★ ★ ★

Little Wolf River I

Manawa to County Road X:
Great for beginners, this mostly flatwater stretch does offer some riffles and a manageable drop, but this section of the Little Wolf is more peaceful than exciting, despite being a popular tubing destination.

Little Wolf RiverRating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: September 11, 2011

Class Difficulty:
Riffles + Class I

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Royalton: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 280

Current Levels:
Royalton: Gauge discontinued in June of 2020.

Recommended Levels:
This is the recommended minimum level. In general, we recommend a minimum level of 250 cfs. Water levels on the Little Wolf really depend on which segment of it you’re doing. Are you paddling the Big Falls area or the Manawa area? Because there are rapids and a pretty good gradient in the former, less so in the latter.

Highway 22, Manawa, Wisconsin
GPS: 44.46619, -88.92059
County Road X
GPS: 44.38853, -88.82171

Time: Put in at 12:15p. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 3h 15m
Miles Paddled: 12.25

What we liked:

Having paddled one of the fantastic whitewater sections of the Wolf River, I was curious about what the Little Wolf would offer, a much tamer tributary. There are a lot of physical similarities like long stretches of beautiful boulder gardens and some nice little drops but much less current to play in (as to be expected). I only knew of the Little Wolf River until recently but got some great information from Mark at WiPaddle. The section I paddled was based on Mike Svob’s Little Wolf River 2 write-up in Paddling Southern Wisconsin and it was a remarkably accurate assessment of the trip.

I decided to take out at Highway X which is the privately owned Wolf River Campground. I had heard (and Mike makes a note in the book) that they require a fee to take out there. I figured I’d stop, see how much it was and if it was to exorbitant I’d take out at the Ostrander Road bridge. The Campground is something else (it’s basically just waiting for a party) with a bar, beach and a huge gaming area. I asked the girl in the office how much it costs to take out there. She had no idea what I was talking about and had never heard of that. She asked if I had my own life jacket or if I needed a ride but since I didn’t, she didn’t think it was a big deal. She tried calling the owner (or somebody) but wasn’t able to get an answer. So I started my trek to the put-in (half expecting to get hassled when I took-out there but it wasn’t a problem). That’s not to say they don’t charge a fee (so do stop in and ask). I got the sense that she had no idea what was up.

I put in at Highway 22 in Manawa. It’s not real obvious where you head when you pull in near the dam. Continue through the parking lot, past the warehouse toward the baseball diamond and you’ll spot a very easy access point. From the put-in to Highway 110, the water was slow going with a lot of weeds and algae. The current felt slow but it was a peaceful paddle. There is an occasional riffle and only one slight drop with some rapids.

From Highway 110 on, it’s a rollercoaster of riffles, some rapids and as Mike puts it “long peaceful sections” which really felt like flat water paddling without much current. The lows of the rollercoaster are really sustained slow sections. When the South Branch of the Little Wolf enters, it’s a long 3-mile paddle to Royalton with very little excitement. Along the way I spotted (a few hundred) turtles, frogs, fish and of course one water snake to make me feel uneasy.

At the Ostrander Road bridge, you’ll be greeted by group after group of people tubing their way down to Wolf River Campground. It is a very beautiful section and worth paddling if you don’t mind some company and interesting “conversation and greetings” as you make your way.

What we didn’t like:
This is a long day paddle and the first couple miles aren’t very exciting. It could have been the water level but the current really did feel slow. Oh, and the water snake.

If we did this trip again:
I would definitely put-in at Highway 110. There is a nice little park with easy access. It would shorten the trip by about 2.5 miles but from there to Highway X, you’ll get the best of this section. Further upstream, there is more whitewater if you’re looking for a little bit more excitement (refer to Paddling Southern Wisconsin’s Little Wolf River 1).

Related Information:
Little Wolf River II: Ness Road to Big Falls
Little Wolf River III: Big Falls to Highway 110
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Wikipedia: Little Wolf River

Miles Paddled Video:

Photo Gallery:

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  • Reply
    July 5, 2017 at 9:44 am

    We paddled the Little Wolf (433 c.f.s., July 4 2017) with our 7 and 10 year olds, from Manawa to Hwy 54. Manawa was a great easy put-in; Hwy 54 has a trail on the SW side of the bridge that leads to a small road-side park. We had to carry our kayaks up the trail, which is fairly steep. We were new to rapids, and our kids were new to maneuvering around boulders. The kids had been on plenty of inland lakes and a pretty easy section (Iverson Park to McDill Pond) of the Plover River before, and we had been on the Plover River and the Tomorrow River (we only started kayaking less than a year ago), so we thought that they (and we) were ready for that next step. There was a sizable (for us) drop under Hwy B that we didn’t expect, so we didn’t take chances with the kids and decided to portage it. It wasn’t bad getting out right before the bridge, and a short ways down-river from the bridge there was trail (small road?) that led to closer to the river, so we put back in there. On the next set of small rapids, not associated with a bridge, one of our kids panicked, and he ended up against a rock and capsized his kayak. One of us was able to wade through the water (not too fast for this) and get him and his kayak. Bilge pump was very handy! My 7 year old did fine, but by sheer luck! As we paddled through the slower areas, we talked more about looking farther ahead and what to look for to determine where to go through the rapids. There were lots of slooooow (but very beautiful and serene) areas. On the next couple of rapidy areas, they did a great job, better than me, even! I would say for kids that mostly like a relaxing paddle and fishing but enjoys the occasional excitement of small rapids, this is a great spot, but for kids that like that adrenaline rush (my 7 year old) and get bored with too much flat water paddling, this river is almost too sluggish. He enjoyed the rapids and maneuvering around boulders but got bored on the log slow parts. It was also a long paddle for kids, and I’m glad we didn’t decide to go all the way to Hwy X. Even my other kid that likes the relaxing steady paddling was getting tired by the time we got to Hwy 54. Just an FYI, our kids were using 8 foot Pelicans that originally had no foot braces, but we installed aftermarket foot braces in them to give them more leverage. I think without these, the kids would not have been able to do this entire section. These little 8 foot kayaks are obviously not the most expensive kayaks, but for our kids, we have found them to be stable, trustworthy, and very easy to maneuver around boulder fields and through rapids (with foot-braces were installed). As far as OUR (the parents’) experience, we thought the river was really beautiful, the rapids and riffles were fun (and we now have the confidence to do the first drop next time), the slow areas were like glass and fund to paddle hard (it was like gliding over wet glass!) and the 8 miles and 3 1/2 hours was just right for us recreational kayakers (but we paddle every weekend). My arms were getting a bit tired by the time we got to Hwy 54. It was a great first experience for anyone new to rapids.

    • Reply
      Miles Paddled
      July 6, 2017 at 11:16 am

      Thank you so much for the detailed update to the trip. I remember there being many sections of flatwater – moreso than riffly-excitement. So great that you got the kids out there too but I can definitely understand the hesitance to run certain rapids. Better to be safe than sorry. And well, bailing is part of the experience too – it happens to the best of us. Glad everyone was safe and it sounds like it was a good trip. Thanks again for the update!

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