Situated along the East Fork of the Black River, the East Fork Campground makes a great riverside basecamp located between both flatwater and whitewater options. Paddlers can choose from a paddle downstream to Lake Arbutus for leisurely calm waters and great fishing, or from an upriver adventure that offers numerous riffles and Class I-II rapids that conclude at the campground. Experienced paddlers could add on a few more miles of a challenging Class III section for an even longer day trip.
Paddling Style: Flatwater Paddling + River Paddling + Whitewater Paddling
Best Suited For: Canoes + Kayaks
Camping Location: Riverside
Availability: Reservable Designated Campground Sites
Paddle-in: Yes | Walk-in: Yes
Camping Fee: Yes | Camping Permit: No
The East Fork Campground located in the Black River State Forest is one of our favorite rustic campgrounds. It’s no-frills which suits us just fine. Best yet, it’s usually pretty easy to grab a great site since half are located on the banks of the river. For those who love to fish, it’s makes for a great jigging setup. There are 24 reservable sites from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. After Labor Day weekend, they transition to first-come, first-served. The campground is closed mid-October through mid-April.
The location makes for convenient access to not only the East Fork, but serves as a great homebase to the main branch of the Black River or any of the awesome creeks we recommend paddling in the area (Halls, Robinson, Morrison and Wedges). For those looking for a few more luxuries while camping in the vicinity, consider Castle Mound Campground.
Paddling the East Fork of the Black River:
There are really two options here. Novice paddlers will want to keep to the flatwater of Lake Arbutus, just downstream from the campground. Those with moving-water skills looking for some fun rapids will enjoy the section just upstream. The water levels do fluctuate so you have to make sure you catch it with enough water. How do know if the levels are right? At the easternmost part of the East Fork Campground is a trail that leads to a lookout point where you can scout Campground Falls, the last rapids on the East Fork. Ideally, you’ll see water flowing freely over the boulders. If you see more rocks than water, it’s not navigable.
Difficulty: Flatwater | Skill Level: Beginner
Lake Arbutus is an ideal paddling option for casual paddlers (or fishermen and women) who are fine with nothing more than flatwater lake paddling. Boat traffic can be heavy mid-day depending on the time of year, but it’s an otherwise enjoyable paddle along wooded shorelines. Here, the fishing is great too, stocked with musky, bass, pike, walleye and of course, panfish. There is, however, one caution, and that is paddling is not recommended if three or more gates are open at the dam in Black River Falls. It’s considered safest when all the gates are closed.
Overguard Road to East Fork Campground
Miles: 4.5 | Difficulty: Class I-II | Skill Level: Intermediate | Trip Report
For those looking for a splash of excitement, Overguard Road to the East Fork Campground is perfect if there’s enough water. The river is wide and winds through classic Central Wisconsin Pines and boulder gardens with occasional Class I and II rapids, but none too dangerous at normal levels. The convenience of paddling right up to your campsite on the East Fork makes for a perfect end to the trip.
Pray Road to Overguard Road
Miles: 7 | Difficulty: Quietwater | Skill Level: Beginner | Trip Report
Add on some more miles for a longer day trip by starting at Pray Road for a beautiful and almost entirely undeveloped swath of central Wisconsin landscape featuring tall pines, root beer-hued water, and modest granite outcrops. Pray Road to Overguard is characterized by calm quietwater with an occasional riffle every few miles that’s perfect for beginners and canoeists.
Steponik Road to Pray Road
Miles: 4.5 | Difficulty: Class II-III | Skill Level: Expert | Trip Report
For the more experienced paddler, the section from Steponik to Pray Road offers a 1,000′-long segment of Class II rapids leading to a Class III ledge at East Fork Falls that should only be attempted by skilled paddlers in closed boats.