The Whitewater River may have been misnamed because there is really no true white water on the river. However, there are many rapids due to the steep gradient present. In fact, the Whitewater is said to be the swiftest river in the state as it falls an average of six feet per mile.
It rises in southern Randolph and Wayne Counties and flows in two main branches which are scarcely 10 miles apart as they flow southward before joining at Brookville. From here the Whitewater flows southeasterly into Ohio where it eventually joins the Miami River, a tributary of the Ohio River.
The watershed is generally steep, dissected land with farming taking place in the bottomlands and gently rolling uplands. Natural forest vegetation is limited to the banks of the watercourses and other slopes too steep to cultivate. The river was formed as the retreating glacial ice sheet dumped its meltwater to flow toward the Ohio River. Thick deposits of sand and gravel resulted and still characterize the river's bottom today.
The Whitewater Valley is rich in history, having been the first area in Indiana to be settled. Indian burial mounds on the highest hills testify to an even older historical significance. "Canal fever" struck in Indiana in the 1830s as a way to move goods and people. The Whitewater Canal was part of the vast internal improvement program undertaken by the State of Indiana. The program eventually sent the state into bankruptcy but the Whitewater Canal was completed by a private company. A fourteen-mile section of the original seventy-six mile canal is preserved from Laurel to Brookville as a state memorial. This memorial at Metamora features a working mill, a covered wooden aqueduct, a series of locks and a canal boat ride. An historic Whitewater Canal and River Trace (trail) generally follows the canal, providing a pleasurable hike.
At the close of the Civil War, the Whitewater Valley Railroad laid its tracks on the canal towpath. Today a scenic railroad operates on weekends to provide an authentic steam-engine train ride from Connersville to Brookville. Tourists, hikers and canoeists all make use of the railroad. Metamora has become a center of historical activity and is becoming a mecca for those interested in a view of the past and the opportunity to shop for art and antique items.
A number of recreational areas are located in the vicinity. Whitewater State Park lies astride Silver Creek, a tributary of the East Fork. The park has a 195 acre reservoir and offers swimming, fishing, boating, camping, and horse and hiking trails. Martindale State Fishing Area is a 25-acre facility located near Greensfork on a tributary of the same name. A dam on the East Fork of the Whitewater near Brookville has created a 5,260 acre reservoir providing opportunities for swimming, boating, hunting, fishing, camping, and related activities. Fishing on both forks and the main stem of the Whitewater is generally quite good. Species such as largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rock bass, channel catfish, crappie and carp are all available to the fishermen. Brookville Reservoir offers an added bonus of walleyes and muskellunge.
For the purpose of stream canoeing, we have limited our evaluation to the West Fork of the Whitewater River. The Brookville Reservoir comprises a major portion of the East Fork, and that portion left in its natural state is not usually canoeable during the dry summer months.
Cambridge City to Connersville
This section provides an 18-mile, 9-hour float. The banks provide a scenic and quite natural setting for a long trip which may be rough going for the first few miles because of shallow water, but is good further downstream. Pollution odor is negligible and little trash is evident.
The put-in site is a public park in Cambridge City. State Road 1 enters the city from the south and intersects U. S. 40 in town. From that intersection continue north on the city street (rather than on State Road 1 and U. S. 40) three blocks to Crietz Park and the river. About 4 hours downstream a feeder dam requires a portage on the right. The take out site is the bridge at the intersection of State Road 1 and State Road 44 on the southeast side of Connersville. The banks are steep and brush covered but the southeast corner is passable. Parking is available in the area. Your car shuttle back to the put-in should take State Road 1 north through Connersville to Cambridge City. At the intersection with U. S. 40 cross the Highway leaving State Road 1 and continue north three blocks to the put-in at Crietz Park.
A hospital is available in Connersville and doctors can be found in Cambridge City and Connersville.
Connersville to Laurel
The float down to the Laurel Feeder Dam is a 13-mile, 5-hour trip. A few pullovers might be necessary in low water as you pass a combination of pools and riffles. Despite some development along the banks, the canoeist can expect to see fox squirrel, raccoon, wood ducks and possibly whitetail deer along the way of a scenic float.
The put-in site is the bridge of State Highway 44 and State Road 1 on Connersville's southeast side. The banks are steep but the southeast corner is passable. The take-out site is a small park at the Whitewater Canal Feeder Dam at Laurel. As you pass under the bridge at Laurel watch for the dam ahead and take out at the park on the left. To reach the take-out by car take State Road 121 south to Laurel. Turn left (east) at the stop sigh and cross the river then take the first road to the right down to the park.
Your car shuttle should return to Laurel and take State Road 121 right (north) to Connersville. At the junction with State Road 44 turn right (east) and proceed to the take-out at the bridge over the Whitewater.
Medical assistance is available in Connersville.
Laurel to Metamora and Brookville
This section presents the alternative of a 7-mile, 3-hour, float to Metamora or continuing to Brookville for another 10 miles and approximately 3 hours on the river. Most of the area is agricultural with borders of trees and some woods along the banks. The area is very popular with canoeists, so you should expect to see other canoes, particularly on weekends below Metamora. It is a beautiful area rivaling Indiana's famous Brown County, and the quaint town of Metamora in particular has much to offer the casual passerby as well as the avid tourist.
The put-in site is in a small park at the Laurel Feeder Dam as described in the previous section. The take-out is southeast of Metamora where limited access is located at the U. S. 52 bridge. The best access is located on the downstream left side of the U. S. 52 bridge. Since access is limited at this site canoeists may wish to use the lane leading to a former covered bridge which is also located on the southeast side of the U. S. 52 bridge.
Additional access can be located at Goose Creek Road, where canoeists can put-in or take-out at the Whitewater Canal which is just a short float to the river.
For the car shuttle back to the put-in take U. S. 52 west through Metamora to State Road 121. Turn right (north) to Laurel. At the stop sign in the center of town turn right (east) across the river and take the first right to the dam.
The longer trip to Brookville continues the scenic float. Access in Brookville is available between the Old St. Mary's bridge and the new bridge located in the center of town. Parking is available nearby. There are canoe liveries in the Brookville area that have launch areas which can be used for a fee. It should be emphasized that the land on both sides of the river is private property and should not be trespassed without the owner's permission.
Medical assistance is available in Brookville and Connersville.
Metamora and Brookville to West Harrison, Ohio
From Metamora this is a 26-mile, 9-hour trip. Since few public access sites are available near Brookville it would be necessary to use services of the local canoe liveries in order to take a 16-mile, 6-hour trip.
The section is very popular with canoeists and summer campers, so it will not be an isolated trip but it is very scenic and enjoyable. The put-in at Metamora is near the roadside park on U. S. 52 just west of Metamora as described above. The take-out is at the northeast corner of the Jameson Road bridge in Dearborn County south of Harrison, Ohio on the Indiana-Ohio state line. By car, continue on old U. S. 52 south from Brookville and cross Interstate 74 near the state line. Staying off I-74, old U. S. 52 curves around the river and goes through Harrison, Ohio. In town U. S. 52 turns left and heads east but you should continue straight ahead about four blocks to the river.
The car shuttle to Metamora takes U. S. 52 through Brookville to the roadside park on the left 2 miles east of (before) Metamora.
Doctors are available in Harrison, Ohio and Brookville while a hospital is located in Connersville.