Paddling in the area is generally pretty easy. You just have to have an idea where you can access the river, then figure out how to shuttle from one end to the other. Strategies I’ve used for this in the past include having two vehicles, using a bicycle, and hitchhiking. Be careful.
Paddling.net is a great resource for finding launch sites. Check out their map at: http://www.paddling.net/launches/
St. Joseph River – This is the most obvious place for South Benders to go paddling and includes some really great sections. Click the link to see what I’ve done so far and for more information on planning a trip.
East Race Waterway – This is not a river in itself, but a small section carved out of the St. Joe that’s a manmade whitewater rapid course. This is a pretty exciting thing to have in the middle of downtown and I highly recommend trying it out. Check out my page for more info.
Judy Creek – A small creek that winds all over South Bend and eventually ends in the St. Joseph River
Christiana Creek – I just started exploring this, but it starts at Juno Lake in Michigan and winds down to meet the St. Joe in Elkhart. The first half of it includes narrow winding stretched and lots of expensive houses. I’ve heard that the second half has some rapids so be prepared.
Elkhart River – Another tributary of the St. Joe, this one starts South and flows North right into downtown Elkhart.
Baugo Creek – And yet another nearby tributary. Pick it up South of Osceola and follow it into Ferrettie Baugo Creek Park. This one is much more natural and you’ll see fewer homes along the creek. The creek is not actively kept clear and you will likely run into large log jams that require difficult portages. If you’re using a heavy boat, this might not be the place to go.
Kalamazoo River – A short drive into Michigan and you can start exploring a whole other river system.
Dowagiac River – Haven’t been to it yet but I’ve heard good things.
Headwaters – Although I haven’t paddled on the river itself, I have done some exploratory paddling through a series of lakes and canals that eventually feed into the river. This is not something I recommend unless you are an experienced paddler, have a very light kayak, and do not mind extreme obstacles and hardships on paddling trips. You will encounter river blockages, shallow water that needs to be portaged, and will likely have to walk down much of the waterway dragging your boat. However if you are interested in paddling in places that few others do, you might enjoy it. The scenery includes steep canal banks, cornfields, and lake shore homes. To read more about this experience, click here.
Kankakee Rivers – I’ve passed over this on roads and they look pretty sweet.
Lake Michigan – Find a nice beach and launch your boat right into one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world.
You’ll need a canoe or kayak, paddles, and a PFD (floatation device) at the very least. My suggestion is to watch craigslist for a boat. A good deal on a used canoe or kayak is $200. The beauty is that they very rarely loose value, so when you decide you no longer want it, you can just relist it for the price you bought it. St. Patrick’s Park also rents canoes and kayaks on weekends in the Summer time.