canoe paddling on Iowa's river trails
Canoeing and Kayaking

Iowa is blessed with a variety of rivers, creeks, and lakes offering a number of different types of experiences for beginner to expert paddler. 18,000 miles of navigable streams await exploration by curious paddlers from across the state. The Iowa DNR wants you to enjoy, appreciate, and respect Iowa's rivers. We hope you find this site very useful.

What is a Water Trail?
Water Trails are recreational corridors and routes on rivers and lakes that provide a unique experience all water users. Water trails help re-connect Iowans to their waterways’ history, heritage, geology, fisheries, and wildlife. Water trails provide adequate access and can include amenities like riverside camping, wild spaces, picnic areas, and restrooms, and watercraft rentals provided by local, state, and federal partners. Coordinated signage and mapping systems guide users toward the types of experiences they seek, ranging from a highly social first-time river experience lasting a few hours to multi-day adventures. 

Water trail partners at the local level are encouraged to steward the natural and economic values of their waterways to help boost local economies and give Iowans outdoor experiences just out their back doors. Iowa DNR water trails staff lead through setting standards for planning requirements, providing funding and technical assistance, and maintaining the framework of the overall system.

IDNR Canoe and Kayak Schools for 2016
Learn to paddle more efficiently and develop new skills. These classes will fill fast. Contact Todd Robertson with any questions. Open the links below to see descriptions of the classes and fill out the registration form that you will find at the bottom. Again, these classes will fill up quickly as there are a limited number of spots available.

2016 Paddling Schools Schedule.doc
2016 Paddling Schools Schedule.pdf

On-Line Paddle Safety Boating Course
Check out this free resource and improve your safety knowledge when it comes to paddling. This course is NASBLA (National Association of State Boating Law Administrators) approved. All new paddlers should take this free course and it is a great review for the experienced. Register for a free account and get started today! Free Paddling Course

Iowa Water Trails Association
You can access past newsletters from the IWTA by following the link provided. Make sure to sign up and subscribe so you can receive every issue without delay. The IWTA provides up to date information on water trail events and all that is water trail news. To visit the IWTA website, follow this link: IWTA and too subscribe so you never miss important paddling information, you can go to here: Subscribe to the IWTA

SUP (stand up paddleboarding)
Stand Up Paddleboarding is a type of paddling that is sweeping across the nation. Originally found only on the coasts, inland states are now finding that people enjoy this new paddling activity and are taking to lakes and rivers in an effort to get fit and have fun. You will need to be aware of SUP rules and regulations. Please follow the link to our Instruction and Safety page to learn more. And always wear your lifejacket.

Your DNR now has a certified SUP instructor. Look for one day SUP classes to be announced in 2016. As with canoe and kayak, it's recommended that you seek at least formal instruction before heading out on bigger water than small lakes and ponds. Call the DNR for more information.

Watch this video to help you understand what essential safety gear you will need while SUPing in Iowa.  SUP Leashes and Lifejacket Video

Instruction & Safety


A major revision to our water trails and dams sign manual was released in the Spring of 2010. The new manual addresses a number of issues and includes many updates.

The sign manual  contains guideline for the standard statewide water trails way-finding and informational signage system.

Available Grants

Dam Mitigation Grants
The Iowa Legislature appropriated funds for fiscal year 2016 for the development of dam mitigation and water trail projects. A portion the funds are available competitively for dam mitigation cost-share grants. Dam owners and other eligible entities are encouraged to apply for cost-share assistance for projects that reduce recreational hazards and enhance aquatic species connectivity.

For guidance on how projects might be approached, please read “ Solving Dam Problems: Iowa’s 2010 Plan for Dam Mitigation” and/or “Developing Water Trails in Iowa.”

Dam Grant Application Form
Dam Grant Application Form

Total amount available: $277,901
Application post-mark deadline:
Closing date February 3, 2017 

Dam Mitigation Grants Contact:
Glenn Harman, office 712-769-2587, cell 515-971-3962,

Water Trail Enhancement Grants
The Iowa Legislature appropriated funds for fiscal year 2017 for the development of dam mitigation and water trail projects. A portion of the funds are available competitively for water trail enhancement cost-share grants. Local divisions of Iowa government are encouraged to apply for cost-share assistance for infrastructure or infrastructure improvements along state designated water trails or water trails on track for state designation. 

For guidance on how projects might be approached, please read “Developing Water Trails in Iowa.” 

Enhancement Grant Application Form
Enhancement Grant Application Form

Total amount available: $225,000
Application post-mark deadline:
Closing date March 3, 2017

Manchester Whitewater Park Grand Opening In the Books

Iowa's newest whitewater attraction opened on June 20th  in Manchester, Iowa. Despite the rain in the morning, it cleared up just in time for hundreds of kayakers, canoers, stand-up-paddleboarders and tubers. Check out the pictures below from this huge event. What was there before the whitewater park? Look at the before pictures and story below these exciting new pictures.


Manchester Whitewater Park Construction Underway (complete)


Holiday visions of wave surfing and hooking walleye dance in the heads of paddlers and anglers in Iowa and beyond when thinking of Manchester, where Iowa’s third whitewater attraction is under construction. The park is scheduled to open in the summer of 2015. Like Iowa’s first whitewater park in Charles City, Manchester hopes to attract a wide variety of river users and spectators. Manchester’s whitewater park will have six of whitewater drop structures, compared to Charles City’s three. The project eliminates a hazardous low-head dam and is carefully designed to provide fish passage upstream.

The new $1.8 million whitewater facility is funded with a $200,000 dam mitigation grant from the Iowa DNR and $600,000 in private donations. City and county governments raised the remaining $1 million. Project updates are available here and here.

Low-head dams are extremely dangerous and have led to fatalities of Iowa anglers, boaters, paddlers, tubers, swimmers, and would-be rescuers. Read more, here.

To see other water trail project updates, go here.

"Keep It Clean, Keep It Fun"

This new Iowa Department of Natural Resources campaign is designed to improve people's behavior on Iowa rivers. Landowners and recreational paddlers have been complaining to DNR staff about "Rude behavior, foul language and loud music."  "We need support locally to report problems and hold individuals accountable for their behavior." said DNR Director, Chuck Gipp. The DNR is increasing law enforcement on rivers to reduce illegal activity. Rental companies distribute materials to help paddlers report illegal activities they see. We are supplying boat and tube rental liveries with new river trash sacks, posters and stickers to help spread the word and promote a better ethic of on-river use, especially in the summer months. Littering is another significant problem on some rivers, especially at access points, and the DNR will be distributing blue mesh bags that people can take with them and pick up litter as they go. 

If you would like to display a poster in your storefront or paddling club meeting place, you can request one plus a sticker. if you would like a trash bag to take in your canoe, kayak or fishing boat, contact River Programs Outreach Coordinator, Todd Robertson. We will either direct you to a location where you can pick a trash sack up or we will mail you one.