Black River – Christie
Date Paddled: October 9th, 2016
Put-in: Hwy H landing
Take-out: Hill Road
Distance: 8.0 miles
Time: 4 hours 14 minutes
Gradient: ~8' per mile
Water Level: Black River @ Neillsville 490 CFS or 4.2'
The Black River is of course very popular with paddlers. But really, only a portion below Black River Falls gets most of the paddling traffic (with an exception below Hatfield, which whitewater paddlers love). For a river of this size and length, that is actually quite surprising. It’s been my goal for a while to explore the far Upper Black and this report is hopefully the first of many to come.
The trip starts on a great note at Hwy H. Here the bridge spans a scenic valley with a wonderful view of the river upstream. There is a dedicated pull-off for paddlers with a view of a massive log pile under the bridge. The upper portion (and, well, the lower portion, too) can and does flood with a fury, and you’ll see evidence of this throughout the trip–from matted grass to flood debris high in branches.
The first mile is almost nonstop rapids up to Panther Creek Road and is one of the most scenic parts of the trip. The dark blue sky and water contrasted nicely with the white whitecaps, the gray boulders, and the brown/green/orange trees along the banks. It very much reminded me of an up-north river. The rapids in this first mile start as Class 1, but get progressively faster and culminate with a Class 2 (“Rocky Rapids”). Even though this is just Class 2, take it seriously, as the current is pushy and it is easy to get turned sideways by rocks. The standing waves did pass over my half-skirt and I did get a little wet here.
Your reward for surviving “Rocky Rapids” will be a scenic granite outcrop on the east bank immediately followed by a small creek steeply cascading over granite bedrock stairsteps. IMO it is worth it to get out and explore this creek, where you can follow the small waterfalls up to where the headwaters emerge from a huge pile of boulders. Perhaps the most unique feature of this creek is the complete lack of mud and sediment. But really, the main river channel is remarkably mud-free as well, but harder to appreciate given its much greater depth, which obscures transparency. Following the scenic micro-creek and rock outcrop, there are a few more light rapids up to Panther Creek Road, but all are pretty easy. If you paddle this on a sunny day, periodically turn around, as the most photogenic sections will almost always be directly behind you.
The river then slows down a bit, but there are still some striking sections with Class 1 rapids. Following “Rocky Rips,” the river REALLY puts the brakes on and to an extent morphs into a large, long lake. Still pleasant though, with attractively wooded banks and random granite sprinkled along the shoreline. But really, it wasn’t as interesting as upstream and the trip lost a star at this point. This is “pool and riffle” on steroids, as the “pools” can last for a mile, then you’ll get an amazing section of Class 1 rapids…then another long pool (most of the rapids appear by the islands if you are looking for them on a map).
Following Cawley Creek (an interesting prospect in its own right), the river ramps up speed as it approaches Neillsville. This two-mile stretch is almost nonstop rapids, including two Class 2’s, and runs by several impressive rock outcrops. Easily the best part of the trip (and where we redeemed our lost star).
My hope had been to take out at 5th Street, but access options here did not look appealing (even for me) and I had to choose an earlier take-out at Hill Road. A shame as there are several nice Class 2 rapids between these two bridges. More adventurous paddlers could take out northeast of Hwy 10 (the third Neillsville bridge). Here there is a parking lot for the Listeman Arboretum, but you would have to drag your boat 600′ uphill over the arboretum trail to reach the parking lot from the water.
There is a good public pull-off for paddlers southwest of Hwy H. Plenty of free parking, but no outhouse. You’ll drag your boat down a grass incline to the water below. There is no ramp per say or nearby shallow area, so entry isn’t ideal, but plenty doable.
Just northwest of the Grand Ave bridge on Hill Road, there is a subtle path leading to the water. So subtle, I missed it the first time and ended up taking out a quarter mile downstream off the Hill Road shoulder (not a big deal). You should be ok to park on the shoulder (Hill Road doesn’t get a lot of traffic).
Note: Neillsville has three bridges, with Grand Ave being the first. I scouted W. 5th Street (bridge #2) as a take-out option, but it looked too steep (a shame as there are several Class 2 rapids in this short mile stretch).
Hwy 10 is the third bridge, and in theory you could take out northeast of the bridge and walk 600′ up the Listeman Arboretum trail to a public parking lot, but it would be a hilly climb.
Award for most grueling bike shuttle of 2016. 8.8 miles (long for a bike shuttle), 238′ of climbing and 246′ of descent, and one hour total of biking time. Translation…this is a very hilly bike shuttle…but on the plus side it is all paved (not something that can be said for all bike routes along the Black River).
There is a kayak livery and rental in Hatfield, but the owner prefers to start his paddlers below Neillsville. You might be able to secure a shuttle if you arrange an appointment in advance. He can be reached at: (715) 333-5009.
Hazards and Logjams:
No logjams to worry about.
There are many rapids on this trip, including several Class 2’s, which I’ve marked on the map. These shouldn’t be taken lightly and this section should only be run by paddlers with experience. I say this as in many cases the water depth by the rapids was deep, which gave the drops more muscle to pin you sideways against the many protruding rocks if you missed your chute.
River Depth, Navigability and Current:
The following depth guide is only a rough guestimate based on the nearby gauge at Neillsville.
- 80-150 CFS: This would be a typical fall paddle depth. Most of the river would be plenty navigable but you would have to walk most of the rapids.
- 151 – 250 CFS: A doable depth, but you’ll probably get hung up on a number of rapids.
- 251-350 CFS: Bumpy, but I suspect a decent depth.
- 351 to 550 CFS: My suggested target range. I went at 490 CFS, which was a great depth. I rarely hit bottom and, if anything, several rapids were on the verge of being too pushy.
- 551-700 CFS: Most likely ok, but the current probably starts to get obnoxiously pushy in spots.
- 701+ CFS: Probably only suitable for hardcore whitewater paddlers.
Not much. A great blue heron, two eagles and some clams.
Alternate Black River Trips
Headwaters to Neillsville:
- Upstream of Colby Factory Road: Probably navigable in higher water, but don’t know much more.
- Colby Factory Road to Warner Drive: (7.8 miles) Minor riffles prior to Popple mouth. Afterwords, Hemlock Rapids is Class 2-3. Alt access on Popple River.
- Warner Drive to Hwy G/Greenfield: (4.3 miles) Multiple Class 1 rapids and a Class 2.
- Hwy G/Greenfield to Sladich Road: (0.9 miles) Includes a Class 3 in Greenwood Rapids.
- Sladich Road to Twenty Six Road: (4.4 miles) Multiple Class 1 & 2 rapids.
- Twenty Six Road to Hwy H: (4.9 miles) Multiple Class 1 & 2 rapids.
- Hwy H to Grand Ave/Hill Road: (8.0 miles) A great trip with several Class 2 rapids and scenic granite outcrops. Reviewed here.
Note, for more details on the upper Black, I highly recommend “Indian Head Rivers” by Michael Duncanson.
Alternate Black River Trips – Neillsville to Black River Falls:
- Grand Ave/Hill Road to Hwy 10: (2.2 miles) Section with good potential and several Class 2 rapids.
- Hwy 10 to River Road Landing: (4.3 miles) 600′ hike through arboretum trail to reach the water by Hwy 10. Several Class 2 rapids and two Class 3’s.
- River Road Landing to Opelt Ave Bridge: (1.1 miles) Not sure there is anything special about this stretch.
- Opelt Ave Bridge to Hwy 95: (4.4 miles) Ok…nothing special. Partially reviewed in my Wedges Creek Review.
- Hwy 95 to Russell County Boat Ramp: (2.3 miles) Scenic Class 3 rapids in Red Granite Rapids, followed by some slower flowage paddling.
- Russell County Boat Ramp to Hatfield Dam: (2.4 miles) Probably uninteresting lake paddling on Lake Arbutus.
- Hatfield Dam to Powerhouse Road Landing: (3.3 miles) Popular section for serious whitewater paddlers. Includes a Class 3 & 4. Alt put-in by Hwy K. Reviewed by American Whitewater.
- Powerhouse Road Landing to Halls Creek Landing: (4.0 miles) Scenic section with a few Class 2 rapids and a steep ledge.
- Halls Creek Landing to Black River Falls Dam: (6.3 miles) Wonderful sandstone cliffs. Reviewed here.
Alternate Black River Trips – Black River Falls to Mouth:
- Black River Falls Dam to Mason’s Landing: (4.9 miles) A great little section reviewed here.
- Mason’s Landing to Irving Landing: (8.9 miles) A good section reviewed here.
- Irving Landing to River Road Boat Landing: (8.7 miles) A popular section with nice bluffs and a waterfall by Roaring Creek.
- River Road Boat Landing to Melrose Landing: (3.9 miles) A shorter section but with a really nice rock outcrop before Melrose Landing.
- Melrose to Hwy VV Landing: (10.6 miles) A classic stretch with three sets of nice rock formations.
- Hwy VV to Hwy 53: (12.7 miles) Likely a nice stretch with sandbars, large sandbanks and maybe a few outcrops. Unfortunately it is very long.
- Hwy 53 to Hwy 35: (8 miles) A nice section with epic sand banks that is reviewed here.
- Hwy 35 to Lytle Road: (4.0 miles) Goes through a protected floodplain forest.
- Lytle Road to Fred Funk Boat Landing (Mississippi): (5.0 miles) Multiple options because of the river delta.
Alternate Black River Trips – Noteworthy Tributaries:
- Robinson Creek: One of the best paddles in all of Wisconsin. Reviewed here.
- Halls Creek: Also one of the best and with amazing sandstone walls. Reviews: Part 1 and Part 2.
- Morrison Creek: Very scenic creek with some fun whitewater. Reviewed here.
- Wedges Creek: Great paddle with amazing boulder gardens. Reviewed here.
- East Fork of the Black River: Some fun riffles and unique granite geology. Reviewed here.
- Perry Creek: Shallow but a super scenic creek. Reviewed here.
- Roaring Creek: Very scenic creek with a great waterfall at the mouth, but might be a challenge to paddle.
- Dickey Creek: An intriguing prospect if the logjams ever get cleared out. Reviewed by American Whitewater.
- Beaver Creek: Some fun rapids and amazing sandstone in Galesville, but logjams at the end. Reviewed by Rick Kark.
- Popple River: A shallow whitewater river reviewed by American Whitewater.
- Vismal Creek: Super scenic but has a lot of logjams and is shallow. Requires very high water conditions.
- Plus countless small creeks that are too small to paddle but quite fun to explore by foot. If you know of viable paddling options, let me know! Am very curious to know more about Douglas Creek, Levis Creek, Arnold Creek, O’Neal Creek, Crawley Creek, Rock Creek, and the Popple River.