Halls Creek I
Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Halls is a creek for creek lovers and it’s exactly the kind of destination that keeps us searching for the next great paddle.
It’s exciting but not overly-complicated. With near constant riffles and Class Is, a few exhilarating (but manageable) drops, natural springs that trickle down the banks into beautifully cut sandbars and pools and endless, sometimes jaw-dropping, rock formations in a canyon-like setting, it has everything you’d ever want but are unlikely to expect from a creek. It’s a thing of beauty.
June 28, 2014
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class I(II)
11′ per mile
Neillsville: ht/ft: 6.68 | cfs: 2,160
Gauge note: This gauge doesn’t directly correlate to the creek. It does, however, give a good idea if there has been recent water in the Black River Falls area.
Use the visual gauge, as the correlative gauge is misleading. We’ve paddled this when the Neillsville gauge on the Black River was an astonishing 2160 cfs and then again at a lower 200 cfs, and while there was a distinct difference, it certainly did not correlate to 11 times less water the second time around. 200 was very low – probably too low in fact.
But it’s reasonable that if the gauge is at least 400 cfs you can be confident that Halls is running as well. Based on our Halls Creek III trip, the cfs had no correlation to the water level. The key for Halls is the visual gauge on County Road E looking on the upstream side at a rock in the middle of the stream. If just the tip appears, there’s plenty of water. If half the rock is exposed, it’s too low.
Trow Lake Dam, Beach Drive, Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Halls Creek Landing, off County Road E
Time: Put in at 12:25p. Out at 4:05p.
Total Time: 3h 40m
Miles Paddled: 11.5
Wildlife: A blue-winged teal, an osprey, two deer and a bald eagle.
Ever since paddling Robinson Creek back in 2012, the next must-paddle destination in the Black River Falls area was Halls Creek. Spotted on a map given to me by the Park Ranger at the Black River Falls East Fork Campground, (and subsequently destroyed in that night’s rains) I knew there was more to these feeder creeks that needed exploration.
Halls, like Robinson, typically has very little water this late in the season to paddle. Part luck, part global warming, here we were in late June with enough water to give it a run.
The night before we left, the Neilsville gauge unexpectedly shot up over two grand (some lingo I picked up on this trip and will adopt henceforth) in the overnight hours. Karma was clearly on our side when that gauge moved from 5.3 to 6.68 in depth and 1200cfs to running 2160cfs. It was meant to be…
Now, in reality, the gauge has arguable correlation to the creek, as Halls is controlled by a dam and it is the Neilsville gauge (on the Black, much further upriver) but for our own benchmark and the recommendations via American Whitewater, it’s what we have to go on for comparison’s sake. If anything, it’ll give you an idea if there’s been recent water in the area.
We, of course, were going regardless of levels (because we’re stubborn like that) but damn did we get lucky with that late-water arrival because the levels were perfect and I can’t imagine (nor recommend) paddling this at lower levels. We rarely scraped but it could be a potential walker at lower levels.
So me and fellow-Miles Paddler, Timothy, set out to feast on the beauty that is Halls.
What we liked:
This is a beauty of a creek.
There probably aren’t enough superlatives to describe how fun and naturally breathtaking it really is. It’s the pinnacle of creek paddling for me, personally. This creek doesn’t quit and you’ll be rubber-necking the entire way as you make your way past canyon walls, through seemingly non-stop riffles or splashy Class Is. You’ll pass numerous natural springs that create little photographic nooks and inlets and the occasional small waterfall. Capped off by three exciting drops between Garage Road and the take-out, this is like a movie you’ll want to rewatch as soon as you’re finished.
We met a friendly local at the put-in who told us we were going to love it. He was about to take a friend down Halls but was taking-out at Garage Road because his buddy was new to kayaking. He told us that below Garage, the paddling is a bit more technical. After running it, I’m not convinced it was anymore technical than the first four miles but one man’s technical is another man’s median (and at this point, we’re probably just splitting hairs). However, the three drops that reside on the downstream side of Garage are indeed, drops, so he was probably (and correctly) erring on the side of caution.
Fun fact about this guy. He’s got his own unique bike shuttling setup. A van with enough room for his kayaks and a moped (this being the first moped shuttler I’ve met).
The section to Garage road is indeed great for beginners but it would be hard to recommend this creek without recommending the whole stretch. It’s just too damn beautiful and since the drops are easy to run, they are similarly easy to portage if you wanted to opt out. Plus, it only took us an hour to paddle to Garage Road in these water levels. Much too short of a trip if you’re making the drive to the Black River Falls Area.
The put-in at Trow Lake Dam isn’t the easiest for the casual paddler. It’s a bit of a downhill hike through some tall weeds and grass and it involves a bit of climbing over a tree.
Once you’re on the water, you’re immediately greeted by riffles and swift currents and you might not know it yet but you’re in for something special because it just doesn’t quit. It’s corner after corner of something new to look at or currents to negotiate.
The water changes from clear and clean to brown muddy root beer (most likely due to all the recent rain) which is common to the creeks in this area and very different than the black of, well, the Black river.
I was surprised by the width of the creek. It’s much wider than I expected, having Robinson Creek on my mind as the only other paddle in the area to compare it to. It’s not like Robinson at all – in fact, it’s completely different. Robinson is more intimate with less of the majestic rock formations. Halls is much wider and just a bit more breathtaking with every turn.
And it’s not Carroll Creek even though I wanted to compare the two because it shares so many similarities with its rock formations and constant riffles. For my money, this holds an edge on both the Robinson and Carroll but shares similarities to both. It’s just a helluva lot of fun.
Prior to Garage Road, there was one tree to portage. Well, it appeared to be a portage at least. Turns out, it can be limboed under river-right, something I didn’t think was possible until I was standing on the log and watched Timothy float under unscathed.
Past Garage Road, where again, it gets arguably more technical, there are three distinct drops to contend with but all three can be portaged.
The first, is an old dam. On river-left is a concrete slab that makes a very convenient slide – a little chutes and ladders if you will – with a bump in the middle. It’s pretty easy but it can also be portaged river-right with some creative climbing and scooting.
The next two are before the County Road E bridge and they are nearly consecutive. The first is a play spot with a few different lines to choose (in fact, Timothy ran it twice for varieties sake). I chose the pool which was a blast. This is easy to scout and portage if need be.
The final drop is a few hundred yards downstream from the second and it’s more or less a gradual slope. I likened it to a shallow gravel driveway incline because I was scraping and scratching my way down. We both ran it river-right where it’s also easy to portage.
That’s where we thought all the excitement would end but again, this creek doesn’t quit and Halls continues to surprise. Figuring we were nearing the confluence with the Black where the current would slow down, we were both caught off guard by a boulder garden lying just beneath the surface on our approach to County Road E. Neither of us lost it but it was touch and go there for a bit. It was a good reminder to not get too complacent and keep seated until the ride is over folks. In hindsight, we probably should’ve expected the boulder garden since this is where the visual gauge is located looking down from the bridge.
Finally, past County E and closer to the confluence, you’re greeted with one last wink from Halls. The largest natural spring waterfall on the trip greets you on river-right, just tumbling down from the high cliff onto some large slabs of rock. Halls made us feel like we were welcome company with this last send off. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise capping off an exciting trip.
Just a few more paddle strokes and you’ll spot the Black, in all its true blackness and noticeable contrast to the brown of Halls. The Black River itself, was raging after a couple weeks of rain so paddling to the take-out situated right at the confluence took one of us (ahem, me) for a ride (had it not already been a perfect paddle, I might’ve continued downstream to who knows where?).
The take-out is a legit landing on the Black River, officially named Hall’s Creek. There are no facilities but plenty of parking.
Unrelated to the paddle and on our way to the campground, we detoured to the Black near the dam to scout the rapids. There, we met some folks from Milwaukee, one a serious whitewater kayaker who was scouting the rapids for a potential run. We hiked for about an hour, in awe of the massive amount of water churning downstream. He pointed out the lines (or lacktherof) he was looking for and explained the classes at each section, including a class V+ that had his gears turning. We watched as this guy struggled with an internal argument over the reality of successfully running it. Who knows if he did (he had planned for the Monday after that). Check out some of the scouting pics here, here, here and here.
We spent the night at campsite #9 at the Black River East Fork Campground, one of my favorite places to tent when you’re riverside. For me, there’s nothing better than fishing from your campsite (sorry to the walleye I accidentally murdered). A storm rolled in that night, which led to some creative emergency shelter building/scrambling but that just made the day even more memorable. More importantly, it was keeping the water levels up in the area (and for the next day’s paddle too).
Lastly, of all the things “We Liked,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it was on that night, I had my first ever homemade She-Meh-Neh burrito over an open-fire (Burrito Drive fans will understand the impressive nature of this feat). I didn’t even know it could be done but Timothy outdid himself and solidified his status as camp chef from here on out (kidding, I’ll help, if I have to).
What we didn’t like:
This is the least I’ve ever written about “didn’t like”. There really isn’t much to say. We saw very little wildlife but I’m stretching here – there’s just too damn much to look at and love otherwise.
If we did this trip again:
I’d go again in a heartbeat. The weather was perfect, the water was perfect and it doesn’t get much better than this for creek connoisseurs and lovers alike. It’s worth calling in sick to work if the water is up.
Halls Creek II: Garage Road to Halls Creek Landing
Halls Creek III: Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek landing
Camp: Black River State Forest
General: American Whitewater
Good People: Friends of the Black River
Map: Friends of the Black River
Map: Wisconsin DNR
Wikipedia: Black River
Miles Paddled Video: