★ ★ ★ ★

Waupaca River I

County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park:
Riffly, woodsy and wonderful, this section of the Waupaca is popular due to its proximity to the city but also because water levels are usually favorable to paddle it all season. With a few boulder gardens, some riffles, a covered bridge and a Class I rapids finishing off an incredibly fulfilling paddle, the Waupaca is as fun and as reliable of a day trip as you’ll find.

Waupaca River

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: April 12, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Class I

Waupaca: ht/ft: 2.13 | cfs: 358

Recommended Levels:
This is a very recommendable level.

County Highway Q, Waupaca, Wisconsin
Brainards Bridge Park, Waupaca, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 2:15p.
Total Time: 2h 15m
Miles Paddled: 7.75

A couple deer, one blue heron, geese and ducks.

Shuttle Information:
The bike shuttle is a workout. It’s manageable but you’ll have some uphill climbs, specifically the climb to the top of Cobbtown Road just after Highway 10. But, once conquered, it’s (mostly) downhill to the put-in.


I have often ended my kayaking season in the Waupaca area. Why? Not completely sure but there’s just something comfortable about the area and it’s hard to argue that there’s nothing like being out in the crisp fall air while the beautiful colors of Central Wisconsin are turning. This year, I decided to start where I left off.

It had been four years since I last visited this specific section of the Waupaca River. And whereas, a trip down the Crystal River just the day before, felt like a new experience with new features to explore, the Waupaca was just like I remembered it. Everything was familiar (in fact, Mike Svob’s writeup holds true after all these years and is still an accurate description of this stretch). The only difference this time, was that water level was higher due to recent rain and there was an abundance of brown – the color of spring.

What we liked:
The put-ins and take-outs are ultra-convenient. Notably, the take-out at Brainards Bridge Park, which is a pretty little city park with bridges that connect the middle island that splits the river (hence the name) at a boulder garden. The boulder garden upstream left offer an easy class I drop which is a nice punctuation to a wonderful day trip. Brainards is still, dare I say, one of the nicest little parks I’ve encountered.

Throughout the paddle, you’re treated to fun little riffles, a drop below the Anderson Road bridge and another under the charming Red Covered bridge, about a mile from the take-out. There is another drop just past that in a mini-island area where all the river has formed a “V” which makes for a tight little drop but it’s easily managed. In general, be alert for boulders – they’re always lurking. Sometimes, you’ll look down at immensely sized rocks and wonder how you didn’t just nail it. And of course, sometimes you will.

This is just a really nice paddle. There’s enough to keep things interesting with alternating canopy, boulder gardens, riffles here-and-there and hardly any fallen debris to make things difficult. It’s hard not to love a day trip like this.

What we didn’t like:
Voices and sounds carry throughout. It’s much louder than I remembered. Maybe the lack of vegetation affected the buffer needed to tamp down the sound but in reality, Highway 10 is never too far away. This probably also was the reason that there was an amazing lack of wildlife this time around.

If we did this trip again:
The Waupaca is a go-to paddle. One that we recommend often to beginners and seasoned paddlers alike. It’s one that we’ll revisit – but I probably won’t wait another four years to do it. Catch it in summer or best yet, in fall when the colors are out. You’ll surely find water in it as it’s almost always navigable and you’ll definitely find it enjoyable.

Related Information:
Waupaca River Overview: Tomorrow-Waupaca River Paddle Guide
Waupaca River II: County Highway DD to County Highway Q
Waupaca River III: Amherst to Durrant Road
Waupaca River IV: Weyauwega to Decker Memorial County Park
Waupaca River V: Riverview Park to Reek Road
Waupaca River VI: Buchholz Road to County Highway Q
Tomorrow River: Rolling Hills Road to Amherst
Camp: Hartman Creek State Park
Outfitter: Adventure Outfitters
Wikipedia: Waupaca River

Miles Paddled Video:

Photo Gallery:


Previous Trip Report:
July 7, 2012
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A wonderfully fun and twisty river with lots of riffles and a billion boulder gardens located on the outskirts of downtown Waupaca, in central Wisconsin.

Gauge: Waupaca: ht/ft: 1.47 | cfs: 180
Time: Put in at 3:00p. Out at 6:30p.
Total Time: 3h 30m

Wildlife: Great blue herons, big fish and I want to say an otter but it was probably a muskrat.

Since this section of the Waupaca has been written about already, I won’t dabble in too much detail. Even though the water level was rated low on the USGS site, the river was still plenty paddleable. The boulder gardens are great fun and good practice. In higher, faster water, this river could be just about thrilling while still plenty safe.

What we liked:
Fun riffles and great boulder gardens! Unlike my Miles Paddled predecessor, I had no wedding expecting me at my boulder-rumbled conclusion at the picturesque Brainards Bridge Park. Not to be outdone, there was a family reunion and I was serenaded to (and the spectacle of) a 1-2-3 waltz of accordions and polka tunes!

Also, Hartman Creek State Park is a pretty park with good camping that’s only like 3 miles away from the put-in.

And for geology lovers and hikers, the put-in is very close to one of the area’s several Ice Age Trail segments (including the state park above).

What we didn’t like:
Honestly, nothing. It’s a great river!

Note: Mike Svob’s directions to the Brainards Bridge Park are unnecessarily nuanced. I was new to the area so when I’m told to go “west” on an unknown street when I have no idea what direction I’m headed in the first place is frustrating. Allow me to break it down more simply: Once you’re off Highway 10, you’ll be on Highway 49 (aka W. Fulton St) and then see a sign telling you to turn LEFT onto Highway 49 (Huh?). It’s true. Once you turn left onto Highway 49 (now aka N. Harrison St), you’ll be heading due north. Turn LEFT onto River St, which will stop at Bailey Street. Turn RIGHT onto Bailey. The park will be immediately on your left. If you cross over the river, you’ve gone too far. You’ll see signs for a “Swan Park,” which is nearby but not quite the same thing as Brainards Bridge Park.

If we did this trip again:
As long as I am in the area (or nearby), I will and probably add a stretch of the section upstream of the Cobb Town Road/County Q bridge.

Photo Gallery:


Previous Trip Report:
July 9, 2011
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Waupaca River has always been a favorite for paddlers in Central Wisconsin and it’s easy to understand why. It’s a very clean, swift-moving river with plenty of boulder gardens and other features to keep things interesting throughout the journey.

Gauge: Waupaca: ht/ft: 1.65 | cfs: 265
Time: Put in at 12:15a. Out at 3:45p.
Total Time: 3h 30m

What we liked:
The Waupaca River has always been a favorite for paddlers in Central Wisconsin and we completely get why now. It’s a very clean, swift-moving river with plenty of boulder gardens and other features to keep it interesting throughout the journey. We are commonly attracted to riffles and a class I now-and-then to keep the paddle exciting and the Waupaca offers a great variety of both. The route we took was based on Mike Svob’s write-up of Waupaca River II in his book Paddling Southern Wisconsin.

The put-in at County Q is very nice. It’s easy to find, plenty of parking, manicured nicely and has just enough rocks to get you in your boat.

The current is swift and is felt from the moment you put in but never so much so that it will put you in harms way (into a strainer). The bottom of the river shifts from sand to a rocky bottom throughout the trip. Not having paddled it before we’re not sure how to gauge the height of the water. We did get stuck a couple of times but a simple scoot got us moving again and there were no portages. The paddle is definitely not remote. You’ll hear the sound of the highway and eventually the city almost throughout the entire trip but it doesn’t detract from the experience (well, unless that kind of thing really bugs you).

The take-out is at Brainards Bridge Park and it’s an absolutely gorgeous park and ending to a paddle. So beautiful in fact, there was a wedding being held there that afternoon which made for a lot of humorous movie-plot discussion throughout our paddle as to whether we were going to crash the wedding. Anyway, we’ve never seen a more perfect take-out.

What we didn’t like:
So regarding the aforementioned wedding… Not wanting to tarnish anybody’s big day, we decided to forgo the last few rapids and take out before we made our way into any wedding pictures. Kind of a bummer but we hope the marriage is a long and successful one.

If we did this trip again:
We would definitely recommend this section. It was a great paddle on a beautiful day in Central Wisconsin. We’re very curious if other sections are equally, if not more exciting. The next paddle in the area would likely be Waupaca River I, as written about in Svob’s book.

Miles Paddled Video:

Photo Gallery:

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  • Reply
    September 25, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    just last week i scouted this same route, put in and take out, i was wondering if this was a doable river section and now I know it is! mg 9/25/11

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    September 29, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Glad to hear we could help. It's a great paddle. Enjoy!

  • Reply
    August 8, 2012 at 3:54 am

    3 of us put in at hwy Q and Cobbtown Rd and we went down to our property which is halfway between Reek Rd bridge and the Weyauwega dam. Took us about 8 hours. Long trek for a guy that just bought a kayak and started 2 weeks prior. Arms were pretty sore but we all loved the trip. Bottom of my brand new kayak took a bit of a beating.

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    August 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Wow, sounds like quite the trip and what a way to break in your new boat (the first dings and scratches are the toughest)! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2013 at 3:34 am

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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