17 Best Paddles of 2017

17 Best Paddles of 20172018 is almost upon us, can you believe it? Before we say goodbye to this year and head into what will be the tenth year of Milespaddled.com, here’s our annual year-end look back at some of the places we explored. These, in no particular order, are our 17 favorite paddles from 2017.

1: Plover River

Esker Road to Bevent Drive
Pike Lake, Wisconsin
September 23, 2017

A chance encounter with some fellow paddlers led to a wonderful discovery. This often-paddled, but well-kept Central Wisconsin secret, is an exceptional day trip for paddlers with some experience under their belt. With convenient access points, countless riffles, mild rapids and amazing boulder gardens, it’s quite possibly the best of the upper Plover River (though we surely have more of it to explore) and is certainly special enough to warrant a spot at the top of your to-do list.

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Plover River

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2: Black Earth Creek

Black Earth to Hudson Road
Black Earth, Wisconsin
March 19, 2017

A return trip with a new twist to one of our favorite places to paddle in the Madison area, with notable pros, mentionable cons and several relevant changes since we last paddled these portions of beloved Black Earth Creek.

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Black Earth Creek

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3: Fond Du Lac River: West Branch

Highway 23 to Lake Winnebago
Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin
June 25, 2017

The rarely traveled Fond Du Lac River is an undiscovered gem that can and should be run at higher levels for a wildly frisky and fun paddling trip. It’s best for the intermediate paddler who can handle the pushy current, blind corners and the occasional (but rare) deadfall. Those who love creek-sized rivers will be rewarded with a diverse paddling experience; from the last narrows of a marsh to a wildly riffly and wooded ride around tight corners and channels, to gentle openings over sustained riffle beds, to an wonderfully subdued but interesting stretch as the river gets wider and flatter through downtown Fond Du Lac toward its eventual meeting with Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, Lake Winnebago.

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Fond Du Lac River

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4: Chicago River (Illinois)

Touring Downtown Chicago
Chicago, Illinois
July 14, 2017

This was a very unique experience for us (and would be for anyone) because paddling through the middle of a lively downtown in the third biggest city in the United States, surrounded by the sights and sounds of big tour boats and some of the most unique architecture anywhere couldn’t be anything less than captivating.

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Chicago River

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5: Flambeau River: North Fork

Nine Mile Creek to Oxbo
Oxbo, Wisconsin
July 22, 2017

The north fork of the Flambeau River is famed for its beauty, abundant wildlife and trips that offer varying degrees of difficulty from flatwater to Class II whitewater. The Nine Mile to Dix Dox trip is the most popular section of the north fork, with alternating playful Class I whitewater and flatwater stretches. It’s also perfect for smallmouth and musky fishing. When water levels are sufficient but not dangerously high, a paddler will see numerous McKenzie dory drift boats with anglers throwing big flies toward the shore hoping for big fish.

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Flambeau River North Fork. . . . .

6: Willow Creek

Highway 58 to Dog Hollow Road
Loyd, Wisconsin
August 5 + 22, 2017

A scenic trip that’s as thrilling as it is serene set in the gorgeous Driftless country of Richland County. The best that Willow Creek has to offer the paddler is here, beginning with stunning rock outcrop bluffs, frisky riffles, and finally the most peaceful meadow of lazy meandering you can imagine. Add to these features clear, cold water and remarkable wildlife. Now subtract the following from this promotional premise: poor accesses, a few truly awful portages, and a stream that is often too shallow to paddle. That’s Willow Creek in a nutshell, a true diamond in the rough.

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Willow Creek

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7: Oconomowoc River

Monches to Okauchee Lake
Monches, Wisconsin
June 4, 2017

A wild and wooly trip that offers a wonderful diversity of paddling platforms from boulder gardens, glacial moraines, wooded forest, floodplains, rapids and lakes, this is an awesome but little known segment of the Oconomowoc River! The two downsides are that low water will usually be problematic, and this trip is not fit for beginner paddlers or canoeists due to the constant obstacle course of downed trees and hairpin turns in rapids. But if the water is high enough, and your skills adequate, this is a great trip.

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Oconomowoc River

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8: Robinson Creek

Old County Road I to Kelly Road
Millston, Wisconsin
May 7, 2017

Quite possibly the prettiest, most intimate stream we’ve been lucky enough to paddle, Robinson Creek is a dazzling palette of colors – copper, cream, and green – hidden in the hollows and lush pine trees near the Black River State Forest. Defined by sandstone rock outcrops and lined by a sandy bottom, Robinson is filled to the beguiling brim with frisky riffles and continuous runs of cushy rapids. Gorgeous and engaging, Robinson Creek is simply one of the best paddling adventures in Wisconsin.

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Robinson Creek

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9: Little Platte River

Old Lancaster Road  to Country Road O
Platteville, Wisconsin
July 23, 2017

A return trip to one of our favorite paddles anywhere in southern Wisconsin, this time to make good on unusually high water levels after some significant rain only a few days prior. Constant rapids, stunning bluffs, exposed rock outcrops, excellent wildlife and hardly any development all contribute to make this a memorable occasion and must-do trip for experienced paddlers.

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Little Platte River

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10: Allen Creek

Highway 59 to Highway 104
Evansville, Wisconsin
May 14, 2017

A very pleasant paddle through a mix of marsh, meadows, woods and savanna, with very little development along the way and outstanding wildlife. Accesses aren’t great, but they’re doable. Allen Creek is a fairly obscure and little-paddled stream, so obstructions will be an issue and one should anticipate portaging a few times. But we feel it’s worth it, given the solitude and novelty of it.

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Allen Creek

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11: Morrison Creek

Cemetary Road to Pettibone Pass
Black River Falls, Wisconsin
May 5, 2017

Clear to root beer-hued water in a near-wilderness state forest with no development whatsoever, a non-stop parade of rapids up to and including one challenging Class II-III ledge, and an astonishing mix of granite boulders followed by stunning sandstone rock walls with weeping seeps – Morrison Creek is bawdy and blissful.

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Morrison Creek

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12: Ontonagon River (Michigan)

Watersmeet to Forest Road 5250
Watersmeet, Michigan
August 12, 2017

An amazing day-trip down a beautiful river located within the Ottawa National Forest, the Ontonagon has it all: peaceful flat water sections, whitewater up to class II and a waterfall to boot. Fun, rejuvenating and just challenging enough for paddlers new to whitewater.

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Ontonagon River

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13: Milwaukee River

Estabrook Park to Bruce Street
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
July 2, 2017

A return to one of our favorite river trips, this final section of the Milwaukee River offers a unique mix of environmental and urban with sights natural and human-made along the way. The higher the water level, the better the rapids, which made this redux trip even more fun than the first time!

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Milwaukee River

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14: Piscasaw Creek (Illinois)

Streit Road to Denny Road
Chemung, Illinois
April 12, 2017

This section of Piscasaw Creek had everything I liked about the upper section and then some. Here I found beautiful prairie surroundings, farm dams that were fun and easy to run, and it was all topped off by an unexpectedly riffly (and sometimes pushy) ending which made for a very solid trip.

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Piscasaw Creek

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15: Halls Creek

Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing
Black River Falls, Wisconsin
May 6, 2017

Halls Creek is one of many excellent paddling destinations in the Black River Falls area. With countless riffles, a few Class I ledges and numerous stunning rock formations that decorate the twists and turns through an often intimate and sometimes canyon-like setting, Halls is a bucket-list paddle.

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Halls Creek

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16: Menomonee River

Frontier Park to Jacobus Park
Butler, Wisconsin
July 3, 2017

A unique urban paddling trip that is surprisingly natural and preserved, featuring a ton of riffles and Class I rapids. There are several caveats, however – notoriously low water levels, two of the most horrific logjams we’ve ever encountered and a hard-to-locate and hard-to-access take-out being some of them. That said, catching the river at the right level, putting up with a couple crappy portages, and making do with the imperfect, this trip down the Menomonee will be a blast!

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Menomonee River

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17: Upper Iowa River (Iowa)

Kendallville to Bluffton
Kendallville, Iowa
May 29, 2017

Tall chalky limestone bluffs towering above clear swift water in an almost entirely undeveloped environment, this section of the stunningly picturesque Upper Iowa River showcases the best of its best rock formations that should be on any paddler’s bucket list.

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Upper Iowa 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 10 Best Paddles of 2018
Milespaddled.com’s 19 Best Paddles of 2019
Milespaddled.com’s 20 Best Paddles of 2020

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