Looking for a little excitement in life? Iowa is home to three Whitewater parks.  These three parks are all found in the northeast quadrant of the state: Elkader, Manchester, and Charles City. Iowa’s three Whitewater courses are great places for families to be active while exploring the great Iowan outdoors.  Whitewater rafting is the perfect excuse to break up a monotonous routine and spark a little excitement.

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Elkader Whitewater Park, built in 2013, draws numerous visitors to the small town of Elkader, Iowa.  This park is located on the Turkey River (pictured above), which flows directly through the heart of Elkader.  This whitewater park offers three main features, including “The Gobbler Wave,” “High-Flow Wave Boulder Island,” and “Fish/Canoe Passage.”  Course-goers can enjoy the whitewater in kayaks, boogie boards, tubes, stand up paddle boards, and canoes.  This course also offers a 24/7 live streaming webcam that has over 15,000 views (about 10x the population of the town) that can be viewed here.  If patrons are looking for a more relaxing experience, the park offers easy river access for fishing and great spots to spectate as others maneuver the course.  Other attractions in Elkader include Founders Park, recreational trails, Carter House Museum, Elkader Opera House, and many more—an impressive selection for such a small town.  Elkader has 11 sites on the National Register of Historic Places including our Downtown Historic District. To learn more about Elkader visit their community website here.


Manchester Whitewater Park is the newest whitewater park in Iowa and holds the title as the largest in the state.  This park is located on the Maquoketa River and runs through the city of Manchester.  Unlike the other two Iowa parks, this park offers six separate 18” drops.  Visitors can navigate this one-of-a-kind course in kayaks, tubes, rafts, paddle boards, boogie/surf boards, and canoes.  If whitewater explorers have their own equipment, there is no fee to use the park.  In addition to being free the park is open to the public 24/7 365 days a year.  Manchester hosts many events around the year with the river as a focal point.  A couple of the bigger events include Riverfest (pictured above) and River the Rigatta Cardboard Boat Races which was put on by Franklin Street Brewery.  These are great entertainment venues to bring the whole family out to and enjoy from being in the water to spectating from the banks (pictured below)! The cardboard boat races had the river banks packed with over 750 spectators, out to see some great entertainment.  But for those without the right gear, have no worries; rental information can be found here.  For those hesitant to face the six 18” drops, Fishing is also a great activity offered at the Whitewater Park, as game fish flock to the boulders and moving water.  Manchester was named “River Town of the Year” a highly acclaimed title, encouraging tourist exploration of the community In addition to the whitewater park, Manchester has an active downtown bustling with restaurants, shops, and its own brewery (Franklin Street Brewery).


Charles City Whitewater at Riverfront Park is open year round, giving thrill seekers the opportunity to brave the Cedar River course no matter the season.  This park is home to three feature drops: Dam Drop, Doc’s Drop, and Exit Exam.  Charles City Whitewater brags about their “Doc’s Drop,” a feature in the middle of their course, saying, “The feature is [a] powerful and aggressive freestyle hole conducive to dynamic aerial moves.  National level competitions will be held in this feature and less experienced boaters will find it challenging to punch the hole” (CC Whitewater).  Kayaks, canoes, tubes, and stand up paddle boards are options for cruising down the whitewater.  This year, the park hosted the “Charles City Challenge” and the “Iowa Games Whitewater Slalom.”  If you’re interested in checking out the course before making the journey to Charles City, check out their 24/7 live stream of the whitewater here.  For a weekend trip to Charles City there is an abundance to do, including golf, Charles City Art Center, Charles Theatre, recreational trails, bowling, and disc golfing (to name a few).

All three Iowa whitewater parks rising in popularity, drawing flocks of recreation and adventure seekers from across the state and country.  These are all wonderful weekend vacation destinations filled with small town, Iowa charm. Elkader, Manchester, and Charles City, Whitewater parks all offer fun, memorable, and adventurous experiences for the whole family. Whitewater parks exemplify yet another attraction that makes Iowa a unique and wonderful place to explore.

Editors Note: If you would like to more know about a respective park, click on the highlighted link at the beginning of each section.

This article has been featured on Manchester Whitewater Park, Charles City Whitewater, Elkader’s homepage, and Elkader Whitewater.

Elkader Photos courtesy of Jennifer Cowsert & Claire Wright

Manchester Photos and header photo courtesy of Lori Cole