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Mad River in Ohio

Trip Overview

A great paddle is offered by the Mad River in west central Ohio. The headwaters of this river begin just north west of West Liberty in Champaigne County near Piatt Castles. The spring fed river is one of Ohio's few trout streams and offers year round paddling free of ice. The Mad River conflues with the Miami River in downtown Dayton, OH and continues on as the Miami all the way to Cincinnati and the beautiful Ohio River.

The three of us jumped on the Mad River at the West Liberty ball park off of Rt.245 on a sunny morning around 9am. As is par for the course... this was about 2 hours later than we had planned for. Knowing that we had a long paddle in front of us we outfitted the Daggers and pushed off. The swift current offers a long, effortless paddle, but the goal was 30 miles by sunset.

Less than a mile into the paddle we met a large doe with her week old fawn drinking from the cold water. The Mad River offers 10-15 foot banks and is bordered by farmland and trees for much of the route. These features made a difficult escape for the fawn.

As we continue on, we pass a loud livery with a school group just north of Route 36. Not yet tired we kick it into gear and make short work of the noisy yougsters loaded in yaks and canoes as they pinballed from one bank to the next. In an effort to escape them we decide to run the first low head damn north of Urbana on river right. Successfully, one of us decides to stand in celebration of his victory over the dam. As he kayak surfs he spills. We then spend the next 10 minutes watching and laughing as he bilges his Dagger. Needless to say, the kids ran the dam too and caught back up. We were no longer cool. They soon took out and we were on our own again. As we continued the paddle for the rest of the day we passed a handful of fly fisherman who all agreed that the fishing was good.

Paddling on we stop randomly for lunch and relief. 15 miles into the paddle we make a difficult portage over a downed tree trunk and continue on to the most picturesque portion of the river where trees arch over the water as the sun inconsistently beams through.

Pushing on we begin to tire and we start counting down the bridges until we reach our predetermined sand bar camp site. Finally we cross under the I-70 bridge and make our way just out of hearing distance of the semis and make camp just before a double hair pin turn loaded up with strainers. We make our fire, pitch our tents, eat some stew, drop some lures, and share some jokes. Exhausted from the day we do our best to ignore the pesky rocks that are uncomfortably located under our gear. Once we are all asleep my best friend (always fidgety) awakes in a panic as he hears a large object crash into the river. He passes it off as a sasquatch, we call him crazy, and back to sleep we go.

We wake in the morning to the sound of fighter jets overhead from Wright Patterson AFB and a quiet rustle of leaves and water. We spend some time to pack and determine how we will get around the strainers as the river's pace has quickened overnight. Knowing that we paddled over 30 miles the previous day, we are no longer rushed to finish the next 20. The second day includes one hellish portage and several more simple ones.

Portages included one more strainer (we will call it blackmail turn) near WPAFB, a stone quaries access road with culverts (location of a paddler's death several years back) and a little place called Huffman Dam. Huffman Dam is an earthen flood control dam for the city of Dayton that was constructed many a decade ago. An educated guess suggests that it is approxiamtely 80 feet tall. Portage access is river right and running the dam can get you arrested. One hour later we are on the other side getting back in our boats. The portage proved difficult as we lugged our yaks up the steep banks of the dam. From the dam you catch the first glimpse of downtown Dayton... deceptively close.

We push off once more, making two more portages before reaching the wider part of the river. This portion of the river features shallow water and shifting sand bars. Although close to civilization the river surprisingly offers a very quiet paddle between Springfield and Dayton. We encountered many more deer, ducks, cranes, and small woodland creatures. Finding the current and making proper decisions will keep the bottom of your boat off the sand bars and you should have little problems.

As we get to downtown Dayton among the large buildings the water loses all of its current. We break out the cell phone and contact a kayaker's best friend: The Wife who lets you play and comes to get you when you are done. Fortunately, we did not paddle beyond her location and after waving at her from the oppositte side of the river we unloaded the gear and started the trek home. The 54 mile (based on our GPS) paddle was over and as we looked at our watch it was not quite 1pm.


There are two active liveries


From Springfield, OH travel north on Rt.68 until you get to West Liberty (you will pass over the Mad several times as you travel north... keep going).
From Bellefontaine, OH travel south Rt.68 and do the same.


The best river access is located off of Rt.245 on the east side of West Liberty. Other put-ins are Lippincott Road, Rt.36.
Take outs closer to Dayton are Hoffman Dam which has an access road off of Rt.4, Harshmann Rd several miles further offers a public park for access, and downtown Dayton has many take outs.


Downtown Dayton parking is available if you contact the whitewater store and ask permission. The Dayton Canoe Club is just north of the Miami Confluence as well.


Google Earth is a great resource, there are 2 professors from Wittenberg University who have a fantastic map with all portages and routes ONLINE! Google Earth also offers great imagery of the river southwest of Urbana to its confluence.

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip