Kickapoo River
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Kickapoo River I

By on September 13, 2012

Ontario to Rockton
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

After five years, we finally paddled the beloved Kickapoo, an absolutely gorgeous river, flowing through one of the most beautiful areas of Wisconsin. By canoe or kayak, you must experience the paddle from Ontario to Rockton. It’s as pretty and scenic as a paddle gets in Wisconsin.

Date:
September 7-8, 2012

Class Difficulty:
Riffles + Class I

Gauge:
Ontario: ht/ft: 8.32 | cfs: 42
LaFarge: ht/ft: 2.73 | cfs: 112

Recommended Levels:
This was below ideal levels but fine nonetheless. We recommend 60-100 cfs for a scrape-free journey. In general, for the Ontario to Rockton stretch, 60 cfs is the minimum and the sweet spot is between 70-100 cfs. The Rockton to La Farge segment is more forgiving with less of a gradient and more mud.

Put-In:
Landing 1, Ontario, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Landing 12, Rockton, Wisconsin

Day 1: 9.7.08
Time: Put in at 1:00p. Out at 5:15p.
Miles Paddled: 11.5

Day 2: 9.8.08
Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 12:30p.
Miles Paddled: 1

Total Time: 4h 45m
Total Miles: 12.5

Wildlife: Hawk, eagle, deer, crane, ducks, muskrat, a leech, slug and cows.

What we liked:
Ever since taking up kayaking and starting this site, I’ve often been asked if we’ve paddled the Kickapoo yet (yet being the key word). For no reason in particular, it took us a long time to pull the trigger on this trip. But unable to paddle many of our planned destinations this summer due to low water, the Kickapoo looked like it was holding steady so we set out to see what we were missing. We chose the two most popular sections for our initiation. They’re popular for a reason. It’s an absolutely stunning paddle, dotted with limestone cliffs throughout, that leaves you in awe of this driftless region.

The night before our trip, I stayed at Wildcat Mountain State Park before meeting up with the guys in the morning. It’s set between Ontario and Rockton and in fact, you paddle within its boundaries between bridges #4 and #5. Contrary to the name however, I didn’t spot one wildcat but I did enjoy the sound of coyotes howling and yelping me to sleep. My time there was short but it was another great Wisconsin State Park to check off the list.

In the morning, I stopped at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve to clarify how camping on the Kickapoo works. Many, if not most of the sites are paddle-in only. What was confusing was the first-come, first-served aspect. First-come, first-served means inhabiting the campsite with some gear. But the paddle-in factor makes this process a luck of the draw. What if the spot you choose is taken when you get there? Well, it turns out you find another one and simply change the campsite letter on your slip. The Reserve recognizes that you paid for camping and may have to move if your chosen site is occupied. You’ll find self-registration posts at the landings along Highway 131.

It was also at the Reserve where I met a most entertaining fellow by the name of Eugene who spoke in old-timey language (That “He was twenty-stories tall if he was a foot” – kind of dialogue) and had story after story for me (with no pause for me to get a word in edgewise) about the valley. He laughed at my “paddling it all” (meaning bridges 1-20) and how it paled in comparison to his story about paddling the whole river all the way to the Wisconsin River 40 years ago on a makeshift pontoon that he and his brother built. When they couldn’t get the pontoon over flood trash, they poured gasoline on it and burned their way through (talk about different times…). Eugene offered me his business card and invited me to his Old-Fashioned Shoeshine stand in Viola. I told him the next time I’m in the area wearing something other than Chacos, I’d stop by.

Unique to both of these sections on the Kickapoo (Ontario to Rockton, Rockton to LaFarge) are 20 bridges which are almost perfectly spaced. Technically, there are only remnants of bridge #12 and I heard the same of bridge #17 but we never spotted any sign of #17. They are almost all clearly marked from the road and from the water too which makes map reading particularly easy.

Between bridges #1 and #12 are three convenient landings off of Highway 131 (five if you include the landings at #1 and #12) and one off County Highway P. The stretch between bridge #4 and #5 is the longest you’ll paddle without seeing a bridge as you make your way through the land of Wildcat Mountain State Park. The park has its own landing simply called “Wildcat”. All the landings between bridge #1 and #20 are excellent, offering a pit toilet, registration stations and garbage and recycling cans. Having these numerous access points makes it incredibly easy to tailor your day paddles.

The put-in at Ontario (The proudly-proclaimed “Canoe Capital of the Kickapoo”) is just north of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve boundaries so there is no need to pay for parking. The take-out in Rockton is within the boundaries of the Reserve so a $4.00 parking fee is required unless you’re camping, in which case, parking is included.

Ontario has a rather large number of outfitters for a town with one gas station. Mr. Duck’s, Titanic and Drifty’s are all based at Landing 1. I stopped at Drifty’s to inquire about paddling time to Rockton. They were very friendly and helpful in answering my questions. They said it takes 5 hours between #1 and #12. It wasn’t necessarily because of low water in their opinion, just that it was a crooked river and sometimes you paddle north.

That estimate felt a little high because the general rule of thumb is that you paddle about 3 miles an hour (of course, wind and current have a say in that too) but they were correct in that timing. We averaged a solid 3mph but if you add in breaks (of which, we took a couple of course) we were almost spot-on at 5 hours.

After completing our shuttle and loading our boats, we set off on our first part of the trip. We were immediately struck by the beauty of the river and just kind of knew it was going to be a great couple days. The Kickapoo gently meanders back and forth between the beautiful limestone and sandstone cliffs created by the glacier. To paddle this for the first time is a special experience as rounding every bend brings something new. It’s never boring as there are too many curves to keep you occupied. It’s sometimes riffly and sometimes the current can get a little pushy but it’s generally a very leisurely paddle. There is one short little drop about a mile into the trip but nothing too significant otherwise.

Water levels were a bit below normal, as expected since practically all of Wisconsin has suffered from the drought but it didn’t adversely affect the paddling. Early on, there were a couple times where we misread the current, got hung up in the shallows and got out instead of scooting but those portages were nothing more than a few feet of walking. There was almost always an obvious channel to follow as the water moved from bend to bend.

The water is quite clear and appears generally shallow, but don’t let it fool you, it does get quite deep especially where the current meets the rock walls and tight turns. It’s mostly sandy-bottomed along the entire stretch but you will encounter some rocky and riffly areas as well as some sand that takes on the personality of mud.

The Kickapoo offers much more than geologic-love. It’s also home to many species of flora and fauna unique to this valley. We didn’t spot any of the rare turtles (as expected) but we did come across a hawk, a bald eagle, crane, a muskrat, a leech, a couple slugs and cows. The cows were polite and moved from the river up the bank in a brisk manner. We saw evidence of fish and we assume they were trout (restoration efforts have made this a popular trout stream once again) since we noticed some snapping at insects on the surface of the water.

One of the great encounters we had was while rounding a bend. Brian came upon a buck. I can safely say the point-size was a minimum of 10 (and that is almost definitely on the low-end). The rack was really ornate and sculpted. And the coloring of this guy was really unique. You could tell he’d been around awhile. I often startle deer on the river but I’ve never seen a buck and as luck would have it, we came across two more that were straddling the side of a rock wall river-left a few miles downstream. They had smaller racks and were closer to 6-8 pointers. They quickly turned around and headed the other direction.

We paddled this first section on a Friday and didn’t come across any other signs of human life. It felt remote but in reality, we knew we’re always just around the bend from another bridge or take-out and you’ll hear the sounds of vehicles throughout.

We camped a little earlier than expected but only because we came upon the beautiful campsite W, located on a hair-pin turn, up a steep bank, with two gorgeous limestone walls surrounding us. It definitely made my top-five favorite campsites based on sure beauty. And at night, I was once again serenaded by the sounds of coyotes (amongst other critters of the night). We should point-out that the campsites on the Kickapoo are the definition of primitive, much like Lower Wisconsin River camping. Be prepared to pack-in and pack-out, have a saw handy for downed wood to burn and bring a shovel. On our way down the river, we did take note of other campsites for future reference, some of which were equally stunning from our view on the water.

We calculate mileage using Google Maps mapping feature. However, sometimes it’s a little squishy in its accuracy. This was mapped to be 13.75 miles (which seemed high). The map from the Reserve has it logged at 12.5 miles and Mike Svob’s writeup in Paddling Southern Wisconsin has it mapped at 11.5 miles (which seemed low). So for this trip, we took the average of 12.5 miles which seemed to align with our paddling time of 3mph and time spent on two breaks for a total of 4 hours and 45 minutes (split over two days) between landing #1 and #12.

What we didn’t like:
Not a thing (except Jason expressed a wish for more riffles – he’s a tough customer).

If we did this trip again:
The Kickapoo River, like the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, is a staple for canoeing and kayaking in Wisconsin. It’s more stunning with every stroke that carries you down river. Of the two sections we paddled (and this is solely our opinion and it greatly differs from Eugene’s), we had the slightest preference for this upper Ontario to Rockton section. They are incredibly similar but there was just something a little more unique and grand about the first 12.5 miles.

But you shouldn’t have to choose if you’re already in the area. We recommend you make it an overnight (or possibly extend it into two nights) and continue down through the beautiful Rockton to LaFarge section as well. It truly is a memorable journey and it’s hard to believe it took us this long to experience it. I’m already looking forward to the next time we visit.

***************
Related Information
Kickapoo River II: Rockton to LaFarge
Kickapoo River III: Landing 4 to Landing 14
Kickapoo River: West Fork: County Road S to Highway 56
Miles Paddled Video: Kickapoo River II: Rockton to LaFarge
Miles Paddled Video: Kickapoo River West Fork: County Road S to Highway 56
Camp: Wildcat Mountain State Park
General: Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Good People: Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Outfitter: Drifty’s Canoe Rental
Outfitter: Mr. Duck’s Canoe Rental
Outfitter: Titanic Canoe Rental
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Paddle Report: The Mad Traveler
Wikipedia: Kickapoo River

Map:


Miles Paddled Video:


Photo Gallery:

TAGS
RELATED POSTS
Covel Creek
Covel Creek

August 6, 2016

Big Bureau Creek
Big Bureau Creek

August 1, 2016

Eau Claire River
Eau Claire River I (Eau Claire)

June 26, 2016

Grant River
Grant River IV

June 4, 2016

Platte River
Platte River V

April 14, 2016

White River (Walworth)
White River III (Walworth)

March 27, 2016

Wisconsin River
Wisconsin River XIV

December 8, 2015

Wedges Creek
Wedges Creek

November 26, 2015

Morrison Creek
Morrison Creek

November 13, 2015

2 Comments
  1. Reply

    Tandem Paddler

    July 15, 2013

    Paddled this last Sunday (7-6-13). Great River. Loved every bend, bluff & bar. Plan to go back in the fall, if not before.

  2. Reply

    Miles Paddled

    July 16, 2013

    I know what you mean – it's a gem.

LEAVE A COMMENT

MILES TO DATE:

2089.75
HELLO
Miles Paddled is a tracking journal for a collective of amateur paddlers. We document our travels on rivers and creeks throughout (mostly) Southern Wisconsin.

Say Hello or Contribute
PADDLE REPORTS

Apple River (IL)

    Apple River
    4.20.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East Canyon Road to South Apple River Road

Badfish Creek

Baraboo River

Bark River

    Bark River II
    4.15.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Merton to Highway 83

    Bark River I
    7.15.10 | ☆ ☆
    Burnt Village County Park to Fort Atkinson

Beaver Dam River

Big Bureau Creek (IL)

    Big Bureau Creek
    6.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Red Covered Bridge Park to County Road 1150

Big Rib River

    Big Rib River
    5.10.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Goodrich to County Road A

Black Earth Creek

Black River

    Black River II
    8.8.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Hatfield to Black River Falls

    Black River I
    8.31-9.2.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Black River Falls to Melrose

Black River: East Fork

Boundary Waters (MN)

Cannon River (MN)

    Cannon River
    5.31.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Faribault to Dundas

Carroll Creek (IL)

    Carroll Creek II
    6.21.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

    Carroll Creek I
    4.26.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

Catfish Creek (IA)

    Catfish Creek
    5.7.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mines of Spain to Massey Marina Park

Coon Fork Creek

Covel Creek (IL)

    Covel Creek
    6.18.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East 18th Road to Highway 71

Crawfish River

Crawfish River: North Branch

Crystal River

Dell Creek

    Dell Creek
    3.15.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    South Avenue to Dellwood

Duck Creek

    Duck Creek
    3.23.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road G to Duck Creek Road

Eau Claire River

Eau Galle River

Embarrass River

Flambeau River: North Fork

Fox River

Galena/Fever River

Grand River

Grant River

    Grant River IV
    4.24.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffee Hollow Road

    Grant River III
    4.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Shortcut Road to County Road U

    Grant River II
    11.21.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffee Hollow Road

    Grant River I
    5.23.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Shortcut Road to County Road U

Halls Creek

    Halls Creek II
    8.9.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Garage Road to Halls Creek Landing

    Halls Creek I
    6.28.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing

Honey Creek

Jump River

    Jump River
    8.30.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Luke’s Heights Lane to Big Falls County Park

Kickapoo River

Kickapoo River: West Fork

Kinnickinnic River

Kishwaukee River (IL)

Koshkonong Creek

La Crosse River

Lake Columbia

Lake Michigan

Lake Superior

Lake Waubesa

Lemonweir River

Little Platte River

Little Wolf River

Maunesha River

Mecan River

Mill Creek

    Mill Creek
    6.8.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Loy Road to Highway 23

Milwaukee River

Milwaukee River: East Branch

Mink River

Mirror Lake

    Mirror Lake
    5.23-5.24.08 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

Mormon Creek

    Mormon Creek
    8.3.14 | ☆ ☆
    Mormon Coulee Park to Goose Island County Park

Morrison Creek

    Morrison Creek
    9.19.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Cemetery Road to Morrison Landing

Mukwonago River

Namekagon River

    Namekagon River
    7.16-7.19.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road K to Riverside

Neenah Creek

Nippersink Creek (IL)

Oconomowoc River

Old Pearl River (LA)

    Old Pearl River
    4.3.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Crawford Landing Road to Indian Village Road

Pecatonica River

Pecatonica River: East Branch

Peshekee River (MI)

Peshtigo River

    Peshtigo River
    9.2.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Burnt Bridge to Goodman Park

Pigeon River

    Pigeon River
    12.5.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Lake Michigan

Pine River

Platte River

Plover River

    Plover River
    5.19.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Jordan Park to Iverson Park

Prairie River

    Prairie River
    11.17.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Haymeadow Creek to Prairie Road

Puchyan River

    Puchyan River
    04.19.15 | ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Huckleberry Road

Red River

    Red River
    12.9.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Gresham to County Road A

Red Cedar River

Robinson Creek

    Robinson Creek
    7.8.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old County Road I to Kelly Road

Rock Creek

    Rock Creek
    3.26.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Lake Mills to Millford

Rock River

Root River

    Root River
    8.2.13 | ☆ ☆
    5 Mile Road to Horlick Dam

Rubicon River

Seeley Creek

    Seeley Creek
    5.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Seeley Lake to Hatchery Road

Six Mile Creek

    Six Mile Creek
    6.7.14 | ☆
    Waunakee Village Park to South Woodland Drive

Spring Creek

    Spring Creek
    4.20.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Fair Street to County Road V

St. Croix River

Starkweather Creek

Sugar River

Token Creek

    Token Creek III
    5.22.11 | ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek II
    8.22.09 | ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek I
    5.2.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

Tomorrow River

    Tomorrow River
    7.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Rolling Hills Road to Amherst

Trappe River

    Trappe River
    8.2.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road WW to Wisconsin River Road

Trempealeau River

Turtle Creek

Upper Iowa River (IA)

    Upper Iowa River
    5.24.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Chimney Rock Road to Bluffton Road

Waupaca River

    Waupaca River V
    10.24.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Amherst to Durrant Road

    Waupaca River IV
    4.12.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River III
    9.22.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway DD to County Highway Q

    Waupaca River II
    7.7.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River I
    7.9.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

Wausau Whitewater Park

Wedges Creek

    Wedges Creek
    9.20.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Middle Road to Black River Lodge Resort

White River

Wisconsin River

Wolf River

Yahara River

Yellow Creek (IL)

    Yellow Creek
    4.19.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Bolton Road to Krape Park

Yellow River

Yellow River (IA)

    Yellow River II
    5.6.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old Sixteen Road to Highway 76

    Yellow River I
    5.5.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Highway X16 to Old Sixteen Road

Zumbro River (MN)

    Zumbro River
    6.1.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Zumbro Falls to Millville
Support the Cause
Timothy's guidebook is out! Order on Amazon.com.