19 Best Paddles of 2019

19 Best Paddles of 2019Today we once again say goodbye to one paddling season and welcome in another. But before we officially sunset 2019 and head into year number twelve of Milespaddled.com, we bring you our annual look back at our favorite paddles from the year, in no particular order, of course. Cheers to a wonderful 2020 to you all!

1: Badfish Creek

Old Stage Road to Casey Road
Cooksville, Wisconsin
August 3, 2019

It’s no secret that we love Badfish Creek, or that this is our absolute favorite paddling stretch near Madison – we’ve directed paddlers to Old Stage Road numerous times over the last decade. With almost always reliable water levels, riffles, sand/gravel bars, and maintained access points, it’s as delightful of a paddle experience one could ask for. Best yet, since it’s so popular, it’s almost always navigable but that’s also due to volunteers, specifically, the Friends of Badfish Creek (and well, those of us who carry a battery-powered Sawzall).

This overdue trip update was extra special paddle because nearly a dozen friends of Miles Paddled made the trip, giving us all the more reason to love this most recent visit.

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Badfish Creek. . . . .

2: East Fork of the Black River

Steponik Road to Overguard Road
Black Earth, Wisconsin
May 4, 2019

A beautiful and almost entirely undeveloped swath of classic central Wisconsin landscape featuring tall pines, root beer-hued water, and modest granite outcrops, this section of the Black River’s East Fork is characterized by calm quietwater with an occasional riffle every few miles that’s perfect for beginners and canoeists. The one notable exception is a 1,000′-long segment of Class II rapids leading to a Class III ledge at so-called East Fork Falls that should be done only by experienced paddlers in closed boats.

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Black River East Fork

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3: Wisconsin River

Touring Blue Heron Island
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
July 24, 2019

A circumnavigatory exploration of the backwaters and archipelagic cluster of wild islands surrounded by civilization, this trip is a perfect example of finding adventure (and solitude) in your own backyard, with extraordinary wildlife, beautiful scenery and an unexpected thrill of Class I rapids through an equally unexpected boulder garden.

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Wisconsin River. . . . .

4: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Lake Superior)

Touring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Munising, Michigan
August 31, 2019

A sea kayaking experience that’s truly a must-do for just about any paddler, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is an exquisite area of rugged beauty with sheer sandstone cliffs 200′ high streaked with colorful mineral deposits for miles on end, some with huge arches, quaint coves, nook-and-cranny caves and massive slabs of rock as big as a house beneath the cool jewel of translucent water.

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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

. . . . .

5: South Branch of the Root River (Minnesota)

Preston Trailhead Park to Heron Road
Preston, Minnesota
August 26, 2019

A fantastic day trip on a narrow, often canopied river with plenty of delightful riffles, standing waves, and some very attractive outcrops. When you add it all up, it makes for a wonderful but almost too-short paddle in Minnesota’s driftless country.

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Root River South Branch

. . . . .

6: Plover River

Jordan Park to Iverson Park
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
May 17, 2019

One of the best examples of “finding adventure in your backyard,” this last segment of the Plover River through Stevens Point makes for a wonderful day trip through a mix of floodplains, tall sand banks crowned with pine trees, clear water with a peppy current, a million meanders, and virtually zero development despite the urban surroundings. Added perks are beginning and ending at public parks with full facilities. The only cautionary note is this trip demands good boat control and flexibility (mental and physical), given the current, steep turns, and maneuvering around umpteen trees in the water.

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Plover River. . . . .

7: Bark River

Sugar Island Road to Atkins-Olson Memorial Park
Delafield, Wisconsin
May 12, 2019

Quite possibly the prettiest part of the Bark River, with crystal clear water, lush sand and/or gravel bottoms, a mix of marsh and woods with pines, tamaracks, oaks, this scenic trip packs a lot of diversified portfolio for its punch, as it begins on a lake then ends in a floodplain. Water levels are usually reliable, but no fewer than six low-clearance bridges might require portaging.

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Bark River

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8: Lulu Lake

Touring Lulu Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest
Eagle, Wisconsin
April 28, 2019

Take a lake to find another lake, a secret lake, one that’s surrounded by public land in the Kettle Moraine State Forest and protected as a state natural area, this little excursion to hidden Lulu Lake makes for a fun and scenic outing on flatwater in southeastern Wisconsin.

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Lulu Lake. . . . .

9: Horseshoe Island (Lake Michigan)

Touring Horseshoe Island in Door County
Fish Creek, Wisconsin
July 5, 2019

There are a lot of opportunities for paddling in Door County, but here’s a great half-day destination paddle to a crescent-shaped island that offers a short hike, as well as prime fishing within that deep-water indent. As long as the water is calm and the weather is right, there’s nothing better for the paddling soul than floating along the waters of Lake Michigan.

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Horseshoe Island. . . . .

10: Black River

River Avenue to Riviera Avenue
Neilsville, Wisconsin
July 5, 2019

A gorgeous and largely undeveloped stretch of the beloved Black River, this trip features some of the best “lightwater” rapids anywhere on the Black with two separate stretches of mile-long and half-mile long Class II+ rapids together with gorgeous granite rock outcrops along the way.

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Black River. . . . .

11: Wedges Creek

County Road B to Rouse Road
Neillsville, Wisconsin
May 5, 2019

An extraordinary gem of a stream quietly tucked away in the paddling playground of the Black River Falls area, Wedges offers a little bit of everything: clear water, occasional riffles, a handful of light rapids, small boulder gardens, towering pines, sandbars, attractive rock outcrops, splendid solitude, and various access points to tailor a trip to preferred lengths. Like most streams in this part of the state, catching it with enough water to avoid scraping/walking will be tricky, but it’s oh so worth the wait!

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Wedges Creek. . . . .

12: Plover River

Boundary Road to Kristof Road
Ringle, Wisconsin
September 27, 2019

An exhilarating section of the upper Plover River with spectacular boulder gardens, thrilling Class I rapids, and a gorgeous, mostly undeveloped landscape of thick woods. This trip does however, have a few tricky situations for even experienced paddlers, where fast current combines with narrow side channels around islands and a bevy of boulder gardens.

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Plover River

. . . . .

13: Eau Claire River (Marathon County)

Dells of the Eau Claire Park to Club House Road
Aniwa, Wisconsin
July 22, 2019

A trip that begins like a rodeo bull straight out of the gate but ends with tamed placidity, this section of the Eau Claire River challenges paddlers in the first three miles, but then offers scores of relaxing rewards after. While finding a precise location to put in is confusing and frankly inconvenient, the payoff is the spectacularly scenic setting of ancient volcanic rock formations in a gorge carved by the river, boulders and ledges, Class II+ rapids, root beer-hued water, towering pines and cedar tones for seemingly endless miles. Good accesses downstream allow for individually-tailored trip lengths. Beside skill level for those first three miles, the only other caveat is catching this stretch of river with enough water – but not too much either.

Quick disclaimer right upfront: this trip begins immediately below the Class III-IV dells, not above and through them. That run is only a quarter mile-long (approximately 1200′), but is above our comfort (and skill) level. Frankly, true whitewater paddlers probably would be bored with the Class II rapids below the dells and likely stick with re-running the big drops. But for us “lightwater” paddlers, those Class II’s are positively thrilling!

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Eau Claire River

. . . . .

14: Cannon River (Minnesota)

Cannon Falls to Welch
Cannon Falls, Minnesota
August 25, 2019

A bluff country paddle full of numerous riffles, gravel bars and island channels that cut through bluffed-valleys 300′ tall along the eastern edge of Minnesota’s Driftless region, this popular section of the Cannon River is an absolutely delightful way to spend an afternoon. Aside from maybe early or late in the paddling season, you may never have this river to yourself, but don’t let that dissuade you.

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Cannon River

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15: Little Wolf River

Big Falls to Highway 110
Big Falls, Wisconsin
July 25, 2019

A lively and lovely trip beginning at the base of a rough-and-tumble Class III-IV falls and featuring an exhilarating Class II rapids shortly afterward, with a bounty of big boulder gardens and innumerable riffles for miles and a mix of environments from rugged hardwood forests, big sky meadows and shady bottomlands, this barely known segment of the otherwise popular Little Wolf River deserves more attention and respect.

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Little Wolf River

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16: Bark River

County Road E to Hagedorn Road
Heath Mills, Wisconsin
March 31, 2019

A two-for-one trip that demonstrates the admirable diversity of the understated Bark River, featuring a classic river-lake-river pattern through a mostly undeveloped landscape, the paddler can do these segments as two separate trips or a novelty combo. Except in the Rome Pond lake section, the Bark River here is composed of a clear-water sand-gravel bottom with intermittent riffles, while surrounded by gentle hills in a mix of woodlands and wetlands left in the wake of retreating glaciers in the last Ice Age.

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Bark River

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17: Devil’s Lake

Touring Devil’s Lake in Devil’s Lake State Park
Baraboo, Wisconsin
October 20, 2019

An extraordinarily short but delightful paddle within Wisconsin’s most popular State Park, this little adventure provides a different perspective to the towering bluffs of Devil’s Lake, and is especially appealing during the peak colors of fall.

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Devil's Lake

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18: Black River

Willard Road to Grand Avenue
Greenwood, Wisconsin
October 20, 2019

A long outing that could be easily divided into two separate day trips on account of excellent accesses, this stretch of the beloved Black River offers the paddler a medley of outstanding features such as large wooded islands, riffles and Class I rapids for miles on end, striking rock outcrops and boulder gardens galore, and hardly any development at all. The only caveat is catching the river with enough water, as its steep gradient drains quickly, and attempting this trip in low-water would frustrate even the most optimistic paddler.

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Black River

. . . . .

19: Robinson Creek

Kelly Road to West Pine Hill Road
Black River Falls, Wisconsin
September 14, 2019

The fabled lower section of Robinson Creek features no fewer than five Class II-III ledges through a series of two separate mini canyons. As such, this trip demands caution and care, and should be considered only by experienced paddlers with the right types of boats, gear and safety precautions.

While not as bejeweled as the “upper” section of the creek and its exquisite rock outcrops, paddlers will still be treated to extraordinary colors and aesthetics. Downed trees should be expected and the portaging ain’t always so easy, but the payoff for such inconveniences is a rather exceptional and exhilarating whitewater experience.

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Robinson Creek

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 10 Best Paddles of 2018
Milespaddled.com’s 20 Best Paddles of 2020

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