The Beautiful Wabash River
River is Indiana's best kept secret. Most people only notice it when it floods.
Other times it is something that passes under the bridges we drive, without
appreciating the beauty and adventure that this mighty river has to offer.
Indians named it Wah-Bah-Shik-Ka, meaning "water over white stones" for the
clear riverbed of limestone in the upper reaches. The French called it
Ouabache, which led to the modern day name of Wabash. The Wabash was created
during the runoff from melting glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. It is
rich in history and was a major transportation route for Indians, explorers,
canal flat boats and steamboats. During the steamboat era the vessels traveled
from the Ohio River as far up the Wabash as Logansport, Indiana.
place in Indiana offers the variety of scenery, water conditions and challenges
that the Wabash River has. The landscape along the river can suddenly change
from forest to urban, then from urban to farmland, then from farmland to hills
and bluffs. The water can become calm, choppy, slow, swift, deep or shallow at
the turn of a bend. It is an unpredictable river that has no channel markings,
no boat marinas, and few places of refuge. It is this wild nature of the river
that makes it intriguing and at times dangerous. The Wabash can be a rewarding
experience for the traveler who uses common sense, planning, and has proper
near Ft. Recovery, Ohio as a small stream the Wabash River flow east, then
west, then south toward it's 487 mile-long destination of the Ohio River.
After flowing just 30 miles in Ohio the Wabash passes through 18 counties in
Indiana. From Vigo County to the confluence of the Ohio River it is the state
border between Illinois and Indiana. A straight line from the Wabash River
beginning to where it ends is only 242 miles, yet with the many directions its
course takes it flows more than twice that distance.
conservation efforts and government regulations the Wabash River is healthier
than it was 40 years ago. Some efforts are being made to control agricultural
runoff and bank erosion but those problems are still apparent in some areas.
Several communities have developed their riverfronts into nice parks and
installed boat launching ramps and docking facilities. There are several good
organizations working for improvements of the Wabash River and its corridor.
A brief tour of the Wabash......
beginning of the Wabash would hardly be noticed by a passerby. The first
trickle flows from under some rocks at a turkey farm, not far from Ft.
Recovery, Ohio. Within just a few miles this "divide" is also the headwaters
for the Mississinea, Stillwater and West Fork of the White River, all flowing
different directions but eventually coming together on route to the Ohio River.
Canoes and kayaks can be launched at Ft. Recovery.
river passes into Indiana it meanders considerable and there are many old
channels that are ribbon like. One can get lost in some of the cutoffs and
oxbows during high water. The Wabash River Guidebook has detailed charts of
this area to help navigate it in a canoe or kayak. Being so small the river is
also prone to logjams, so it is advisable to be prepared to portage around
them. The first boat launching ramp is at Linngrove, Indiana. A small powerboat
could operate in this area when river level is sufficient.
flows northwest past Ouabache State Forest and Bluffton, Indiana. When it
reaches Markle, Indiana there is a dangerous falls just past the levee at
Bluffton. The river was diverted away from the city and the bypassed section
falls several feet when flowing back to the original channel. At Huntington,
Indiana the Wabash has its only impoundment. The Huntington Dam must be
portaged or power boats must be taken out at a ramp on the lake side. From this
point on the river is free-flowing for 400 miles to the end. It is the longest
free-flowing section of river east of the Mississippi River. There is a lowhead
dam in the city of Huntington but is usually submerged.
By the time
the river reaches it's namesake city of Wabash, Indiana it is taking on size,
mainly due to the many tributaries running into it. It is also beginning to
have islands, particularly when past Peru, Indiana. At Logansport the river
splits into a large island. It is the only developed island on the river. This
is also where the upper Eel River flows into the Wabash. By the time the river
reaches Delphi, Indiana it is a sizeable river that can support power boats
most of the time. Just above Lafayette the Tippecanoe River flows in. This
confluence is the site of the famous Battle of Tippecanoe.
passing by Lafayette the river becomes more remote as the distance between
towns increases. The beauty of that is that the river looks pretty much like it
did to explorers over 200 years ago. From this area to Terre Haute, Indiana (a
distance of 100 miles) there are huge numbers of eagles present. They have made
a tremendous come back in the last 10 years. Terre Haute is the largest city on
the Wabash River and historically it was a major steamboat port. In fact, it is
still listed as the "Port of Terre Haute" in the Army Corp of Engineers archives.
becomes the border of Indiana and Illinois for the most part. The original line
was drawn in the middle of the river, but the river has changed course in many
places. Since state lines do not change course with the river, that means that
quite often, the entire river is within one state or the other. There are still
several railroad bridges crossing the Wabash that were built to open up for
river travel. These swing bridges were built with a span on a pivoting wheel,
to allow them to open for the tall steamboats.
historic Vincennes, Indiana the river is huge and has no shortage of large
islands and sandy beaches. When traveling the lower Wabash, one must be
self-sufficient. There are no marinas on the entire river. There are few places
where help can be found quickly. If traveling in a power boat, fuel must be carefully
planned. One advantage is that there is no commercial traffic, so a disabled
boat can float to the next town without worrying about getting run over by a
Near the end of the Wabash River a new island was formed in June of 2008. A cut-off across Mackey Bend was made by the flooding river creating the new 1,700 acre island (now the largest island on the Wabash River. Efforts are underway to have this island made into a nature preserve.
Reaching the end of the Wabash at the Ohio
River is an amazing sight. The Wabash looks nearlyas
wide as the Ohio. It is
the largest northern tributary to the Ohio. There is usually a
the color of the water where they join, then eventually blend. At this
confluence the waters of the Wabash join the Ohio River, which joins
Mississippi River, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The Wabash is a
river that can be explored over and over again, with its constant
is not over-developed as some rivers are, which is rare in this country.
are plenty of places to camp without being bothered. I invite anyone to
it, enjoy it, be safe, and leave not trace that you were
Jerry M. Hay
Moonlight on the Wabash