10 Best Paddles of 2018

10 Best Paddles of 2018Miles PaddledIn keeping with our 10-Year anniversary features, we’re breaking the cadence of our “XX Best Paddles of 20XX” formula to highlight only ten from this year. Also, let’s face it, 45 paddles from 2045 is going to get a little ridiculous, right? For various reasons, we actually posted less trip reports than we have in years’ past. That was in part due to weather, life and other Miles Paddled projects, but a lot just due to revisiting many old and special rivers and creeks.

So before we officially move on from 2018, let’s take a look back at some of our favorite paddles of the year – trips that ranged from the familiar, to the obscure, to the popular, and to not only Wisconsin, but also Illinois and Iowa too. So without any more ado, here, in no particular order, are our 10 favorite paddles from 2018.

1: Blue River

Bluff Road to Shemak Road
Monfort, Wisconsin
May 5, 2018

A swift, intimate trout stream meandering through soaring hills and sweeping vistas (not to mention some of the biggest boulders in the Driftless Area, the Blue River is a beguiling gem in southwestern Wisconsin. The only caveat is catching it high enough with adequate water, which is rare.

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Blue River

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2: North Fork of the Maquoketa River (Iowa)

Highway D61 to 60th Avenue
Cascade, Iowa
June 9, 2018

A long stretch of water that is eminently pleasant, this trip has the look and feel of a wild setting, despite its Iowan/agrarian surroundings. However, its length and relative monotony might tax some paddlers. But for those seeking a slow-paced, contemplative paddle along a serene, unspoiled stretch of river, this trip is just that.

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Maquoketa River North Fork

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3: Lusk Creek (Illinois)

Saltpeter Cave Crossing to Eddyville Blacktop Road
Eddyville, Illinois
March 30, 2018

A true destination trip in every sense, Lusk Creek is an obscure stream set in a glorious wilderness environment featuring steep-walled canyons, cliffs, caves, boulders as big as school buses, waterfalls, jade green water, and innumerable pay-attention rapids. The two caveats are catching it at a level high enough to float without scraping – but still safe without it flash-flooding – and difficult accesses. But the paddling is oh so worth the wait for ideal conditions and mild inconvenience.

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Lusk Creek

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4: North Fork of the Flambeau River

Highway W Landing to Flambeau Lodge Landing
Tony, Wisconsin
July 4-5, 2018

After long hearing rumors of how great paddling on the Flambeau River was, it’s been a trip high on my must-visit list. And those rumors were indeed true – it didn’t disappoint. This is a beautiful and remote stretch nestled in the Flambeau River State Forest, and is an ideal trip for kayakers of all skill levels. With well marked, well-kept campsites along the river, it made for an excellent two-day kayak/camping trip.

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Flambeau River North Fork

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5: Beaver Dam River

Cotton Mill Park to County Road J
Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
June 9, 2018

A section of the Beaver Dam River that begins as an exhilarating urban paddle before quieting down towards the outskirts of town amongst suburban development, then narrowing again and alternating between wooded corridors, farmland and finally to a wider, almost marshy stretch, before the take-out. Add in a quite handsome train bridge, some minor drops and riffles, and you have yourself a great trip if you can catch it at the right levels – which for this trip was the first time water was released on the Beaver Dam River purely for recreational paddling.

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Beaver Dam River

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6: Red Cedar River

Menomonie to Dunnville
Menomonie, Wisconsin
September 17, 2018

A sweet and easy, serene trip down a wonderful river, this final leg of the Red Cedar rewards the paddler with excellent accesses, an obstruction-free but still engaging stream, tremendous wildlife, a true sense of getting-away, a unique mix of northwoods feel with quintessential Driftless features, rock outcrops, riffles, and one of the funnest, finest state trail bike shuttle options anywhere in Wisconsin. What’s not to love?

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Red Cedar River

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7: Platte River

Coon Hollow Road to Ellenboro
Ellenboro, Wisconsin
September 23, 2018

Virtually nonstop riffles and splashy rapids together with rolling hills and rock outcrops galore make this the most beautiful and fun section anywhere on the Platte River. Catching it with enough water is tricky, and there are a few sets of electrical tape/wire to be mindful of; but otherwise this trip is one of the best paddling excursions anywhere in southwestern Wisconsin.

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Platte River

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8: Manitowoc River

County Road JJ to County Road S
Valders, Wisconsin
July 14, 2018

A truly pleasant little jaunt that packs a heckuva lot of punch in only 7 miles, this section of the Manitowoc River begins quietly through tranquil farm country then races along fun riffles and light rapids through secluded woods. Toss in a handful of small boulders and dolomite rock outcrops together with one roaring Class II-III ledge, not to mention astounding wildlife. This trip does require adequate water volume to paddle in the first place, but when the river’s up, you should be down with checking it out.

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Manitowoc River

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9: Whitewater Creek (Iowa)

Whitewater Drive to Highway D61
Fillmore, Iowa
June 8, 2018

A short stretch of water that is simply stunning in its rugged, essentially undeveloped beauty – defined by bluffs with an outpouring of exposed rock outcrops and stupendous boulders – all while cruising along riffle after frisky riffle, Whitewater Creek in Iowa’s Driftless Area is a little stream with a lot of reward.

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Whitewater Creek Iowa

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10: Kinnickinnic River

River Falls to Kinnickinnic State Park
River Falls, Wisconsin
April 29, 2018

Hands down, one of the cleanest, clearest, most beautiful and exhilarating rivers to paddle in all of Wisconsin, the “Kinni” is just incredible, as it swiftly wends its way around one stunning bluff and cliff after another, with peppy rapids all along the way, but hardly any development. Just be sure it’s high enough to avoid scraping too much.

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Kinnickinnic River

Related Reading:
Milespaddled.com’s 13 Best Paddles of 2013
Milespaddled.com’s 14 Best Paddles of 2014
Milespaddled.com’s 15 Best Paddles of 2015
Milespaddled.com’s 16 Best Paddles of 2016
Milespaddled.com’s 17 Best Paddles of 2017
Milespaddled.com’s 19 Best Paddles of 2019
Milespaddled.com’s 20 Best Paddles of 2020

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