No physical feature better defines The Bend than the river that runs through its heart.
Starting at its headwaters near Hillsdale, Mich., the St. Joseph River zigzags before turning south toward northern Indiana. It flows west through Elkhart, Mishawaka and South Bend before turning sharply north. Its this arc that gives South Bend its name.
The river then wanders north back into Michigan, through Niles, before emptying into Lake Michigan.
The Bend has in large part flourished because of the river. Early industrialists set up large businesses along it, utilizing raceways that serve different functions today.
Now the river is an outdoors paradise. Its offers some of the best rafting, kayaking, canoeing, rowing and fishing in the region.
At one time abandoned and filled in, the East Race Waterway is now one of The Bend’s top attractions. Visitors can on summer weekends splash down the East Race’s Class II rapids. It was the first man-made whitewater rafting course in North American upon opening in the 1980s.
Those looking for more of a leisurely trip rather than an adrenaline rush will find plentiful options for canoes and kayaks. An urban route links Keller Park and St. Patrick’s County Park (you can find canoe and kayak rental at the later). A trip between the two covers about 4.5 miles, typically in just over an hour.
Another paddling options doesn’t involve the river at all.
Head south toward North Liberty and you’ll find Potato Creek State Park, a serene escape in a mostly rural part of the county. Its centerpiece is the 327-acre Worster Lake. The park rents kayaks, canoes, rowboats and pedal boats to those looking to enjoy the river. Your view is likely to consistent of dense woods, abundant wildlife and families at play on the beach.
Looking for another boat launch? Head to Osceola and put in at Baugo Bay. You can then follow a creek past islands near Ferrettie/Baugo Creek County Park.
No matter how you’d like to utilize them, The Bend’s many waterways and lakes await for your next visit.