Wolf River Road to Big Falls:
A relatively short stretch (7.5 miles) that is riffly the whole way through and twice punctuated with exciting class I-II rapids, drops, boulder gardens and a gorgeous dells section toward the end.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: August 25, 2012
11′ per mile
Royalton: ht/ft: 1.08 | cfs: 170
Gauge Note: There is a visual gauge at the Wolf River Road bridge you can consider: On the upstream side of the bridge in the middle of the river is a large rock. See photos below to correlate what’s high, low, or just right.
These aren’t ideal levels. Instead, 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.
Wolf River Road
Big Falls Boat Launch, Wall Street/County Road G, Big Falls, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 3:45p. Out at 7:00p.
Total Time: 3h 15m
Miles Paddled: 7.5
Turtles, frogs (living and dead), lots of thin, foot-long fish, tons of king fishers, several blue herons, two sightings of probably the same bald eagle and no fewer than 22 deer seen in five separate locations (including one young buck with budding antlers sipping at the river and then later, two adorable white-dotted fawns with a cautious doe monitoring my business).
7 miles, almost all of which lies on a quiet county road, with occasional moderate hills (but nothing to drop down into lowest gear over). As of 2017, there is now an outfitter – Big Falls Kayak Rental – who not only rents kayaks but also offers a shuttle service from Ness Road to Big Falls (and a couple options in between).
What we liked:
The Little Wolf is a lot of fun. This is a top-notch spot to practice one’s whitewater skills without any real risk to personal safety. Even in relatively low water, very little of this trip is without riffles. One segment of the trip (about 1.5 miles downstream from the put-in) consists of a full mile-long rapids (ranging from I-II+, depending on the water level). There are two additional notable rapids segments just before and after the 6-mile mark, the latter of which is situated in a beautiful Dells section, complete with a narrow canyon (about 10’ wide) you shoot through.
The water is beautifully clear and the surrounding environment varies from deep woods to rolling prairies and then terrific rock walls. And it’s isolated, oh so isolated which might account for the abundant wildlife! Only one very short stretch (maybe 1/3 mile) runs closely parallel to a road; but even then I never heard a car and this was late in the afternoon/early evening on a Saturday night. Unlike the much more popular (and populated) segment of the Little Wolf from Manawa to County X, this trip offered pure solitude and thrilling wonder the whole way.
Both the put-in and take-out offered developed landings with ample room for parking and the bike shuttle is a 7-mile breeze with only moderate hills.
What we didn’t like:
Is it a bad omen to begin a trip where the very first thing you see before even getting into your boat is a croaked frog who’s bit the dust and lies belly-up below the water? Apparently not, though I had my suspicions… alas, the water level was low (what else is new?) but that’s hardly the river’s fault. It’s late August and we’ve experienced an awful drought this summer (What’s a Little Wolf supposed to do?).
The nearest USGS gauge is in Royalton, Wisconsin, about 22 miles downstream of this section. It was rated “Good” there but I scraped a lot and often had to “wheelchair” my way out of unnavigably shallow sections. So what plays in Royalton isn’t necessarily the best gauge (bad pun, I know) for up in Big Falls.
I should mention that whatever the water level (unless high, in which case only experienced whitewater paddlers should consider this), prepare to get your boat scratched. Frequently. And you’re gonna get a little wet. But hey, that’s why we go whitewater paddling, right?
Really, the only thing I didn’t like was that this segment is only 7.5 miles. I’ll take a pass on the stretches further downstream to avoid the tube floaters and holy rollers. I don’t know what lies upstream from the Wolf River road bridge but it looked like a lot of deadfall and strainer debris.
If we did this trip again:
I will, for sure but next time in early spring or if I happen to catch it after a soaking downpour. This portion of the river is too much a gem to experience in anything other than its full class II+ potential.
Little Wolf River I: Manawa to County Road X
Little Wolf River III: Ness Road to Big Falls
Little Wolf River IV: Big Falls to Highway 110
General: American Whitewater
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Outfitter: Big Falls Kayak Rentals
Wikipedia: Little Wolf River