Wolf River I
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
Langlade: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 198
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.
Wolf River II: County Road A to Lily
Wolf River III: Lily to Hollister
Article: Whitewater 101
General: American Whitewater
General: American Whitewater
Guide: Paddling Northern Wisconsin
Guide: Wisconsin Trail Guide
Outfitter: Bear Paw Resort
Wikipedia: Wolf River
Miles Paddled Video: