Eau Galle River
Spring Valley to 770th Avenue
☆ ☆ ☆
A real charmer of a river that works its way southeast to the Chippewa River, cutting through beautiful hill country and lush farmland, while offering crystal clear, fish-friendly and riffly water. A very thirsty river, this can and should only be paddled in spring or after sustained rainfall.
August 10, 2013
Riffles (One easy Class I drop)
Spring Valley: ht/ft: 11.95 | cfs: 15
These levels were too low. In fact, the Eau Galle is almost always too low to paddle (more a trout stream than paddling one). A minimum of 50 cvs would be required to run this without walking it but you’ll prudently want something more in the 50-100 cfs range.
Eau Galle Road bridge, Spring Valley, Wisconsin
770th Avenue bridge
Time: Put in at 4:00p. Out at 6:00p.
Total Time: 2h
Miles Paddled: 3.5
Green herons, blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, woodpeckers, deer and trout.
Sometimes it pays to just let the natural course of events do as it will and go with that flow. I had had an entirely different itinerary in my head for this day of paddling but a circus of circumstances made that infeasible. Because I was already camping at Highland Ridge park and by three in the afternoon my paddling options were growing dismally slim, I simply scoped out my atlas and looked for the nearest river.
This area of the state is rife with rivers. The Red Cedar and the Rush are both nearby, to say nothing of the almighty Chippewa but I didn’t have the time to drive too far or paddle too long. I had a campsite with two hungry friends to feed a good dinner to and not at 10pm! O happy day, then, to come upon the little Eau Galle River (which, just so we’re clear about this, is pronounced “oh golly”. I’m not kidding you and yes “Good Golly Miss Molly” was playing in my head the whole time). I did not know a single lick about this river, much less whether it could even be paddled so I thought it prudent just to explore a very short segment, hence the 3.5 mile length, arguably the perfect cocktail hour paddle!
What we liked:
It’s really, really pretty scenery. There are lush rolling hills everywhere, everywhere! And but for maybe three houses just downstream from the put-in, there is no development anywhere. You quickly dismiss those few houses too, as just downstream from them is a flash-in-the-pan sandstone rock outcrop that all but falls into the river, one of those hidden gems you can only see from the vantage of the river. I am a total sucker for sandstone, so it’s always welcome and adored when I come upon it. But this one was unusually remarkable. Sections of it looked like it was peeling off the way birch bark does. Kinda surreal.
Just before the sandstone (on river-right) there is an easy Class I drop just to spice things up. The water is crystal clear and riffly as heck. The Spring Valley to Elmwood section is mostly straight with gradual bends. (By contrast, the next section, from Elmwood to Lake Eau Galle, is much kinkier and twisty.) And much to my surprise, I did not encounter a single bit of deadfall or logjam obstruction. Probably because of the general straightaway of the river in this stretch but for a river not associated with paddling, it was a very welcome surprise (and relief).
Also, I experienced one of the coolest (and a little alarming) wildlife encounters of my life. In a very tapered portion, no more than 20’ wide, I happened upon an immature bald eagle oddly sitting atop a large rock in the middle of the river. Its wings were slightly spread, so I kept expecting it to light off and fly away. I snapped a quick picture before I missed my chance. I should have stuck around and offered it a drink because the stubborn little bugger wasn’t about to budge.
After hanging out for a couple minutes trying to be deferential, I decided just to get on with things and tried my failing best to nonchalantly butt-scoot my way around the shallower part of the river towards the large bird’s back, reckoning that crossing its path so close was not in my best interest (man, are those talons big!). I got within 8’ of the bird, close enough to clearly make out its dark black pupil and never once did it give me a second thought, barely even paying me much attention. In retrospect, I wish I had taken another picture from up so close. But I was genuinely wary that the thing might attack me at any moment or that this whole encounter was a ruse, a set-up such that the younger bird, distracting me, would make me an easier mark for its parent swooping up above.
What we didn’t like:
The water was WAY too low. In fact, I probably walked as much as I paddled. Butt-scooting goes only so far and gets old real quick. The good news is there is an official gauge for the Eau Galle and it lies just upstream of the put-in.
As I mentioned, I knew nothing about whether this river could be paddled in the first place. Most sensible people would contend that my timing is proof that it is not a paddling river (but instead a trout-fishing one). I would disagree though. My ability to paddle it isn’t proof that it can be paddled in general (because I really did do a whole lot of walking in the river dragging my boat behind me) but that it can be paddled in the right conditions. Lots of rivers are this way. But hit this in high(er) water and the experience ought to be sublime!
If we did this trip again:
If I am up in the area and the river is notably higher, I definitely will and I’ll make a full day of paddling it.
The river can be dissected into the following three segments/trips: Spring Valley to Elmwood is 11 miles, Elmwood to Eau Galle is 10 miles (or 13 miles if you paddle into the Lake Eau Galle impoundment up to the dam, just don’t go over the dam!) and Eau Galle to Chippewa River which is 8.8 miles.
Wikipedia: Eau Galle River