9/19/2014 0 comments

Jump River

Luke’s Heights Lane to Big Falls County Park
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A robust and haunting river on the cusp of the Chequamegon National Forest that features two sets of rapids in short order and riverbanks mostly undeveloped, this trip on the Jump is an absolute gem.

At the top of Little Falls Class II.

August 30, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Class II

4' per mile

Sheldon: ht/ft: 5.0 | cfs: 1000

Luke’s Heights Lane (between County Roads I and N), Price County, WI
Big Falls County Park

Time: Put in at 4:00p. Out at 6:30p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 10

Wildlife: Deer, bald eagles, turkey vulture, a hawk and a raven.
Time worth driving to: 3-4 hours

Friends of mine camp at the nearby Mondeaux Flowage in the Chequamegon National Forest every year on Labor Day weekend. Each year they invite me to join them and most years I must reluctantly decline due to prior plans. This year’s Labor Day weekend agenda was supposed to have been a canoe-camping trip with different friends down the Red Cedar River into the Chippewa River and then finally a mile or two on the Mississippi River. Alas, the weekend weather forecast had put the kibosh on that in short order with 2-3” of rain on the very first day with the possibility of more in store the days ahead – no thanks! So we all decided a car camping trip at the beautiful Mondeaux Flowage with our other friends sounded like a great alternative and indeed it was.

The Jump River from Mondeaux is a hop, skip and yes, jump away. I’ve heard about this segment of the river from my friends who paddle it each year and have long desired to experience it. There’s something just wonderful about driving only 20 minutes from your campsite to an incredible river seemingly in the middle of nowhere! I mean, how often have we ever written a report on this site where there is no identifiable town associated with the trip?

The Jump is that kind of special stream that, while not a secret the likes of the Thornapple River northwest of here, feels like one due to its location and not always reliable water levels. The Jump begins as twin forks that join together below Big Falls. Upstream from this trip the river is more marshy and meandering where downfall will be a problem. Then begin the rapids. First as fun riffles, then as easy Class I’s leading to more difficult Class I’s dotted with boulders and finally a thrilling Class II boulder garden where the river drops 12 feet in 200 yards, called “Little Falls.”

A mile below Little Falls is Big Falls, an exhilarating Class III mini-gorge nearly 200 yards long, followed by another couple hundred yards of Class II boulder gardens. From there the river slows down a bit towards its namesake town, Jump River, Wisconsin but it's reputed to have an occasional riffly nod and wink along the way. Eventually it slows down considerably as it approaches the Holcombe Flowage, an impoundment of the Chippewa River just north of Cornell. This trip covers only the “midsection” of the Jump River but someday I hope to explore more of it up- as well as downstream.

What we liked:
It was chilly and drizzling and somewhat late in the afternoon. I had driven up from Madison, while my friend had come up from Wausau. Friends and family were expecting us back at our campsite. A 10-mile paddle on a river neither of us had been on and one of us who had never paddled rapids in a kayak before seemed a little imprudent. Looking for a phantom put-in didn’t seem like a good omen either, to say nothing of the rain that began to come down in earnest just as we were taking the boats off the car. “Are you sure you still want to do this?” I asked my buddy. As anyone who knows me knows, I have what psychologists call a “proclivity” for impractical behavior or at least, activities that aren’t the most sensible (but do tell a great story afterward!). That’s fine for me alone but I’m apprehensive about embroiling others in my misadventures. “Oh hell yeah!” he answered in no uncertain terms. OK then…

The rain was a nice touch. It added, not detracted, from the experience. Once it let up, so too did my initial misgivings. Paddling the rapids together was great fun and I felt ever fortunate to introduce and gently assist my friend to Class I. Almost all paddling is better with a buddy but running rapids especially is enhanced by companionship. Sure, there’s a safety component but you can’t high-five when you’re by yourself!

This trip has everything one wants from a North Woods river: the landscape is undeveloped, the scenery is rugged, the current terrifically active and alive. There are high banks and deep pockets of pine groves to help settle in the feeling of being remote. The brick-red dirt road leading to the hidden put-in adds to this charm as well! My two favorite aspects on this trip were the scenery and the rapids. There isn’t anything visually that is jaw-dropping amazing on this stretch of the Jump but it sure is pretty as a picture (not everything has to be amazing - indeed, it shouldn’t, if only because then nothing would be amazing). Sometimes, just solidly pretty scenery is perfect in and of itself. The rapids, on the other hand, were thrilling and deserve their own mention.

To be precise, everything up to Little Falls is pretty easy and straightforward and of little interest to serious whitewater paddlers. But for those of us who love riffles and small-fry rapids, this part of the Jump is a blast! The first mile and change are flatwater but if the river has enough depth, the current will be nice and swift. The water is blackish in color due to tannins and clay. A few boulders here and there signal the beginning riffles which further on will grow into Class I rapids. I did this in a 15’ kayak and it was easy to maneuver around everything. I took along my friend who’s an inveterate canoeist but still new to kayaking. The relatively easy-to-read Class I’s were perfect for him and he loved the experience (he wisely portaged around Little Falls). I myself wouldn’t recommend this for newbies in moving water, because the current is strong in some of the light rapids but it’s definitely manageable.

The highlight is Little Falls at about 8 miles in. You can/should check out the river here from the road during your shuttle, since the two are parallel at this point. You’ll see well-worn footpaths where many others have done this in the past. There are no actual “falls” at Little Falls, instead, it’s a steady drop of roughly 12 feet in 200 yards (making for a quite reputable gradient of 12 feet per one-tenth of a mile!) with a couple bends and larger sized boulders you definitely want to dodge since the current is especially strong here. You can’t really scout the whole 200 yards, since there is no shoreline to speak of (it’s just high-grown grass and rocks). But it gives you an idea A) if it’s even runnable and B) whether you’re up to running it if it is. If you aren’t, portaging around it is easy because again, there are established footpaths. Conversely, you can run it, take-out, and run it again to your heart’s desire.

Incidentally, our friends at the campsite have long told a story about the first time they paddled the Jump. It had been years ago when their kids (now teenagers) were still kids. No one had known about Little Falls… until it was too late. One by one everyone in their flotilla had dumped and gone for a swim – roughly eight people in eight boats. Everyone, that is, except for one 10-year-old girl who had never been in a kayak in her life and here she was about to barrel down Class II rapids where the river drops 12 feet in 200 yards! She alone was the one person who hadn’t fallen out! Why? Mainly because she didn’t do anything – well, she screamed but otherwise just let the current take her where it would. That happened years ago but the story’s retold as though it had been only last week!

And in the interest of full disclosure, I myself also capsized while going down Little Falls. Here’s what happened. Everything was going really well and was a ton of fun. My friend was off to the side with my camera taking pics. I knew his boat was on the right-hand side and that I didn’t want to paddle downstream of it and be separated. I took my eye off the river when the rapids began to subside, searching the banks for signs of him or his boat. Next thing I knew there’s a big old boulder just barely exposed 10 feet in front of me and the current is still quite fast. Alas, I’m in a 15’ kayak that is big on tippy and short on nimble. I didn’t have enough time to paddle hard to the left because I knew the stern wouldn’t clear the rock. Well, apparently I didn’t have enough time to paddle hard to the right either because the stern hit the rock all the same, which suddenly thrust my balance offside and my boat spun under. I was so close to a perfect run! This wouldn’t even have been an issue in my 9’ crossover kayak but alas that was at the campsite… It was a strange sensation to feel simultaneously the post adrenaline rush of awesome Class II rapids together with the latent shame and humility of having been dumped…

“What happened…?” my friend asked when he caught up with me, surprised. I had been too far downstream for him to see my mistake. “I screwed up!” I stated immediately the way one does when one knows one did something wrong and is upset more about the thing itself than having been caught. Oh well… Little Falls snags another victim – an anecdote that would be enjoyed by all who knew full well what that really means later that night round the campfire. I took out new clothes from the dry bag and we continued on another two miles to the take-out. By this time the sun had come out and was full blazing – blinding actually, since it was about two hours before sunset and we were heading due west.

After Little Falls there are another couple riffles leading up to the County Road N bridge where there’s an alternate take-out on river-left on the downstream side. From there, another mile of flatwater belies the spectacular series of shelves and drops at Big Falls. This trip ends just before that, past a large island that creates two channels that converge shortly above the take-out. There is no official take-out; rather, it’s wherever on the river-right you feel like it before Big Falls begins. There are a couple obvious places where others have used for putting-in/taking-out.

For fun we scouted Big Falls just to take the whole view in. It’s quite impressive and looks fun as hell. Notwithstanding having already tanked in Class II which didn’t favorably foretell much more difficult Class III, there just wasn’t time (or the correct boat) even to consider running Big Falls. But it was a fun hike just to see it and imagine it! On the drive back to the campsite I blasted – what else? – this which had been in my head the whole afternoon!

If you don’t have the time or inclination to hike around Big Falls, then I recommend exiting at the County Road N bridge because it shaves off a mile of flatwater paddling and is an easier take-out by and by. Altogether, you’d probably save 45 minutes by taking out here since the county park is tucked away and the ad hoc take-out there involves a short hike from the river to the parking lot.

Lastly, the water levels were awesome! My friends who’ve paddled this many times state that 500 cfs is a good metric. We paddled it at 1000 (at the time of this writing the gauge reads 5310 cfs after two weeks of steady, hard rain up there! I don’t know if this would make for ferocious conditions or if most of the rapids would be flooded out). It’s worth noting that some of the pics on the American Whitewater page for the Jump River were taken at 900 cfs and slightly below, so that too should indicate how reliable the levels are for running the falls sections.

All in all, this trip was a wonderful experience, and I absolutely recommend it!

What we didn't like:
There’s nothing I disliked, but I’ll point out a couple imperfections and points of confusion. In Mike Svob’s writeup he mentions the presence of 1) old pilings from a driving dam of the logging era and 2) high banks of clay and sand on the river-right called Yellow Banks at the halfway point. either my friend nor I saw evidence of either. Again, this isn’t so much a criticism as it is something I feel obliged to mention. After all, when you’re on a river for a few hours, you look for certain highlights or landmarks not only to pass the time but also to help determine where you are. Maybe we missed the old pilings (which is entirely possible) and maybe my expectations were unreasonably high for Yellow Banks (also entirely possible). But we didn’t see either.

The put-in is a little tricky and also deserves some spelling out. Svob states that it’s located along County Road I at an oxbow in the river at an undeveloped landing. Well let me tell you: there is a County Road I and the river does bend like a horseshoe but there is no landing undeveloped or otherwise. Indeed, from County Road I you’d have to trek into the woods a good 100 yards until you reached the river itself. Instead, what I recommend is turning onto a dirt road called “Luke’s Heights Lane” and then turning left onto an off-road grassy area for about 35 yards where at the end there is an open space to park a couple cars. From there you walk about 20 yards to a make-do put-in spot. None of this is difficult (even my very low-clearance VW Golf handled the “off road” quite well) and it will all make sense when you’re there and see what’s what.

Incidentally, there is an alternative put-in (see map) that would be much easier to actually access the river, but it is indirect and requires a lot of dirt road driving.

The take-out is a little easier in some regards. Again there is no official landing or anything but you want to get out on the right before the falls and as close to the parking lot for the county park as you can (about 100 yards) from the river. From there you have to carry or drag your boat to the car.

If we did this trip again:
Next time I’ll be all Falls and put-in just above Little Falls and try my luck going down Big Falls. There’s no take-out for the latter, which means getting out when the fun’s all done and hiking back to the parking lot over the rocks with your boat on your shoulder. But Big Falls (when runnable) is quintessential Class III exhilaration and I’d love to tackle it (which might mean being tackled by it). And I’ll definitely be using my 9’ crossover boat, not the 15 footer!

Alternatively, if one were camping at Mondeaux Flowage one technically could put-in on the lake, paddle north to the dam, portage around it, re-enter below the dam and then paddle down to the Jump River, since the Mondeaux River is a tributary. Whether that's even doable or worth trying is left to your own discretion and coordination. But I'd cook anybody dinner if they picked me up at Big Falls County Park, enabling me to begin a journey of a trip from my actual campsite! And what a journey this would be - from flatwater lake (the Mondeaux Flowage is beautiful) to tiny stream to larger river to Class I, then Class II and finally Class III rapids! That's the beauty and purpose of crossover kayaks!

Related Information
General: American Whitewater
General: Price County, Wisconsin
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Map: Free Waterproof Map
Overview: Hunt Fish Camp
Overview: Price County, Wisconsin
Overview: Rusk County, Wisconsin
Wikipedia: American Whitewater


View Jump River in a larger map

Shuttle Information:
7.4 miles and doable by bicycle but half of the roads are dirt/clay and can be awfully sluggish and soft after a hard rain (which often dictates when the river is suitably runnable).

Photo Gallery:

Make-do put-in off the beaten path.

Starting an unknown 10-mile trip at 4pm in the rain, what fun!

Most of the banks on the left side (south) look like this.

One of many stands of pretty white pine along the banks.

Typical riffles.

Sorry this is so fuzzy!

Much better!

What a good guide I am letting the newbie go first through his first Class I rapids!

But look how happy he is!

Many miles of Class I fun!

Yellow Banks...maybe?

Such pretty surroundings.

Roughly midway through Little Falls - so much fun!

And then the sun turned on!

Just above Big Falls Class III.

Ad hoc take-out above Big Falls at the county park.

Big Falls at the top.

Big Falls midway.

Big Falls towards the bottom.
9/14/2014 0 comments

A Guide to Badfish Creek

Everything you could possibly want to know about the length of Badfish Creek.

By Andy Hoernemann
A Miles Paddled contributor

Over the course of the 2014 summer, my goal was to paddle as much of Badfish Creek as possible. I managed to complete the creek from Rutland Dunn Town Line road (just east of the Village of Oregon) to North Casey Road (between Cooksville and Edgerton off Highway 59) on different day paddles throughout the summer. I didn’t run each of these segments individually but they’re broken down into segments to help tailor your trip (most of the time I combined segments to make longer trips).

Rutland Dunn Town Line Road is about the farthest north you can realistically put-in on the Badfish. Further upstream, the access at Schneider Drive isn’t ideal because the banks are very steep and overgrown with weeds and bushes. This would make putting in at Schneider Drive difficult.

There's a gauge on Badfish Creek near Cooksville located near the Highway 59 bridge before you get to North Casey Road. The information gathered from this gauge is incredibly useful, although there isn’t really a need to check the height because most of the water that flows through Badfish Creek is effluent (water being discharged into nature) from the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District. The effluent almost always allows for enough water to paddle. Due to the addition of this filtered water, the water quality on the Badfish appears better than other rivers and streams that I have paddled. Since the water is being discharged from the water treatment plant, there is a slight odor to it. According to the MMSD, during the final step of the cleaning process, “the treated water, called effluent, passes through disinfection chambers designed to kill disease-causing bacteria with ultraviolet light.” The odor comes from the UV light process. Check this out for more information.

For most of the put-in locations, you'll have to park on the road. There are parking lots near Old Stone Road and Old Stage Road since they are at the edge of the Badfish Creek State Wildlife Area.

Also worth noting, I didn’t paddle the segment from North Casey road to the confluence with the Yahara River. And please note that the distances are approximate.


View The Complete Badfish Creek in a larger map

Rutland Dunn Town Line Road to Sunrise Road
Miles: 2.5

The put-in at Rutland Dunn Town Line Road is adequate but not ideal. On the northeast corner of the bridge, there’s a path that leads to the creek. The banks are a little steep but manageable and the water is pretty shallow so you can step in if needed (it gets deeper a few feet out though). The take-out is on the northwest corner of the Sunrise Road bridge (river-left before the bridge).

This segment is a lot deeper than downstream between Cooksville and North Casey Road. About a half-mile into the paddle, we came to a low-head dam which explains the depth. I could hear the water running over the dam before I could see it. There is a good 4-5' drop at the dam but there's a path on creek-left to help portage. The banks are somewhat steep here so it took some work to get the boats up to the top but there’s a nice field road that runs along the creek to get beyond the dam. Due to the steep banks and the extra drop of the dam, the creek was quite a bit further down from the field road. Putting-in again wasn't too difficult but it was still a pain regardless.

After getting back in, I recommend paddling back up to the dam to check it out. The odor of the creek was a lot stronger here due to the churning of the water below the dam, however, it's worthwhile to paddle upstream to view the water cascading over the dam.

Further downstream of the dam, the trees growing on the sides of the creek are all leaning towards the center of the creek creating a ‘tunnel’. It was very cool to paddle through these trees.

The creek on this trip had a 'channelized' feel, due to a uniform width and straight banks. Most of the journey was under tree canopy with an abundance of tall weeds under the water. Even with the straight nature of the creek, low branches needed to be navigated around and there were a few trees that needed to be portaged downstream of the dam. The dam itself though, was definitely the highlight of this segment.

Sunrise Road to Highway 138
Miles: 1.35

There’s a small worn trail on the west side of the road just north of the creek to access the put-in.

The first part of this segment is through thicker trees. The later parts still have trees that line the creek (and contend with) but beyond that, it’s a lot of field and grass.

We encountered two trees laying across the creek about a hundred yards apart shortly after we put-in but other than that, it was just some low branches to navigate around. The bank on the north side of the creek where the downed trees are makes a good path to portage. I guess this might be considered trespassing (but I wouldn’t say anything).

Low branches throughout are not enough of a hassle to be put off by them but enough that you have to pay attention to avoid them. I was surprised by a nice set of riffles/class I rapids shortly after the tree portage (about 1/3 mile after the put-in). Those riffles/rapids were the highlight of this segment because after that, the creek is straight and has high banks. Surprisingly, there isn't much (noticeable) noise from Highway 138 until you get close to it.

Highway 138 to County Road A
Miles: 2.75

There’s a lot of traffic on Highway 138 between Oregon and Stoughton so I would avoid putting-in or taking-out at this location. You could potentially park along the highway and shimmy along the guardrail to get to the creek though.

Highway 138 to County Road A is similar to the upstream sections. The creek is still pretty straight with high banks. This segment flows through farmland although you don’t notice it since the banks are so high.

There was still a light odor from the water but it wasn't intoxicating enough to cause any headaches and went away unless you really tried to smell it. The water was moving at a good pace which made it more of a challenge to navigate around some of the low branches.

There are three relatively new farm bridges above the creek and they are in much better shape than the bridge at County Road A. There was a nice drop (about 18” or so) under the second bridge. It sure made that stretch more enjoyable.

The take-out at County Road A wasn't too bad, just a bunch of tall grass to walk through to get back up to the road.

County Road A to Old Stone Road
Miles: 1.55

The put-in at County Road A is OK but not great. There’s a little trail on the northwest side of the bridge with some tall grass to walk through from the road to the creek. Once at the creek, the bank drops off pretty severely but the water isn’t that deep. When I put-in, I stepped in the water and then climbed into my canoe.

The creek on this segment is very straight. About ½ mile downstream you’ll paddle under Lake Kegonsa Road. I didn’t check to see if this would make a good put-in/take-out location due to the proximity of the County Road A access.

The water here was still pretty deep and there were a lot of tall weeds under surface. This segment is not long enough to warrant paddling it by itself but makes a nice addition to the previous segment.

Old Stone Road to Old Stage Road
Miles: 2.5

A parking area is located on the Southwest corner of the Old Stone Road bridge. There’s a path down to the creek but it was pretty muddy. This stretch takes you through the Badfish Creek Wildlife Area.

The creek still has a uniform width and is still pretty deep in spots. There were a lot of trees that needed to be portaged and that alone made this segment not very enjoyable. If the deadfall were removed, or at the very least, cut to allow a boat through, it would be a lot nicer. The worst ‘log jam’ occurs a few hundred yards upstream from Old Stage Road.

I’d avoid paddling this stretch unless you like getting out of your boat and climbing over trees and there really wasn’t anything too interesting on this segment that can’t be seen on other trips.

Old Stage Road to Highway 138 (Cooksville)
Miles: 2

There’s a parking area on the Northwest side of the bridge. This marks the southernmost part of the Badfish Creek Wildlife Area. The landowner on the Southwest side of the bridge has maintained a very nice area to put-in with a mowed path leading down from the road to the creek. It was refreshing to see a landowner welcome paddlers to the creek, instead of posting “No Trespassing” signs on their property.

The first .7 miles of this segment is pretty straight and has the ‘channelized’ feel that most of the creek has before this point. Once you get to the West Leedle Mill Road bridge, that all changes. The creek starts to wind its way through the countryside. Boat control is a must as there are not too many straight sections between West Leedle Mill Road and the Yahara River.

Highway 138 (Cooksville) to North Casey Road
Miles: 4.75

The put-in can be accessed on the northeast side of the bridge. It’s a little steep getting down the large rocks to the creek. The creek continues to wind itself through the countryside on this segment. This segment of the Badfish Creek seems to get the most traffic as it’s always clear. There were some downed trees to navigate around but nothing to portage. As you paddle this stretch, you’ll pass under Highway 59 twice along with North Riley Road. Although you could take out at these locations, I don't recommend doing so as it would take away from experiencing the best segment of the Badfish Creek.

Even though most of the creek is pretty close to Highway 59, the traffic noise wasn’t substantial. The banks along the creek are noticeably lower than they were on earlier segments. The gradient of this segment is also greater creating more riffles and changes in elevation than previous segments (besides the dam south of Rutland Dunn Town Line Road). There are many large rocks in the creek to paddle around as well.

The take-out at North Casey Road is very good. It’s on river-left before the bridge and there’s a little channel to paddle into and then a small hill to climb to get back to the road.

There isn’t much else that I can say about this segment that hasn’t been said before. It’s by far my favorite segment of the Badfish. If you want to extend this segment, add the 2-mile stretch from Old Stage Road to Cooksville.

Final Thoughts:
It’s interesting to see how the Badfish Creek changes as it progresses south through Dane County into Rock County. Most of the creek has a channelized feel with a uniform width, high banks and a pretty straight path until you get into Rock County and pass under the West Leedle Mill Road bridge. The chemical odor from the creek is stronger the further upstream you go. I could smell it on each segment but it was never too great to cause any headaches or discomfort.

There are two different trips, each offering a different style of paddling, that I would recommend. The first would be to put in at Sunrise Road and take out at Old Stone Road, making it roughly 5.65 miles long. On that stretch, you’ll paddle a fairly straight line without many sharp turns. The banks are quite high at times making it seem very secluded and there are many trees hanging over the creek as well.

The second would be to put in at Old Stage Road and take out at North Casey Road (which is a Miles Paddled favorite), making it roughly 6.75 miles long. On this stretch, your boat control will be tested. There are many twists and turns as well as sets of riffles to navigate.

There’s also plenty of wildlife to view in this area. On every segment I usually came across a blue heron that I’d follow downstream. Carp and minnows could be seen in the deeper sections as well. There were also some deer between Cooksville and North Casey Road where the banks of the creek were lower.

I think the best thing about this creek is that there is always enough water to paddle it. Once you get over the fact that a lot of the water comes from the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District, it’s really enjoyable. The water is really clear and to me, it seems cleaner than most streams/rivers around.

Related Information
Badfish Creek I: Route 138 to Murwin County Park
Badfish Creek II: Old Stage Road to Highway 59
Badfish Creek III: Old Stage Road to Casey Road
Badfish Creek IV: Old Stone Road to Casey Road
Badfish Creek V: Old Stage Road to Casey Road
Badfish Creek VI: Old Stage Road to County Road H
Badfish Creek VII: Old Stage Road to County Road H
Badfish Creek VIII: Old Stage Road to Casey Road
Miles Paddled Video: Badfish Creek II: Old Stage Road to Highway 59
Miles Paddled Video: Badfish Creek V: Old Stage Road to Casey Road
Article: Paddling the Badfish Creek
General: American Whitewater
Good People: Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed
Video: Wisconsin Paddles
9/08/2014 0 comments

Flambeau River: North Fork

Robinson Landing to Holt’s Landing
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The first leg of the mighty and slightly mythic Flambeau River storming out of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage dam, this trip begins with a bang and ends with a whimper while passing through an unspoiled landscape of Up North forests and occasional rock outcrops.

Notch Rapids (Class II).

August 17, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Class II

3.9' per mile

There is no gauge but water levels are nearly always reliable

Robinson Landing, Dam Road, Iron County, Mercer, Wisconsin
Holt’s Landing, Creamery Road, Ashland County, Agenda, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 1:30p. Out at 3:50p.
Total Time: 2h 20m
Miles Paddled: 10

Wildlife: A bald eagle, mergansers, pileated woodpecker and ruffed grouse.
Time worth driving to: 2 hours

For the sake of clarity, let me quickly tell you what this trip is not. It is not the fabled Flambeau coursing through protected state forest and it's not the section of once wild country so eloquently described by Aldo Leopold. But this is the very beginning of the Flambeau River, some 40 miles upstream of the state forest.

I don’t know why distances are measured out as “legs,” particularly here in Wisconsin with our county and state highways called “trunks” (from which town roads spur off like tree limbs?). To me, the Flambeau here is more like a muscular arm that swings hard out of the gates. The first two miles are essentially rapids, the most challenging of which are Notch Rock and Island Rapids, ranked Class II and I-II, respectively. About half a dozen other rapids lie intermittently for the next eight miles (most are Class I but there is an additional Class II, which is a blast!). In between the rapids the big, wide river is gentle and calm as it takes you past a mostly unspoiled landscape of pretty forests (I saw two houses about midway into this trip, otherwise, there is no development whatsoever – no roads, no bridges, no anything).

I nearly gave up on this trip because I was behind the clock, the bike shuttle required a hell of a lot longer trip than I had anticipated and the skies looked like imminent rain. All that, and I still had to drive 5 hours back to Madison after the paddle. I know Barry feels differently about solo shuttling pre-paddle but I myself prefer to bike back to my car after paddling, rather than before. But due to the direction from which I was coming, I dropped my boat off first then drove to the take-out to leave my car and pedal the shuttle before paddling the river (I feel guilty enough already about all the damn driving I have to do to paddle and the carbon footprint it unavoidably creates, so I eliminate as much superfluous driving as I can). I knew that the river trip was 14 miles but the odometer was in the 19-mile range on the road still before I had found the take-out! (It should be noted that in retrospect I missed turning on a road that would have been significantly more direct and would not have caused me so much dread about the bike shuttle – which likely would have allowed me more confidence to paddle the whole 14 miles. C’est la vie.) I pedal in order to paddle, not the other way around. I like bike-shuttling but that is always second and subservient to paddling, which is the reason why I’m out almost anywhere in the first place! 

Given a rough calculation of time the paddle would take, much less a grueling bike shuttle and then a 5-hr drive home to Madison, I ruled out the 14-mile trip and started to contemplate just giving up on this river and saving it for another time (i.e., less rushed and with a second car). But I knew there was an alternative take-out at the 10-mile mark so I thought I’d just drive there and check it out. The river looked gorgeous and there was another car parked with the tell-all sign of a roof rack.

My paddling-self began haggling with my rational self, should I try this or am I just being silly? “We” settled on beginning the bike shuttle and if I hadn’t reached the halfway point within 20 mins, I’d cut my losses, turn back around, ride back to the car, drive back to the boat at the put-in and just drive home. Needless to say, I pedaled hard and fast and flew past the bats out of hell. I made it back to the car in about 40 minutes, whipped off my shirt, dove into the river to cool off, got back out, scrambled the assemblage of the kayak and its accessories together and put-in after all. I’m glad I did it, not only because it was fun and not only because it’s the fabulous Flambeau but also because it saved me from weeks of pestiferous “what if…?” questions. But next time I’ll definitely sink my teeth into the whole 14-mile trip.

Also worth noting, not one but two parties of canoeists put-in at my take-out in order to run just the four next miles as a fun, fast afternoon trip (incidentally, you can paddle an additional four miles for an 8-mile trip but those latter four miles are made up mostly of lake-like backwater from the dam in Park Falls). I envy those canoeists living so close to a wildly fun short stretch of river that you can do with your pals on a late summer afternoon!

What we liked:
This is a pretty yet rough-and-tumble part of the state. The sense of isolation and simplicity is palpable. The silence is punctuated by the drumming of ruffed grouse in the distance or the sleek breeze through pine lining the shore. I recognize and fully confess that I am romanticizing this part of the state (at least in terms of its landscape, not its political mindset). And I don’t mean to sound either na├»ve or condescending about invoking “isolation and simplicity.” Vacationing RVs and whining ATVs are never far away and the landscape is not a shangri-la. But when you’re on the water, the human world dissolves before you, quarantined instead on the peripheries out of sight and sound. Short of trekking out to the Boundary Waters or Quetico or just Sylvania, I’ll take my make-believe placebo-like “isolation and simplicity” any day.

The rapids on this trip are a lot of fun and perfect for beginners looking for a little more drama than that occasional wink-in-the-eye Class I. Indeed, the first 1.5 miles probably are the most fun (and challenging) on this trip, since the rapids come one after another. Don’t crack open your beer til after you navigate/negotiate Island Rapids! And if you have a spray skirt, you should wear it (unless you’re OK with a lapful of water – which on a hot afternoon I myself didn’t find unwelcome in the least – though I could have done without the beer getting a little watered down).

This said, caution does need to be heeded while running these rapids, particularly since the river is wide and deep and the current quite strong. I don’t know if you could touch bottom if you capsized which would make re-entry, boat retrieval and/or rescue a bit trickier than in shallower, narrower rivers. I’m not trying to sound alarmist. The rapids were easy to read and run. I paddled this trip in my 15’-long kayak, not known for hairpin turns! Moreover, lots of folks paddle the Flambeau in a canoe, too. This section of the Flambeau should not be confused with the more whitewater-heavy sections way downstream. These rapids here are ones with minimal risk and maximum fun.

The landings both are outstanding. At both the put-in and take-out there is plenty of room for many vehicles and the access to the water itself couldn’t be easier. Neither has a bathroom but there’s plenty of privacy…

What we didn't like:
This might sound like sacrilege (so if you have rotten produce you need to compost, get it ready to throw at me instead like a chump on a vaudeville stage) but I found myself a little bit bored between the sections of light rapids (I know, I know… Hey! Ouch! Enough with the rotten tomatoes already!). Here’s what I mean about being bored: the surroundings, while always lovely in their own right, become somewhat redundant after awhile. Throw in an occasional hill, a rocky ledge, some braided islands maybe. But because the river is so wide and generally straight (over 100’ wide on this trip) and because there are long miles of (relatively) slow water, the imagination isn’t challenged to wonder what lies ahead around the next bend because there is no bend and you can 200 yards downstream what lies ahead (and it looks exactly like what’s currently surrounding you).

Again, it’s positively lovely… but I was hoping for something showier. Perhaps I was thinking of the fabled Flambeau of State Forest renown… This kind of monochromatic “redundancy” is not unique to the Flambeau, to be sure. Any large river feels like this, whether it’s the Chippewa, the Wisconsin, the Black, the Rock, etc. On smaller streams that meander this way and that, one’s curiosity is constantly stoked by the uncertainty of “what’s next.” This is why most landscaping follows an ‘S’ curve or at least something sinuous; I’m no neuroscientist (sorry mom!) but I’m willing to bet that our brains are hardwired to find a wave more interesting than a straight line (isn’t this why “straight” is synonymous with “dull”?). Gardens are wavy. Farms are right-angled. Enough said.

The first 1.5 miles are exhilarating and then there’s another zippy, very fun mile at the 7.5-mile mark for a good half-mile; these are where the best rapids are located. In between and after the river is flatwater.

Another consideration (not so much something I “disliked” outright) is the shuttle. I concede that most folks don’t paddle alone, so this may be only a relative matter but this section of river does not a fun bike shuttle make. It’s one of those blessing-and-curse matters. The good thing is while you’re paddling there are no roads or bridges but the bad thing is while you’re shuttling the only roads are indirect and so the shuttle is longer than the actual river trip (that too is a byproduct of large straightforward rivers, as opposed to the more meandering streams that double back and forth).

Lastly (and this is quite minor), the personified allure of “Bear Skull Rock” was entirely lost on me. In every write-up for this trip on the Flambeau mention is given to a large boulder about 6.5 miles into the trip on the river-right that resembles – you guessed it – the skull of a bear. What kind of bear? Beats me. It didn’t even look like the skull of a raccoon or the skull of anything for that matter. I was disappointed. Then again, I’m wholly a failure at seeing those 3D “magic eye” posters from the 90s…

If we did this trip again:
I’d paddle to the Agenda landing at the 14-mile mark. This was my intended take-out. The advantage to these additional four miles is paddling back in time, at least with respect to paddling past a ginormous logjam harkening back to the logging era when the Flambeau (and later the Chippewa) were the main “highways” of timber from up north mills to burgeoning cities down south. Plus, there are a couple more islands and Class II rapids to cap off a fantastic trip.

Related Information
Camp: Price County Wisconsin
General: Paddle the Flambeau
Guide: Wisconsin Trail Guide
Wikipedia: Flambeau River


View Flambeau River: North Fork in a larger map

Shuttle Information:
11.5 miles.

Photo Gallery:

Put-in at Robinson Landing.

Apparently you can't river-camp on this section... but why is the fee $263.50?

Class II rapids immediately upstream of landing which you can paddle up to, portage around and put-in above to run.

Now that's just an impressive happenstance of balancing!

Upstream of a large island (where at the bottom lie aptly named Island Rapids, Class I-II).

Bald eagle atop an attractive dead tree.

Typical picturesque scene on this stretch of the Flambeau.

Atypical scene of slow flow water lillies in a backwater pool.

Really? Leaves turning already in mid-August?!?

Quintessential "corridor" of the big, wide, straight Flambeau.

Nice rock outcrops here and there.

So-called "Bear Skull Rock". Do you see a bear skull? I don't.

Quinn's Rapids (Class II).

"Rock gauge" but there was plenty of water for this paddle.

Take-out at Holt's Landing.

Welcome to Mercer.

The largest loon in the world in downtown Mercer!
9/05/2014 0 comments

Trempealeau River

Whitehall to Independence
☆ ☆ ☆

A truly inviting river that gently flows through coulee country on its way to the Black River, the Trempealeau is short on excitement but sometimes excitement is overrated.

The Trempealeau is French for "sand" or something like that (please don't quote me).

August 16, 2014

Class Difficulty:

Dodge: ht/ft: 4.76 | cfs: 390

Colonel Larson Park canoe landing, Whitehall, Wisconsin
Four Seasons Park, Independence, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 1:35p. Out at 4:25p.
Total Time: 2h 50m
Miles Paddled: 8

Wildlife: One deer, two bald eagles, two hawks and two heron (almost a Noah's Ark paddle, if you will).

Normally, this is not the kind of river I’d travel a great distance to cover but it was exactly the kind of river I was hoping for to take my sister, a relative beginner, out on for her first kayak excursion (to her credit, she has canoed before). With its easy access, clean water, sandy bottom and generally shallow nature, the Trempealeau seemed like a relatively safe bet for the uninitiated.

In Paddling Southern Wisconsin, Mike Svob begins his report by commenting on how the river is hard to spell but fun to paddle. I completely agree on both accounts. Plus it's fun to sing because I can’t shake the melody and rhythm of “Buffalo Soldier” while pronouncing “Trempealeau River” from my head.

What we liked:
Prior to our car shuttle, I met a woman at the take-out with whom I inquired about this section and the water level. She said she usually paddles the downstream stretch from Independence and it was definitely low but her daughter had paddled from Whitehall a few weeks back and only had to contend with a few downed trees. She pointed out that its sandy bottom makes for an easy and delightful walk if need be. Lucky for us, there was no walking or even getting hung-up in the shallows which is what I was expecting.

After scouting the put-in options as recommended in Mike’s writeup, I opted for the more appealing put-in at Colonel Larson Park in Whitehall. It’s been my experience that anytime you see a “Canoe Landing” sign, you know you’re welcome, so why look a gift-landing in the mouth?

The entire river is sand-bottomed, clean and clear. While averaging probably a foot-deep, it did alternate between a few inches in places and chest-deep pools near bends and strainers. But the key word here is sand - this is ALL sand - everywhere. The only sight of mud I saw was near the end at the take-out where Elk Creek meets the Trempealeau.

The environment alternated between tree-covered canopy to gentle grassy openings with sand-cut banks. The river is never too narrow, never too wide and a lot like the Yahara River in size but there is plenty of deadfall along the way. Beginners, even on this relatively tame water should steer clear and have good boat control because the current gets surprisingly swift. It got a little pushy in areas and while it's wide enough to paddle around the many fallen trees, there were plenty of perfectly set strainers that required caution since, as is usually the case, the water was deeper and swifter at these points. My sister did fine and handled it like a pro but it’s something to watch out for. Follow the current and you’ll be fine getting through at these levels.

We didn't see a lot of wildlife and despite the clear water and river-bottom lacking in vegetation, I was surprised we didn't see any fish. The highlight however, was coming around a bend and in the distance we spotted a huge buck standing in the middle of the river. The fact that we were 100 yards away and it appeared so incredibly large had me thinking it was a horse at first... it was that big. It was a welcome sight on an otherwise tame wildlife-viewing experience.

There was one must-portage, about 20 yards from the put-in. It consists of 3-4 large and dense trees laying across a broad stretch. There is a very convenient worn (and sandy) path on river-right to portage around it. There is also another potential-portage near the very end, within a quarter mile of the take-out. I was able to scoot over it but I had my sister portage it because it was one of those tricky two-tree, v-shaped (pointing downstream) blockages in deep water.

The shallow and inviting Elk Creek greets you on river-right indicating the take-out point. It's easily accessible at the rather expansive Four Seasons Park in Independence.

What we didn't like:
It’s not often I write about things outside of the actual paddling experience that I didn’t like but there are a couple things to remark on since I like to view the trip itself, as a whole.

First, Whitehall is under mega-construction. For a town of a handful of people, they’ve decided to tear up the whole downtown and make it difficult to travel on 93 so we had to take County Q to Whitehall. It’s on that road that I witnessed the craziest and most extreme sand-mining operation I've ever encountered. In a valley you can't possibly miss, bluffs are carved open and an impressively-sized factory stands ominously in the middle of it. Dual tubing (or conveyors?) surround the facility for miles and then around a farm and then up to a bridge created specifically for these tubes to continue over the highway (something I’ve never seen before) where it stretches for another mile or so down the road to yet another facility surrounded by piles of sand and stalls for trucks to haul it away. It looked like a Wisconsin Dells waterslide on steroids or a modern day mining cart system (think Indiana Jones but above ground). Who knows if it's frac sand but all signs point to yes considering the complete lack of aesthetic to the area. It's pretty disgusting and haphazard. It's a cash-grab kind of architecture. Whoever needs this sand doesn't care what the area around it looks like, they just want to dig it up and move it out. Of course, a week after this paddle, Trempealeau County voted against the year-long silica sand mining moratorium... so again, all signs point to a frac sand operation and one that is seemingly welcome in this part of the state.

Next, I chose to skip the county park camping options, of which there are a few, including Colonel Larson Park, the Lions Club Campground at Four Seasons Park and Joe Pietrek Park. Instead, I chose to swing through Arcadia, home to the wonderful Arcadia Brewing Company on my way down to Perrot State Park, a park I had been meaning to check out for awhile now.

Maybe because I was traveling from the north and not the usual route but I found this to be, hands-down, the most poorly-marked State Park in Wisconsin. There are two entrances but you’d never know that unless you can make your way to the office which is not located near the campground or at either entrance but in the center of the park (and this is a damn large park). I came to a Y intersection where I was greeted by a “Welcome to Trempealeau and Perrot State Park” sign but there was no indication of which direction I should head to actually get into the park (Entrance this way, Camping that way or even Office over yonder, doesn't seem like too much to ask for). Even the campsite is oddly marked and lacking obvious exit signs. I should add that, this is a beautiful park and I do hope to spend more time there but early in the year when the water is still flowing down the falls (now that I know how to navigate it).

Lastly, as is sometimes the case when it gets late in the day, I opt for the local cuisine when I’m in an interesting part of our state and skip out on the chore of cooking camp food in the dark of night (sorry, emergency can of stew). So I checked out the historic Trempealeau Hotel. It had all the makings of the kind of place I dig and was excited to try it as soon as I read "meals from scratch, using responsibly sourced and local ingredients" on the front of the menu. But this was another disappointment. The service was severely lacking. I felt like I was bothering the bartender for the menu in the first place. And it might have been the ordering of a pint or the pouring of the pint (I'm not really sure) but one of those jobs really seemed to put him out. Plus, I’m all for recycling but the dude picked up a dirty napkin, refolded it and put it under my pint… so, I reluctantly left with a half-pint in my belly but still hungry.

So after seeing there were no other dinner options in the immediate area, I headed back to the Highway 35 intersection where you'll find three bars in eyesight. It’s times like these, I choose the one with the most cars. Beedle’s was it. It's an odd mixture of new sports bar meets old supper club with a love for Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. I was greeted with a delightful "welcome", ordered myself a Summit and a pretty incredible turkey sandwich which was highly recommended by the girl behind the bar (and which, I too, now highly recommend). It made for fine end to a long day.

If we did this trip again:
I wouldn’t go out of my way as a sole destination paddle but coupled with another paddle in the area, I’d definitely continue my way down the Trempealeau. The section we paddled sounded more appealing than the following according to Mike’s writeup but man it was pretty and clean and in hindsight, really fun. You can’t ask for much more. This is a great day trip and I’d gladly explore many more miles of this easy stream.

Related Information
Camp: Perrot State Park
General: Trempealeau County
Wikipedia: Trempealeau River


View Trempealeau River in a larger map

Photo Gallery:

Canoe Landing sign playing coy.

The put-in at Colonel Larson Park in Whitehall.

Sandy, shallow and pretty.

You'll find large but easily navigated logs throughout.

Paul Bunyun sized logs.

One of many really inviting sandbars.



Someone found a cozy little campsite.



Dewey Street bridge.



Don't really care to meet the spider that created this one.



Train trestle.


Approaching Four Seasons Park.

The take-out at Four Seasons Park with Elk Creek entering on river-right.


The largest dam sand mining operation I've ever witnessed (pictures don't really do this justice). Starting here...

...snaking for miles around the countryside and even above the highway (yes, this is a twin tube or conveyor system solely for the purpose of moving the sand)...

...to lay in piles ready for shipping.

At a fork in the road, this sign greets you but gives no indication which way to enter the park.