Under a canopy of sycamore and maple trees, Sugar Creek drifts at a quick but steady pace.
A wet June left the waterway with plenty of water, deep enough to pass over submerged logs and sandbars with ease. The conditions were perfect for river rafting.
Over the course of seven miles, from the Atterbury Fish and Wildlife Area to near Taylorsville, the raft would lazily ride the current through the wilderness. Riders could lean back on the rubber gunwales, sip on a beverage and watch southern Johnson County drift by.
“We tell them — don’t turn it into a contest. Just cruise on down and enjoy the day,” said Jeff Blue, who operates Blue’s Canoe Livery in Edinburgh with his son, Matt.
River rafting and tubing excursions offer nature lovers and water enthusiasts an activity requiring next to no physical effort. The current provides the motor, except for a few quick paddles to steer away from obstacles or around bends in the waterway.
All you have to do is lean back, take in the sun and spend a few hours in thoughtless bliss.
“It’s not strenuous at all. If the current is up and moving, you may be going two or three miles per hour. A lot of the rafting folks just sit there and cruise down the river,” Blue said.
Indiana is well-suited for the effortless river activity. The relatively flat terrain means that rivers meander through the landscape, avoiding the rapids and waterfalls that whitewater junkies search out.
Kayaking and canoe liveries have popped up on small streams and rivers throughout the state. People can pass through the ravines at Turkey Run State Park, float through the deep forests surrounding Brookville and cruise on the White River north of Indianapolis.
White River Canoe Co. in Noblesville has been taking tubers down the White River for more than a decade.
Owner Brian Cooley shuttles groups and individuals from the company’s headquarters to the drop-off point — a historic bridge 3½ miles upriver.
People pack coolers with snacks and drinks. Alcohol is allowed but not encouraged. At the drop-off point, children and adults hop in their tubes, tie together in flotillas and set off for the three- or four-hour trip, Cooley said.
For those who don’t want to take that much time, a shorter version that travels only 1½ miles is offered.
But tubing isn’t the only low-impact water activity for people.
Blue’s Canoe Livery keeps a fleet of about 30 rafts for people to use when the river is at its highest.
The rafting trip coves a 7-mile stretch of Sugar Creek in southern Johnson County and the Driftwood River in northern Bartholomew County.
Quiet rafters may be lucky enough to see a deer drinking from the edge of the river or blue and green herons hunting for fish. Beavers live in the area but are mostly nocturnal and don’t come out during the day.
Gravel bars and sandbars along the way are perfect spots to stop, unload for a picnic and watch the river flow by.
“It’s a wilderness-looking type of area, even though you’re less than a mile from U.S. 31,” Jeff Blue said. “But you don’t get that feeling. You don’t see houses or buildings. Just trees and water.”
Because the rafts are rubber and can be punctured, they have to make sure there’s no risk of running aground. Sticks and rocks could leave rafters immobile, Blue said.
“When we get into the summer and the water levels drop, leaving some shallow spots in the river, we go to canoes and kayaks,” he said. “They’ll take a lot of beating in shallow waters.”
But at the same time, when the river levels are high, sometimes rafts are the best option.
“The rafts move much slower than canoes or kayaks, so you want a nice current flowing to do most of the work for you,” he said.
As opposed to kayaking and canoeing, rafts don’t require the constant attention or paddling. The biggest responsibility the rafters have is to steer clear of any brush piles or outcrops of rocks at the side of the river.
“We tell them their main job is keeping the raft in the open river,” Jeff Blue said. “When you come around the bend and see a stump or a log or the current’s pushing you toward a brush pile, you have to start paddling to steer around it way ahead of time, since the rafts move so slowly.”