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


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:

  • 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.  Guest reviewed Apr 2016.
  • Hwy 131 (near Nicollet Ave) to Ontario (Titanic Livery): 5 miles.  A rarely traveled section with nice rock outcrops. Reviewed Jun 2013.
  • 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 Aug 2010.
  • Hwy 131 (bridge #7) to Rockton:  5.0 miles.  A good stretch.  Reviewed Aug 2010.
  • Rockton to La Farge: 11 miles.  2nd most popular stretch on the river.  Less frequent but larger bluffs than upstream.  Easy to subdivide.  Reviewed Sep 2012.
  • La Farge to Hwy 131 (by Ski Hill Road): 6.76 miles.  Nice section but with a few jams.  Reviewed Apr 2016.
  • 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 log jams, 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 Steuben: 5.02 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: 9.75 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.

Trip Map

View Kickapoo River in a larger map

Overview Map



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.

Be notified when future paddle reviews go live by subscribing!