Another controversial point about rivers is defining their natural source. As mentioned the West Fork of the White River begins as a tiny stream, (actually a run-off ditch from a farm field), so it is fairly well defined in the natural order of things. The East Fork, however, officially begins at the confluence of two other rivers. It is generally accepted that the true source of a waterway is its longest tributary. The Flatrock River travels 112 miles from its tiny source to the confluence. The Big Blue River flows 128 miles from its source before merging with Sugar Creek and becoming the Driftwood River. The Driftwood River flows another 24 miles to the confluence of Flatrock River, creating the East Fork of the White River. This means that the true source is the Big Blue River. By name the West Fork is longer than the East Fork, but in the natural order of things the East Fork is 152 miles longer than the West Fork, and the headwaters of the two rivers is only 5 miles apart. Another interesting point is that the beginning of the East Fork is actually farther west than the West Fork.
The West Fork offers a huge variety of terrains including mild rapids, dams, remote woodlands, open land, and cities. It has a surprising amount of remote areas, particularly in its lower sections. With the number of portages around low dams and the shallow waters in the upper reaches, the White River is for the physically fit, at least to around Spencer, Indiana where power boats can launch. It is a great river experience for those prepared to handle the challenges
The East Fork can be traveled in power boats almost from the beginning during good water levels but it also has dams that will prevent any continued travel by watercraft that cannot be carried by hand. The East Fork is very natural and has had little change. Except for the occasional man-made obstruction or structure, boating down much of the East Fork probably looks like it did to the early explorers. Wildlife is abundant and fishing is great. There are miles and miles of remote beauty that one could only experience in Indiana by river. The East Fork is an impressive waterway that is a pleasure and an adventure to explore.
The two rivers merge near Petersburg, Indiana. At that point they are about the same width. The currents can be tricky in this section, particularly during high water. Another influence at the confluence is if one river is running at a much higher gage than the other. This creates turbulence at the fork. The main trunk called the White River, with no fork distinction is only 45 miles long, but it is a major waterway. In fact it is the largest tributary to the Wabash River. It merges with the Wabash at Mt. Carmel, Illinois. Power boats usually have no problem in this area, except during very low water. Very often this lower portion of the White River will have little or no current. Sometimes one can even see things floating upriver. This is the influence of the Wabash River. If the Wabash is high and the White is low, backwaters will come up from the Wabash.
Both forks of the White river have low-head dams that must be portaged. It is important to know where those dams are and make plans to take out for portage well in advance of approaching these dams. They are very dangerous and cannot always be seen in the distance while traveling downriver.