Halls Creek III
Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Halls Creek is one of many excellent paddling destinations in the Black River Falls area. With countless riffles, a few Class I ledges and numerous stunning rock formations that decorate the twists and turns through an often intimate and sometimes canyon-like setting, Halls is a bucket-list paddle.
May 6, 2017
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class I(II)
11′ per mile
Neillsville: ht/ft: 4.95 | cfs: 940
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 this 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 1:00p. Out at 6:05p.
Total Time: 5h 5m
Miles Paddled: 11.5
Wildlife: A dozen or so eagles (some say we lost count at 37), deer, heron, geese, ducks and a herd of elk(!)
We’ve covered Halls Creek twice before but this was my first time at very low levels. And you know what? It makes all the difference. Not that it was bad – nor did we have to walk – but the current and riffles are noticeably slack or even non-existent with even an inch or two less beneath our boats. A low-level Halls is still a great run but temper your expectations and also know that it can be an even more exhiliarating run at higher levels.
Now, if a birthday wish is wished, a birthday wish gets granted for Miles Paddlers. In this case, Timothy was about to climb over a significant hill, and if one is going to notch another decade on their belt, what better way is there to celebrate such an occasion than by hitting the best of what the Black River Falls are has to offer? That being the trifecta of excellent creeks; Morrison, Halls and Robinson – quite argueably, three of the best in all of Wisconsin. These three creeks are all different paddles with regards to character – but all of them awesome.
It was kind of like we all got a birthday wish granted.
Much like our revisit to Morrison Creek report from a day earlier, we won’t recount every step of the trip since we’ve reviewed it in detail a couple times (here in 2014 and a shorter trip here in 2015) and as far as what to expect, they’re both still accurate. There were no portages to contend with this visit, save for a couple newly-fallen trees. One we trimmed, (before and after) and the other (a casualty of erosion) can paddled around.
I would suggest that those who have never paddled Halls should paddle the entire section from Trow Lake Dam to Halls Landing – especially if the water is up. Trow Lake to Garage Road is mostly lightwater – as Timothy has recently coined – with nothing too technical. The Garage Road to Halls Landing segment is just a little more exciting in terms of riffles and waves and probably even more majestic outcrops. This section is where the three larger ledges reside and they should be scouted to find the right line. Put both of these sections together and it make for one helluva excellent day paddle.
The put-in below the dam is decent, though there is a rugged trail to descend down to the landing area. From there, a narrow and canopied creek awaits with gentle riffles ready to carry you onto bigger and more beautiful scenery. It’s quite inviting.
What you’re treated to is a simply engaging environment on a creek that is never very wide. You’ll float atop copper-hued water, over sand and stone, while discovering countless rock formations and outcrops that form small canyon-like bends and halls. There are numerous seeps and a few side streams (one in particular is a treat to explore). Often tree-lined, with sandbars that part the turns, it’s a photogenic feast throughout. It’s almost the perfect creek if there was such a thing, in my opinion.
In fact, we had some discussion about what was better – Morrison, Halls or Robinson? (which we revisited the following day) I’ve often said Halls Creek is my favorite but it’s kind of a pointless discussion as they are all different by more than a couple degrees – each with unique characteristics. And of course, water levels play into the kind of experience you’ll encounter on any given day. The best part of the argument is that you really have to paddle them all to have even have the argument, so in the end, you win by just paddling them. And even then, when you can make your case for favorite, it’s like choosing your favorite child. Impossible.
After the Garage Road bridge, there are three ledges but there is space between them – they are not consecutively on top of one another. One is a former dam that has an easy chute on the far-left. The second is more of a drop which should be scouted on the right, as should the third. Though the third isn’t challenging, it’s often scrap-ey in low levels and you’ll want to find the path of list resistance (which was the middle on this day).
Just after County Road E and just before the confluence and take-out on the Black River is an impressive seep/waterfall flowing down from high above and over a pile of tumbled rocks (the birthday boy, of course, climbed his way up to get a closer look). It’s one last wink from Halls before the end of a special trip.
But for us, it didn’t stop there, we witnessed something extra special. While paddling into the Black River, I was leading the way. I glanced upriver and noticed some tan spots in the distance mid-river. Not thinking much of it, I turned my gaze downriver thinking they were logs or something until I heard “Elk!”. I spun my head around and sure enough, they weren’t logs – it was a herd of 6-8 Elk crossing the Black River in a single file line. The leader of the pack tried to lunge up the muddy bank but slipped back down into the water which gave us some extra time to stare and appreciate the sheer size of them. We were a distance from them but they still appeared huge, leaving it to our imaginations as to how we’d size up if we were standing next to one. The first one eventually made its way, as did the others, and they carried on into the woods.
There was a fisherman on the opposite side of the Halls Creek bank who witnessed it too. He said he’s been fishing there for 10 years and had never seen elk there. It was pretty amazing and though most of us snapped shots on our phones, we were just too far. Luckily, Timothy (who coincidentally was pulling up the rear) caught the backend of one. Fitting, right?
After I posted the shot on Facebook, there was a comment that they were recently introduced to Jackson County and sure enough, that would explain it.
After the excitement, we all took-out at Halls Landing on the Black. The landing is paved, making for a very easy and accessible exit.
What we liked:
Every inch of this water. Halls Creek is as good as it gets for creeking in Wisconsin.
What we didn’t like:
The unexplainable aspect to this trip was the water levels. The area had plenty of rain recently. The usual suspects that are historically water dependent were up and paddable, (Morrison was rocking, Robinson was frisky and a few of us paddled the East Fork – and if the East Fork rapids are runnable, you know the water is up) so we figured Halls would be too. But it wasn’t. Everything was up except Halls. It was almost the same on the visual gauge as our Halls Creek II report – so it definitely didn’t equate to the fun we had on our first trip in higher levels. Our educated-hunch is that the dam affects Halls more than we thought and that the correlated gauges mean very little (but at least we have the visual gauge to go on). So Halls took us by surprise and the only thing we can figure is that the dam had everything to do with the levels.
Though Halls is so damn beautiful, it hardly matters what the levels are.
Oh, we also didn’t like how cheaply crafted this pie iron was. (I mean – it’s meant to go in fire, you’re not suppose to break off because of fire!)
If we did this trip again:
For first timers, it’s still glorious – even in low-water. For repeat visitors, with some perspective on how it runs in higher levels, this trip (while still beautiful) leaves you longing for more because you know how much more fun it can be.
Either way, Halls Creek is a special paddle, and one to return to again and again.
Halls Creek I: Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing
Halls Creek II: Garage Road 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: