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White River in Indiana

Trip Overview

East Fork of White River
I have three pre-kindergarten memories that are definitely mine, not repeated stories placed in my memory by others. One of these memories is from 1947 when, at age four, I woke up in a tent to the smell of my father cooking bacon and coffee over a wood fire on the East Fork of White River.

From May 26 through May 28, 2006, my youngest granddaughter, Noora, age 7, and I repeated that trip.

Recent heavy rains in the upper part of the water shed had caused the levels to rise, so we watched the gauge information via the web and scouted the river at the bridges waiting for the right time to launch. Friday at noon the river had been falling for 48 hours, the gauge at Columbus was 2.7 (flood is around 10) and there was no high water bubble upstream, so my father, now 89, drove us to the public ramp in Columbus and waived us off at one o'clock.

We paddled about 4 miles in a couple of hours, inspecting the mouths of Haw and Clifty Creeks and watching many Great Blue Herons along the way. The inside of almost every bend had a sandbar and well before supper time we picked one with a smooth water line and a high flat spot for our first night. Deer tracks and skipping rocks made the time pass quickly.

Saturday was hot (over 90), humid and sunny. We put in 12 miles at about 3 miles per hour with hourly stops for stretches, snacks and exploration, plus lots more rock skipping. Birds included a harrier, red-headed woodpeckers, red wings, lots of swallows, more herons, and a goshawk who complained loudly of our approach to the nest and began circling ominously before we passed far enough down stream to reduce its hostility. Muskrat and squirrels were the mammal life and several kinds of turtles represented the reptiles. We watched a little two inch fish repeatedly jump into the air followed by 12 inch small mouth bass just inches behind it.

Saturday night's camp was on a wooded island, primarily to get some shade for the tent. This part of Indiana went onto daylight savings time this year for the first time in a decade, and sunset is around 8:30 and the tent stayed hot if it were in the sun.

Sunday, half-way down our final 4 miles, we came to a couple fishing from their canoe, the first people we had seen on the river. We took out in Rockford, just above the low head day at the old bridge between Columbus and Seymour. The new road (Rt 11) crosses the river on a blue steel bridge. Turn right at the stoplight just a half mile south and drive a few hundred feet to the river. The public access is on the left (downstream) side of the road. There is a low head dam just below the ramp, so hug the left bank under the road bridge and don't take chances with your landing.

My father arrived at our agreed rendezvous just minutes after we did.

This is an easy and forgiving camping trip that could be done as a single nighter by adult paddlers of intermediate ability. Even at slightly elevated water levels, camping sites were abundant. The East Fork has a very large drainage area (running 150 miles north from our put-in) and can be paddled all summer.




50 year old Grumman aluminum 18 ft. canoe.


None. In Indiana the public owns the riverway from banktop to banktop making all sandbars and mid-stream islands legal public camping.


Launch in Columbus, IN on river left, at public access ramp just below low head dam and just downstream from Rt. 46 Bridge. This ramp is in downtown Columbus, just downstream from the Senior Center and just upstream of the Columbus sewage treatment facility.


"White River Guide" by Jerry Hay.
FYI: A new bridge from Azalia to the west has been added about 4 miles south of Columbus. This bridge is not shown in the guide. It has no river access.
  • Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip