Truckee River’s Whitewater park |

Truckee River’s Whitewater park

Photo by Richard Moreno

The Truckee River Whitewater Park has changed how many people think about downtown Reno.

The park, which opened in 2004, has transformed a half-mile stretch of the Truckee next to Wingfield Park, from an often-overlooked irrigation ditch lined with concrete walls to a popular recreational playground.

Where once the only ones paying much attention to the Truckee were the ducks and occasional beaver, now dozens of folks can be found kayaking, tubing, rafting and floating on the water.

During the warmer months, the Whitewater Park attracts families with children, who can enjoy playing in the tamer pools of water, as well as the more adventurous types, who can do a bit of kayaking on the more aggressive parts of the river.

The park created 2,600 feet of water features that includes five drop pools in the river’s north channel and six in the south channel (the river flows around Belle Isle, the island part of Wingfield Park that sits in the middle the river).

Drop pools are round pools designed for kayaking maneuvers that decrease slightly in elevation with each successive pool.

The $1.5 million in river improvements, funded under a statewide voter-approved bond for outdoor recreational projects, also included importing 7,000 tons of smooth, flat top rocks and boulders, which make river access easy and benefit kayakers.

The result is a river run that is rated class 2 to 3 (river kayak or rafting courses are given a ranking from 1 to 6, with one being a placid lake and 6 being a waterfall). While this rating makes the course acceptable for beginners, it is recommended that anyone kayaking, rafting or tubing the river needs to wear helmets and flotation jackets for protection.

The park is open throughout the year and, best of all, is free to use.

Despite the park’s obvious popularity, it was a bit of a slog to get it constructed. While a handful of folks have enjoyed kayaking and rafting on the Truckee since the 1960s, for many years there was little interest in developing the river as an attraction because some hotel-casino operators believed outdoor activities, particularly in Reno, only served to keep people from gambling inside the casinos.

That attitude, however, began to change in the late 1990s, when it became clear that Reno needed new attractions to appeal to visitors, particularly as other destinations began to legalize gambling.

In 1999, the Nevada Commission on Tourism began exploring the feasibility of building a whitewater park on the Truckee in downtown Reno, and, with the support of city and local government agencies, conducted a study that showed it was feasible.

In 2002, voters approved a $232 million statewide ballot measure that provided funding for the project. Work was completed in September 2003 and by the following spring the course was ready for use.

During a recent visit, I had an opportunity to watch how the Whitewater Park is utilized.

I saw a helmeted, middle-aged man in a blue kayak, sitting at the base of one of the larger waterfalls, practicing various maneuvers. He positioned himself directing in front of the falls, then spun around and performed a series of flipping movements in the water.

I also saw numerous people in large inner tubes floating down the river. I could hear their screams of delight as they dropped over the small series of waterfalls on the river.

I watched a young man take his dog into one of the ponds so his pet could cool down. The dog, little more than a puppy, excitedly splashed around in chest-deep water, occasionally stopping to lap up the cool river water.

I saw people in downtown Reno having fun in the river.

It was something I hadn’t seen before.

Richard Moreno has a passion for Nevada, its towns and people.