No physical feature better defines The Bend than the river that runs through its heart.

Starting at its headwaters near Hillsdale, Mich., the St. Joseph River eventually lows west through Elkhart, Mishawaka and South Bend before turning north. Its this arc that gives South Bend its name. Locals know the river as an outdoor playground. It offers some of the best rafting, kayaking, canoeing, rowing and fishing in the region. Here are some of the best ways to experience the river with paddle in hand.

East Race Waterway

At one time abandoned and filled in, the East Race Waterway is now one of The Bend's top attractions. Visitors can on summer weekends get an adrenaline rush while splashing down its Class 2 rapids, experiencing twists, turns and drops. The East Race opens June 20. Hours are noon-5 p.m. Saturdays and noon-4 p.m. Sundays.

RELATED CONTENT: White Water Rafting in Downtown South Bend

St. Patrick's County Park

Note: Opening of canoe, kayak and paddleboard rentals has been delayed due to coronavirus.

Those looking for more of a leisurely trip rather than an adrenaline rush should head to St. Patrick's County Park. It offers canoe, kayak and paddleboard rental throughout the summer. An urban route links St. Pat's with Keller Park. A trip between the two covers about 4.5 miles, typically in just over an hour.

MORE INFORMATION: Hours, Costs and How to Schedule at St. Patrick's County Park

Potato Creek State Park

This option doesn't require the river at all.

About 20 minutes southwest of South Bend, Potato Creek State Park is one of our most popular outdoor areas. Its centerpiece is the 327-acre Worster Lake. The park rents kayaks, canoes, rowboats and pedal boats to those looking to enjoy the river. Your view is likely to consistent of dense woods, abundant wildlife and families at play on the beach.

RELATED CONTENT: A Guide to Potato Creek State Park

Local tip:  Head to Osceola and put in at Baugo Bay if you're looking for another boat launch. You can then follow a creek past islands near Ferrettie/Baugo Creek County Park.