Esker Road to Bevent Drive:
A chance encounter with some fellow paddlers led to a wonderful discovery. This often-paddled, but well-kept Central Wisconsin secret, is an exceptional day trip for paddlers with some experience under their belt. With convenient access points, countless riffles, mild rapids and amazing boulder gardens, it’s quite possibly the best of the upper Plover River (though we surely have more of it to explore) and is certainly special enough to warrant a spot at the top of your to-do list.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: September 23, 2017
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class I
≈ 7′ per mile
Eau Claire River (Kelly): ht/ft: .76 | cfs: 127
Gauge note: Since there is no gauge on the Plover, this is the best/nearest correlative gauge. I found a visual gauge off Kristof Road – actually, a few rocks to note which should give a baseline of how high the water was on this trip.
These are minimum levels for this section of the Plover. They were perfectly fine but I wouldn’t go lower. There were a couple areas of walking but not very long (10 yards at the most). When the river got wide, it also got shallow.
Esker Road, Hatley, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 2:50p.
Total Time: 2h 50m
Miles Paddled: 9
Trout, heron and ducks.
The shuttle wasn’t too grueling – 45 minutes on a bike along backroads. It is long but there were only a couple tough hills to negotiate so it’s totally manageable if you’re up for it.
It was only by chance that I learned of this awesome paddle and the opportunities along this stretch. While paddling my annual end of the year trip in Waupaca, the neighbors near my Hartmann Creek campsite clued me in on this section of the Plover. In fact, they spoke so glowingly of it that they talked me out of the paddle I had originally planned for Sunday. Coincidentally, the first paddling trip I ever took (a canoe trip when I was a wee lad) was on the Plover, but further downstream on a popular section that’s mostly flatwater. Exploring upstream on the Plover has been on the docket but not on my high on my list, but my new friends, Rick and Sharon, insisted I’d really enjoy the section from Plover River Road to Bevent. With talk of boulder gardens and rapids, it was an easy sale. I was in.
The next day, however, storms rolled through Bevent and subsequently Waupaca, so my weekend – and paddling hopes – got cut short. After being strongly recommended, I was so intrigued and excited, that I had to return sooner than later. So a few weeks later, I finally made the return trip to visit this excellent section of the Plover.
Now, I was going off the little info I had regarding exactly where the put-in/take-outs were. My friends said Plover River Road to Bevent was what I should do. Upon scouting, the acccess point in Bevent off Highway 153 was great but there was also a series of rapids downstream from the access point that one simply does not skip, so I headed downstream to find another take-out. Off Bevent Drive, I found an even better access point with a take-out just upstream of the bridge and a very easy landing. This is one of my favorite kind of take-outs – wide open with easy access for parking and on a rather quiet road.
I then headed up to my intended put-in at Plover River Road, a decent access point, where I met a father and son launching their canoe. (Sidenote: all the access points were surprisingly busy, but it was a Saturday afterall). After some small talk, I inquired about up and downstream. The guy said there was a great boulder garden upstream, and since I’m a sucker for such sights, I went and checked out the next road/bridge access – Esker Road. I figured this wouldn’t add much to my paddle and the put-in was actually a little easier than Plover River Road with more of a gradual grassy trail leading to the river’s edge (either one, is fine though – but this boulder garden is worth the extra mile-and-a-half). The parking is nothing special – it’s road-side parking, but the shoulder is accommodating.
So that’s how I landed on this stretch and it proved to be an awesome choice.
The river begins flat and quiet with low grassy banks flanking the crystal clear water, and there were many beds of river grass/weeds swaying in unison with the lazy current. After a little jog leading past a couple properties are some some sweeping prairie banks, but there’s not a whole lot to look at except the boulders below the surface – they’re everywhere.
After a few bends, and the second mini-island, there’s a couple boulders jutting from the water that give a hint at what’s about to be revealed around the corner – a stunning boulder garden – one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. After carefully weaving my boat through the massive stones, the water flattens out again, and the banks become more tree-lined.
From there, it’s a game of boulder-watching, above and definitely below the surface. So as not to let one of those submerged creatures sink my vessel, I had to keep a close eye on what was ahead (although I did get hung up twice – the kind where I balanced precariously and desperately tried to shimmy off without tipping the boat). But then I got better about navigating the rocks (it takes a bit if you haven’t paddled this kind of stream in awhile – not really like riding a bike). The scattered boulders continue and the river widens as you make your way through some low-foliaged banks with some huge pines set further back.
Regarding the natural and textural features of the river, there were two things I thought were noticeably different about the Plover, or at least this section, than any other river or creek that I’ve paddled. The first was the depth. There was no consistent depth to it whatsoever. It went from a couple inches to a few feet deep within a few strokes of the paddle, almost the entire way – it was bizare. Second, the make-up of the river-bottom. Aside from the giant boulders laying beneath, the bottom would alternate between rocks and the most unusual sand. It was thick and grainy – noticeably larger than any sand I’ve encountered. Now I know that’s an odd thing to notice but there it is…
Before the Plover Road bridge it gets wide – very wide – and it was here that I had to walk for the first time (a very short walk, mind you). Boulders reappear near the banks on the approach to the bridge, which begins my favorite part of this trip.
Plover River Road to Kristof Road should delight paddlers who like riffles and rapids. There’s three drops or ledges and some narrow passages that offer some splashy fun. They’re all unique and swift but not overly challenging, so long as there’s no deadfall blocking the way (deadfall is possible of course – no guarantees on a river this narrow – be careful and scout when possible).
Just past the Plover River Road bridge is an inviting but rather bumpy boulder garden that stretches for a good hundred yards. In low water, it would be pretty scrape-y. The boulders are conveniently spaced and mild riffles will carry you through one of the many paths. At the end of it, it became shallow and here again but for the last time, I had to walk for a few yards. After a sweeping curve, the river became wide again and there were large beds of weeds that necessitated some extra paddling muscle.
Soon you’ll come to the first drop which can be heard far before you encounter the scattered boulders that lie in front of a narrow tree-lined passage. It’s barely a Class I that has a couple of staggered two-step drops that will quickly carry you below a footbridge. It’s easy and fun. There are more riffles and boulders just beyond that as the environment takes on what will be an repeating pattern for most of this section – boulders gardens after every few hundred feet of flatwater, with occasional riffles mixed-in and all set in a very pretty woodsy backdrop.
Eventually, you’ll come to another little drop created by a log and some deadfall but that leads to an awesome run around a blind dogleg-left over swift riffles through a narrow corridor which then leads to a very frisky set of Class I rapids and wave train. It all happens quickly and is really, really fun. (Yes, the blind part is a little nerve-wracking but the trail had been clear up to this point so I had to hope for the best).
If that isn’t enough, soon comes the best drop of the entire paddle. Past a manicured estate on river-left, you’ll see a bridge in the distance with a column in the middle that creates two channels. Take the right and you’ll be swept below an absolutely exhilarating Class I drop. It’s beautiful and brilliant. Despite the low-ish levels, the river is constricted to such a point that the water essentially grabs your boat and barrels you down either path you choose. So. Much. Fun.
After the fun, things quite down before more boulder gardens appear, although they start to thin like a river combover. Past an old pasture fence comes another riffly area and small ledge to run through bended branches leaning from the banks. After a sizable boulder garden, you’ll approach another constricted passageway – again, there’s no way to scout it, (unfortunately) but it was easy to navigate as the river flows around a gentle right-bend and through a wooded corridor which opens to up to a boulder garden – another awesome little run. I should note that this one does probably does get jammed up since my peripherals picked up some recent saw marks and cuts on branches and logs (which must take an amazing effort by whomever keeps it up considering how fast the current moves here).
Pointy pines then appear, like gnome hats in the distance, and the river winds its way for awhile, creating fun and swift little passages through canopy, over riffles and around mossy boulders – some quite sizable at that. It then widens out for a bit and the thinning trees on the banks reveal a beautiful mess of fallen timber, lying on top of each other. I could see ferns growing on the forest floor which cast shadows in the beautiful afternoon light – it was really pretty and as satisfying of a setting as a paddler could hope for. Small islets continue to divide the stream, and soon you’ll encounter a nice little approach with boulders to dodge in the shallow water leading up to Kristof Road (yet another convenient access point).
Having scouted from Kristof, I was looking forward to actually being on the water here – instead above it – because the view from the road is incredibly alluring. Watching as the current riffles past large boulders and out of sight around a left curve leaves you longing to jump in right then and there and start paddling. Being on the water, the mystery is actually short-lived though because just past that swift boulder-flanked curve, are mild riffles that lead you into a much milder section.
Soon, the river bottom floor gets more muddy instead of sandy and the trees get noticeably taller – the surroundings generally “felt taller”. Then the current flattens out, there’s a lot of straightaways to paddle and there’s not a lot to look at – this is easily the least exciting part of the trip up to this point. Out of nowhere, you may see a hand-painted wooden sign that says “Meghan’s Island”, on an island as small as every little one you’ve passed up to this point. I’m curious about this story – it must mean something to someone or Meghan has claimed some prime, albeit brushy territory on the Plover.
There’s more straightaways, minor boulders here and there, and on a day like this – where the sun is just right and the sky is the right kind of blue – the reflections of these boulders enhanced the overall aesthestic of the paddle. Those not particularly looking for riffles and rapids will actually love this part of the paddle. It’s very pleasing.
Then comes the one big (potentially) nuisance on this entire trip, a VERY low-clearance bridge located at a private driveway at a (what I believe is a ginseng) farm. It’s ridiculous and dangerous. At these levels (low) I was able to get beneath but if there’s any doubt, it can be portaged on river-left. The issue is that it’s constructed with inverted bars on the underside that meet in the middle – making the middle the lowest point – thereby forcing an awkward and unsafe approach towards either side, were the current is the strongest. It’s crappy that this exists.
Past the farm are more scattered boulders and islands that offer some different channels to choose. You’ll weave your way thorough some farmland, where the banks thin out again. This section seemed to go on forever even though it’s not very long. It might be because of all the twisting and turning on mostly flatwater. It’s the least interesting section until the slight roar and then appearance of the gardens upstream of Highway 153, where there’s a very exciting and inviting Class I rapids.
Like I said, I was told to take-out at 153 but upon scouting, there’s no way that was going to happen, nor should you. Not with all these accommodating access points because this is the last best feature of this section (if that makes any sense).
Paddling up to and under the Highway 153 bridge, there’s a ledge which is minor but still a great little drop. That’s followed by another and then a short riffly run – not even a class I. Beyond that, it gets pretty again with scattered boulders and soon, another splashy little riffly section.
Soon, you’ll see another hand-painted sign stuck into some rocks on river-left. This one? “Meghan’s Rock.” Who’s this Meghan girl? And how has she claimed so many settlements on the Plover? I’m really curious to know. From that point on, I was on the lookout for Meghan’s stump, Meghan’s log and Meghan’s strainer – none of which materialized.
After a pretty section flanked by boulders and trees just itching to turn color, the banks lower again. I could actually smell the pine needles lying on the forest floor bringing back a very nostalgic Central-Wisconsin memory of the woods near my house.
Soon the surroundings are interrupted by some houses, (or cabins I suppose) and you’ll encounter one last farm bridge. The river then widens all the way to the take-out which is on river-left before the Bevent Drive bridge. You could take-out at the bridge at any of the four corners, but the upstream option is easier for every reason (gradual slope, parking, etc). The take-out almost feels like a wayside because of the way it cuts out of a curve in the road. It’s really convenient.
What we liked:
There’s so much to
like love about this section of river. It’s great for advanced-beginner paddlers who have some experience with boat control and mild rapids since there’s a couple technical points, but as long as it’s clear (meaning you can scout) it’s great. Coincidentally, I met a family at the take-out who had just run it with their two small kids who wanted to run the rapids again (I loved their enthusiasm).
Surprisingly, for a river that’s generally pretty narrow, there were no portages except for the couple shallow areas that required some (barely notable) walking. Maybe it was in good condition because it was late in the year? Or maybe it generally is? It’s obviously paddled a lot, and there’s definitely people keeping up with it based on the visual evidence.
I also really liked the pre-fall turning of colors. The leaves were just turning ever-so-slightly which was really pretty – fall paddling in Central Wisconsin is awesome. This would be a BEAUTIFUL fall paddle at peak.
Lastly, we all love good access points but we also love an accessible river. I was shocked that at every bridge was a good-to-great access point (mind you, they’re still bridge access points for the most part). I did not expect that this was as well-trodden/paddled as it was. It may sound silly, but it’s like the Kickapoo without “official” landings – you could tell that people enjoy this river based on the boat/foot prints and how hardpacked the dirt was. I love a heavily recreated but cared-for river like this. It really makes tailoring your trip easy (and everyone I met seemed to tailor their trip differently). And though we usually give best-of tailoring suggestions, I wouldn’t alter this trip one bit.
What we didn’t like:
A couple points, both threatening. That low-clearance bridge at the farm is ridiculously dangerous. There’s absolutely no reason for it and it will eventually cause an accident.
Second, (but mind you that this won’t happen on everyone’s trip) within moments of putting-in, I heard gunshots fired all along the left bank for yards and yards. It wasn’t even hunting season! This was one of those moments where I deliberately started speaking loud (to myself, mind you) to let the a-hole know I was there. Though despite any proof, I think this person knew I was there as the shots rang out in some sort of cadance/sing-songy way while I kept talking loud… maybe coincidence but ya never know.
If we did this trip again:
Central Wisconsin has long been a favorite of ours, but wow, it really is a very rich area for paddlers to visit. Here, you’re not far from the Waupaca or Little Wolf or Big Rib to name a few – it’s just full of options in the most unassuming of locales.
This section of the Plover is gorgeous and not at all what I expected after paddling the lower Plover a few years ago. Had I not had an encounter with other paddlers in the area, I’d have no idea what I’d been missing.
I would do this exact same stretch again but would love to know how it is in slightly higher water. I can’t wait to explore more of this river – and there’s certainly plenty more of it that looks inviting – probably more upstream than down (the couple I met at the take-out suggested that it’s mostly flatwater downstream of Bevent Drive) as all the maps seem to indicate more boulder gardens and riffles to enjoy.
Plover River I: Jordan Park to Iverson Park
Plover River III: Shantytown Road to Jordan Park
Plover River IV: Boundary Road to Kristof Road
Wikipedia: Plover River
Miles Paddled Video: