Pecatonica River East Branch
★ ★ ★

Pecatonica River: East Branch III

By on March 29, 2014

Highway HK to Hollandale
☆ ☆ ☆

Alternating between serene, sublime and sucky, this trip is quite a mixed bag. The water levels are fickle and the obstructions are frustrating but there are fun riffles coupled with magnificent rock outcrops (ancient in this Driftless stream) that make the trip worth consideration. But there’s a big but and it goes by the name of “logjams”.

March 16, 2014

Class Difficulty:

Ridgeway: ht/ft: 7.60 | cfs: 9
Blanchardville: ht/ft: 7.0 | cfs: 400

Recommended Levels:
Water levels are almost always reliable but this is a paddle we simply don’t recommend.

County Road HK
Highway 39, Hollandale, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 2:45a. Out at 5:15p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 6.5

Wildlife: Bald eagles, lots of Canada geese, a muskrat, 6 sandhill cranes, at least 5 hawks, over 15 deer (yes, 15 – they were everywhere!) and lots of little birds that chirped like squeaky dog toys.
Time worth driving to: 1 hour

Let me back up before I even begin. I tried to do a segment of this trip back in December, but found significant portions of the river (really more of a creek, to be fair) impassably iced-over. I had wanted to paddle this trip on Saturday March 15th but the gauge still read “ice affected” so I knew better than to try my luck (I may do some dumb things, sure, but I usually don’t do the same dumb thing twice. Usually). So I was delighted to find the gauge reading “above normal” the next day.

Now, it’s conventional wisdom to paddle segments of water in wintertime that you know, saving the unfamiliar ones to be explored in warmer weather (i.e., safe, non-hypothermia-inducing conditions). Sure, I get that. But I really wanted to do this segment of the east Pec and have wanted to do it since last November. Plus, I thought it would make a nice full-circle effect: the same area that marked the official beginning of winter making the official beginning of spring three months later. That said, it was actually colder on this day in March, (22 degrees with a windchill effect of 5 degrees) than it was in December.

What we liked:
The best this trip has to offer are the bluffs and exposed rock outcrops. The landscape takes on a certain rhythm as the river rides along the side of one bluff to another, with bucolic pasture and high banks in between. Standing along the road, you can see how the whole thing has been laid out and you can get a feel for when and where the river will run along the rolling bluffs. Whether by car or bike, this was one of the prettiest shuttles I’ve ever done. Save for the occasional farm, there are no buildings or signs of development while on the water. As the crow flies, you’re only 30 miles or so from Madison but it feels like another world entirely. In a sense, it is: Driftless and very, very old. Most of the bluffs rise 80’-100’ high above the river, some with sheer-faced cliffs of exquisite colors. This is not your garden-variety pre-Cambrian sandstone out here!

I’ll mention this now but it’ll only be relevant for cold-season paddling. The freeze/thaw cycle of snow in concert with the rise and fall of water levels made for some brilliant icicles, ice dewlaps, paper-thin ice sheets and figurine-fragile crystal sculptures. I hope some of the pictures capture a sense of this.

Accesses are OK but not great. The notable exception to this is the take-out at the Highway 39 bridge. There is a dedicated parking area about 30 yards west of the bridge. A path leads from there to the river, where it’s easy to put in. It seems like a popular fishing spot (although in November, December and March, respectively, I have yet to see anyone).

What we didn’t like:
OK, the bad stuff. The really bad, nasty, mean, awful, cursing, crappy stuff: logjams… crazy-big, mind-boggling, tough mudder-worthy logjams. Here’s the thing: for the first three miles or so there isn’t a single obstruction worthy of concern (a couple bits to dodge but nothing mentionable). It lulls you into thinking that this paddle will be a breeze, an unbelievable secret spot. Then you come upon the first of two (total) bridges on Star Valley Road (the road crosses the river twice). Almost on cue, ginormous logjams come out of nowhere and they just don’t quit. Most of these you’ll have to climb onto/into the clusterf*ck of trees and pull your boat over/through, as the banks are too steep to access.

There is one in particular that I would consider both difficult and dangerous. Difficult because it’s strenuous, requires a good amount of balance (so that you don’t fall into the water) and peace of mind (incase you do fall into the water). Dangerous because once you do manage to get past it all and back into your boat, there’s only a few feet before a clearance on river-left allows a navigable slot but there’s a small drop right there with a rock wall on the left that the current steers you into, with another large rock in front only a few feet after the short drop. Needless to say, good boat control is a boon if you want to keep dry. What might be the most frustrating part of that is this rock wall is part of a cliff that may well be the prettiest highlight on the whole trip… but you’re distracted.

All in all, I had to portage three times. It could have been more but given the choice, I’d sooner paddle through the annoying scribble of a fallen tree than get out of my boat and walk around it. That’s just me though, I don’t mind getting filthy. The worst of the portaging is between the two Star Valley Road bridges but there remain a number of other nuisances downstream too. Roughly midway between the last of these two bridges and the take-out, you’re home free, with a boost too of a tributary creek feeding the east Pec a hundred yards or so above Highway 39 (though by then, this trip is over).

Also, the water was shallow. Shockingly shallow, I thought. True, not all the snow has melted but shallow it was, which made me occasionally grumpy (grumpy and by that time, filthy).

This is a perfect segue into some technical gauge specs regarding water levels. The upper stretch drains quickly, so you should consult a couple different gauges. The first is the Ridgeway Branch gauge. It read 7.6’ at 9 cfs. This gauge is located where the East Branch of the Pecatonica and Ridgeway Branch meet by the Mill Dam Road bridge, three miles upstream from this trip’s put-in. The second gauge you’ll want to check is the actual East Branch of the Pecatonica gauge in Blanchardville. It read 7’ and 400 cfs. It is about 20 miles downstream from this trip’s put-in.

Now bear in mind, those were the readings for when I paddled this trip. For comparison’s sake, only 24 hours later, the river dropped to 5’ at 200 cfs at Blanchardville! In other words, the upstream section, which is where this trip is located, probably wouldn’t be navigable at those levels. Or to illustrate it another way, on Saturday the 15th, the gauge was still ice affected. On Sunday the 16th it was open but rated “above normal.” But on Monday the 17th, it was at “normal.” That’s pretty quick drainage. As for the Ridgeway Branch gauge, on Friday the 14th it had 60 cfs but only 9 cfs by the time I paddled it, merely 48 hours later on Sunday the 16th. And this is all with continual snowmelt in mid-March!

If we did this trip again:
I’d like to explore sections even further upstream. There’s a 3-mile segment upstream from where this trip begins off Mill Dam Road. I’ve scouted it and while it looks quite pretty, (and notably different, as part of it features a small woodsy/swampy section, a rarity in this otherwise bluff pastureland area) even from the road it looks both shallow and prone to deadfall.

In conclusion (cue the bugles), I do declare: If I had tried running this trip and found it all iced over again, people would say “see, I told you so!” and think me an idiot. Who tries paddling the same trip in winter conditions? What’s that saying about the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result? (I’m pretty sure that’s not the measurement of insanity – for doesn’t that make persistence and perseverance the bedfellows of madness? – but I’m no psychologist.)

In a sense, I was lucky. All the ice had melted and except for the logjams, this trip could have been platinum plus. I’m not bragging about being so obstinate. It’s far more sensible to paddle familiar sections in cold weather season but I felt good about getting back into the paddle saddle and challenging myself.

Is this trip worth your time (and frustration)? Obviously, that’s not for me to say. In truth, my youthful enthusiasm in the first half of the trip had waned by the time I had reached the takeout, due to the obstructions. A shame, because this could be such a great trip otherwise (In fact, my modest dream was linking a portion of this trip with some of the sections downstream of Highway 39, say, Burma Road to Horseshoe Bend Road for an ultra-spectacular paddle. Maybe someday…).

The other consideration is water level. To paddle this section at all, you’ll need at least as much water as was recorded on this day but preferably more. But you don’t want so much more water that it gets pushy so “negotiating” the logjams and obstructions becomes unsafe (Also, there are two strands of barbed wire shortly downstream of the put-in. They’re easy to see and duck under but as always, caution is required – especially if the river is pushy). Some of the tree debris could easily (and safely) be removed by handsaw and teamwork in warmer weather. In terms of nearness to home and a beautiful landscape, such a cleanup would be totally worth doing. In terms of going through the effort if this section is normally too shallow to run except for a couple times a year, then maybe it’s not worth doing. That philosophical question is above my pay grade.

Related Information:
Pecatonica River East Branch I: Blanchardville to Argyle
Pecatonica River East Branch II: Hollandale to Blanchardville
Pecatonica River East Branch IV: Argyle to Blackhawk Memorial County Park
Pecatonica River East Branch V: Woodford to Highway 11
Pecatonica River I: Calamine to Darlington
Pecatonica River II: Darlington to Red Rock
Pecatonica River III: Calamine to Darlington
Miles Paddled Video: Pecatonica River: Calamine to Darlington
Camp: Pecatonica River Trails Park
Good People: Friends of the Pecatonica River
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Map: Pecatonica River
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Video: Canoeing the Pecatonica River in Darlington, Wisconsin
Wikipedia: Pecatonica River


Shuttle Information:

4.7 miles (and one of the prettiest shuttle routes I’ve ever done).

Photo Gallery:


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

Say Hello or Contribute

Ahnapee River

Apple River (IL)

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

Ashippun River

    Ashippun River
    9.27.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Ashippun Lake to Ski Slide Road

Badfish Creek

Baraboo River

Bark River

    Bark River III
    4.7.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Highway 83 to Delafield Road

    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

Billings Creek

    Billings Creek
    8.13.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road F to Landing 10

Black Earth Creek

Black River

Black River: East Fork

Bois Brule River

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

Cedar Creek

    Cedar Creek
    9.28.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road M to Cedarburg

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

Door Creek

    Door Creek
    4.1.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Femrite Drive to Fish Camp County Park

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

    Fox River II
    4.30.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road O to Endeavor

    Fox River I
    5.14.14 | ☆ ☆
    Swan Lake to Portage Canal

Fox River (IL)

Galena/Fever River

Grand River

Grant River

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

    Grant River III
    4.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

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

    Grant River I
    5.23.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

Halls Creek

    Halls Creek III
    5.6.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing

    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 Mendota

Lake Michigan

Lake Superior

Lake Waubesa

Lemonweir River

Little Platte River

Little Wolf River

Maunesha River

Mecan River

Mill Creek

Milwaukee River

Milwaukee River: East Branch

Mink River

Mirror Lake

    Mirror Lake II
    10.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

    Mirror Lake I
    5.24.08 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

Montello River

    Montello River
    11.8.16-11.10.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Harrisville to 11th Road

Mormon Creek

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

Morrison Creek

Mukwonago River

Mullet River

    Mullet River
    10.20.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Plymouth to County Road M

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

Onion River

    Onion River II
    10.11.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road A to County Road V

    Onion River I
    9.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road V to Sheboygan Falls

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

Piscasaw Creek (IL)

Platte River

Plover River

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

Prairie River

    Prairie River II
    5.27.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road C to Stange’s Park

    Prairie River I
    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

Root River: South Branch (MN)

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 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

Support Miles Paddled and visit our Spreadshirt shop!