★ ★ ★ ★

Embarrass River: South Branch

Highway 45 to County Road M:
A short and challenging but not totally intimidating segment of good whitewater in central Wisconsin, located between Waupaca and Stevens Point. This trip can be run twice or be done together with other whitewater sections of the main branch of the river nearby. Water level is everything on a segment like this. Too low, you will be scraping everywhere. Too high, the rapids could be quite nasty.

Embarrass River

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: August 25, 2013

Skill Level: Expert
Class Difficulty: Class III

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Embarrass: ht/ft: 2.8 | cfs: 130

Current Levels:
Embarrass: ht/ft: 3.00 | cfs: 206

Recommended Levels:
This is the recommended minimum level. It can be run as low as 130 cfs but 250 cfs is a nice balance between having enough water to avoid scraping while offering an exhilarating ride without being crazy frothy. At 650 cfs this becomes a wild Class IV.

Highway 45, Tigerton, Wisconsin
GPS: 44.74194, -89.05728
County Road M
GPS: 44.7359, -89.02716

Time: Put in at 10:30a. Out at 1:00p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 2.5

A bald eagle, wood ducks, several green and great blue herons, deer, blue jays, horses and cows.


After running the rapids section of the White River a couple months ago, I took a break in town to remove my spray skirt and gear, whereupon a local approached me to talk shop. Among the many places he told me where he’s paddled, he dropped the name of and highly recommended the Embarrass River, particularly the Pella area, a waterway I knew about in name only.

So I started to look it up and liked what little I could find. There are three main trips on the Embarrass River, at least from a whitewater perspective. This one (which is technically the South Branch), the Leopolis dam to Branch Road (technically the North Branch) and Hayman Falls County Park (the main branch).

I actually had in mind doing the Tigerton and Hayman section in one day but Tigerton alone took more time than I had anticipated. Plus, it adequately raised my hackles enough and yet I didn’t tip or swim despite a couple places where it was a bit touch and go, so I thought it best to call it quits there and not try my luck.

What we liked:
First of all, this town is called “Tigerton”! And I’m not pulling your leg that I only learned about Tigerton thanks to a stranger in a town called “Lyons”! Alas, there were no bears, oh my…

For only 2.5 miles, the river packs a lot of picturesque scenery here. Beginning with basic boulder gardens, some open hilly farmland, even a forested section, the gradient for the first mile is steady but not precipitous. Two easy Class Is are here. When you begin seeing a campground on river-right, it’s time to prepare for the beginning of real whitewater. The first spot is a solid Class II comprising two pretty straightforward drops. For what would be the first of several more times, I waded into the river to remove some huge tree limbs that blocked the slots to the drops (this plus all the scouting, as well as the ridiculously cumbersome task of taking my camera in and out of my dry bag underneath the spray skirt, explains why it took me 2.5 hours to paddle 2.5 miles!).

Shortly after this is another Class I+ rapid where an attractive rock island splits the river in two. Both channels can be run into a deep pool below. Take a breather here and gather ye wits because the complicated stuff is about to happen. The only true Class III is the first rapid, a somewhat complex series of three spots requiring good boat control and maneuvering. I was lucky in that the water was pretty low, allowing me as much time as I wanted to approach these (and other) drops without the frenzy of split-second decision making. In higher water this would be quite a wild ride and stupidly dangerous to do alone!

More rapids follow, most of them Class I, though there is one more Class II. The final quarter mile or so is just a straight shot through the quite attractive Dells section, with no room to get out or make mistakes. In low water this wasn’t really an issue, but it is something to think about in higher conditions.

Also, on Highway 45 in the town of Marion (11 miles southeast of Tigerton) there is a cute-as-a-button brewery with a Polish-esque eagle on its logo called Pigeon River Brewing Co., a fine place to raise a pint or few after a dazzling day of splashy paddling. I bought a growler of their Saison to take home back to Madison and it was delicious, particularly during this heat index week of 100+ degrees!

What we didn’t like:
The river was low, so there was much butt-scooting and/or getting stuck on rocks (as one local who was swimming in the river put it, “there’s a shit-load of rocks.” It’s true.). The accesses are pretty crappy, to be blunt. The put-in particular requires some balance, agility and sure-footedness. The take-out is better but not by much. I’m not sure what the score is for either in terms of public access. It was a Sunday and I saw nobody around at either place. For me, what’s true in politics holds too for paddling, ‘tis better to ask forgiveness than permission.

One definitely annoying but unavoidable aspect to this trip is the smack-dab proximity of a rather large ATV park. Their snarling, needling noise is heard for the first half of the trip (silver lining: there is some pretty tent camping opportunity at this park with a couple sites right next to the river, one at the first Class II section). If you are all about paddling the rapids, the first half of the trip might bore you, as it is relatively flat and there are no intermediate access points. Still though this section is plenty pretty.

If we did this trip again:
I imagine I will! Next time I will definitely tack on one or more of the other Embarrass’ing rapids. Or, for one of those dramatically different combo experiences, I might continue past the County M bridge below the Dells and paddle another 3.3 miles to the next bridge. I scouted it and it looks totally doable. The current slackens though, the rocks and rapids upstream get swapped for deadfall and hardwood forest and County M runs parallel for the first mile or so.

Related Information:
General: American Whitewater
Wikipedia: Embarrass River

Photo Gallery:

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