Rolling Hills Road to Amherst
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
An endearingly narrow, intimate stream with crystal clear water, nice current, a couple of boulders to dodge and a sense of quiet solitude, the Tomorrow is a must-paddle tucked away in the gentle hills of central Wisconsin.
July 4, 2014
2.7′ per mile
Waupaca: ht/ft: 1.7 | cfs: 277
The gauge is located midway between Waupaca and Weyauwega, considerably downstream of this trip. While shallow, the water level was perfectly adequate for paddling. That said, another inch or two less than this would make for cranky paddling.
Rolling Hills Road/County Road Q, Nelsonville, Wisconsin
Dam in downtown Amherst, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 3:30p. Out at 5:50p.
Total Time: 2h 20m
Miles Paddled: 6.5
Wildlife: Two adult deer, three fawns, lots of fish, a muskrat and at least five great blue herons (one with a fish in its bill).
Undoubtedly the narrowest stream I’ve ever paddled, the Tomorrow feels like an adventure all its own. The water is crystal clear, the bottom is sandy and gravelly and the current, peppy, with only a handful of houses to distract from the view. For a great little daytrip with a ton of character and solid beauty, the Tomorrow does not disappoint. And who could beat capping a paddling trip with a visit to Central Waters Brewing Company, only 100 yards or so from the river in Amherst? (tap room open Fridays and Saturdays)
What we liked:
The signature features of the Tomorrow River are its clarity and narrow intimacy. A kayak is best on these waters, though a canoe could still manage (might have to portage some of the low-clearance bridges and culverts). When I finally laid eyes on the stream at the put-in, I was equal parts smitten and worried. Smitten because the landscape is so pretty and the river itself just gorgeous but worried that I’d encounter many downed tree obstacles on a stream so narrow (incidentally, I had to portage only once, a non-negotiable tree lying across the water from bank-to-bank, just upstream of the Loberg Road/Highway 161 bridge).
I was also initially concerned that the depth would be too shallow but it was totally adequate. It took me the better part of the first mile to acclimate to the optical illusion of the water appearing too shallow. I thought it (felt it) because the water is clear as air! I never ran aground or scraped but it always seemed like I was bound to. It was a very cool effect. So too were the very visual fish nonchalantly swimming by and the huge logs (and at least one wing dam) submerged and almost looking like a shipwreck.
There are no rapids and only a few riffles but the current guides you along nicely. Midway through this short trip, the stream is dotted with some large boulders that add to the charm. You’ll pass by some houses and at least one farm but most of the time you feel like you’re away from it all.
The old mill in Nelsonville on river-left handsomely adds that something-something feel to this gem of a stream. The wildlife was outstanding, with three white-speckled fawns in the water or on the bank being the most memorable. And of course a handful of stately and symbolic great blue herons!
I have to say thank you to the volunteers and conservationists who have done such a great job in protecting this little river!
What we didn’t like:
Other than the intimacy and water clarity, there is nothing necessarily spectacular about this river. There are no rapids, no rock outcrops, no camping, etc. The water’s shallow, there are lots of boulders and logs to dodge (fun for sure but for those looking for a lazy-day float, this can be work) and a few notable low-clearance bridges and culverts could be dicey in higher water levels (or canoes).
Another downer is how short of a trip this is, especially if you’re driving from afar. Here’s the thing about that: there’s not a whole lot upstream of this trip’s put-in that looks feasible (expect even shallower, narrower water and probable downed trees and tricky access) and then there’s the damn dam downtown. The good news is that you can portage around the dam and continue anew downstream where the river, now named the Waupaca, (who knows why its name changes; the word waupaca itself means “tomorrow”) is riffly and rocky, and multiple bridges allow for tailoring the length of trips.
The put-in is adequate. There’s a small space for 1-2 cars along the road and there’s a trampled down path that leads to the water from the road. Be careful, it’s steep. And definitely check yourself for ticks! What it lacks in easeful access is made up for in a very attractive twin-culvert bridge made out of rough-hewn stone.
The other drag about this trip, truly, is the stagnant impoundment of water created by the dam. This would probably be different in spring or autumn but in summer, it is god-awful choked with weeds. Not only are you motionless due to the utter absence of current but the weeds impede your progress of ambitious forward strokes. It’s worth putting up with because of all the beauty upstream but this pond/lake/cesspool is a disappointing, anticlimactic end to an otherwise awesome trip (but there is a nice small dock to the right of the dam that makes for a perfect take-out).
If we did this trip again:
First, I would take-out at the official boat launch (on river-left) that would cut half a mile or so of flat, weedy lake paddling. Or I would portage the dam and continue paddling downstream on the Waupaca.
On reflection, the Tomorrow feels like how I wished the Mecan River did. Maybe I’m biased (I used to live in a town in Massachusetts named Amherst, and my favorite Wisconsin brewery is Central Waters) but I’d sooner drive an extra 30 minutes to paddle the Tomorrow than the closer-to-home Mecan. Both rivers meander along pretty wooded settings and have clear, swift water but the Tomorrow is a solid A to the B- of the Mecan, in my book at least. The water is clearer, the trees more piney and the landscape more interesting.
Waupaca River I: County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
Waupaca River II: County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
Waupaca River III: County Highway DD to County Highway Q
Waupaca River IV: County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
Waupaca River V: Amherst to Durrant Road
Miles Paddled Video: County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
Miles Paddled Video: County Highway DD to County Highway Q
Camp: Hartman Creek State Park
Outfitter: Nature Treks
Overview: Divepoint Scuba
Overview: Stevens Point Convention & Vistitors Bureau
Wikipedia: Tomorrow River
6 miles by bike or car. A short segment on the Tomorrow River State Trail can be accessed for a bike shuttle.