We did the Prairie River from Heineman Rd. to the public access at the end of Prairie Road. This stretch is only a few miles northeast of Merrill, in north central Wisconsin. The Prairie River proved to be a typical northern Wisconsin small river, with cool, clean, root beer-colored water that moved along at a moderate clip. The highlight of the trip was a long stretch of rapids through scenic, rocky dells, for which the river is known.
The route was largely forested, with grass and overhanging shrubs dominating the shore. The bottom started off as gravel and mud, then gave way to rocks as it approached the rapids. Although the water wasn’t that low, there were lots of submerged rocks that we kept hitting. There were no fallen trees to negotiate, which was nice.
There were numerous beds of different water plants. Insects were abundant. Damselflies, dragonflies, and midges made up the majority of them. Although we did see five or six private homes/cabins scattered along the route, this stretch is largely undeveloped. It took us a little over 4 hours to cover approximately 5.5 miles, although we did stop for a half hour to eat lunch. We took it pretty slow. This would certainly be a quicker run in high water.
- American Whitewater (review intended for hardcore whitewater paddlers)
- Paddling Northern Wisconsin: 85 Great Trips by Canoe and Kayak
Prairie River Overview:
- Upstream of Hwy J: There are likely navigable sections upstream of J, but I don’t know more.
- Hwy J to Heineman Road: 1.7 miles. I assume this is a simple but pleasant section.
- Heineman Road to Prairie Road Public Access: 5.7 miles.
- Heineman Road to Hay Meadow County Park: 1.5 miles. Easygoing with no obstacles.
- Hay Meadow County Park to Shady Lane Ave: 2.5 miles. Scenic section with boulder gardens, outcrops and dells. Includes some Class 2/3 dells.
- Shady Lane Ave to Prairie Road: 1.6 miles. Likely minor rapids and boulder gardens during low water.
- Prairie Road to Hwy C: 2.9 miles. A handful of large islands. Maybe some minor rapids. Could be a few logjams on some of the islands channels.
- Hwy C to Prairie Trails Park: 7.4 miles. Likely a pleasant wooded paddle.
- Prairie Trails Park to Strange’s Park: 1.9 miles. A wooded section through downtown Merrill.
- Strange’s Park to Mouth: 1.1 miles. Final stretch of the river.
- Take-out Options on Wisconsin River: Shortly after the mouth, there is a dam. Unfortunately I’m not sure this is a good take-out option.
View Prairie River in a larger map