Date Paddled: May 8th, 2016
Put-in: Hwy 33
Take-out: Winchel Valley Ave
Distance: 3.56 Miles
Time: 4 hours 14 minutes (No pictures? Then 90 minutes)
Gradient: ~8' per mile
Water Level: Kickapoo River @ Ontario 8.5' or 79 CFS (average to slightly below average)
Billings Creek is a small watershed located in SW Wisconsin that is frequently overlooked by paddlers because the adjacent stream to the west is so popular (the Kickapoo River).
The trip starts with a bang as you zip over fast current through narrow windy banks of green grass and attractive flowers. One of the first impressions I had was how clear the creek was (exceptionally so at times). This afforded attractive views of the below substrate that contained a mix of sand, rocks and sediment.
Much of the trip flows through Wildcat Mountain State Park and the adjoining State Natural Area, which means there were no houses nor development on the entire stretch. A welcome rarity for a southern Wisconsin creek, this gave the trip a unique wilderness feel. The scenery was a mix of prairies and woodlands with great views of the surrounding river valley including the very prominent Mt. Pisgah.
The scenic highlight was, of course, the sandstone outcrops. Too many to count, they were fantastic and rivaled those on the Kickapoo to the west. A rough rule of thumb will be that the best ones will be nearer to the end of the trip, but one of my favorites was next to the Ice Cave Trail at the beginning. At times the sandstone would wrap around the creek creating carved out “bowls” that were fun to scoot though. In one case, you can actually paddle through a cave which is easy to miss if you are not paying attention. Many of the sandstone outcrops face east, so I suggest getting an early start on a sunny day for best lighting.
An unexpected highlight were the natural springs along the creek. There are many, but the nicest was just downstream of Hwy F and requires getting out of your boat to explore (worth doing…you should hear it when you are close). The spring water (like the others) is red! Perhaps from iron content? At any rate it is a cool site to see red spring water bubbling out of the ground and cascading into the creek.
Ending the trip on the Kickapoo was an interesting contrast. The Kickapoo is much siltier and, while up-tempo for a river, is not as fast as Billings Creek. One of my first impressions of the Kickapoo was how big and muddy the banks are. The Kickapoo unfortunately has (and still does) suffer from erosion issues whereas Billings Creek pleasantly lacks these sediment landfills. The other impression was how the Kickapoo sandstone seemed to occur more in “islands” whereas the the Billings Creek outcrops were more contiguous. These sister streams are both great prospects, but I think I actually enjoyed Billings Creek more, which is high praise.
Ok bridge access at Hwy 33 with good shoulder parking, but you do have to drag your boat ~140′ to get to the water. You may need a park sticker as this is technically inside Wildcat Mountain State Park.
An alternate put-in is the next bridge 1000′ downstream at Hwy F. There is a convenient parking lot (for the Ice Cave Trail) and a nearby outhouse. I however advise putting in at Hwy 33 as this small 1000′ in-between section has nice riffles and a sandstone outcrop.
You’ll have to pick one of many options on the Kickapoo River. I chose Winchel Valley Ave (aka “Bridge 8”), which is ok with established parking and a scenic outcrop overlooking the bridge. The bank is unimproved and maybe a bit steep for unathletic paddlers.
If you are willing to paddle a half mile upstream, you could take out at Hwy 131 (aka “Bridge 7”). This is a very nice canoe landing.
Another downstream option would be the next Hwy 131 bridge (“Bridge 9”), but I think this would be more difficult than Winchel Valley Ave. There is a public landing after “Bridge 10” that is a good option though.
For an overview of upper Kickapoo bridges and landings, see the official KVR map.
Local liveries (call ahead for availability):
- Drifty’s Canoe Rental : 608.337.4288 – Hwy 33 & 131 North, Ontario, WI 54651
- Kickapoo Wild Adventures : 608.337.4522 – 30352 State Hwy 131, Norwalk, WI 54648
- Mr. Duck Canoe Rental : 608.337.4711 -100 Main Street, Ontario, WI 54651
- OK Corral Canoe Rental : 608.337.4517 – 30531 St Hwy 31, Norwalk, WI 54648
- Titanic Canoe Rental : 608.337.4551 – 300 State Highway 131 Ontario, WI 54651
- Kickapoo Yacht Club : 608.625.4395 – S2463 Rockton Loop Road La Farge, WI 54639
- Crooked River Resort : 608.629.5624 – S. 8019 Hwy 61, Readstown, WI
- Flasher’s Canoe Camping Trips : 608.435.6802 -PO Box 114, Wilton, WI 54670
For bike shuttlers, this is pretty hilly (200′ peddling uphill and 243′ peddling downhill), but is only 3 miles, scenic and has little traffic. Plenty doable…just might have to walk a few hills.
Hazards and Logjams:
There are many class 1 riffles but they are all safe and not a problem. As for log jams, I only had to portage once, which was a pleasant surprise. I’ve marked the down tree on the map in case anybody wants to clear it out.
River Depth, Navigability and Current:
This is a shallow creek not recommended for canoes nor bigger kayaks. There are a few shallow spots, but if you navigate carefully you can usually avoid them. I never had to get out due to the shallow water, but do note I have a flat bottom boat which is unusually good at getting through shallow water.
The water levels will be far more stable than the nearby and larger Kickapoo River. Because the creek is spring-fed, I suspect it stays relatively stable throughout the year, but might get high after a heavy rain and low after a summer drought.
For reference, I went at 79 CFS per the local Kickapoo gauge at Ontario. I was happy at this depth, but more fickle paddlers might aim for 90 CFS? 150 CFS is near flood-stage for the upper Kickapoo.
The current is pretty fast with countless riffles that are fun but not dangerous.
Some turtles, a great blue heron, cliff swallows, butterflies snacking on mud, and a few fly fishermen. The highlight was the plant life. This included many nice mosses, flowers, ferns, fungus growing in the springs and white pines towering over the sandstone outcrops. The Kickapoo is noted for having relict species of plants that are not found elsewhere.
- Ice Cave Trail – Trailhead off Hwy F. Scenic hiking trail that ends in a small waterfall and bowled out sandstone. Forms dramatic ice waterfall in the winter.
- Wildcat Mountain State Park Overlook – Very neat overlook with great view of the Kickapoo River and little tiny canoers.
- Kickapoo Valley Reserve Visitor Center – Part Kickapoo museum, part nature center this is worth checking out. Closed Sundays.
- The Uncompleted La Farge Dam -Located .2 miles south of the KVR Visitor Center. Best view is from a dead end drive west of the river off Corps Road.
- Organic Valley Outlet – A retail store for the famous organic co-op located in La Farge. Closed Sundays.
Billings Creek Overview:
- Hwy F to Biscuit Hollow: The creek is probably too small to run and there is a serious electric fence issue by Hwy F. Not recommended.
- Biscuit Hollow to Hwy 33: (1.4 miles) A good prospect that is small but should be runnable by small boats (maybe not during droughts). Will have good riffles and some nice outcrops, but you will have to paddle by a farm. Mostly open, but will be several portages.
- Hwy 33 to Hwy F: (0.25 miles) A fun little stretch with zippy corners and a nice sandstone outcrop. Reviewed here.
- Hwy F to Kickapoo Mouth: (2.71 miles) A terrific stretch reviewed here.
- Kickapoo River – Billings Mouth to Winchel Valley Ave: (0.6 miles) Ok stretch of the Kickapoo with two nice sandstone outcrops. Not as nice as further north sections. Part of this review.
Kickapoo River Overview:
- Wilton to Hwy 131 (near Nicollet Ave): 7.0 miles. Just a small creek and not too many bluffs, but are some. Fences and log jams may be an issue as well as shallow water. This has been paddled at least once before.
- Hwy 131 (near Nicollet Ave) to Ontario (Titanic Livery): 5 miles. A rarely traveled section with nice rock outcrops. Reviewed here.
- Ontario (Titanic) to Hwy 131 (after Hay Valley Road or #7): 8.5 miles. The most popular and perhaps best section of the Kickapoo. Reviewed here.
- Hwy 131 (bridge #7) to Rockton: 5.0 miles. A good stretch. Reviewed here.
- Rockton to La Farge: 11 miles. 2nd most popular stretch on the river. Less frequent but larger bluffs than upstream. Easy to subdivide. Reviewed here.
- La Farge to Hwy 131 (by Ski Hill Road): 6.76 miles. Nice section but with a few jams. Reviewed here.
- Hwy 131/Ski Hill Road to Viola (Banker Park): 7.0 miles. Maybe 2 bluffs, but mostly open I think. Have been told there are 26 portages between La Farge and Viola, so beware.
- Viola to Readstown: 12.5 miles. Should be able to subdivide. Not sure if any rock outcrops and might be some jams.
- Readstown to Soldiers Grove: 6.65 miles. Should be clear of jams and perhaps the most popular section on the lower Kickapoo. But does not seem too special and doubt there are rock outcrops.
- Soldiers Grove to Hwy B: 8.98 miles. I doubt there are logjams, but think this stretch would not be very interesting.
- Hwy B to Gays Mills: 4 miles. Probably not interesting. A dam and flowage to contend with near Gays Mills.
- Gays Mills to Hwy S: 4.58 miles.
- Hwy S to Haney Valley Road: 5.77 miles.
- Haney Valley Road to Taylor Ridge Road: 3.57 miles.
- Taylor Ridge Road to Steuban: 5.02 miles.
- Steuben to Plum Creek: 13 miles. Probably not interesting. Think you can subdivide this if need be.
- Plum Creek Landing to Wauzeka Boat Landing: 9.75 miles. Non-exotic but flows through a wildlife area. A landing at Hwy 60 allows you to subdivide the trip.
- Wauzeka to the Wisconsin River: 0.86 miles. The last stretch before the Wisconsin. Numerous take-out options on the Wisconsin River itself.