Wolf River
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wolf River III

By on October 17, 2015

Lily to Hollister
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A magnificent trip that offers the best of northwoods paddling: virtually zero development, pristine water, lots of pines, a rugged landscape and lots of rapids. This is the beginning of the Wolf River’s best.

September 6, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Class I-II

12′ per mile

Langlade: ht/ft: 7.78 | cfs: 280

Recommended Levels:
While these levels were identical to our trip the day before from Pearson to Lily, there was significantly less scraping on this trip than the previous (even though the gradient is greater in this section). Based on that, we’d say this is the minimum recommended level for this trip. That said, you’d still do better at 300-350 cfs without losing water clarity.

Highway 52, Lily, Wisconsin
West Hollister Road, Hollister, Wisconsin (aka “Wolf River Township”)

Time: Put in at 12:10p. Out at 3:45p.
Total Time: 3h 35m
Miles Paddled: 6.5

Wildlife: Great blue herons, bald eagles, plovers and a pileated woodpecker.
Time worth driving to: 1-2 hours

After a bit of a grumpy paddle the day before on the preceeding stretch of the Wolf due to frustratingly low levels that required walking and created tip-overs, our otherwise intrepid group was apprehensive of an even longer day of lackluster kayaking. Our hope was to go all the way down to Langlade for a total of 14.7 miles but we hedged our bets by leaving a car at the Hollister access point (6.5 miles) just in case the paddling was more frustrating than fun due to scraping or capsizing (as mentioned above, there was minimal scraping and no one capsized this time around).

The paddling did take forever, however. How it took us 3.5 hours to paddle only 6.5 miles is still beyond my understanding. True, we did have 9 total paddlers and paddling in a group does always take longer than when paddling alone, particularly when portaging three kayaks around one complicated series of ledges (and of course, someone always breaks out the Frisbee). Still though, this was a long time to go a short distance. But the point wasn’t the quantity of miles paddled but rather its quality… (see how I just did that?!)

On this section, the boulders seemed bigger and thus easier to discern before running into them, plus the water was less shallow. This stretch is also is prettier than upstream. Even though this isn’t within the 24-mile section designated in the register of National Wild and Scenic Rivers, it’s awfully easy on the eyes all the same. Hills appear in the backdrop here and there, rising above swaths of lush forest together with clusters of boulders as big as VW-bugs, occasional grassy banks and attractive islands that split the river into various channels to make the overall experience even more intimate.

The only technically challenging whitewater comes about three miles below the put-in, at the Little Slough Gundy Rapids, a solid Class II that is rocky and composed of a couple different-angled ledges (about half a mile before this is Big Slough Gundy Rapids, also rated Class II but not as dramatic or difficult).

The impressively meticulous Wisconsin Trail Guide describes this trip as “a fun and scenic run for novice whitewater paddlers with enough rapids to keep it interesting.” I pretty much agree with this, although Little Slough Gundy Rapids is a little on the frisky side for novice level. What is “novice” anyway? Class I? Class II-curious? All the other rapids on this trip can be handled by just about anybody, at least at these water levels. Two paddlers in our group had never encountered rapids before this weekend, while a third has been getting into light whitewater only in the last couple months. All three portaged Little Slough Gundy (love that name, by the way!) but paddled the rest with panache and aplomb. Either way, you’ll definitely want to get out and scout Little Slough Gundy and decide for yourself.

Otherwise, the rapids are all Class I and just good, clean fun. That said, at the Hollister take-out is the beginning of a different rapids called Burnt Point. You can definitely run the upper portion of the rapids, which require some adequate reading and maneuvering and then take-out river-left where a short trail through some pines leads back to the parking area. Or you can just take-out river-left above the rapids and enjoy the view.

What we liked:
The lack of development, the layout of the landscape, the smoother paddling and more challenging rapids – in every sense this trip was more enjoyed by all in the group than the upstream trip the day before.

What we didn’t like:
River-wise, there was nothing whatsoever to dislike about this trip! The only complaint (and I say this very lightly) is how long it took to cover a short distance. I was hoping to make it all the way down to Langlade but that’ll have to wait for another time (for more on the Hollister-to-Langlade section, see our former report).

Of course, Mother Nature also had a say in how our day on the Wolf ended. When we reached the Hollister take-out to take inventory of who was moving on and who was taking-out from our wolf pack, the clouds grew instantly dark. Luckily, one of us had a bar of smartphone access to check the weather radar, and lo and behold, we were at the edge of a large storm. Almost instantly, it started raining, putting an end to any further discussion of moving downstream. In fact, from that point on, it didn’t let up until the following morning. We spent the rest of the evening holed-up in a bar near our campsite at Ada Lake in the Nicolet Forest but despite the name of said tavern, we hit a Windfall of anything but hospitality. But that’s a whole other story…

Lastly, there was an unexpected lack of mentionable wildlife but that probably had to do with the size of our (animated) group.

If we did this trip again:
We’d definitely do this again! Next time we’ll just start earlier and lollygag less to make it down to Langlade.

Related Information:
Wolf River I: Lily to Langlade
Wolf River II: County Road A to Lily
Article: Whitewater 101
General: American Whitewater
General: Riverfacts
Guide: Paddling Northern Wisconsin
Guide: Wisconsin Trail Guide
Outfitter: Bear Paw Resort
Wikipedia: Wolf River


Shuttle Information:

6.6 miles road and 6.8 by bike via the Wolf River State Trail (note: this is not ideal for road bike tires).

Miles Paddled Video:

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