjoy this course, which is accessible year-round and free for all to use.

Charles City Whitewater Park hosts the annual Charles City Challenge, a whitewater festival with events for paddlers of all skill levels and additional activities on shore for those who prefer to remain dry. Riverfront Park boasts a beautiful setting for the event, with stone amphitheater, naturalized ravine play area, nine-hole disc golf course, labyrinth, trail and picnic shelters.

The course was designed by Recreation Engineering and Planning from Boulder, Colorado; they have designed about 80% of the whitewater courses built in the United States.

Since it opened, the whitewater course has brought new life and vitality to downtown Charles City, Iowa. Prior to its installation, the riverfront area in the downtown district was vastly underutilized and inactive, save for some occasional fishing. Now it is the centerpiece of Riverfront Park, which has become a hub of outdoor activity. Rarely will you not see someone out for a stroll, running or walking their dog along the riverfront trail, reading a book or enjoying lunch on one of the many benches overlooking the whitewater course, fishing along the riverbank or out on the water course itself. All of that additional activity not only draws people to the downtown, but benefits the local retailers, restaurants and service providers as a result. The local campground and hotels also benefit from the visitor traffic the whitewater course attracts from all over the Midwest. It also provides an opportunity for Charles City’s other attractions to get noticed and draw from the additional traffic.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the whitewater course has put Charles City on the map as a unique destination for a lot of people who might otherwise have never experienced what the community and North Iowa has to offer. It has also served as an example and inspiration for other communities looking to do something with their dangerous low head dams or add outdoor attractions. Several other Iowa communities have since built, are currently working on, or looking at whitewater features of their own.

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