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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Outdoor Recreation > Trails > Indiana Canoeing > Water Trail Guide > St. Joseph River (South Bend) St. Joseph River (South Bend)

Few river in Indiana have had more historical significance than the St., Joseph. Interestingly, the river is also said to be the hardest worker in the state.

The St. Joseph is really only a visitor to Indiana. It rises near Hillsdale, Michigan, flows across half of that State, dips into Indiana and flows back into Michigan to complete its 210 mile journey to Lake Michigan. Approximately 42 miles are spent in Indiana but Hoosiers have never hesitated to reap all the benefits they could from this river. In our state alone there are 4 dams on the river.

St. Joseph River Map

Of even greater significance is the tremendous amount of history that has been recorded along the St. Joseph. The French explorer, LaSalle, was the first white man to float the river when he worked his way upstream in 1679 from Lake Michigan to what is now called South Bend (the southern-most curve in the river). From here he portaged to the Kankakee River to begin his journey to the Mississippi River. Control of the river bounced between the French, British and Indians until the Revolutionary War insured its eventual status as an American river. Its location, depth and gradient shaped the growth of the area as it first was a highway and then a source of power. Today the river has taken another function as it provides thousands of hours of recreational activities in the form of boating, fishing and just "experiencing" the river.

Through Indiana, the St. Joseph River takes on a rural character as it bends through fertile farmland. Before long, however, the river becomes lined with beautiful homes and eventually takes on a very urban character as it flows through the population centers of Elkhart, Mishawaka and South Bend. Hospital and doctor assistance is available in these three urban centers. Three day-long trips are outlined for your consideration.

Bristol to Elkhart

The entire Indiana section of the St. Joseph can be canoed by putting in at Mottville, Michigan. The first stretch covered in this guide, however, is from Bristol, Indiana, to Elkhart, a distance of about 10 miles. Put in at the public fishing site in Bristol. Plan on about a 5-hour float and a portage to the right around the dam in Elkhart. (NOTE: Caution should be used in making the portage since you must climb a wall, carry the canoe down a sidewalk next to a busy street, and cross a highway before re-entering the river.) The take-out is on the north side of the river about three-quarters of a mile downstream from the dam. To reach the put-in by car take State Road 120 to Bristol, Indiana. The access site is to the north on the second street east of the only stoplight in town. To reach the take-out point from Bristol, go west on State Road 120. This highway becomes Jackson Boulevard in Elkhart and intersects in the downtown area with Main Street. Turn right (north) on Main and cross the bridge. Turn right on Beardsley Street and immediately turn right again on a gravel ramp leading to the river.

Alternative canoe access locations on the St. Joseph River are provided by the City of Elkhart Park and Recreation Department. Bicentennial, Beardsley, and Island Park are located in the Jackson Boulevard, Beardsley Street, and Elkhart Avenue area. High Dive Park is located on Christiana Creek, which enters the St. Joseph River. This park is located off of Baldway and Cassopolis Streets. McNaughton Park and Elliott Park are located in the South Boulevard and Arcade Avenue area, and the West Indian Avenue area respectively. These city parks offer parking, picnicking, restroom facilities and canoe access. For further information individuals should contact the City of Elkhart Parks and Recreation Department.

South Bend to Northwest South Bend

Putting in at the Central Park site mentioned in the last section you can plan on a 9-1/2 mile or 3 to 4-hour trip. The South Bend Dam, about 4 miles downstream, will require a portage to the right. This is the entrance to the East Race Waterway which is open to kayaking, rafting and inner tubing on a limited weekly schedule. Contact the South Bend Recreation Department for more information at 1-219-284-9328. To reach the East Race by car take U.S. 31-33 into downtown South Bend, and go west on Colfax St. two blocks. The next take-out is a Department of Natural Resources access site located northwest of South Bend. Watch for the ramp on the left about 1/2 mile downstream of the interstate highway bridge which you will pass under. To reach the take-out site by car, take U.S. 20 and go west until you intersect with Dixie Highway (U.S.31-33). Turn right (north) on Dixie Highway and go north 3 miles to Cleveland Road where you will turn left (west). Cross over the river and turn right (north) on Riverside Drive. The take-out is on the right side of the road and can accommodate two or three cars. a mile past this site is the last take-out in Indiana located at St. Patrick's County Park. This site, located river right, has ample room for car parking. To reach this take-out by car take U.S. 31-33 north to Auten Road. Turn left on Auten and go to Laurel Rd. and take a right. The park entrance is about a mile down Laurel Rd. on the left.