Wolf River
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wolf River I

By on September 25, 2009

Lily to Langlade
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A whitewater initiation couldn’t have had a better backdrop than the Wolf River which is visually stunning and physically exhilarating with multiple sets of class I and II drops.

August 29, 2009

Class Difficulty:
Class I-II

Langlade: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 198

Recommended Levels:
These levels were low but still a lot of fun. You’d do better at around 300-350 cfs.

Highway 52, Lily, Wisconsin
DNR Landing, Highway 64 Bridge, Langlade, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 9:30a. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 6h 0m
Miles Paddled: 15

What we liked:
The opportunity came my way to do some whitewater kayaking, something I hadn’t done before. The full Miles Paddled crew couldn’t make the trip, instead I went with a co-worker, his brother and a friend. We based our route off the “Wolf River 3” writeup in Paddling Northern Wisconsin by Mike Svob.

Having very little experience with whitewater, this was the perfect section to get my feet wet (and even better with some experienced paddlers) since there is plenty of quiet water in this 15-mile stretch. We had two whitewater boats, (rented from the good folks at Bear Paw) one crossover kayak and my touring kayak.

A Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140 (more of a touring kayak) is not the kind of boat you want to take down the Wolf on a regular basis (or ever, really) but it faired surprisingly well in the class I and II rapids. Needless to say, it did leave with some excellent scars.

Being such a such a popular whitewater destination, the put-ins and take-outs on the Wolf are easily accessible and there are numerous options to tailor your trip.

There are nine sets of rapids on this section. Each one is unique in its own way but three really stand out as memorable and exhilarating. The first of these being Little Slough Gundy rapids just about 3.5 miles into the paddle. If you put in at Wolf Road you’ll miss this rapids so I wouldn’t recommend it. This drop is a ton of fun and considered a class II in normal water levels.

Right at this first set of rapids is where I nearly took a swim but this is also where the size of my boat (and my comfort level with it) probably prevented that. Pinned by two rocks at the front and back of my kayak, like a banana swinging by its ends, I nearly toppled over but was able to lower my arm, keep stable and recover.

About 9.5 miles in, you’ll encounter a series of three rapids. The first one being Oxbow. The third section of Oxbow is boulder after boulder to keep you on your toes.

With a great beginning, a great middle, you need a great end right? Well, Lower Sherry Rapids delivers with a steep gradient and easy navigation through the rocks. It was a beautiful way to end the trip.

Capping off a long paddle was a hard-earned dinner at Wild Wolf Inn. It’s the kind of bar you expect to encounter up North. It’s dimly lit, with a supper club feel and it overlooks the river. It’s also an access point for kayakers to play in the drop known as Gilmore’s Mistake. It’s a lot of fun watching kayakers play in the waves below.

Many, more experienced paddlers, could probably do a better job (and probably have) explaining the beauty and excitement of the Wolf River. It’s a fantastic river and it was the best paddling experience I’ve had to date (of course, I haven’t had many) but one I’ll remember forever. I can’t wait to make this trip again.

What we didn’t like:
The water level is the lowest you would try to paddle this river. We left a lot of boat on the river bottom but expected for this time of year. Beyond that, it was cold and rainy but we really can’t fault the river for that.

It was crazy cold by about mile 8. The rain was steady at one point but the thrill of the paddle kept us focused (and preventing hypothermia, no doubt). Plus, at some point, you just have to get to the end and the only way you’re going to get there is by paddling.

If we did this trip again:
I will definitely try to paddle this again if the chance ever arrises. Next time, I’ll rent the proper boat from Bear Paw Resort though. And I’ll try to get the rest of the Miles Paddled guys to make the trip because they missed out on a truly great paddle.

Related Information:
Wolf River II: County Road A to Lily
Wolf River III: Lily to Hollister
Article: Whitewater 101
General: American Whitewater
General: American Whitewater
General: Riverfacts
Guide: Paddling Northern Wisconsin
Guide: Wisconsin Trail Guide
Outfitter: Bear Paw Resort
Wikipedia: Wolf River


Miles Paddled Video:

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September 25, 2009

  • Anonymous

    I did a portion of this section last year ('13) in early September, after it rained some and it was quite warm. I had just gotten a kayak for my birthday about three weeks before and decided to give the Wolf a whirl after trying out the Mecan and Crystal(will do again, not sure about Mecan, well as a priority).

    The gauge was around 300 CFS. I state this because in my not quite novice opinion, 300 would be minimum. I just couldn't imagine running the river any lower. Not to argue or dispute with others… The river was very harsh at this level, with minimal options and jarring boulder hits. The other two considerably wiser people I randomly kayaked with were even more of this opinion as well.

    I/we put in at the Hollister RD landing. Originally I was dropping of my bike there for the return shuttle. I seen two older guys were putting in and got to talking with them. They invited me to tag along and I had wanted to do that section actually, but figured it wasn't as good an idea solo.
    I was definitely weary though because they not only had serious whitewater boats and helmets but they had protective face masks on their helmets! I didn't even have a spray skirt… Yeah, I know.

    The Hollister put in is in the midst of a riffly boulder section which is a cool way to start a trip of course. I was surprised by the flatwater in between the sections of rapids. About those rapids though! WOW! I mean I've been on that crazyness out west in a giant river raft with like nine other people, but negotiating rapids in a small boat by yourself is quite another experience.

    Leading up to the Oxbow rapids you can actually see the river descend into it! That was a first and fairly intimidating. The sound of them and the whitewater being splashed a high definitely gets you going!
    I'd say that section and the Cedar(Hemlock?) section were the best. The other ones were just boney and harsh. I let out a bona fide yelp of glee during Oxbow/Cedar; it was that good!

    Not having a skirt did end up catching up with me and I got swamped of course; probably at Sherry Rapids.

    I meant to stop and drain some water before that but there wasn't really a suitable area. At first the boat was just off a bit due to it… and I didn't mind since it was warm. Then it was really handling like crap and finally i was doing a "wheelie" as all the weight from it sloshed to the rear! I had a grand ole time bailing from my rapidly submerging kayak, holding on to said kayak now filled with water and onto my paddle whilst floating down Class II rapids! Eventually I was able to stand and make it near shore where I emptied my boat and learned valuable life lessons!

    Since I spontaneously tagged along with those two, I did not have my bike for the shuttle. The one guy did and he took off for their vehicle but I didn't really want to inconvenience them with having to take me back so I tried to hitch a ride. There were actually a bit of cars since unbeknown to me there was a triathalon earlier. You'd think one of those numerous cars would of had a kindred spirit but NO, I am apparently one of the very few people who will give someone a lift yet. I mean I was clearly a paddler just looking for a ride back to his vehicle(from people going that way)… The kind proprietors at the gas station ended up helping me out. Just kind of sad a person can't count on that anymore especially in an obvious recreation situation like that.

    Besides the impromptu party of three, I was surprised there was only a family of four in kayaks somewhere behind us. Maybe it was due to the race earlier? I noticed they didn't have spray skirts either, however they had nice boats(Piranha?) with high decks that didn't take on water(I asked). My boat is generic with a flat deck and wide pit..

    Anyways, great river! Definitely going back asap. Awesome scenery. Minim development.

    Five stars, thumbs up!
    – Austin L.


Miles Paddled documents canoe and kayak trips on rivers and creeks throughout Wisconsin.

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