The first of many rock outcrops

White pines grew on much of the sandstone

The only rapids

The banks get beat up from periodic flooding

A number of wild flowers on this trip

Interesting plant life growing on many of the outcrops

Ouch

Exploring a sandstone alcove

There are a few sandbars

A nice sandbar hiding inside of that outcrop

 
 

Kickapoo River



Date Paddled: August 28th, 2010
Put-in: Ontario (one of the private landings or County P Bridge)
Take-out: Bridge #7
Distance: 8.5 Miles
Gradient: 3.5' per Mile
Water Level: Kickapoo River @ Ontario 75 CFS (perfect depth)

In terms of popularity the Kickapoo is one of the most popular canoe and kayak rivers in Wisconsin. Probably doesn’t have quite the rental volume of the lower Wisconsin River, but certainly has the highest paddler to river mile ratio in the state. What makes the Kickapoo attractive is the relatively clean water (at least for the upper portions), small sandbars, hilly countryside…but mostly the bluffs that make the river famous. The best and most popular part is the far upper section from Ontario to Rockton (Rockton to La Farge is probably second best).

For a beginner kayaker, this is probably the best river to start on because it is so safe, well serviced, scenic and, while not having a strong current, it’s not weak either. There are no dams on the river except for a minor low-head dam near Gays Mills (that is actually considered dangerous). The federal government was planning to dam the river decades ago but abandoned plans because of environmental and cost issues (a very good thing).  What started as an idea to control severe flooding in the valley evolved into plans for a huge recreational lake and development.  Many of the bluffs that make the river trip so scenic and enjoyable would have been lost.

The Ontario to La Farge section is probably one of the most famous and popular canoeing sections in the entire state of Wisconsin and it deserves it reputation. In total this is 22 miles, so obviously you’ll want to split this up. From Ontario to Rockton is a very good trip (~14 miles/7.5 Hours) and will include the best scenery. For beginner/slow paddlers, the best sub-sub-trip would be from Ontario from bridge #7 (it’s marked) or just a little past Hay Valley road. This trip is 9.4 miles and runs mostly through Wildcat Mountain State Park and has the best scenery/waterside bluffs/mini-sandbars. The take-out here is excellent (with a bathroom, too) and this section would be my official recommendation for a newbie wanting to kayak the river.

There are numerous rentals in the area with three mega-operations in Ontario itself (all have waterside access).  At Ontario, the Kickapoo is pretty small, but clean and nice. There is a public park (marked on the map) if you don’t want to use the services from these liveries. The big problem with the Kickapoo (well, this section in particular) is the people. There are lots of them, and they tend to make a lot of noise. The key is to go very early in the morning, go on a Sunday or a Saturday…or absolutely preferred…go on a weekday. The congestion is worst from Ontario to about the end of Wildcat Mountain State Park…then lightens up (only slightly) to Rockton…then lightens more so after Rockton…then significantly so after La Farge. By going off-peak hours you can probably get a sandbar (they’re tiny) and/or a swimming hole for yourself. The best swimming and sandbar areas are on the far upper sections and they really tail off the further downstream you go (significantly so after bridge #7).

The nice part about this part of the river (besides the relatively clean water, healthy bank quality, and mostly protected shoreline) are the bluffs that run right into the water. Very cool and most frequent on the upper section from Ontario to Rockton (the sweet spot). The frequency tails off from Rockton to La Farge but still they are very nice. After La Farge riverside bluffs tend to be very infrequent. It’s very easy to figure out where the bluffs are…just eye the Google map below and where there is a sharp rise on the top map next to the river, you’ll have waterside bluffs. Another nice thing about this stretch is that the local companies do a very good job of cleaning this of debris. Current is medium…not slow, but not really fast. There aren’t any riffles…with one minor one on the upper section close to Ontario. If you are looking for riffles on the Kickapoo, then Wilton to Ontario or the West Branch of the Kickapoo might be what you’re looking for (although both are shallow).

Third Party Resources:

Kickapoo River Overview:

Below is a bullet list of all water trail segments on the Kickapoo River.  This may seem a bit overwhelming and for those that are more visual-minded, my overview map maybe more helpful instead.

QUICK OVERVIEW:

  • The stretch from Wilton to Ontario (12 miles) is seldom paddled, but is cleaner and faster than downstream legs.  Those willing to endure weedy bridge accesses and occasional snags will be rewarded with spectacular outcrops.  A very underrated part of the river.
  • The stretch from Ontario to Rockton (13.5 miles) is the most popular part of the river (if not the entire state).  Highlights include spectacular outcrops.  This section can easily be subdivided.  Shuttle services are plentiful, but this leg can get crowded and noisy during summer weekends.
  • The stretch from Rockton to La Farge (11 miles) is the second most popular stretch of the river.  While there aren’t as many outcrops as the Ontario Leg, the ones by La Farge tend to be larger and more impressive.
  • From La Farge to the mouth (~90 miles) very few rock outcrops remain.  The Lower Kickapoo is more of a generic river paddle and few paddle it. 
  • Tributaries:
    • Kickapoo River – West Fork:  While lacking the outcrops of the main branch and a bit shallow in spots, this is a very underrated river with many fun rapids.
    • Billings Creek:  I actually like this creek better than the main river itself.  There are just as many outcrops, but the water and banks are much cleaner.
    • Tainter Creek:  While not very big and lacking in outcrops, it’s still a cool creek with very swift current.

DETAILED OVERVIEW:

  • Upstream of Wilton:  The river here is but a small creek, navigable only in high water.  Highlights include scenic outcrops, hidden ravines, and cool stone arch bridges that run under the Elroy-Sparta Trail.  But logjams might be a bit much.
  • Wilton Campground to Hwy 131 (East of Midge Road):  3.4 miles.  This stretch was guest reviewed in 2016.  At that time there were many logjams, but I suspect most have been cleared out.  This stretch should have good outcrops, but likely not as nice as those just downstream from Black Valley.
    • Wilton Community Campground to Hwy 131 (by Posey Creek):  1.4 miles.  A narrow fast stretch with maybe 3 outcrops and 1-2 logjams.  I definitely saw a major logjam blocking the river upstream of the Wilton graveyard.
    • Hwy 131 (by Posey Creek) to Hwy 131 (by Mica Rd):  1.3 miles.  A more open stretch with perhaps 1 logjam.  I think there is only 1 outcrop, but it is part of a much larger ridge that could be very cool.
    • Hwy 131 (by Mica Rd) to Hwy 131 (East of Midge Rd):  0.7 miles.  Some snags to deal with and one cow fence that should be easy to duck under.  Likely 1-2 small outcrops.
  • Hwy 131 (East of Midge Road) to Hwy 131 (near Nicollet Ave):  4.1 miles. 
    • Hwy 131 (east of Midge) to Hwy 131 (by Michigan Ave):  0.5 miles.  A good leg with a one nice set of outcrops.
    • Hwy 131 (by Michigan Ave) to Hwy 131:  0.6 miles.  Another good leg with 3 outcrops.  Some minor rapids including a 4-6″ ledge.
    • Hwy 131 to Hwy 131 (by Nisswa Rd):  0.6 miles.  One of the best legs on the Upper Kickapoo which features 6 noteworthy outcrops and terrific ice flows.
    • Hwy 131 (by Nisswa Rd) to Hwy 131 (by Nordale Ave):  1.1 miles.  Not as scenic as other legs with messy shorelines and eroded banks.  There are still a few nice outcrops.
    • Hwy 131 (by Nordale Ave) to Hwy 131 (by Nicollet Ave):  1.3 miles.  Another one of the Upper Kickapoo’s best legs with ~6 outcrops including a small natural bridge one can paddle through.
  • Hwy 131 (near Nicollet Ave) to Ontario:  5 miles.
    • Hwy 131 (by Nicollet Ave) to Hwy 131 (Oil City):  2.3 miles.  Two long stretches of bluffs contain great outcrops. 
    • Hwy 131 (Oil City) to Hwy 131 (Kickapoo Wild Adventures):  1.4 miles.  Terrific stretch with two major outcrops.  One set of Class 2 rapids.
    • Hwy 131 (Kickapoo Wild Adventures) to Ontario (Brey Valley Road Park):  1.5 miles.  One set of outcrops.
  • Ontario to Hwy 131 (Bridge #7)8.5 miles.  The most popular stretch of the Kickapoo and the most scenic.
    • Ontario to Hwy 131 (Bridge 4 Canoe Landing):  3.6 miles.  A more open and flatter stretch of the Kickapoo.  There are still 3-4 outcrops.
    • Hwy 131 (Bridge 4 Canoe Landing) to Wildcat Landing:  3.1 miles.  The river here flows by steep hillsides and there are many outcrops.  One of the best parts of the river.
    • Wildcat Landing to Hwy 131 (Bridge 5 Canoe Landing):  0.9 miles.  A good stretch going by Wildcat Mountain State Park with several outcrops.
    • Hwy 131 (Bridge 5 Canoe Landing) to Hwy 131 (Bridge 7 Canoe Landing):  2.1 miles.  Great stretch with many outcrops.
  • Hwy 131 (Bridge 7 Canoe Landing) to Rockton (Bridge 12 Landing):  5.1 miles. 
    • Hwy 131 (Bridge 7 Canoe Landing) to Winchel Valley Ave:  1.2 miles.  From bridge #7 onwards, the Kickapoo becomes much less interesting.  There are still some good spots though.  This stretch has maybe 3 outcrops.
    • Winchel Valley Ave to Hwy 131 (Bridge 10 Canoe Landing):  2.5 miles.  A good stretch with 5-6 outcrops.
    • Hwy 131 (Bridge 10 Canoe Landing) to Rockton (Bridge 12 Canoe Landing):  1.4 miles.  This stretch is more open, but still perhaps 3-4 outcrops.
  • Rockton to La Farge:  10.4 miles. 
    • Rockton to P/Bridge 14 Canoe Landing:  2.4 miles. An ok stretch with 3-4 outcrops.
    • P/Bridge 14 Canoe Landing to La Farge/Bridge 14 Landing:  8.0 miles.  A great stretch with a covered bridge and 4-5 outcrops…several of which are huge (the largest on the river).
  • La Farge to Hwy 131 (by Ski Hill Road):  6.8 miles.  Nice section but with a few jams. 
  • 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:  6.7 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:  9.0 miles. I doubt there are logjams, but I 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:  4.6 miles. 
  • Hwy S to Haney Valley Road:  5.8 miles.
  • Haney Valley Road to Taylor Ridge Road:  3.6 miles.
  • Taylor Ridge Road to Steuben:  5.0 miles.
  • Steuben to Plum Creek:  13 miles.  Maybe not interesting?  Think you can subdivide this if need be.
  • Plum Creek Landing to Wauzeka Boat Landing:  9.8 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:  0.9 miles.  The last stretch before the Wisconsin.  Numerous take-out options on the Wisconsin River itself.

Trip Map


View Kickapoo River in a larger map

Overview Map

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11 Comments to “Kickapoo River”

  1. My wife and I are new to kayaking and saw the Kickapoo on this website. We live in the Appleton area and decided to make the trip to Ontario while on vacation. We stayed over night in Tomah and then headed to Ontario. We were the only 2 on the river since school was back in session and the weather was very nice. The only regret I have is that my cell phone did not have service so we were unable to call for our ride, but we were able to get a ride back with one of the rental outfits in Ontario. I recommend this trip to all kayaking enthusiasts.

    1. Glad you liked the trip! Being the only paddlers on the Kickapoo is a real treat as this can be a very congested (and noisy) river during the summer.

  2. We live within miles of the Kickapoo, and have spent a lot of time on the part by us…Readstown through S. Up north we haven’t spent as much time on, but we plan on doing the entire Kickapoo this summer. We don’t go up there a lot because of the numbers of people. We have done Ontario through bridge 7, and lower Rockton (12?!?!) to La Farge. We will catch bridges 7 to 12 later. As we do pieces, I will add more. About Ontario to 7…soon after starting, there is a drop off in the river that wasn’t mentioned before, like a mini-waterfall…maybe because we went there before the season began…we don’t know. It is like going through a mini-chute. Rockton to La Farge is lovely!!!

    Contrary to thinking it not very interesting, we find the lower part just as beautiful as the upper portion, but in a different way.

    Readstown: There is NO good place to put in at Readstown. They kept telling us to go to the park…well, we did and have walked all over it. We have gone to the road on the other side of it. Where 14/61 crosses over it (bridge), the bank is suuuuuper steep. I suppose if the river was high you could get in at the park. We ended up putting in on a side creek a little bit further south of Readstown, off 61. We spent a lot of time figuring out where to put in. The last little piece before Soldiers Grove had riffles, which were fun.

    Soldiers Grove to B before the dam…about 9 miles, it takes about 4 hours. We have not been able to put in there at times because the mud is so deep that our feet sank too much. There are some log jams that have a few feet to pass through, submerged trees everywhere. Not very hard, but keeps you on your toes. We went with friends recently who were surprised at how much more of a challenge this was than the upper part of the Kickapoo. No cliffs, but lots of beautiful plants, animals, etc. Eagles, beavers, cranes, geese, muskrats, otter, deer, turtles, etc. I regularly see more wildlife on the lower part than I have on the upper. Takes about 4 hours and not a lot of idling. Usually you have to be paying attention.

    B to Gays/dam is shorter. We have portaged to the other side of the dam and then kayaked to Stump Dodger, which is sweet but short. I am glad I did it, but not so worth the effort.

    All of these places offer lots of shade along the way.

    Stump Dodger to S is where the river starts to open up wider. Much more leisurely and floaty. This is where is gets a bit more “boring” to me in terms of scenery.

    In all the times we have been between Readstown and S, we have NEVER ONCE ran into people on the river….except for 3 adults and 2 kids fishing. We have had people behind us get out after we did…but that is it. We like feeling like we own the river. :)

    I will post more as we hit other spots…especially those north of Ontarios!!!

  3. WILTON to NICOLETTE AVE. — As part of wanting to kayak the Kickapoo from as far north as possible to the end, we did the upper-most bit on June 5.

    Wilton (from the campground/park) to Nicolette Avenue just north of NOW School took us 6 hours to go 7 miles, and it was exhausting/hilarious!

    I don’t think it would be possible to go any further north, really.

    According to the United States Geological Survey Map, the water level at Ontario was 8.5 feet. It would be impossible to do this route any shallower, and would have been better to have done it deeper. That being said, I don’t know how it would have affected passage through log jams.

    None of it was very deep, but it was rather dangerous in parts. It took a LOT of hard work to get through here. I am so very glad we did it!!! But, still, this is just a lot of hard physical labour.

    Lots of riffles. Kept getting caught on rocks and had to rock/drag with hands/poke with paddles to get yourself free. Or just get out and drag your boat. Some spots were dangerous with the currents and dead wood.

    Too many log jams to remember. We lot count. My husband twice had to climb out onto them and push his boat through and then drag mine through. I got out twice and hauled mine up a steep bank, through nettles and poison parsnip because I couldn’t bear to do what he was doing.

    We did feel like Lewis and Clark! We knew we were seeing things not many people have seen, and it was beautiful…we loved the adventure of it all! However, this is NOT a part you want to do really unless you are just really wanting to do ALL of the Kickapoo.

      1. There were some gorgeous rock outcroppings here I forgot to talk about. Not so many as down from Ontario to La Farge…but pretty stunning.

    1. Hey David…I’m not personally involved with that but I know the liveries in Ontario work pretty hard to keep the upper stretches clean.

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

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