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September 10, 2011
Riffles + Class I(II)
Main Street, Rural, Wisconsin
Shadow Lake Road, Little Hope, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 1:30p.
Total Time: 1h 30m
Miles Paddled: 4.75
What we liked:
The Crystal River is just that, crystal clear and it's as charming as the city of Rural that it flows through. It's never very deep and you're never far from civilization so it's about as family-friendly of a paddle as you can get if you enjoy a little excitement on the water. There is a lot to love and it's understandable why it's a very popular canoe and kayak destination.
Rural is a tiny little town that seems to take pride in manicuring itself around the river (I'd be lying if I said I wasn't envious of owning property alongside such a peaceful and beautiful stream). The put-in off Main Street is a unique little start to the journey with a couple of bridges that split the river in two. The Crystal is mostly sand and rocky-bottomed with only Junction Lake and the Little Hope Mill Pond offering up some weeds. The river is generally narrow throughout with countless riffles. The class I drop before Rural Road bridge is easy and fun to paddle through. There are plenty of fish to startle on your journey and I came across a few turtles as well as a couple cranes.
It was a beautiful Saturday and I was surprised to have only encountered one other group of paddlers but I've heard it gets quite busy on the weekends. I do recommend portaging the dam and continuing on to Shadow Lake road. It extends the journey and taking out at the pond is a little anti-climatic. The dam has a pretty easy portage but the walk down is a little steep so use caution.
Lastly, I'm not sure what kind of sign this is but this was the second time in two Waupaca-area paddles where I paddled through nuptials. A wedding was taking place at the covered bridge and I was relieved that I didn't wipe-out and interrupt the priest.
What we didn't like:
The lake section and more specifically, the Little Hope mill pond are pretty stagnant flat water sections. The pond was quite low so I had to get out and drag my kayak a good distance until I sunk down to my knees in some amazing quicksand-style muck. Had I not been wearing my trusty Chacos I would have lost a dear friend (it's happened).
If we did this trip again:
I skipped the upper section to avoid lake paddling (something I'm not a fan of) but next time I'm all in because it's such a great little river and it's almost too short (but you can't knock a river for that).
Also, if you are in the area, stop at Marl Lake. It's a beautiful turquoise-colored lake and you could start your paddle there (as suggested by Morrall River Films) and make your way through the connecting lakes all the way down to the southern part of Long Lake where the Crystal begins. You can find Marl Lake by heading West on Rural Road. Before you get to Hartman Creek State Park you'll take a right on Whispering Pines road. The put-in will soon be on your left. The parking lot was full when I stopped, as was the lake, with lots of canoe, kayakers and even a paddle-boarder.
Crystal River II: Rural to Shadow Lake Road
Crystal River III: Marl Lake to Shadow Lake Road
Camp: Hartman Creek State Park
General: American Whitewater
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Video: Morrall River Films
Video: Wipaddle: Long Lake to Rural
Video: Wipaddle: Paddling Through Rural
Video: Wipaddle: Rural To Junction Lake
Video: Wipaddle: After Junction Lake
Video: Wipaddle: Junction Lake To Smith Road
View Crystal River in a larger map
Miles Paddled Video:
The put-in off Main Street in Rural, Wisconsin.
The best drop of the paddle is right before the Rural Road bridge (before it meets County Road K)
Passing under the Rural Road bridge is fun too.
Open water on the Little Hope Mill Pond.
Portage upstream left of Dam.
Covered bridge (wedding river-left).
Footbridge with a charming sign to remind you that you're passing a gun & archery range.
Shadow Lake Road bridge.
The take-out at Shadow Lake Road.
Unless this is some strange Rural ritual, a lot of people lose their shoes in the Crystal.