7/24/2014 0 comments

Halls Creek

Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Halls is a creek for creek lovers and it’s exactly the kind of destination that keeps us searching for the next great paddle.

It’s exciting but not overly-complicated. With near constant riffles and Class Is, a few exhilarating (but manageable) drops, natural springs that trickle down the banks into beautifully cut sandbars and pools and endless, sometimes jaw-dropping, rock formations in a canyon-like setting, it has everything you’d ever want but are unlikely to expect from a creek. It’s a thing of beauty.

Creek lovers will find true love on Halls Creek.


June 28, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Class II

Neillsville: ht/ft: 6.68 | cfs: 2,160
Gauge note: This gauge has doesn't directly correlate. It does, however, give a good idea if there has been recent water in the Black River Falls area.

Trow Lake Dam, Beach Drive, Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Halls Creek Landing, off County Road E

Time: Put in at 12:25p. Out at 4:05p.
Total Time: 3h 40m
Miles Paddled: 11.5

Wildlife: A blue-winged teal, an osprey, two deer and a bald eagle.

Ever since paddling Robinson Creek back in 2012, the next must-paddle destination in the Black River Falls area was Halls Creek. Spotted on a map given to me by the Park Ranger at the Black River Falls East Fork Campground, (and subsequently destroyed in that night’s rains) I knew there was more to these feeder creeks that needed exploration.

Halls, like Robinson, typically has very little water this late in the season to paddle. Part luck, part global warming, here we were in late June with enough water to give it a run.

The night before we left, the Neilsville gauge unexpectedly shot up over two grand (some lingo I picked up on this trip and will adopt henceforth) in the overnight hours. Karma was clearly on our side when that gauge moved from 5.3 to 6.68 in depth and 1200cfs to running 2160cfs. It was meant to be…

Now, in reality, the gauge has arguable correlation to the creek, as Halls is controlled by a dam and it is the Neilsville gauge (on the Black, much further upriver) but for our own benchmark and the recommendations via American Whitewater, it’s what we have to go on for comparion’s sake. If anything, it’ll give you an idea if there’s been recent water in the area.

We, of course, were going regardless of levels (because we're stubborn like that) but damn did we get lucky with that late-water arrival because the levels were perfect and I can’t imagine (nor recommend) paddling this at lower levels. We rarely scraped but it could be a potential walker at lower levels.

So me and fellow-Milespaddler, Timothy, set out to feast on the beauty that is Halls.

What we liked:
This is a beauty of a creek.

There probably aren’t enough superlatives to describe how fun and naturally breathtaking it really is. It’s the pinnacle of creek paddling for me, personally. This creek doesn’t quit and you’ll be rubber-necking the entire way as you make your way past canyon walls, through seemingly non-stop riffles or splashy Class Is. You’ll pass numerous natural springs that create little photographic nooks and inlets and the occasional small waterfall. Capped off by three exciting drops between Garage Road and the take-out, this is like a movie you'll want to rewatch as soon as you’re finished.

We met a friendly local at the put-in who told us we were going to love it. He was about to take a friend down Halls but was taking-out at Garage Road because his buddy was new to kayaking. He told us that below Garage, the paddling is a bit more technical. After running it, I’m not convinced it was anymore technical than the first four miles but one man’s technical is another man’s median (and at this point, we’re probably just splitting hairs). However, the three drops that reside on the downstream side of Garage are indeed, drops, so he was probably (and correctly) erring on the side of caution.

Fun fact about this guy. He’s got his own unique bike shuttling setup. A van with enough room for his kayaks and a moped (this being the first moped shuttler I’ve met).

The section to Garage road is indeed great for beginners but it would be hard to recommend this creek without recommending the whole stretch. It’s just too damn beautiful and since the drops are easy to run, they are similarly easy to portage if you wanted to opt out. Plus, it only took us an hour to paddle to Garage Road in these water levels. Much too short of a trip if you’re making the drive to the Black River Falls Area.

The put-in at Trow Lake Dam isn’t the easiest for the casual paddler. It’s a bit of a downhill hike through some tall weeds and grass and it involves a bit of climbing over a tree.

Once you’re on the water, you’re immediately greeted by riffles and swift currents and you might not know it yet but you’re in for something special because it just doesn’t quit. It's corner after corner of something new to look at or currents to negotiate.

The water changes from clear and clean to brown muddy root beer (most likely due to all the recent rain) which is common to the creeks in this area and very different than the black of, well, the Black river.

I was surprised by the width of the creek. It’s much wider than I expected, having Robinson Creek on my mind as the only other paddle in the area to compare it to. It’s not like Robinson at all - in fact, it’s completely different. Robinson is more intimate with less of the majestic rock formations. Halls is much wider and just a bit more breathtaking with every turn.

And it’s not Carroll Creek even though I wanted to compare the two because it shares so many similarities with its rock formations and constant riffles. For my money, this holds an edge on both the Robinson and Carroll but shares similarities to both. It’s just a helluva lot of fun.

Prior to Garage Road, there was one tree to portage. Well, it appeared to be a portage at least. Turns out, it can be limboed under river-right, something I didn’t think was possible until I was standing on the log and watched Timothy float under unscathed.

Past Garage Road, where again, it gets arguably more technical, there are three distinct drops to contend with but all three can be portaged.

The first, is an old dam. On river-left is a concrete slab that makes a very convenient slide - a little chutes and ladders if you will - with a bump in the middle. It’s pretty easy but it can also be portaged river-right with some creative climbing and scooting.

The next two are before the County Road E bridge and they are nearly consecutive. The first is a play spot with a few different lines to choose (in fact, Timothy ran it twice for varieties sake). I chose the pool which was a blast. This is easy to scout and portage if need be.

The final drop is a few hundred yards downstream from the second and it’s more or less a gradual slope. I likened it to a shallow gravel driveway incline because I was scraping and scratching my way down. We both ran it river-right where it’s also easy to portage.

That’s where we thought all the excitement would end but again, this creek doesn’t quit and Halls continues to surprise. Figuring we were nearing the confluence with the Black where the current would slow down, we were both caught off guard by a boulder garden lying just beneath the surface on our approach to County Road E. Neither of us lost it but it was touch and go there for a bit. It was a good reminder to not get too complacent and keep seated until the ride is over folks. In hindsight, we probably should've expected the boulder garden since this is where the visual gauge is located looking down from the bridge.

Finally, past County E and closer to the confluence, you’re greeted with one last wink from Halls. The largest natural spring waterfall on the trip greets you on river-right, just tumbling down from the high cliff onto some large slabs of rock. Halls made us feel like we were welcome company with this last send off. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise capping off an exciting trip.

Just a few more paddle strokes and you’ll spot the Black, in all its true blackness and noticeable contrast to the brown of Halls. The Black River itself, was raging after a couple weeks of rain so paddling to the take-out situated right at the confluence took one of us (ahem, me) for a ride (had it not already been a perfect paddle, I might’ve continued downstream to who knows where?).

The take-out is a legit landing on the Black River, officially named Hall’s Creek. There are no facilities but plenty of parking.

Unrelated to the paddle and on our way to the campground, we detoured to the Black near the dam to scout the rapids. There, we met some folks from Milwaukee, one a serious whitewater kayaker who was scouting the rapids for a potential run. We hiked for about an hour, in awe of the massive amount of water churning downstream. He pointed out the lines (or lacktherof) he was looking for and explained the classes at each section, including a class V+ that had his gears turning. We watched as this guy struggled with an internal argument over the reality of successfully running it. Who knows if he did (he had planned for the Monday after that). Check out some of the scouting pics here, here, here and here.

We spent the night at campsite #9 at the Black River East Fork Campground, one of my favorite places to tent when you're riverside. For me, there’s nothing better than fishing from your campsite (sorry to the walleye I accidentally murdered). A storm rolled in that night, which led to some creative emergency shelter building/scrambling but that just made the day even more memorable. More importantly, it was keeping the water levels up in the area (and for the next day’s paddle too).

Lastly, of all the things “We Liked,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it was on that night, I had my first ever homemade She-Meh-Neh burrito over an open-fire (Burrito Drive fans will understand the impressive nature of this feat). I didn’t even know it could be done but Timothy outdid himself and solidified his status as camp chef from here on out (kidding, I’ll help, if I have to).

What we didn't like:
This is the least I’ve ever written about “didn’t like”. There really isn’t much to say. We saw very little wildlife but I’m stretching here - there’s just too damn much to look at and love otherwise.

If we did this trip again:
I’d go again in a heartbeat. The weather was perfect, the water was perfect and it doesn’t get much better than this for creek connisuers and lovers alike. It’s worth calling in sick to work if the water is up.

Related Information
Black River: Black River Falls to Melrose
Robinson Creek: Old County Road I to Kelly Road
Camp: Black River State Forest
General: American Whitewater
General: Riverfacts.com
Good People: Friends of the Black River
Map: Friends of the Black River
Map: Wisconsin DNR
Video: MnktoDave
Wikipedia: Black River


View Halls Creek in a larger map

Photo Gallery:

Visual Gauge off County Road E. Close-up here.

The put-in below Trow Lake Dam.



The one portage that in hindsight, didn't need to be portaged.



Garage Road bridge.










Dam ahead.

Looking upstream at the dam.

The chute/plank/concrete path is in view on the right (or when paddling downstream, river-left).



Stay splashy.


The best drop on the trip.


We reco the pool on river-left.

Upstream of the last drop, a relatively easy sloped descent on river-right.

County Road E bridge.

The beauty of this creek doesn't end until the end.

One last waterfall as you make your exit.

Confluence with the Black River.

The take-out at Halls Creek Landing.

7/07/2014 0 comments

Baraboo River V

Haskins Park to Highway 33
☆ ☆ ☆

A trip of contrasts that begins in an urban setting and ends in the country, first surrounded by downtown buildings and a circus museum, then ancient rock formations, with a bang of Class I rapids for the first two miles and a whimper of slow current at the end. The river here is like a travelogue of history, human and geologic.

Best rapids on the river, below the Highway 133 bridge in left channel of island.

By Timothy Corcoran Bauer
A Miles Paddled contributor

June 26, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Riffles + Class I

Baraboo: ht/ft: 9.5 | cfs: 600

Haskins Park, Baraboo, Wisconsin
Highway 33 Bridge

Time: Put in at 12:20p. Out at 3:35p.
Total Time: 3h 15m
Miles Paddled: 12.5

Wildlife: Several great blue herons, many ducks and geese, lots of little turtles, a muskrat, a deer, two bald eagles and a raccoon climbing a tree.
Time worth driving to: 1 hour

This segment of the Baraboo nips at the lower river on the way towards its confluence with the Wisconsin River. I actually did this same trip about four years ago but hadn’t remembered much of it and wanted to give it another shot. After redoing it, there’s a reason why it’s not terribly memorable (at least the Hwy 113 to Highway 33 section) but more on that below. This trip links what can be otherwise seen as two separate segments and there are good and bad things about doing so.

What I liked:
The moving water downtown is irresistibly good fun, always. The rapids, such as they are, don’t amount to more than Class I in normal water conditions but they’re delightfully sprite and set in a pleasant setting with interesting backdrops of downtown Baraboo.

The best rapids are beneath the pedestrian bridge, on the right, at Ochsner Park (the second bridge you paddle under) and then just downstream from the Highway 123/South Boulevard bridge, in the left channel of an island (the fourth bridge). The rapids at that left channel (where you'll see a brick building on the river-left bank) are the best the Baraboo offers (the right channel usually has strainers and debris).

By the time you approach Circus World Museum, the rapids have dissipated to occasional riffles but the ambiance of the environs is more than enough to keep you entertained. Elephants, calliope music, whirligigs – it’s all just shy of lions, tigers, and bears (oh my). The Haskins Park to Highway 113 landing is definitely the funnest part of this trip and one of the top highlights anywhere on all of the Baraboo River.

Just a note about the gauge. It's located on this very trip so the reading will be quite accurate. At 600 cfs the rapids downtown were actually quite lively and demanded attention. For serious whitewater paddlers this will still be tame. A minimum of 800 cfs is recommended with a range going as high as 1300 cfs for those solely pursuing big waves and play spots. But for recreational paddlers 600 cfs is a great level to splash it up and raise a hackle or two without a serious risk of danger or injury.

Also, here’s how fast the Baraboo drains. On Sunday June 22nd, the river was running at 15’ and 2,000 cfs (which is crazy!). It dropped to 13’ and 1500 cfs two days later, to 11’ and 1,000 a day after that and then 9.5’ and 600 cfs the next day (when I ran it). That’s a difference of 5.5’ and 1400 cfs in four days! The Baraboo is not a whitewater river by any stretch but catching those Class I rapids downtown at their peak is pretty tricky. Most of the time they will be just fun, solid riffles.

Bear in mind, however, that paddling through downtown when the river is low can be quite frustrating. Small boulders are strewn about everywhere and you’ll be scraping the bottom and/or bouncing your boat off the rocks quite a bit.

After Highway 113 the river makes a long, slow turn in direction to the northeast, towards Portage. What makes this section notable is the ancient geology of the Baraboo Range itself. Just before the take-out for this trip the river lies within the “Lower Narrows” of the Baraboo Range – one of three such gorges in the 50-mile circumference of the Baraboo Range (the other two being the “Upper Narrows” in Rock Springs and Devil’s Lake in Baraboo). The Baraboo Range is estimated to be 1.5 billion years old. What we see today, lovely in its own right, is like the tip of an iceberg in that all those hundreds of millions of years of erosion have weathered the once giant mountains down to hills (think of that once proud and beautiful snowman left after a couple weeks in the first thaw in March).

Ever wonder why the Wisconsin River flows mostly north-south except for a weird kink to the east below the Dells, followed then by an oddball turn to the west below Portage only 20 or so miles later? The ancient mountain range running east-west diverted the north-south river eastward and the glacial lobe of the last Ice Age, coming from what is now Lake Michigan, shoved the river to the west. Thus, the western terminus of the Baraboo Range (the “Upper Narrows”) is in the Driftless Area while the eastern terminus (the “Lower Narrows” – where this trip ends) is glaciated (and thus marks the demarcation of the Driftless Area by the Sauk-Columbia county line).

Mind you, I’m not a geologist, I just like to play one on the internet.

What I didn't like:
All this said, you can hardly appreciate any of the “outside classroom” while on the river itself. The gorge of the Lower Narrows is wide and the rock walls, alas, do not flank the river directly. They’re close but they’re still a bit off in the distance. You know they’re there in your head but the direct visual effect is quite muted. To be fair, I have paddled through here twice now in summer, with full foliage. The views of the rocky hills above from the river below would probably be better in early spring or late autumn. There’s something wickedly and inherently wrong about the shuttle trip being prettier than the river trip itself. The views of the Narrows from Highway 33 are quite stunning.

The other thing not to like about this trip is the slow torpor of the river once you leave downtown. The first few miles of this trip flow with an 11’-per-mile gradient but after Highway 113, it’s two feet per mile! The water’s still muddy brown, the landscape is mostly flat (minus the occasional cleavage tease of the Baraboo hills in the way back) and occasional logjams become an issue.

There were two on this trip (one I actually remembered from the last time, which was four years ago, so this one is residential and probably has a postal address and should have a name all its own). I was able to negotiate my way through, under, and over both, but it wasn’t easy. A canoe would have a hell of a hard time doing this. As seems to be the case always when it comes to logjams, the river is crazy deep, so getting out and standing on the bottom of the river is not an option. Unless the views of the Narrows are awesome when the trees are leafless, there’s really no good reason to paddle this segment.

If I Did This Trip Again:
Thanks to a small but official landing off County Road W, I'll check out the Lower Narrows later this year, in November, to see what can be seen. This would make for a 3.4-mile trip. Otherwise, it’s best just to paddle the fun stuff downtown and let the sleeping dog of the lower Baraboo River lie.

Related Information
Baraboo River I: Village Park to Highway 113
Baraboo River II: Haskins Park to Highway 113
Baraboo River III: Union Center to Wonewoc
Baraboo River IV: Haskins Park to Highway 113
General: American Whitewater
General: Riverfacts
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Overview: Hunt Fish Camp
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Video: Wisconsin Paddles: The Baraboo
Wikipedia: Baraboo River


View Baraboo River V in a larger map

Shuttle Information:
8 miles by car or 10.5 by bicycle. Both start on Highway 33 and take you past/through the Lower Narrows, which is very pretty. The bike shuttle eventually meets up with the downtown segment of the Ice Age Trail that runs parallel with the river and makes for an awesome trip.

Miles Paddled Video:

Photo Gallery:

Put-in at Haskins Park (muddy, but not too bad with full facilities at park).

Beginning rapids on the Boo.

Bridge at Ochsner Park, little wave action on the right-hand side below bridge.

Same, looking upstream.

Picturesque backdrop of downtown Baraboo.

Obligatory Circus World Museum photo!

Still pretty, but slow after downtown.

Highway 113 landing.

Evidence of recent high water - holy crap!

One of the rare "cleavage" shots of the Baraboo Hills while on the river.

Alternative landing off of County Road W.

Nastiest logjam on this trip.

Hey whatcha lookin at?

Another quick glimpse of the beautiful range in the background.

Riverside deer.

Cool raccoon climbing down a tree over the river.

The north-facing part of the Lower Narrows on river-right squint-eyed through the foliage.

Muddy muck takeout at Highway 33.


Also at the take-out.

The north-facing part...

...and the even prettier south-facing part.

Bike shuttle along the river downtown on the Ice Age Trail.