★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Platte River III

Platte Road to Big Platte Road:
This segment, the crème de la crème of the Platte, is second to none with riffles and small rapids the entire stretch, sweeping bluff vistas and great rock outcroppings in the beautiful Driftless area of Wisconsin. You will not be bored nor disappointed.

Platte River

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: November 10, 2013

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Rockville: ht/ft: 3.4 | cfs: n/a

Current Levels:
Rockville: ht/ft: 4.02 | cfs: 104

Recommended Levels:
We recommend this level.

Platte Road, Harrison, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.76278, -90.61334
Big Platte Road, Tennyson, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.69941, -90.63872

Time: Put in at 11:20a. Out at 2:20p.
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 8.25

Alternate Trip Ideas:
Ellenboro to County Road B (8.5 Miles)

Bald eagles, ducks, kingfishers, crows, hawks, sheep, killdeer, horses, bulls, turkey, turtles and a couple coots.


I did this same segment around this time last year with a couple friends but it was during the height (which is to say low point) of the 2012 camera debacles and it dawned on me not long ago that I had next to no pictures from that trip. Plus, I had recently paddled the final segment of the Platte, which was a first, so I wanted to do this trip again in order to better compare the two. While the last stretch of the Platte is truly pleasant, this is far and away the better segment. Indeed, of the 23 miles from Ellenboro (the last dam on the Platte) to its confluence at the Mississippi River, this 8.25-mile segment offers all of the highlights and the fewest detractions (e.g., barbed wire, flat water, livestock in the river, etc).

What we liked:
You begin immediately with a huge bluff looming ahead and terrific riffles, what better way to start a paddling trip!? Riffles are nearly continuous for the entirety, with only a couple of short exceptions. I would classify a couple of these riffles Class I rapids. They’re just enough water to get the bow all splashy wet (and even inside the cockpit if you’re not paying attention) but not so formidable as to threaten your safety. That said, there are some tight turns, obstacles and strainers to maneuver in occasionally pushy water, especially along the last three miles of the trip, (roughly below the County Road B bridge and the takeout at Big Platte Road) so you do need to be paying attention. For beginners, I would recommend the Big Platte Road to Indian Road section to get a feel first.

There are bluffs everywhere and almost no development, at least houses. Farmland and pastures prevail but only occasionally do you hear a tractor in the fields. You will almost certainly come upon some cows or bulls in the water, it’s just about inevitable. There are two sections of large rock outcroppings. The first, about half-mile long and coupled with riffles only a couple miles downstream of the put-in. The second, about a mile upstream from the takeout but in flatwater allowing you to get out and explore the hillside woods and climb the rocks. One even looked like a cave from the water but it was basically a slot through one rock to another, still pretty cool though. There’s one large formation that is table-flat and would make for a good picnic spot or just a place to rest high above the river, overlooking the valley area.

Another pleasant feature of this section is the amount of small islands you’ll encounter, each one creating two channels of water to choose, each (usually) with a riffle or more. It breaks up what might otherwise be considered monotonous, plus it provides good practice of reading a river.

What we didn’t like:
Not a darn thing. Well, maybe the barbed wire but there’s just one line of it. It is, it should be pointed out, strung across a bend in the river where there’s a considerable set of riffles, so you do need to approach it cautiously or just portage around it. The takeout is totally doable but by no means great or easy. There’s not much room on the road for parking either, though these roads are sparsely traveled.

If we did this trip again:
I will for sure. In fact, I think this segment has the makings of an annual spring run trip, when the water will be high(er), in order to experience the Platte with maybe more rapids than riffles.

Related Information:
Platte River Overview: Platte River Paddle Guide
Platte River I: County Road E to County Road A
Platte River II: County Road A to Platte Road
Platte River IV: Big Platte Road to Indian Creek Road
Platte River V: Indian Creek Road to The Mississippi River
Good People: Friends of the Platte River
Wikipedia: Platte River

Miles Paddled/Driftless Kayaker Video (Platte Road to The Big Bend):

Photo Gallery:


Alternate Trip Report: Longer Paddle (8.5 Miles)
Ellenboro to County Road B
June 19, 2011
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

An unexpectedly wonderful experience on a new river trail made this driftless experience another reason to keep seeking and searching for the next great paddle in the area.

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Rockville: ht/ft: 3.93 | cfs: 145

Current Levels:
Rockville: ht/ft: 4.02 | cfs: 104

Airport Road bridge, Ellenboro, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.78354, -90.60901
County Road B bridge
GPS: 42.73119, -90.63999

Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 2:00p.
Total Time: 2h
Miles Paddled: 8.5

One heron and fish.


What we liked:
The Platte River took me by surprise yesterday. It’s a beautiful and unique paddle all its own. We overlooked the Platte for the Grant and Fever/Galena a couple years ago. It’s unfortunate because we probably should have gotten to know it sooner. It’s definitely worth doing again.

Due to making a solo trip, sketchy weather and a planned bike shuttle, I shortened the intended 12.5 miles for 8.5 (just incase something rolled in). A local couple flagged me down as I was getting ready to head up to the put-in and asked me what I knew about the river’s condition. They told me of recent storms that tore through the area. They were looking for signs that it was runnable in their canoe without too much hassle or portaging. They really talked up this “secret of a river” and I couldn’t wait to paddle it myself. I’m glad I did. I didn’t come across any obstructions or portages. There were some downed trees but for as small and intimate as the Platte is, it’s wide enough to handle a downed tree or two.

They did suggest a better take-out than the one I was at but at this point I was already planted and ready to roll. After my paddle, I did check out their suggested take-out (just a quarter-mile up Big Platte Road) and I would definitely make that the exit point next time (pictured below). It was well-manicured and much easier to access than my bridge take-out.

The put-in near Ellenboro is quite nice. It’s carpeted and flanked by rocks to guide your way down. The river itself is beautiful. Mike Svob describes the river as being filled with riffles, small, clear, peaceful and pleasant. That’s all very true. The water itself itself isn’t clear but he may be referring to clear from debris. The river bottom switches on and off from a muddy bottom to rocks and sand. And the rocks and sand sections are what give this river it’s unique characteristic, constant riffles. It’s probably the riffly-est (doubt that’s a word) river we’ve paddled. The flatwater sections are brief. As soon as you notice it’s flat and quiet, you’ll start hearing the rumble of riffles up ahead or around the corner. The gradient is over 7 feet and it’s noticeable. Every horizon line is at a lower perspective. I had the constant feeling of literally moving down the river. Maybe even heightened in a kayak than a canoe? The gradient also indicates that it’s a swift moving river which explains how I paddled 8.5 miles in two hours.

I came across all sorts of wildlife activity (except for the old car sitting precariously close to the edge of the bank past the Red Dog road bridge). Waterfowl, fish jumping in the shallows, a couple large owls and I witnessed a very cool site approaching the island right before the bridge on County B. In the distance I could see two large deer and a fawn drinking from the river. As I got closer I lost site of them and figured they ascended the bank. As I made my way around the island I startled them, they startled me (of course I couldn’t move fast enough to get the video camera out) and the two large deer bound from one end to the other on this tiny island. It was a very cool way to end the journey.

As far as comparing this to the Grant or Galena, I wouldn’t compare them by geography. The Platte is a unique little river and much more accessible than those two. And by kayak or canoe, it’s a ton of fun. Yes, you may see a few more limestone bluffs but you aren’t getting the short-end by paddling the Platte. The drive from Madison through the driftless region of Wisconsin is almost reason enough to spend a day on the Platte. It’s a gem of a river and I look forward to doing it again.

What we didn’t like:
Mike Svob points out that you will encounter barbed-wire stretching across the river in places. It’s true. The first line you come across is actual barbed-wire (the other 3 are metal lines that I wasn’t curious enough to touch) and it’s possible to paddle over it in the middle if you don’t mind some scratches on your boat. I tried going under it river-right but the current was a little too strong and I ended up grabbing the barbed wire and lifting if over me. I don’t recommend doing that but it worked if you are positioned right and can grab between the barbs. The others are easy to paddle under if you keep to the banks. It might be trickier in a canoe but it should be doable.

Also, after entering that first “barb-wired area” I came around a bend and heard the sound of what I thought was a 20 foot waterfall. Turns out, it was a bunch of cattle in the river. I spooked them, they spooked me and I waited it out until they made it up the bank. I made sure I didn’t have a bull tailing me.

Going solo required a bike shuttle. In this area of Wisconsin I knew I could be in for it (hilly terrain). The shuttle went from County B, North on Platte Road, left on Highway 81 and a soft left onto Airport Road. There was one section not working in my favor which was a mile climb up a hill with a 7% grade. My bike which has only 7 of the 21 gears working which wasn’t helping matters (note to self: get bike fixed).

If we did this trip again:I would definitely take-out on Big Platte Road (for a total of 9.25 miles) or continue down even further on Big Platte Road for the 12.5 mile take-out if we were driving.

Miles Paddled/Driftless Kayaker Video:

Photo Gallery:

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  • Reply
    Justin Meyer
    May 11, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    This is an excellent paddle! I paddled this 5/9/15 and wanted to note that there is no longer one strand of barbed wire but instead there are two strands of normal wire across the river. They are hard to see, tight, and just a little taller than the canoe. It's too bad this is allowed.The gauge was at 3.25 and I think that is probably the absolute minimum since we had to get out and walk a few times. That said, it was a great paddle with a ton of riffles and fun maneuvering in a beautiful landscape. I'll definitely do this one again.

  • Reply
    Thomas Vesperman
    June 28, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Paddled this on 6/27/15. The gauge was 3.35. The kayaks had very issues, but the canoes with cooler and extra child really struggled floating thru the riffles. There is only one wire and it wasn't an issue. It appears some local folk cleared a path past many down trees resulting from a recent straight line wind storm. Scenic Trip!

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    July 15, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks Justin and Thomas for chiming in. We love this trip on the Platte, a must-paddle once a year. It does get shallow though. And we totally agree about the wire. At least they're not cattle gates, which are seriously dangerous and questionably legal!Best to you both.-Timothy

  • Reply
    Collin Roland
    July 16, 2023 at 6:59 pm

    Paddled Ellenboro to Big Platte Rd on 7/15/2023 with the gage somewhere 4.1-4.2. What a beautiful paddle, thank you for the write-ups! We definitely scraped our way through several of the riffles but still doable, wouldn’t try this at much lower levels. Encountered some bovines in the river that held their ground but were able to scoot around. As for the wires across the river I think we passed three between Airport Rd and County HWY B that we could paddle under (at these levels) toward the banks. Downstream of B there were another 3 or so wires, all which had to either be portaged or held up while going under. Very kind fisherman held up a wire for us that was right at the entrance of swift water while his buddy reeled in a nice sized smallmouth. Downstream of B there were a couple of dicey strainers, one that we got out on river left for and dragged the boats around because all of the current was going right into the tree. Another required a bit of a scoot to get over, would be fine at higher levels. Landings were in pretty good shape, really enjoyed the rock steps for getting up the banks at both Airport Rd and Big Platte. Great scenery, saw a bald eagle, herons, kingfishers, and a water snake.

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