10/29/2014 0 comments

La Crosse River II

Highway 108 to Veterans Memorial County Park
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A perfect little trip if you have only an hour or two to paddle. Whether together with your morning cup of coffee before a long boring day of errands or with a cocktail after a long boring day at work, your spirit will be replenished by the clear water, swift current and pretty environment of this clip of the La Crosse River.

05
There about three sets of riffles/Class I rapids.

Date:
September 28, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Class II

Gradient:
5.5' per mile

Gauge:
La Crosse: ht/ft: 3.4 | cfs: 450
Sparta: ht/ft: 3.4 | cfs: 150

Put-In:
Below dam off Highway 108/County Road C, La Crosse County, West Salem, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Veterans Memorial County Park

Time: Put in at 1:50p. Out at 3:00p.
Total Time: 1h 10m
Miles Paddled: 4.25

Wildlife: One bald eagle, a big red fish and a great blue heron.
Time worth driving to: 1-2 hours

Why such a short trip? Two reasons: I had to drive back to Madison and after Veterans Memorial Park there are no landings until County Road B, 9.4 miles downstream (thus making for a 13.5-mile paddle basically beginning at 2:00 pm, followed by a 2-hr drive back home, which even by my standards is a bit impractical). But this quick section thrilled me. It’s satisfying in every way while whetting my curiosity to seek it out further.

We had paddled a long upstream section of the La Crosse River earlier this year in August and while we enjoyed it and had a great time, neither of us was all that wowed or wildly impressed. We took out in Bangor, about 4 miles upstream of Neshonoc Lake, in West Salem. Unless you’re into lake paddling, it’s best to continue on the La Crosse below the dam that creates the lake, which is where this trip begins.

I don’t know who or what flipped the switch between Bangor and the dam but the river environs are quite different – decidedly prettier and more intimate below the dam. Since I haven’t yet paddled below West Salem, I can only surmise from consulting maps and reiterate from what I’ve read in guidebooks about the rest of the river onwards to La Crosse and the Mississippi River but the beauty, if not also intimacy, just grows as it goes downstream. To be sure, it’s not uncommon for two sections of one singular river to look and feel distinctly different, however geographically close to one another they are. To wit, the Black River above and below the dam in downtown Black River Falls; one is rocky and lined with rapids, the other sandy and slow as molasses and yet each is separated by 10 miles at best. But I hadn’t anticipated such a distinction here on the La Crosse, a much smaller stream. It was a welcome surprise and an absolute delight.

What we liked:
You know that feeling you get in your gut, maybe a tingle in the back of your brain, when even the put-in looks cool and all you can think or say is “aw, hell yeah!” And so this too begins. What’s great about the put-in? A few things actually. One, it’s a dedicated landing with a ton of room for cars and basic privacy if you need to pee or change clothes, etc. Access to the water is a cakewalk. The put-in is basically below the bridge.

About 35 yards away is the quite attractive and historic-looking powerhouse to the left of the actual dam; cream-colored bricks accentuated by red doors and window sills tucked into a hillside, the building looks like a postcard from a bygone era (well, 1940 to be exact). Cooler still, underneath the powerhouse is a tunnel of sorts from which outflow above the dam is funneled through – I’m talking solid Class II rapids stuff (and reportedly generating 2.3 gigawatt hours annually or enough power for about 200 homes). I am 99% certain there would be no realistic or safe way to run this but it’s a fun thought experiment to consider entering this tunnel and riding the rapids in the pitch dark to the other side in daylight! Nonetheless, the outflow creates enough turbulence that a nice wavetrain and Class I rapid perseveres to the bridge and can be accessed depending on where you put-in and how much you feel like paddling upstream strong current. Whether you do this or just put-in sensibly, the setting is picturesque complete with a rolling hill above the opposite shore and it’s a great beginning.

About 60’ wide for the most part, the river here has a sandy bottom and a swift current (not dangerous swift but nicely moving along). Tall banks flank both sides of the river ranging from 30’ to 70’ high – some crowned with pretty stands of pine – while sandbars dot the streambed itself, adding to the sense of intimacy. A couple modest rock outcrops and later an old metal truss bridge generously lend to the esthetics. All four miles of this trip are enclosed within the town of West Salem, so you will see houses atop the banks from time to time but they’re intermittently spaced and nicely ensconced in the natural environment, nothing obtrusive or obnoxious.

Looking at a satellite map of the urban surroundings of West Salem, you wouldn’t guess that this little trip would be so pretty and private, but it is. One particular stretch reminded me of Mirror Lake State Park with a perfect reflected image on the water of high banks topped with pine and this, it turns out, is practically right behind the godforsaken La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway (where we camped at Veterans Memorial Park back in August, racecars throughout the torturous night revved and ran louder than screeching banshees from hell).

There are three sets of short riffles and light rapids, as well as one Class II ledge where a small dam was removed years ago, roughly 20 yards downstream from the County M bridge (also the halfway point at two miles in). The ledge itself is maybe 2’ high but it’s gradual, not sudden. You’ll hear it before you see it, plus you’ll see a house on the right-hand side with a “No Trespassing” sign lest your druthers to portage or scout were on the river-right. An obvious “tongue” of water like an upside-down ‘V’ shows you where to run the drop (or you can portage around it on the river-left). There’s a fantastic hole with a standing wave below the drop on the left that’s perfect for surfing or some light tricks (squirts and turns) if you’re into that. The portage path on the left provides an opportunity to run the drop as many times as your heart pleases. This drop is a delight!

After you pass the Highway 16 bridge, you’ll see a fence on the left and the first signs of Veterans Memorial Park. Once you see either RVs or tents (likelier the former, unfortunately) the take-out is soon to come. You’ll spot a boulder and stone remnants on the left at a campsite (where we’d camped in August, incidentally) followed immediately by a couple rocks in the river by a very tiny island. The take-out is just after this on the left. Because it’s a nondescript “landing,” it’s easy to miss. You should stake it out first so you know what you’re looking for on the river. There are indoor restrooms, with showers, in a building just down a path from the take-out.

What we didn't like:
Too short and not enough time to do more! OK, that’s on me and not very objective. This is a great little trip – evidenced too by six other kayakers whom I met at the take-out; they too paddled just this 4-mile section.

The only other thing worth mentioning is Veterans Memorial Park. As far as take-outs go, this one is mixed. On one hand, it’s very easy to access and parking is not a problem. On the other hand, it’s not the easiest thing to find! The park is huge and a little bit confusing. You want to first find the campground and from there find the river and start looking for a nondescript spot in between designated sites. Or just ask someone. It’s not a needle in a haystack but it’s not obvious either; the warren of one-way roads adds to the disorientation.

As far as camping goes, we can’t really endorse this place. Sure, it’s better than nowhere… but not by much. The sites are all on top of one another with zero privacy or natural division between them. Our site back in August had been littered with dogshit as though plastic bags had gone out of style the day before. Plus the morally objectionable noise from the infernal Speedway truly was incredible. I’m not talking about how the distant site of a silent plane up in the sky while you’re in the backcountry of Alaska spoils the sense of isolation and wilderness. No, I’m talking dentist drill boring through your eardums combined with a bandsaw ripping through galvanized tin, both on decibel level one billion. That’s how unbearably obnoxious it was. We couldn’t even hear one another talk sitting at a picnic table. Think I’m exaggerating? It’s not for nothing that it bills itself as “Wisconsin’s only NASCAR sanctioned weekly racing asphalt track.” And it’s one mile away from your campsite, wherever you pitch or park. Dogshit, no privacy and deafening noise all for $20 a night. Best to try your luck Sunday-Thursday.

If we did this trip again:
Next time I’ll paddle all the way down to County B for a 13.5-mile trip or, if I’m feeling frisky (and when aren’t I?) keep paddling past B all the way down to the Mississippi River another 4.3 miles for an 18ish-mile journey. Alas, that will have to wait until 2015 probably, as a third trip before first freeze seems unlikely at this point.

***************
Related Information
La Crosse River I: Sparta to Bangor
Overview: Hunt Fish Camp
Overview: Travel Wisconsin
Overview: WisconsinGuides.net
Wikipedia: La Crosse River


Map:


View La Crosse River II in a larger map


Shuttle Information:
A simple, straight shot on Highway 16.


Photo Gallery:

01
Outstanding put-in at County Road C with Neshonoc Lake dam in background.

02
The handsome old powerhouse with cool outflow tunnels below.

03
About 60' wide, sandy, intimate and with gentle hills.

04
Steepish sandy banks with riffles.

06
There's gotta be a story to this...

07
Modest bluff topped with trees and exposed rock outcrops.

08
County Road M bridge, immediately preceding a Class II ledge.

09
Fun to run and easy to read ledge where a dam had been removed.

10
Hard to tell from this pic but this is a decent size standing wave and hole to the left of the bottom of the ledge - fun to play in!

11
Taller hills further downstream crowned with stately pines.

12
All of this trip is enclosed within the town of West Salem, yet the feel on the river remains intimate and beautiful.

13
Stand of pine lining the river.

14
The bluffs also are bigger as you travel downstream.

15
Attractive abandoned iron bridge.

16
Veterans Memorial Park campground on left; take-out also on left shortly after these decrepit stones.

17
Boat landing in the park.

18
Same.
10/27/2014 0 comments

Trempealeau River II

Highway 35 to Perrot State Park
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

An easy trip surrounded by a national wildlife refuge that finishes with one of the absolute prettiest backdrops of Mississippi River bluffs. Set one after the other in such dramatic fashion, it’s easy to forget that this is still the upper Midwest and not New England or the Adirondacks of New York.

09
Brady's Bluff on the left, Trempealeau Mountain on the right.

Date:
September 27, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater bottomlands

Gradient:
1.4' per mile

Gauge:
Dodge: ht/ft: 4.90 | cfs: 440

Put-In:
Highway 35/54 bridge, Nathan Wolfe Memorial Wildlife Area landing, Trempealeau County, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Canoe Launch in Perrot State Park

Time: Put in at 2:20p. Out at 4:40p.
Total Time: 2h 20m
Miles Paddled: 5.75

Wildlife: A bald eagle, great blue herons, a snowy egret, killdeer, kingfishers, turtles and muskrats.
Time worth driving to: 2 hours

Not counting cars or the intermittent sleeping bag on a beach, Perrot State Park is the place I first camped alone with actual gear and did so intentionally, (not out of a homeless happenstance of desperation) so it remains firmly fond in my heart’s memory (even though on the last night a nasty storm pummeled the area with heavy downpour and 50-mph winds, snapping one of the tent poles like a toothpick with the net result of a restless evening in a half-collapsed tent with a sopping wet tent wall stuck on my face, my feet in a puddle of water, in mid-November no less – good times!). It’s also gorgeous, easily within the state’s top ten parks and is as rich in history as it is in great trails and amazing views of the Mississippi River and the bluffs of Minnesota on the other side. Plus there’s the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hamlet of Trempealeau (aka “Tremplo”) just three miles east of the park, where if nothing else there are two mentionables: the Mississippi River Lock & Dam and the historic Trempealeau Hotel (more on the hotel and state park below).

Given that my nostalgic campground lies on the fringe of Trempealeau Bay and that the bay is where the Trempealeau River empties into the mighty Mississip, one might think that this river has been itching to be paddled on my to-do list. Actually, not so much. The Trempealeau River is pretty long, its headwaters near Hixton, Wisconsin (better known as the next exit after Black River Falls on I-94) but much of it is too shallow and marshy to bother with. The traditional sections covered in paddling guidebooks are from Whitehall to Dodge – some 30+ miles of easygoing clear water with nothing terribly challenging or dramatic. Barry recently covered the Whitehall to Independence section, which essentially confirmed my prejudice against the Trempealeau River: despite it being a Driftless Area river and located in one of my favorite playground areas in the state, there is little one would describe as spectacular – no riffles, no rapids, no limestone or sandstone rock outcrops, no towering bluffs. Until Perrot State Park, that is.

There, about a mile before the take-out, the previously enclosed tree canopy opens up onto a wide-angle panorama of two bluffs apiece on each side of the river, Brady’s Bluff on the left and Trempealeau Mountain on the right, both equally magnificent. This view only improves the closer you approach the two and the effect is simply stupendous. It was even more than what I had been hoping for when planning this trip and I was positively giddy. There are precious few such views in the Midwest but this one is priceless and can rival any you’d find in the northeast. Why this last section of the Trempealeau River is not better covered and advocated, I have no idea. But I am both humbled and bubbling to share and recommend it now!

What we liked:
Let’s start at the beginning. First, the put-in off Highway 35 is a dedicated boat landing, so the access is easy, safe and excellent. The water was up, so the current was steady and surprisingly swift. “Surprising” in that the Trempealeau is a gentle stream in general and most tributaries of the Mississippi River tend to slow down to a crawl the closer they reach their confluence, so this was unexpected but welcome. The setting is quite pretty too: lush, rolling bluffs in every direction in the backdrop – you’re in the heart of Driftless Country.

In the first couple miles you'll be in a mostly marshy environment with a very pleasant blend of tallgrass, cattails, oak trees and the occasional midriff glimpse of bluffs in the distance. A number of smallish islands provide alternate channels to choose and with them, bragging rights about who chose wisely and who got stuck! Immediately you'll see signs on the right for the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, a 6,200-acre wetland and rest stop for the million-winged migration of birds along the Mississippi Flyway from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge is maintained by a series of dikes, gates and pumps that mirrors the natural cycle of flooding and drainage in response to the backed up swell of Mississippi River water caused by the locks and dams, providing excellent habitat for birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Here’s a fun fact that if you’re a word nerd like me you’ll love: The word “refuge” comes from the Latin re- meaning again and fugere meaning to flee (think fugitive). So in essence “refuge” means to return to the place from which one earlier fled and to be a refugee is less a leaving from one place than an ultimate return to another, to an ancient home. Does that not tingle a certain something in the back of your soul? It does mine.

Also on the right, about a half-mile or so downstream from the put-in you’ll see a raised bank and maybe a bicyclist or two, for that is the Great River State Trail, an exquisite crushed limestone corridor converted from a railway bed that runs parallel to the Mississippi River all the way to downtown La Crosse (from where, incidentally, one then can connect to the La Crosse River State Trail to Sparta, from where one then can further connect to the Elroy-Sparta State Trail to Elroy, from where one then can connect yet again to The 400 State Trail to Reedsburg – that’s a hundred miles of incredible bicycling all on dedicated state trails; see here for the whole nexus of trail systems). Pretty good beginning, no?

The river itself has a sandy bottom but being so close to its confluence with the Mississippi there’s a muddy mixture. About 60’ wide, the Trempealeau is narrow enough to feel intimate but big enough so that downed trees are not a problem. In fact, this last stretch of the Trempealeau is mostly straight, so maneuvering is at a minimum. There are a few downed trees to dodge here, an up-poking log there but it’s all very negotiable and evident. By and by, there’s just enough to demand paying attention but none of it is challenging, thus making it a perfect stream for newbies renting canoes or kayaks from the state park or those paddling their own boats for the first time.

Two miles downstream from the put-in is the next/last access point on the river at the Refuge Road bridge where there’s an excellent landing on the river-left downstream-side of the bridge. From here to Perrot is another 3.5 miles and it's simply spectacular. A mostly tree-canopied section both precedes and succeeds the bridge, providing welcome relief from the sun on a hot day. The scene here is verdant green and lovely, though peeks of autumn color scampishly flourished on saplings and vines. A hundred yards or so downstream from the bridge the river will sway to the south (a gradual right-hand bend). On our trip, we first saw two kayakers coming upstream, then a party of two canoes. As the river bends to the right/south, you’ll see a channel on the far-left around what turns out to be a ginormous island (especially noticeable when canoes come from out of the blue paddling upstream). This is part of the Voyageurs Canoe Trail in Perrot (see map), a 4.5-mile counterclockwise loop around Trempealeau Bay – a quite reputable alternative to river paddling for those without the means of shuttling.

A long straightaway follows with peek-a-boo hints here and there of the huge bluffs ahead. Eventually the tree canopy recedes, the horizon widens and two looming bluffs in the near-distance develop into view: Brady’s Bluff on the left and Trempealeau Mountain on the right. Sure, the wildlife refuge is great and who doesn’t like a bike shuttle option on a dedicated trail? But this, my friends, this is why you want to paddle the final miles of the Trempealeau River.

First comes Trempealeau Mountain. To be fair, it’s only 425’ high – more hill than mountain. Blame the French, for they’re the ones who described this island as la montagne qui trempe a l’eau, or “the mountain that soaks in water.” (Incidentally, did you catch that last part – “trempe a l’eau”? Yup, whence the name “Trempealeau” comes – or as the locals call it “Tremplo,” which is admittedly a whole lot easier to spell!) Keep this in mind too: in all of the Mississippi River, all 2,300+ miles of it, there are only three such rock islands the likes of Trempealeau Mountain and this is the only one in the upper Mississippi. Today, Trempealeau Mountain is a dedicated state natural area (SNA) that is part of Perrot State Park. It is accessible by water only.

Next is Brady’s Bluff, a little bit behind and to the left (east) of Trempealeau Mountain. At 520’ high, Brady’s Bluff is nothing to sneeze at. If you have time only to hike one trail in Perrot, let it be this (though you’re still shorting yourself by not spending a couple hours of serenity amongst the wondrous hiking trails in the park – doubling, by the way, as some of the absolute most fun cross-country skiing anywhere in Wisconsin, seriously). Brady’s Bluff is the leading star in the impressive ensemble of Perrot State Park. Well, maybe it’s Trempealeau Mountain – it’s hard to say. Paddling in Trempealeau Bay is simply gorgeous and totally tame and safe. Entering into this home stretch truly called to mind scenes in New England or upstate New York, my old stomping grounds and childhood haunts. The Mississippi River bluffs can pass for the mountains of western Massachusetts or southern Vermont any day. Together with coquettish winks of autumn color beginning to blush, I really felt like I was back east. That’s probably why the Driftless feels so at home to me… But there ain’t no Mississippi out east, or the Packers!

A quick heads-up here. Don’t be lured towards Trempealeau Mountain thinking there’s a way around it, you'll just end up in a series of muddy dead-ends. Close to the east shore of the “mountain” what remains of the river braids out into a series of semi-navigable channels. Take the one furthest left (east) and/or just follow the helpful blue canoe signs that mark the water trail. As you do you'll paddle up to the base of Brady’s Bluff. Here you have two take-out choices: Chinese or pizza. Just kidding. There’s both an official boat launch for motorboats as well as a kind of makeshift canoe launch. The official boat launch is easier since it skips the upstream paddling of a couple hundred yards required of the canoe launch. Plus the parking lot is much closer for the boat launch. At the canoe launch you have to carry/drag your boat about 100 yards across a grassy area. But there’s generally more traffic at the boat launch, so really it’s up to you. Both are pretty easy and convenient either way.

Last thing to mention here is the bike shuttle. Now, ordinarily I try to be pretty modest about shuttling. I am a bicycle commuter during my Mon-Fri life and bike shuttle 95% of the time for paddling trips, so allow me to lay down my obvious bias here on the table (but I totally recognize for a lot of people this is neither feasible nor practical). However, if there is one time you really should bike shuttle, it’s this trip. From the canoe launch to the put-in is only a 6.2-mile pedal, all but a couple hundred yards of it along the Great River Trail. A spur off of the campground loop road leads to the official trail, so access is supremely easy. I used my regular road bike and its skinny, smooth tires were totally fine on the compact crushed limestone surface of the trail. The section of the trail from Refuge Road to the northern-most trailhead at Highway 35 truly is one of the most beautiful stretches of bike riding I’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience. All of it is enclosed within the national refuge, in this section surrounded by an oak savanna with gentle hills, alluring bends and more glimpses of Driftless bluffs in the distance. On a sunny autumn afternoon, the soon to set sun kissing your skin on an Indian Summer weekend, the experience was simply exquisite!

Barry and I had very different experiences both on the Trempealeau River (two distinctly different sections of it) as well as Perrot State Park and the Trempealeau Hotel. Perrot is one of my favorite places in Wisconsin, in part because I myself have a personal relationship with it forged years ago. But the park itself is truly a wonder. The trails are excellent, whether in the valley shade nestled in a nook or atop a rocky bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, alongside one of many effigy burial mounds, spring, summer, autumn, or winter.

There’s a lot of human history here, too – first inhabited by the ancient Hopewellian Indians who left their burial mounds surrounded by mystery and many unanswered questions, then the Oneota and Ioway and eventually the Sioux and Winnebago (Ho-Chunk). The French Voyageur Nicholas Perrot first came to Perrot in 1685; an archeological dig by a local high school unearthed the bones of bear, elk, and buffalo in a spot that is presumed to have been his garbage pit after spending one long winter in the park. He claimed the area for France but it was ceded to the English after the French and Indian War, which territory was then ceded to the Americans after the War for Independence, although not without first having been expropriated from the Dakota Indians. Throughout this it’s worth noting that the tiny rock island named Trempealeau in the middle of the Mississippi River stayed put. The Indians, the Europeans, the Americans; the flight migration of millions of birds; the barge traffic up and down the big river and the long freight trains of the BNSF running parallel on both shores – the one constant in all this state of change is the mountain that soaks in water.

As for the Trempealeau Hotel, I feel a need to defend it without sounding defensive. I’ve been there on half a dozen occasions in the last 10 years and have never had anything but a great time. Dating back to 1871, the hotel, bar and restaurant truly do feel like stepping back in time… in the best way possible. The bar is fun, the food is good and the rooms upstairs are a delight – where else can you stay for $50 a night in a retro-cool furnished room with creaking floorboards and train-rattling windows with a view of the river and bluffs above an old bar and restaurant? It’s a unique experience and one I strongly advocate. Is their walnut burger the best thing since sliced bread? No; I’d recommend ordering the walnut burger balls as an appetizer and saving your entrĂ©e for something else. But it’s a solid menu altogether and I personally have found the staff always down-to-earth, kind, helpful and appreciative of their customers. Barry, I am truly sorry you had a crappy first impression of the place! I assure you it was the exception to the rule and will gladly go back there with you anytime to prove it so.

What we didn't like:
There really isn’t anything to dislike about this trip, but in order that I be objective I will say this: from the put-in to Refuge Road there was an unrelenting staccato of gunshots none too far away along the river-left. It probably was target shooting on someone’s private land but it was a bit of a distraction – and detraction.

Otherwise, the only thing is this trip is too short! A scarcity of accesses is part of the problem. From the satellite view there appears to be an impromptu put-in off County Road P on the right, 1.7 miles north of Highway 35. This would add 2.75 miles of paddling for a total 8.5-mile trip, which would be perfect, but I can’t confirm whether this is an option. Otherwise you have to go up to the town of Dodge for the next access but this would make for a very long day on the water. Or, rather than adding on at the beginning, one could exit Trempealeau Bay and enter the Mississippi River itself just to say you did or around/through a nearby island and quickly back upstream into the bay. I’ve marked this on the map as a possible option, but I myself didn’t do it. It goes without saying that paddling the Mississippi River always requires caution and sound judgment, since the current is strong, headwinds can be challenging and commercial barge traffic can be dangerous.

If we did this trip again:
Next time, and there definitely will be a next time, I'll see about putting-in upstream and maybe going into the Mississippi River as well. Either way, I'll be sure to get out and hike up Trempealeau Mountain, for which fun I had not given myself enough time.

***************
Related Information
Trempealeau River I: Whitehall to Independence
Camp: Perrot State Park
General: Trempealeau County
Map: Great River Map
Wikipedia: Trempealeau River


Map:


View Trempealeau River II in a larger map


Shuttle Information:
6.2 miles on bike and a magnificent bike ride it is. The car shuttle is 6.4 miles. Take the back entrance/exit of the park, not the main entrance.


Photo Gallery:

01
Put-in at Highway 35 aka "Nathan Wolfe Memorial Wildlife Area".

02
Downstream side of the Highway 35 bridge look upstream.

03
Immediately you are within the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.

04
Marshy area the first two miles with backdrop bluffs.

05
Autumn sleeves.

06
About 60' wide, no serious obstructions.

07
About to enter Perrot State Park.

08
Trempealeau Mountain in all its modest majesty.

10
Brady's Bluff at 500+ feet high.

11
Lots of channels in Trempealeau Bay, not all of them navigable!

12
Looking east/downstream with Brady's Bluff and Minnesota-side Mississippi River bluffs in the distance.

13
Voyageur's Canoe Trail sign in Trempealeau Bay.

14
One of two take-outs in the state park, here the canoe launch.

15
Great River bike trail inside Perrot State Park.

16
Along the trail...

17
Backwater wetlands in the refuge along the trail.

18
Gorgeous oak savanna area along the trail.

19
Ditto, down a fun little hill.

20
At the end of the trail near Highway 35.
10/25/2014 0 comments

Waupaca River III

County Highway DD to County Highway Q
☆ ☆ ☆

This section of the Waupaca River is less traveled and therefore, semi-maintained but if you’re in need of a Waupaca fix and you don't mind dodging a fallen tree or two, this is a nice seven-mile stretch. Almost evenly split in half, the first three and a half miles are easy-going but the last half will test your tolerance for fallen logs and limbs.

IMG_2538
Falling for the Waupaca.

Date:
September 22, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Riffles + Class I

Gauge:
Waupaca: ht/ft: 1.86 | cfs: 242

Put-In:
County Highway DD
Take-Out:
County Highway Q, Waupaca, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 11:40a. Out at 2:05p.
Total Time: 2h 25m
Miles Paddled: 7

Wildlife: Cranes, trout, ducks and a dozen sleepy deer.

Mike Svob wrote about two Waupaca River trips in his much-beloved book, Paddling Southern Wisconsin. The first, Amherst to County Road DD. The second, County Road Q to Brainard’s Bridge Park. This begged the question; “what exactly is going on between DD and County Q?”.

He offered a brief overview of the trip at the end of his Waupaca River 1 report; “The following section, from County DD to County Q, is much like this stretch: winding, riffly, and wooded, with many limbs and trees to get around and over.” Curiosity got the best of me, so I set out to get a first-hand account of this seven-mile section. Mike's account is mostly correct. It’s not often riffly as suggested (this may be the result of water levels or just the natural change in the river’s course) but yes, there are indeed many downed trees to contend with.

I’m a sucker for the Waupaca area in fall so it doesn’t take much twisting of my arm to make the trip from Madison on a regular basis. I don’t know what it is but there’s nothing like camping at Hartmann Creek State Park when the weather turns a little crisper or venturing out on the cooler waters of the Crystal or Waupaca River.

What we liked:
The last time we paddled the beloved Waupaca, we started at County Highway Q. Setting my sights upstream, I scouted every bridge from the take-out to the put-in at County Highway DD. I really liked what I was seeing and I lead myself to believe that there was a lot of excitement in-store because all three bridges looked really inviting. But the only riffles and excitement is found within the first few hundred yards at the put-in and then at the Cobbtown Road bridge.

But excitement aside, I always enjoy a trip down the Waupaca, a river which is the definition of clean, clear and pretty. And I was catching it at that special time when the fall colors were just about to show themselves. It was a slightly crisp start to the day after a very cold night (note to self: consider upgrading to a warmer sleeping bag). In fact, I think the deer were still keeping warm in their beds, as I spooked at least a dozen on the river's edge.

This section alternates between canopy-covered to tree-lined banks with a moderate amount of development. The surface is occasionally broken by the dotting of boulders within the first 3 miles. This was feeling like a 4-star paddle until just past Cobbtown Road where everything changes (it’s essentially the half-way point on this trip and it’s the same road as Durant which is confusing but expected in this area where rivers and roads seem to change names suddenly and without reason - I'm talking about you, Tomorrow). Right under that bridge is an exhilarating but gentle elongated drop which was quite welcome after a mildly-scenic stretch. Right after that, you’ll encounter a wonderful boulder garden and then a Golden Gate-style footbridge on a meticulously manicured property. This marks the beginning of a windy and congested paddle for the last 3.5 miles.

There are a couple must-portages in a kayak, probably a couple more in a canoe. Despite sawn off limbs, indicating this section is frequented, it’s probably not frequented enough to keep up with recent storms. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination. The surroundings really reminded me of the Plover River, with its abundance of downed trees to negotiate but not enough to cause frustration. And the make-up of the river makes for a very different stretch aesthetically than from DD to Cobbtown. There are no random boulder gardens (a Waupaca-hallmark) to greet you along the way, just trees and limbs and logs.

What we didn't like:
In his write-up, Waupaca River 1, Mike talks about asking permission for a take-out at a boulder-strewn pasture (it's quite reminiscent of the Shire, where Sam and Frodo would feel right at home) instead of the County Park downstream because you’d be taking out in the middle of a rapids. His suggested take-out would also be the ideal put-in for this trip had the landowner been standing out in his field at that very moment at that very time but that was not in the cards for me.

The “ask for permission” suggestion by Mike is unrealistic by many standards. First, the people you’d have to ask permission from also have an unnecessary wire stretching taught across the Waupaca not twenty yards upstream from the County DD bridge. Unwelcoming to say the least. Second, I’m not willing to burn a ton of time trying to figure out who owns the land around a stream they do not own.

The County Park Mike refers to is actually Stedman Park which is nothing more than a side of the road inclusion with enough space for 3 vehicles and a short path that leads down to a picnic table which overlooks the abutments to what was once a bridge (it’s here where’ll you get a grand view of a great little series of drops at the start the trip).

You could absolutely put-in at Stedman Park. You'd just have to drag your boats about 40 yards. From there, you could work your way down to the water and put in mid-rapids. It’s absolutely doable - the rapids aren’t formidable by any means. It’s not ideal but it would do the job and is arguably the same amount of work and climbing you’d experience putting-in under the bridge.

Yet, from the County Road DD bridge, down to as far as the eye can see is just about as inviting of an entrance as you’d ever want (well, that is until you’re in the midst of it - more on that in a second) with swift, riffly water and a sizable drop between the abutments and another just further downstream.

Naturally, I wanted to experience both drops so I put-in under County DD. It wasn’t easy but not impractical for a bridge-put-in. It involves some guardrail climbing and kayaking tossing to get down to a moderately trodden path to the waters edge.

Right after putting-in and on the approach to the first drop, I found myself fighting the current and a helluva strainer that took all my might to avoid but more often than not, the current is going to take you where it wants to go, (despite desperate pleas being uttered from under my breath)… and this current is a stubborn little guy.

Had my boat been more agile, I may have been able to do a 180-degree turn, and then another 90-degree one to hit the line perfectly but I knew my jalopo-boat wasn’t helping matters. That, and the strainer limb I was utilizing for stability and scooting was tiny, frail and getting frailer near the end - not helping me towards my destination against the current. And I took on some water…

To summarize: From the bridge to the abutments, there’s currently a strainer directly in the currents path and tough to avoid. There's also some rusty iron poles sticking out of the water (for what purpose, I have no idea). The current is fast and there is a great drop between those abutments (easily Class I). You could put-in just below that at the aforementioned Stedman Park. From there, there’s a brief and fun Class I. And this, is about all the excitement there is until the Cobbtown Road bridge.

A note for those paddling from upstream: If I were paddling down from Amherst, I’d absolutely paddle down to Stedman County Park and enjoy those two exciting drops so long as A) the wire strung across the river just upstream from DD - from that same landowner whom I’d have to ask permission from - didn’t decapitate me and B) the strainer wasn’t removed or didn’t take me down. Other than that, there’s no reason to take-out earlier. In fact, you could easily do the drops and paddle back upstream - it’s all on a bend so it’s really easy to get out of the currents way.

If we did this trip again:
The Waupaca River is clean, clear and often reliable, with enough scattered boulders to keep things interesting which makes for a good paddle almost the entire season.

I'd do this section again but not over the downstream section. It’s certainly worth doing if you're trying to experience the whole Tomorrow/Waupaca, but as a day trip, County Q to Brainards is just more fun. But I really enjoy the Waupaca, regardless of excitement and it gives me a reason to visit this part of Central Wisconsin and Hartmann Creek, which I try to make an annual destination.

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Related Information
Waupaca River I: County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
Waupaca River II: County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
Tomorrow River: Rolling Hills Road to Amherst
Miles Paddled Video: County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
Camp: Hartman Creek State Park
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Wikipedia: Waupaca River


Map:


View Waupaca River III in a larger map


Shuttle Information:
This is an incredibly short, pleasant and relatively safe bike shuttle. There isn't a whole lot of traffic on these roads and very few inclines.


Photo Gallery:

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Despite the look of this excellent access point, it's not as welcoming as Hobbiton or the Shire.

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But it sure would be a convenient access point.

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The landowner prefers to make things difficult for paddlers. This is just upstream from the County DD bridge (keep in mind if you're paddling down from Amherst).

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The exciting entrance to this section from atop the County DD bridge.

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Nestled in the woods just West of the DD bridge, you'll find Stedman Park.

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Scouting the drop downstream from County DD. There's an abutment to your right...

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...And one to your left.

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Guerrilla put-in upstream of County DD.

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The wonderful crystal clear water of the Tomorrow/Waupaca.

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Big 'ol boulder.

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Colors just starting to show themselves.

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Durant Road bridge.

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This, my friends, is how you maintain a river.

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Hello, Red.

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Cobbtown Road bridge. Just below the bridge is a nice little riffly drop...

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...followed by a nice boulder garden...

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... and the Golden Gate bridge (kind of).

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Some trees are impassable.

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Some aren't.

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Forest Valley Trail bridge.

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Approaching the take-out.

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The take-out at County Highway Q.