My story has several key locations that I would like to ground in a real place in North America. It takes place 50-60 years in the future after 97% of humanity has been wiped out. I'm having a hell of a time finding a location that fits my criteria.

Location-based requirements must include:

  • A large city with a recognizable or impressive skyline (pop >300,000)
  • Whitewater rapids that flow into, or very near, the city (the city must be downstream)
  • Farmable land within 200 miles of the city
  • Abundant flora and fauna (no arid locations)

Since this is set well in the future, population growth and climate change could alter existing populations and ecosystems so I have a bit more flexibility with different locations. As an example, weather patterns can shift (believably) to create stronger river swells, levies and dams may have been degraded enough that currents move much more quickly than present day, etc.

In regards to the rapids/whitewater, the rapids need to be intense enough that they could be life threatening. My characters need to fight their way out of the rapids within reasonable walking distance from a large metropolis. Most large cities have relatively sluggish waterways leading into them. Reno, NV and the Truckee river flowing out of the Sierras would be perfect only the arid landscape takes it out of the running.

Any suggestions on US or Canadian locations that fits the above criteria?

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Casey. On this stack we generally expect people to do their own legwork and then bring questions to this group when normal google-searching isn't sufficient. In this case, all you need to do is take a list of North American cities larger than 300k (there are less than a hundred if you exclude Mexico, which has very little white water), and check the nearby rivers for white water. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2019 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ It's very difficult to research future-case scenarios where dams, levies, etc could be impacted. There is also futuristic climate factors to consider. I've spent approximately 12 hours researching this topic using Wikipedia, topo maps, rafting sites, etc, and have found it to be very challenging without actually visiting the locations that could work. I assumed that others may have physically seen locations that may fit the bill... $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2019 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ Criterion 3 is bogus -- almost all North American cities have arable land within 400 miles. Off the top of my head I would say Seattle, Portland, Calgary, Edmonton, Salt Lake City -- their locations practically guarantee that several rivers with rapids flow nearby. Not to mention Montreal, which sits on the St. Lawrence river, notable for the Lachine Rapids which are actually quite close to the city. (And I don't even live in North America.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 29, 2019 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ Do you need rapids, or will a waterfall do? If you can use falls, instead, anything near Buffalo (Niagra Falls) or Albany (Cohoes Falls) will do. For that matter, there's a (fairly short) bit of pretty turbulent water off of Peeble Island (Troy, NY). Actually, many rivers have small (≈10ft) drops every now and then. Both Cohoes Falls and Peeble Island are upstream of Albany downtown, though you're well into suburbs already. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Dec 30, 2019 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew A minor waterfall would work, and be great for dramatic effect, but it would have to be believably survivable. Niagra Falls may be a bit of a stretch! I'll check out Troy, NY. $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2019 at 18:29

4 Answers 4


Chicago after the Fall.

Your problem finding a city with rapids is that the uncontrolled movement of water that creates rapids would also produce dangerous conditions for the city. They would tame it. Not to mention rapids = a power source that would be easy to tap by erecting a waterwheel. Sioux Falls, South Dakota was build around a steep downhill course of the Big Sioux river, on purpose - they wanted the power.

I propose that your whitewater has occurred because of the apocalypse and consequent changes. My suggestion.

  1. Start with Chicago. Big city, famous skyline.

  2. The Chicago river is right in the middle of it. It is a tame river now. It is not huge and so of a size reasonable to create whitewater.

  3. After the apocalypse the level of the lake has fallen (best thing about the movie Divergent is the scene flying into Chicago over the dry lake bed!). The Chicago river again drains into the lake.

  4. It drains forcefully. Many of the adjacent skyscrapers have been undercut and fallen into the river. The whitewater is caused by the river coursing over building skyscrapers now in the riverbed. Pieces of architecture jut up from the river and farther out into the river as they are carried and tumbled by the forceful water.

All the other things you want are in place for Chicago as regards farmland etc. Starting with the familiar and turning it unexpectedly strange gives energy to a fiction. Nothing says "apocalypse" like a whitewater rapids in the middle of Chicago over the ruins of the Wrigley building.

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    $\begingroup$ Chicago is definitely promising, especially if I create a blockage upstream that dams up and creates a new lake. Not to mention that precipitation models show increased rainfall and snow in the Chicago area... $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2019 at 19:57

Seattle, at half a million in the city proper and over two million in the metro area, is perfect, relative to your description. It has one of the most recognizable skyline landmarks on Earth, the Space Needle (erected for the 1962 World's Fair); for those who've been there, other downtown buildings will add to the certainty -- the Bank of America tower, seventy-six floors of black glass, and the Westin Hotel with its twin round towers, are some of the more recognizable, and let's not forget the Smith Tower, when built the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

There are literally more than a dozen white water streams within a few tens of miles, at least two of them flowing almost directly toward the city; one of those, the Snoqualmie River, has a pretty imposing fall where it comes down from the Cascades. While not primarily a farming center, Seattle sits at the center of a two hundred mile strip of land along the wet side of the Cascades, suitable for growing anything you like (most of it is dairy as of when I left Seattle in 2004) -- there was even an attempt to start coffee production in the Cascades a little north of the city. There are also minor coal deposits not far from the city, in case someone wants to start up a steam power plant or some such. Major port, check.

Seattle is one of the greenest cities in North America, with game hunting in the Cascades (as close as thirty to forty miles), all sorts of salt water fish in Puget Sound, and salmon runs in even tiny creeks contained entirely in the city (look up Carkeek Park Salmon). The Duwamish River flows slow and gentle into Puget Sound, and when the settlers arrived in 1851 was a favored location for the Duwamish Tribe to build fish traps that fed them (via smoking the fish) all year.

Its only major disadvantages are cost of living (not a problem, post-apocalypse) and the potential for Magnitude 9 earthquakes about every three hundred years (last in 1700, dated by Japanese records of an unexplained tsunami combined with geological evidence).

The Space Needle might survive even that, with its thin legs and main mass concentrated at the top.


If you didn't require rapids specifically, St. Louis would fit the bill. The Gateway Arch gives it an instantly recognizable skyline, it's got the Mississippi river running right by it, and it's surrounded by farm land with plenty of small wild animals.

Unfortunately, while difficult to navigate for other reasons, the Mississippi is a rather wide, slow-moving river with a distinct dearth of rapids. Depending on the nature of the apocalypse and what happens between now and then, though, you might be able to fudge that; e.g., maybe the river upstream of St. Louis end up flowing over the ruins of man-made structures that restrict the channel and result in a section of rapids.

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    $\begingroup$ Mississippi doesn’t have Rapids today because it has a lock system on it. Postapocalypse if that system breaks down you can get yourself sandbars and rapids. But the city Of St. Louis has several rivers all around, the Merrimack being perhaps the closest that do have rapids. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Dec 29, 2019 at 20:39

Virtually every city fulfills one or more of these criteria. All cities need a hinterland of arable farmland, and most cities are built on trade, so being at a river, the convergence of two rivers or where a river runs into the sea, so you can have a port, is always beneficial.

As an example, most industrial cities on the Great Lakes were sited to either ship or receive iron ore, coal and limestone via Great Lake freighters to support the steel industry, and from there ship steel products around the lakes, through the St Lawrence Seaway and then around the world. The cities are built close to where deep water ports could be created for that reason.

To make this question actually answerable, perhaps you should specify a unique geographical feature and why it is important to your story. As the question stands, you are simply asking for a generic "city", much like film makers use Toronto, Ontario to stand in for any generic American city while the second unit films "establishing shots" to plant unique landmarks in the movie.

  • $\begingroup$ I need all criteria fulfilled to make key scenarios plausible... I've actually found it rather uncommon to have whitewater rivers flowing into large cities that support lush flora. Most large cities on rivers have navigable waterways which unfortunately won't fit the bill. I'll edit the question to add mountainous terrain or elevation loss which would result in more plausible whitewater flowing into the city. $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2019 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ Re "cities need a hinterland of arable farmland", this is not universally true. Proof by counterexample: Las Vegas. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 30, 2019 at 5:26

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