The Wabash River is historically and geographically important to the state, and I have spoken with several people who have said they would like to paddle the length of it; however, I can’t seem to get too excited about paddling on it. In my experience it is usually more like paddling on a lake than a river, except that every trip has included a point where it suddenly gets shallow and someone runs aground unexpectedly. The lake-paddling similarity probably comes from the width, sometimes minimal current, and the river running west and south against the prevailing winds.
But, there are times when a lack of rain leaves it as the best option, and this trip was one of those times. We started at French Post Park near Lockport, planning to paddle 15 miles to camp on Wise Island near Americus, then another 15 miles the second day to Tapawingo Park in West Lafayette. Of the several parks in the Lafayette/West Lafayette area with ramps Tapawingo doesn’t have one, but it does have a sandbar that makes for a decent takeout in spite of a longer carry distance. It also has a well-lit parking lot, which gave us more peace of mind about leaving a vehicle overnight.
The French Post Park boat ramp is very nice concrete, and out of the main channel flow, so it makes for an easy put-in. The park is part of the Carroll County Parks Department, and primitive camping is available. The recreation page of the Carroll County website at www.carrollcountyindiana.com was very helpful for planning this trip, along with a website dedicated to the Wabash River (www.wabashriver.us) that has an interactive map and information about public access points from beginning to end.
The water level was low enough that we had to keep an eye out for sandbars and rocky areas as we made our way downstream, but we didn’t encounter any significant obstacles. We did see something new at the CR 700 W bridge: a tree trunk balanced on the top of the bridge pier. The odds that the tree would stay in place as the flood waters that put it there receded have to be really slim.This section of the river mainly has a gravel bottom, and with several small islands and sandbars along the way we were able to find places for breaks whenever someone needed it. All of our stops had many freshwater mussel shells, some larger than 4” across. Thanks to the help of a 20-MPH plus tailwind most of the day we were able to cover 15 miles in about five hours.
Wise Island is owned by the NICHES Land Trust (www.nicheslandtrust.org). Their description of the island is: “This is a 2 acre island in the middle of the Wabash River near Americus in the northeast section of Tippecanoe County. This property hasn’t been used as a campsite in over twenty years… It has potential as a stopover site for canoeing down the Wabash River or for a small birding expedition.” We agree. We found the west end of the island to be the best for camping; the banks on the east end were too steep for access. Several areas have been used recently for campsites, and a handy silver maple had branches that were perfectly spaced to use for our dining fly and wind break.
The remainder of our trip on the second day was uneventful, and the river fairly mundane. After the confluence with the Tippecanoe River (Prophetstown State Park is river right) the river widens out even more, and has less current. The bottom is also more sand than gravel, but there were still a few islands and sandbars to provide stopping points. We did encounter a surprisingly low water level about a mile from the end; one of our group suddenly ran aground in the middle of the river with no riffles or other indicators of low water. Fortunately he didn’t have to get out, but I have found that you do have to pay attention on the Wabash wherever you are, or spots like this can catch you out without warning.