Rockton to La Farge:
The second of two of the more popular sections offers much of the same wonderfully stunning sand and limestone cliffs and scenery unrivaled and unique to this area of Wisconsin.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: September 8, 2012
This was below ideal levels but fine nonetheless. We recommend 60-100 cfs for a scrape-free journey. In general, for the Ontario to Rockton stretch, 60 cfs is the minimum and the sweet spot is between 70-100 cfs. The Rockton to La Farge segment is more forgiving with less of a gradient and more mud.
Time: Put in at 12:30p. Out at 4:20p.
Total Time: 3h 50m
Miles Paddled: 10
Eagles, hawks, ducks, snakes and a bat.
Just like the upper section, Rockton to La Farge is gorgeous. Beautiful cliffs, clear water, a sandy-bottom, with riffles here and there make this paddle through the driftless area a memorable one. Around every bend awaits something new to make your jaw drop or give you a reason to pull out your camera.
The put-in for this section is in the town of Rockton and is within the Kickapoo Valley Reserve so if you’re parking at landing 12, you will need a $4.00 parking pass. If you’re camping, parking is included in the cost of the permit. The take-out in La Farge is outside of the Reserve boundaries so there is no fee. It’s not clearly marked from the road (but is from the river) and it’s tucked back in a field past a rumbly little gate/bridge. The designated parking is the field on the right before the gate/bridge but you can drive over it to get closer for unloading purposes. We were the first ones there that morning so we weren’t sure if we were parking on private land or not but when we returned from our trip, there were many vehicles in the field.
This section has one true landing (landing 14 on County Highway P) not counting the put-in and take-out at #12 and #20 whereas the upper has numerous landings but there are still many places to land to stretch your legs, lunch and explore. The bridges are all clearly marked as you make your way towards bridge #20 (which is just upstream after the take-out, river-left). There are only remnants of bridge #12 and though we heard the same of #17, we didn’t see any evidence of it existing.
Without being a poet, it’s difficult to capture just how beautiful the Kickapoo River is in a paddle report. You really must experience it yourself. While absolutely beautiful in its own right, this lower section isn’t much different than the upper. We had a slight preference for the upper section as it seemed to have a lot more limestone walls and cliffs but we’re only talking by a few strokes so we’re splitting hairs. They’re both awesome.
On this second day, the weather was perfect and we encountered many more people out on the water and up in camps (as expected since it was Saturday and just a weekend removed from Labor Day). In fact, on our shuttle afterwards, the landings on Highway 138 were busy with busses, outfitters and trailers stuffed with canoes.
This section also brought us more unique encounters with wildlife. We spotted three bald eagles, a couple hawks and three snakes (about the size of large earthworms) swimming across the water. We had one horrific encounter with a bat that came flying at me in the middle of the day (rabies anyone?) and then back at the guys. It circled once more, no more than a paddle-length above my head. It was at that point, that I paddled faster. And then while on a break, there was some “thing” that kept scurrying around on the opposite bank. We just watched as it pulled plants between a downed tree but after watching intently for ten minutes, we never got to see what it was. On the brighter side, we did see a couple golden retrievers in the water but I don’t think they were wild or rapid.
One of the unique landmarks on this section is located between bridges #18 and #19. The abandoned dam. The beginning of this storied and controversial unfinished dam looms large in the distance and it brings about an eerie feeling of what might have been. The concrete tower juts out of the field like a relic from a different time (or something you’d see on the show Lost). It’s a striking reminder of how man changed the community forever (and almost changed the environment forever). The dam would’ve flooded the valley creating a lake meant to bring in tourist dollars. The project was abandoned at the last minute (well almost – it was half finished) when numerous studies showed it might not have the economic impact that was anticipated but already, a lot of damage had been done to the community. It’s a bitter issue that divided and changed the economic face of the area for decades and beyond. Read more about it.
The time it took us to paddle this section was on par with the 3 miles per hour rule-of-thumb. We did stop a couple times and there was an accident which cost us some time too (more on that in the “didn’t like” section). We may have even been moving faster than that average as the water seemed a little deeper and the current a little swifter and we also had the advantage of the wind at our back on this second day.
We calculate our mileage using the Google Maps mapping feature. However, sometimes it’s a little squishy in its accuracy. This was mapped at 10.5 miles (which seemed high), the Map from the Reserve had it mapped at 9.8 miles and Mike Svob’s writeup in Paddling Southern Wisconsin had it pegged at 9.5 miles (which seemed low). So for this trip we took the average of 10 miles which seemed to align with our paddling time of 3mph plus two planned breaks and one unexpected break for a total of 3 hours and 50 minutes between landing 12 and 20.
What we liked:
Just like the upper, this lower section is pretty outstanding. We could argue about which is better but when you take into account all other places to paddle in Wisconsin, very few hold a candle to the Kickapoo.
What we didn’t like:
Chalk this up to operator error. Even though I pride myself in safety and always error on the side of caution, perhaps the previous 20 miles got the best of me and I got a little lazy. After bridge 19, the riffles kick up a bit. I was following Brian’s lead down a particularly riffly bend with a tree stationed right in the middle. I misread the speed of the current and I ended up dumping it. Thinking I could out-maneuver the tree was a futile effort as my kayak (weighted down by all the gear) was pulled under a limb and filled like the titanic (just much quicker). It was all I could do to find my dry bag, the GoPro and bail. Brian grabbed my paddle downstream. Save for a bruise and cut on my leg, everything is alright. Lesson learned.
If we did this trip again:
The Kickapoo River is a canoe and kayakers dream; stunning in its geology and always something new around the corner, be it wildlife or scenery. If you’re looking for a day paddle, this is a great section. We’d recommend the upper Ontario to Rockton section if you’re looking for a longer day paddle or make it a two-day outing and enjoy what this wonderful stretch of river has to offer. I’ll be sure to make it back here before another five years pass.
Kickapoo River I: Ontario to Rockton
Kickapoo River III: Highway 131 to Ontario
Camp: Wildcat Mountain State Park
General: Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Good People: Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Outfitter: Drifty’s Canoe Rental
Outfitter: Mr. Duck’s Canoe Rental
Outfitter: Titanic Canoe Rental
Wikipedia: Kickapoo River
Miles Paddled Video: