A classic central Wisconsin river, the Tomorrow-Waupaca serves a two-for-one treat for paddlers seeking small intimacy with swift current through a rural countryside or big, lazy float trips in developed communities. Approximately 60 miles long, the river quietly begins north of Nelsonville with all the look and feel of a tiny creek, but eventually empties into the Wolf River east of Weyauwega much wider and slower than its origins. In between, the river changes names at the Portage-Waupaca county line; in Portage County (the upstream portions) it’s called the Tomorrow River, while in Waupaca County (the downstream portions) it goes by the Waupaca River. Same river, two names.
Fun fact: the Native American word waupaca simply means “tomorrow.”
It will be tricky to catch the river with enough water to avoid scraping in many segments, although levels are usually reliable from Waupaca on down. The water clarity is typically excellent for most of the river’s length. Deadfall is definitely problematic in some sections – notably below Cobbtown Road and below Riverview Park. In other segments, however, the river is remarkably clear thanks to dedicated volunteers.
The Tomorrow-Waupaca features a couple fun stretches of engaging boulder gardens – namely the Amherst-to-Durrant Road and County Road Q-to-Brainards Bridge Park trips. There are some small hills in the immediate foreground, none terribly dramatic, but all quite pleasant. Two extracurricular treats are passing an old red mill in Nelsonville and, much later, after County Q, a covered bridge.
There’s a lot of charm and charisma on the Tomorrow-Waupaca River. Choose the section that’s right for you and you’ll discover why paddlers return to this beloved stream time and again (including us).
Rolling Hills Road to Amherst
Miles: 6.5 | 2014 Trip Report
An endearingly narrow, intimate stream with crystal clear water, nice current, a couple of boulders to dodge and a sense of quiet solitude, the Tomorrow is a fun little trip tucked away in the gentle hills of central Wisconsin. On the downside, the river is so narrow here that it’s prone to deadfall. And then there’s the classic conundrum of a stream itself that could benefit from a higher water level due to its often shallow conditions tempered by low-clearance bridges and culverts that have to be portaged if the water level is too high. In addition, there’s a long slog of flatwater created by the dam in Amherst that, in summertime especially, is choked with weeds. But this can be mostly avoided by using an alternate take-out.
Amherst to County Highway DD
Miles: 11 | 2015 Trip Report
A real treasure featuring sparkling clear water, countless swift riffles plus a couple of rapids, stupendously big boulder gardens, steep hillside banks and adequate access points to shorten this trip, alas the Tomorrow-Waupaca River doesn’t give up all this goodness without a price. Water levels are often too low to paddle without notable scraping, there are a couple barbed and/or electric wires strung across the water, and deadfall tends to be an issue. While this trip courses through beautiful woods and pastures, the first few miles are loud and distracting due to Highway 10 located very close to the meandering river. (You’ll actually paddle under Highway 10 four times in as many miles). On account of that, we recommend putting in along Buchholz Road and taking out at Cobbtown Road for a truly fantastic section of the river, but for more experienced paddlers with good boat control only.
This section of the river is eerily divided into distinct halves, but while each half might be equal in length, they are hardly equals in characteristics. The first is a lively ride right out of the gates with boulders and riffles and ledges surrounded by a whole lot of pretty landscape, while the second (the “halves-not”?) is slower, windier, and prone to a whole lot of downed trees to dodge, duck under, ride over, or portage around. There’s very little to recommend downstream from Cobbtown Road. It’s not until County Highway Q that things pick up and become fun again.
County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
Miles: 7.75 | 2015, 2012, 2011 Trip Reports
This is the most popular section of the Waupaca River, mainly because it’s serviced by a local outfitter but also because it offers a wonderfully diverse and appealing-to-the-eye paddle. With riffles, boulder gardens, a covered bridge and even a class I rapid, the variety will appeal to paddlers of all skill levels. It’s also a great beginner stream for paddlers interested in an initiation to lightwater. This is a classic Central Wisconsin paddle and is really the sum of all the other parts you’ll find on this river.
Riverview Park to Reek Road
Miles: 11.25 | 2017 Trip Report
Downtown to Reek road is a rarely paddled section of the Waupaca. It can explained as two distinct parts. From Riverview Park to Highway 22, a sometimes pushy current carries you through a mixture of urban to woodsy environments with a few riffly stretches. There are a couple easy – maybe Class I drops – but more of the gradual variety which add to the fun. The further outside of the city you paddle, the more wildlife you’ll encounter. You will however, come across a portage or two (or maybe more) in the future as this part of the river is no longer allowed to be cleaned up.
After Highway 22, the paddle gets flatter, and slower. It’s still pretty, but ancillary noise increases with the Highway that parallels the stretch almost the entire way (not to mention, the Waupaca Airport too). Noise aside, the paddle keeps its interest but without much of the excitement that resides upstream. The upside is that there are no portages to content with.
Reeek road is the last take-out before one would have to trek through the slow and stagnant waters of Weyauwega Lake. That part was not our cup-of-tea, and if not yours either, we suggest taking-out at Reek.
Weyauwega to Decker Memorial Park
Miles: 6.25 | 2017 Trip Report
The last stretch of the Waupaca before it meets the Wolf River is a pleasant and quiet paddle. Before River Road, the river maintains a “Waupaca River” feel with a dotted boulder here and there, shallows there and here before it ultimately slows and widens – which makes deadfall a non-issue. The pace is one of gentle bends on wider water until the confluence with the Wolf. From there to Decker Memorial park, you’ll paddle a very short jaunt on much deeper (and busy in the summer) waters.