Canoe & Kayak Camping Wisconsin: North Branch of the Oconto River
Location is everything when it comes to canoe and kayak camping, and there are very few riverside campgrounds as equally as attractive as Bagley Rapids Campground. Located in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, the North Branch of the Oconto River sets the scene and the sound for a great whitewater paddling and riverside overnight.
The Oconto River changes complexion many times on its way from Lakewood to Green Bay. This section, however, is best suited (and highly recommended) for whitewater paddlers both upstream, and (especially) down. The convenience of a basecamp as charming and pretty as this for redoing sections make this a popular paddle-camp choice. After an exciting day of whitewater, there are few better ways to end it than spending it beneath the stars listening to the sounds of Bagley Rapids. In fact, many non-paddlers camp here just to enjoy the sound of the rapids, before eventually lulling them to sleep.
Even further downstream, after the whitewater wanes, you’ll find Chute Pond which is a wildly popular destination for flat- and quietwater paddlers. Chute Pond County Park offers convenient access and also has a great campground. It’s not quite Bagley Rapids of course, but the dual options make for an appealing destination for a variety of paddling styles and skill levels.
Paddling Style: Quietwater Paddling + Whitewater Paddling
Best Suited For: Canoes + Kayaks/Whitewater Canoes + Kayaks
Camping Location: Riverside + Near Riverside
Availability: First Come, First Served + Reservable Designated Campground Sites
Type: Rustic + Modern
Paddle-in: Yes | Walk-in: Yes
Camping Fee: Yes | Camping Permit: No
Bagley Rapids has thirty sites with thirteen of them located close to the river. These rustic sites are first-come, first-served so your best bet is to avoid them on weekends in summer if you have your heart set on a specific one (as mentioned, these are popular sites for non-paddlers). Downstream, Chute Pond County Park Campground is a great alternative for flatwater paddlers. This large county park has over seventy sites and is equipped with more modern facilities.
Campground: Bagley Rapids Campground | First Come, First Served
Facilities: Vault toilets and water.
Paddling the North Branch of the Oconto River:
When the water levels allow, Tar Dam Road to Bagley Rapids is a whitewater joy because it’s full of numerous and sometimes continuous Class II rapids throughout stunning boulder gardens. With some difficult pitches and the potential for blockages, it’s best to scout the numerous Class II rapids when the river lets up. Especially when the water levels are high because the “higher flows create some aggressive hydraulics.”
Bagley Rapids itself is a seven-foot drop that (obviously) requires scouting. After the campground lies a complex Class III S-Curve ledge that should only be considered by expert paddlers. And even expert paddlers have difficulty (read the report here). If you want a little more paddling instead of just running these sections again (of which you could do a shorter trip by starting at Iron Bridge Road), you could paddle a couple more miles to Chute Pond County Park. However, most whitewater paddlers won’t care to paddle quietwater after all that previous excitement, but it is an option.
Chute pond is great for beginner paddlers who like to explore, as there’s lots of rugged nooks and crannies to do so. The pond is easily accessible just upstream from the dam at Chute Pond County Park.
Tar Dam Road to County Road W