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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Outdoor Recreation > Trails > Indiana Canoeing > Water Trail Guide > St. Joseph River (Ft. Wayne) St. Joseph River (Ft. Wayne)

One of two St. Joseph Rivers in Indiana, this gentle river flows to Fort Wayne from Ohio. Flowing so slowly it seems still in places, the "St. Joseph of the Maumee" flows through Fort Wayne's developed suburbs and finally into the heart of the urban area.

The river owes its existence to the glaciers which scoured the region and then spread acres of sand, gravel and boulders over the ground surface. The resulting lakes, ponds and marshes fed their waters to the St. Joseph River which emerged as a wide, slow-flowing stream. The character of the river corridor alternates between hardwood forest and fertile farmland. Flooding is a rare occurrence because the flow is controlled by the many natural lakes at the headwaters.

St. Joseph River Map

During the previous century the river was a center of attraction as streamboats plied its waters and part of the river was diverted to supply water for the central section of the Wabash-Erie Canal. Also of interest is the grave of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. He spent the last 15 years of his busy life in Fort Wayne.

The St. Joe River originates in Michigan where it passes within two miles of the other St. Joe River before heading into Ohio and finally turning into northeastern Indiana. At the confluence of the Maumee and the St. Joe the French and then the British built forts which eventually came to be called Fort Wayne after General Anthony Wayne.

The slow rate of flow seems to encourage log jams, but it also provides the canoeist with time to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The wooded banks are dominated by maple, willow and sycamore trees with cottonwoods and tulip trees further downstream. It is not indicative of Indiana's best fishing but catfish, crappie, bass and carp are caught. A large dam at Cedarville backs up the river causing an 8-mile lake.

Ohio Line to Spencerville

The first section, a journey of approximately 17 miles in about 7 1/2 hours, is the most enjoyable. May through October is the best period of time to float this section of the river. The banks are deep with trees in an area where even farmland rarely comes within sight. The closest public campgrounds are at Pokagon or Chain O'Lakes State Parks, both fifty miles away.

The put-in site is at the County Road 40 bridge over the river in Ohio close to the state line. Limited parking is available off the side of the road and the northwest corner of the bridge provides the best access to the river. There is a good alternative access in Newville on the southeast corner of the State Road 8 bridge.

At Spencerville there is an unposted dam which must be approached with caution, particularly in high water. The left side provides the best portage. Just beyond is our take-out site on the right, a strip of land bordered by the river on one side and County Road 68 on the other. It is private property but in the past the owner has permitted open access and it is a favorite spot of local fishermen.

The car shuttle back to the put-in starts west on County Road 68 to Spencerville then right on State Road 1. Go north through St. Joe about 2 1/2 miles beyond the intersection with State Road 101 to County Road 40 then turn right. Heading east, proceed about 3 1/2 miles to the put-in site.

For emergencies the closest doctor is in Butler and hospitals can be found in Auburn and Fort Wayne.

Spencerville to Cedarville

This five-hour trip provides an approximate 11 1/2 mile float beginning in a natural wooded setting then becoming more developed as it approaches Leo and the Cedarville Reservoir. Pollution odor is negligible but debris will be noticed along the trip.

The put-in site at Spencerville is on private land but the owner has permitted access in the past. Take County Road 68 east from Spencerville; the site is located on the left about 100 yards before the covered bridge.

Further downstream an alternative access is available on the southeast corner of the Grabill Road bridge in Leo. Before the take-out it is necessary to portage right around the Cedarville Reservoir dam, about 100 feet west of the metal gates, carrying the canoe about 350 feet to the river.

The take-out is at the bridge just beyond a gaging station; the southwest corner of the bridge is recommended.

The car shuttle should take Clay Street in Cedarville to State Road 1, turning right. Take State Road 1 to Spencerville turning right on County Road 68. Go east 1/4 mile to the put-in.

A doctor is located in Leo and the closest hospital is in Fort Wayne.

Cedar Creek is also canoeable during adequate water flow although numerous log jams may hamper a good float. Allen County Park and Recreation Department has developed access to Cedar Creek at Cooks Landing about 10 miles upstream of the confluence with the St. Joseph River. A park and river access is also scheduled for development at Dupont Road and Cedar Creek near Cedarville. Contact the Allen County Park Department for more information.

Cedarville to Fort Wayne

This 11 1/2 mile, 4 hour section passes through limited development before the outskirts of Fort Wayne. On weekends the boat traffic near Fort Wayne might prove disturbing. Camping, picnicking and general recreational facilities are available at Johnny Appleseed Park, the burial site of the legendary folk hero. Facilities other than camping are available at Shoaf Park on the north side of Fort Wayne along the river.

Put-in is recommended on Clay Street in Cedarville. To reach the put-in site from State Road 1 turn south onto Clay Street which is the first street east of the bridge over Cedar Creek on the south side of Cedarville. There are no dams on this section and Shoaf Park, an alternative access, provides a good picnic site on the river about three hours downstream from the put-in.

The best take-out is on the right above the dam and highway, across the river from Indiana- Purdue University at Fort Wayne. An old ramp is still usable and parking is available at the site. Alternatively, you can float another 200 yards under the highway bridge and take out on the right above the dam, carrying the canoe to your car or campsite in Johnny Appleseed Park.

The car shuttle takes U. S. 30 bypass west about one mile to State Road 1, Clinton Street, turning right. Go north on State Road 1 crossing Cedar Creek near Cedarville then take the first right, Clay Street. Take Clay Street across the St. Joe River to the pull-off on the right and the put-in before the gaging station.

Doctor and hospital care is available in Fort Wayne.