County Highway DD to County Highway Q:
This section of the Waupaca River is less traveled and therefore, semi-maintained but if you’re in need of a Waupaca fix and you don’t mind dodging a fallen tree or two, this is a nice seven-mile stretch. Almost evenly split in half, the first three and a half miles are easy-going but the last half might test your tolerance for fallen logs and limbs.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: September 22, 2014
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class I
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Waupaca: ht/ft: 1.86 | cfs: 242
Waupaca: Gauge discontinued in June of 2020.
This is the recommended minimum level. Shoot for 1.9’ and 250 cfs on this segment of the Waupaca to avoid a lot of scraping.
Time: Put in at 11:40a. Out at 2:05p.
Total Time: 2h 25m
Miles Paddled: 7
Cranes, trout, ducks and a dozen sleepy deer.
This is an incredibly short, pleasant and relatively safe bike shuttle. There isn’t a whole lot of traffic on these roads and very few inclines.
Mike Svob wrote about two Waupaca River trips in his much-beloved book, Paddling Southern Wisconsin. The first, Amherst to County Road DD. The second, County Road Q to Brainard’s Bridge Park. This begged the question; “what exactly is going on between DD and County Q?”.
He offered a brief overview of the trip at the end of his Waupaca River 1 report; “The following section, from County DD to County Q, is much like this stretch: winding, riffly, and wooded, with many limbs and trees to get around and over.” Curiosity got the best of me, so I set out to get a first-hand account of this seven-mile section. Mike’s account is mostly correct. It’s not often riffly as suggested (this may be the result of water levels or just the natural change in the river’s course) but yes, there are indeed many downed trees to contend with.
I’m a sucker for the Waupaca area in fall so it doesn’t take much twisting of my arm to make the trip from Madison on a regular basis. I don’t know what it is but there’s nothing like camping at Hartmann Creek State Park when the weather turns a little crisper or venturing out on the cooler waters of the Crystal or Waupaca River.
The last time we paddled the beloved Waupaca, we started at County Highway Q. Setting my sights upstream, I scouted every bridge from the take-out to the put-in at County Highway DD. I really liked what I was seeing and I lead myself to believe that there was a lot of excitement in-store because all three bridges looked really inviting. But the only riffles and excitement is found within the first few hundred yards at the put-in and then at the Cobbtown Road bridge.
This section alternates between canopy-covered to tree-lined banks with a moderate amount of development. The surface is occasionally broken by the dotting of boulders within the first 3 miles. This was feeling like a 4-star paddle until just past Cobbtown Road where everything changes (it’s essentially the half-way point on this trip and it’s the same road as Durant which is confusing but expected in this area where rivers and roads seem to change names suddenly and without reason – I’m talking about you, Tomorrow). Right under that bridge is an exhilarating but gentle elongated drop which was quite welcome after a mildly-scenic stretch. Right after that, you’ll encounter a wonderful boulder garden and then a Golden Gate-style footbridge on a meticulously manicured property. This marks the beginning of a windy and congested paddle for the last 3.5 miles.
There are a couple must-portages in a kayak, probably a couple more in a canoe. Despite sawn off limbs, indicating this section is frequented, it’s probably not frequented enough to keep up with recent storms. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination. The surroundings really reminded me of the Plover River, with its abundance of downed trees to negotiate but not enough to cause frustration. And the make-up of the river makes for a very different stretch aesthetically than from DD to Cobbtown. There are no random boulder gardens (a Waupaca-hallmark) to greet you along the way, just trees and limbs and logs.
What we liked:
I always enjoy a trip down the Waupaca, a river which is the definition of clean, clear and pretty. It’s really appealing to me and one of my favorites in Central Wisconsin. And I was catching it at that special time when the fall colors were just about to show themselves. It was a slightly crisp start to the day after a very cold night (note to self: consider upgrading to a warmer sleeping bag). In fact, I think the deer were still keeping warm in their beds, as I spooked at least a dozen on the river’s edge.
What we didn’t like:
In his write-up, Waupaca River 1, Mike talks about asking permission for a take-out at a boulder-strewn pasture (it’s quite reminiscent of the Shire, where Sam and Frodo would feel right at home) instead of the County Park downstream because you’d be taking out in the middle of a rapids. His suggested take-out would also be the ideal put-in for this trip had the landowner been standing out in his field at that very moment at that very time but that was not in the cards for me.
The “ask for permission” suggestion by Mike is unrealistic by many standards. First, the people you’d have to ask permission from also have an unnecessary wire stretching taught across the Waupaca not twenty yards upstream from the County DD bridge. Unwelcoming to say the least. Second, I’m not willing to burn a ton of time trying to figure out who owns the land around a stream they do not own.
The County Park Mike refers to is actually Stedman Park which is nothing more than a side of the road inclusion with enough space for 3 vehicles and a short path that leads down to a picnic table which overlooks the abutments to what was once a bridge (it’s here where’ll you get a grand view of a great little series of drops at the start the trip).
You could absolutely put-in at Stedman Park. You’d just have to drag your boats about 40 yards. From there, you could work your way down to the water and put in mid-rapids. It’s absolutely doable – the rapids aren’t formidable by any means. It’s not ideal but it would do the job and is arguably the same amount of work and climbing you’d experience putting-in under the bridge.
Yet, from the County Road DD bridge, down to as far as the eye can see is just about as inviting of an entrance as you’d ever want (well, that is until you’re in the midst of it – more on that in a second) with swift, riffly water and a sizable drop between the abutments and another just further downstream.
Naturally, I wanted to experience both drops so I put-in under County Road DD. It wasn’t easy but not impractical for a bridge-put-in. It involves some guardrail climbing and kayaking tossing to get down to a moderately trodden path to the waters edge.
Right after putting-in and on the approach to the first drop, I found myself fighting the current and a helluva strainer that took all my might to avoid but more often than not, the current is going to take you where it wants to go, (despite desperate pleas being uttered from under my breath)… and this current is a stubborn little guy.
Had my boat been more agile, I may have been able to do a 180-degree turn, and then another 90-degree one to hit the line perfectly but I knew my jalopo-boat wasn’t helping matters. That, and the strainer limb I was utilizing for stability and scooting was tiny, frail and getting frailer near the end – not helping me towards my destination against the current. And I took on some water…
To summarize: From the bridge to the abutments, there’s currently a strainer directly in the currents path and tough to avoid. There’s also some rusty iron poles sticking out of the water (for what purpose, I have no idea). The current is fast and there is a great drop between those abutments (easily Class I). You could put-in just below that at the aforementioned Stedman Park. From there, there’s a brief and fun Class I. And this, is about all the excitement there is until the Cobbtown Road bridge.
A note for those paddling from upstream: If I were paddling down from Amherst, I’d absolutely paddle down to Stedman County Park and enjoy those two exciting drops so long as A) the wire strung across the river just upstream from DD – from that same landowner whom I’d have to ask permission from – didn’t decapitate me and B) the strainer was removed or didn’t take me down. Other than that, there’s no reason to take-out earlier. In fact, you could easily do the drops and paddle back upstream – it’s all on a bend so it’s really easy to get out of the currents way.
If we did this trip again:
The Waupaca River is clean, clear and often reliable, with enough scattered boulders to keep things interesting which makes for a good paddle almost the entire season.
I’d do this section again but not over the downstream section. It’s certainly worth doing if you’re trying to experience the whole Tomorrow/Waupaca, but as a day trip, County Q to Brainards is just more fun. But I really enjoy the Waupaca, regardless of excitement and it gives me a reason to visit this part of Central Wisconsin and Hartmann Creek, which I try to make an annual destination.
Waupaca River Overview: Tomorrow-Waupaca River Paddle Guide
Waupaca River I: County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
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: