Big Eau Pleine River

This an underrated tributary of the Wisconsin River near Wausau.  Water levels are often fickle, but when right this is a terrific paddling with scenic boulder gardens, rapids, and outcrops.

Trip Reports

Elderberry Road to Cherokee Park

Date Paddled: May 27th, 2022
Distance: 3.7 miles
Time: Expect 2 hours

This is one of the more challenging but also rewarding stretches of the Big Eau Pleine.  Highlights included scenic boulder gardens and three Class 3 rapids. 


Cherokee Park to Hazelnut Road

Date Paddled: May 25th, 2019
Distance: 3.0 miles
Time: 4 hours 23 minutes (1.5 hours would be more typical)

The Big Eau Pleine is one of the most underrated paddles in central Wisconsin.  Clean, fast, and with many granite boulder gardens, this has been my favorite trip to date for 2019.


Hazelnut Road to March Rapids Park

Date Paddled: May 31st, 2021
Distance: 6.1 miles
Time: Expect 3 hours

A heavily wooded leg with multiple boulder gardens, a few small outcrops, and two sets of significant Class 2 rapids.  While water levels are tricky and timing important, this can be a great paddle.  


March Rapids Park to Big Rapids Park

Date Paddled: May 30th, 2020
Distance: 3.6 miles
Time: 4 hours 14 minutes (1 hour 30 minutes would be more typical)

This is a tricky water trail to time, but when done at the right depth it's a lot of fun.  Highlights included seven Class 1 rapids and two Class 2's.


Big Rapids County Park to Hwy M Bridge

Date Paddled: September 27th, 2014
Distance: 8.19 Miles
Time: 4 hours 57 minutes (4 hours would be more typical)

This is a pretty obscure prospect that is rarely reviewed and infrequently paddled…probably because most people associate the river with the massive flowage to the east, but a good length of the river upstream flows freely (mostly) and is actually a good paddling prospect. Put-in: Nice public access is available at Big Rapids County Park, […]


Overview Map

Detailed Overview

Nearby Guages



Jul 28th, 2021 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Yeah, the Big Eau Pleine is such a frustrating river to time. It's interesting that you got so much rain up north...we hardly got any here in the Dells. The gauge references you provided are helpful and should assist other paddlers in determining when/how to time a trip on the river.
Jul 28th, 2021 - Daniel Akin from Marshfield, WI
Went on the Big Eau Plaine yesterday, July 27, 2021. River was the only one in our area that had good levels because of some rain in the morning so we chose to go from March Rapids to Big Rapids Park. Since the rain was centered in Colby and south of Hwy 29, this river rose quickly. Water was at 500 CFS and at 5.25 height according to USGS Gauge when we went at 600 pm. River was pushy, flowing fast, but we were with a group of five veteran paddlers so, we were fine. I wouldn't go when it was much higher. I think we went over several rapids and never even knew it, but the ones we went through were rolling pretty good and we got splashed, skirts would have helped! Trip took us 1:20 and we didn't rush it in the quiet areas. Final Rapids at the park is always a good finish. Took out at spot near the parking area which is very nice. River crested at about 500 CFS yesterday at about 700 pm and then I see it had dropped down to 200 24 hours later. Probably too low now.
Jul 11th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Thanks Daniel for the review. As for the steep put-in by March Rapids Park...there are multiple paths to the river. Some lead to better access areas than others. It's good to know that 400 CFS is a good baseline. I also agree that Big Rapids weren't that bad...there are actually multiple sections of rapids upstream of there that are more difficult IMO.
Jul 11th, 2020 - Daniel Akin from Little Eau Plaine River
First Time Ever (Friday, July 10, 2020) and Based on Your Review from earlier this year. Put in at March Rapids was a bit steep and this needs to remedied. Water Level was at 400 at Stratford Gauge and dropping fast. It was at 900 around midnight.. Water Level was OK, I wouldn't want to do this stretch any lower than this. we did scrape on a few of the rapids, they were a lot of fun and we always made it through. With four of us in kayaks, spacing was important. Pretty Wide River, much wider than the Yellow River to the South and Little Eau Plaine, which is nice because no trees can block this entire width of this river and cause trouble. 6/7 different rapids and the one near the end was easier than I expected. Stars: 4, Put-in March Rapids, Take-out Big Rapids Park, Date 07/10/2020, Time 2 hours, CFS 300-400,
Jun 4th, 2019 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Great to hear from you again Austin! Lot of great depth information you provided which will help readers. If you ever do the section above Cherokee Park, let me know how that turned out.
Jun 4th, 2019 - Austin from Mill/Hemlock Creek, Yellow/Wisco River
Hello! Long time no comment.. Great review, I want to definitely experience this river this year. Not sure if I have pics but I've done the March Rapids to Big Rapids section and it is possibly the best section of "easy" class 2 rapids around and that i've ever run. It is of course very scenic and pleasant too, plus it has a gauge. The bike shuttle is a bit crummy so that's the only real issue. I hit it at basically the same level both times; 440-550 CFS. I didn't find that level to be pushy at all and it completely covers all the rapids in sufficient water; it was one of only a few completely "clean" runs I've ever had(as in not hitting a single rock). I find bumping into rocks to be very jarring and unnerving, plus have had some goofy pins from them. So I try to paddle at higher levels to avoid this. Ideally i try to find that sweet spot where the rapids are nice and covered yet the water isn't overwhelming in force.. I think this river offers a really good opportunity to experience that well balanced ratio of sufficient water, rapids and being relatively safe. I'd imagine at somewhat lower levels then i ran it, say 220-380 CFS it becomes quite the opposite experience with lots of rock bashing or scraping plus still some force in the water for a harsh paddle.. Those are rough estimates of course and my opinion! Not sure were the higher end would start maxing out for us intermediate white water paddlers.. 400-700 CFS is my recommendation for anyone looking for a very solid class 2 whitewater run, from March Rapids to Big Rapids ONLY. I have no first hand knowledge of the other sections. They look like they could be a bit trickier at higher levels unlike the March-Big rapids section unfortunately. Hazelnut to Big Rapids would be a bit of a paddle. If any rapids below Hazelnut are Class 3, or difficult 2's that would be a consideration also. There is a hole, mid river near the take out at Big Rapids Park but it is not keepy, just random and unsettling. It is a kind of "flashy" river, drops fast! Hope anyone interested gets a chance at some point tho, definitely a 5 star paddle. If anyone wants to hit this up sometime when right around that sweet spot of 500CFS email me at: or for other intermediate white water paddles!
Feb 4th, 2019 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Thanks Gary for the comment and sorry for the delay in getting back to you (I've been having some system issues). I actually have seriously considered doing some Florida Rivers before...they look terrific!
Dec 18th, 2018 - Gary Kutzler from Rock River (not the best)
Just want to say this is a valuable site. I used it to discover the Bark river which is just a bit south of us . The only drawback of the trip was my girlfriend realizing at the end that she left her keys in the put-in car at Pickets. The way you have the star rating, video and pictures is also great. Keep up the good work, I'm planning next years Wisconsin trips with the info I get through this site. Thanks a lot and have a nice winter. Florida is another great place for paddling, we try to get down there every winter. Once spent 5 days in Everglades starting in fresh water out to the gulf (my girlfriends favorite vacation). Also north Florida the Santa Fe river, St Marks, Ichetuknee and many more unbelievably clear rivers. If you ever get a chance to escape the cold in the winter, I highly recommend Florida paddling. Gary
Apr 4th, 2017 - admin
Thanks so much Jeremey for the information on the river! Especially appreciate the tidbits on the sections upstream of Big Rapids Park which I don't know much about. My next trip will be probably Cherokee Park to Big Rapids Park which should be a neat experience.
Apr 4th, 2017 - Jeremy from Big Eau Pleine
Great review and amazing pictures. Got into kayaking last year after my girlfriend got me a kayak. Which i also bought a house just south of Cherokee park which the river runs right through the back yard. So plenty of opportunity to run the river north of big rapids. During a big rain in August 2016 I put in 10 miles north of Cherokee on the river, 1 mile north of Hwy A that runs to Dorchester. Much smaller "creek" normally, but with the rains it was flowing great. Going through cow-fields and watching out for barb wire fencing going across the river made it interesting. A nice lazy, curvy river, through fields and woods that you normally wouldnt be able to go in. There is also another dam halfway between Hwy A and Hwy 29 that you need to go over. The closer you get to Cherokee Park the more rapids are encountered. The high water made it relatively easy, much lower and it would be challenging (I dont know what height it was at when I ran it). Between 29 and Cherokee park There are 3-4 sets of much larger rapids. Hiking north in Cherokee park along the river and you can see 2 areas that are a boulder field. Made it right over the dam at Cherokee under the watchful eyes of about 20 Mennonites that were having a get-together at the park that day. Then south of Cherokee park there is about a 500' stretch of another boulder field. Navigable only in higher waters. Also where I tipped over right at the end of the rapids. From that point I've traveled to March Rapids park many times and Big Rapids park a handful of times. Also one time to Hwy M. Very nice stretch of water from Cherokee to Big Rapids. Many sets of easier rapids with sections of lazy river. Plenty of forest areas, a few rocky bluffs, but mostly mud or sand for sides and banks. Deer, turkey and eagles are seen quite a bit.
Aug 10th, 2015 - admin
Thanks for the comment!
Aug 10th, 2015 - Alix from Big Eau Pleine
As a Stratford native, we paddle this river often. It is a great trip when the water is high, but in the middle of summer, water levels get low and make the pushing over the shallow sections, or getting out and pulling the kayak over, more work than it is worth. There are many rapids along the river, and all are navigable even in high water, even for an amateur paddler like myself. We often put in at March Rapids, and depending on available time, we will pull out at the "rendering plant" off of Hillside St. There is good parking here and is a semi-popular fishing spot. If we have more time, we paddle past Big Rapids and pull out where Equity St. curves next to the river. Here, parking is on the road, which doesn't get much traffic. I've never taken it as far as the M bridge, but now I'll have to! My husband has put in at Cherokee before as well, so that is always an option. It certainly is a beautiful piece of river!

How did your trip turn out? Questions or comments? Feel free to leave your feedback.

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