Paddle Whitewater in Downtown Dayton

Photo: Courtesy Recreation Engineering and Planning

Head west of Columbus to run the rapids of the Mad and Great Miami rivers on an urban adventure through Dayton.

Dayton is the self-styled outdoor adventure capital of Ohio. Though folks in Columbus, Cleveland and Athens might make their own argument, the combination of Dayton’s premier local rock climbing and its constructed whitewater features along the Mad and Great Miami rivers sure make a compelling case. Paddle the Mad to downtown Dayton where easy access points, whitewater action, plus a home stretch beneath a huge water fountain make this destination well worth the one-hour drive west from Columbus. 

Thanks to the generosity of Dayton taxpayers and private donors, Five Rivers MetroParks opened the Mad River Run whitewater feature in 2013 and then River Run just past the confluence of the Mad and the Great Miami River in 2017. Today, you can paddle 4 miles of the 65-mile Mad between these in-river constructed rapids for a fun urban outing. So grab your kayak, canoe or riverboard (plus a PFD and helmet) and head out prepared

The Mad is spring-fed, therefore you can generally paddle year-round; check the flow or call ahead to MetroParks. While you’re at it, look into all of the options Five Rivers MetroParks offers in their river-adjacent parks, including paddling classes

Photo: Courtesy Recreation Engineering and Planning

Recommended route: Eastwood MetroPark to RiverScape MetroPark

Start at Harshman Road in Eastwood MetroPark, with ample parking, facilities and an official put in (river-left, on river’s south side). In less than a mile, come to Eastwood’s whitewater feature, Mad River Run. Stay here and play for a while before continuing downstream. With a great portage and viewing area, you can check out the Class III wave before paddling it, and you can also do laps (there’s a river-right passage for beginners).

Continue downstream for 3 more miles, where it’s greener and wilder than you might expect before the downtown Dayton skyline comes into view. Just past the confluence with the Great Miami River downtown, arrive at RiverScape and its whitewater feature, River Run, which has two drops. The first drop (RiverScape Wave) has a recreational chute on the right with the whitewater chute on the left; for the second drop (Arty, named after the nearby Dayton Art Institute) this order reverses, with the recreational chute on the left and the whitewater chute on the right. This is another ideal spot for intermediate and advanced paddlers to play in a retentive yet friendly wave. 

When you’re finished, infrastructure makes it easy to take out and return to Eastwood.  You can even lock a bike here, river-left (or rent one in the summer) and ride the Great Miami River Trail to the Mad River Trail back to where you began. 

Timing is key: If you want to paddle beneath the Five Rivers Fountain of Lights, plan to be at RiverScape at the top of the hour, when the fountain operates (specifically, from four minutes before to four minutes after the hour) Memorial Day through Labor Day. One of the largest fountains in the world, the Fountain of Lights central “geyser” shoots up 200 feet and four land-based jets shoot water toward the center, totaling 800 feet across. 

This section of river is still tame, generally Class I, but if the water is running too high and swift, take your boat out on the flatwater lakes at Eastwood—you can paddle peacefully on the lagoon or Blue Lake for a good birding outing (eagles and ospreys); the mile-long Eastwood Lake is open to paddling, but is best on odd calendar days when powerboats are not allowed. You can fish Eastwood Lake for bluegill, crappie, bass, carp and catfish. If you’re looking to fish for trout, you’re in the right place: The Mad is the only river in Ohio cold enough to support a year-round trout population. More info:

Getting There

Take Interstate 70 west to Exit 41. From there, head south 8 miles to Eastwood MetroPark.

Refresh & Refuel

The RiverScape Cafe is open on site Memorial Day through Labor Day. The nearby Mudlick Tap House has sandwiches and entrees, and their on-tap beers are available by the pint or the growler.  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.