Riverview Park to Reek Road:
We’ve paddled the Waupaca many times but never have we explored the section from downtown to Reek Road, which is the furthest access point one can paddle to before reaching the stagnant waters of Weyauwega Lake. The first six miles to Highway 22 were surprisingly entertaining despite there being a lot of deadfall to contend with. The last five miles however, were as expected – slow and uneventful.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: September 1, 2017
Skill Level: Intermediate (Riverview Park to Highway 22)
Class Difficulty: Class I
Skill Level: Beginner (Highway 22 to Reek Road)
Class Difficulty: Riffles
≈ 2-3’ per mile
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Waupaca: ht/ft: 1.92 | cfs: 327
Waupaca: Gauge discontinued in June of 2020.
This is a recommendable level. The Waupaca almost always has enough water to run.
Time: Put in at 12:30p. Out at 3:15p.
Total Time: 2h 45m
Miles Paddled: 11.25
Three deer, eight heron, trout and dozens of turtles.
The shuttle is about a 40-minute/8-mile shuttle on country roads. There’s nothing big as far as hills and the traffic isn’t too bad, but there are absolutely no shoulders which really sucks. Then, the jog through town is a bit sketchy since there’s no bike lanes.
My Labor Day plans got a little monkey-wrenched this year so I had to make the most of my time off. Though traditionally I make an annual fall excursion to the great plains of Central Wisconsin, I had a busy couple months ahead of me, so I thought it was time to take advantage of the weather and finish the missing piece in our Waupaca River puzzle.
I’ve had many hesitations about this trip, (considering there’s very little info on it) but since we’re obsessive about “completing” river trails, it was going to happen at some point – and now was the time. Having scouted this a few times, it certainly looks inviting, at least downtown. Based on the riffles and little drops one can see from the bridges, it would surely be interesting, if only for a bit. I also figured it was probably pretty choked with deadfall, save for maybe the outskirts. And since it does flow straight away hugging a busy highway for quite sometime, it’s probably not the most contextually pleasant paddle (I also gleaned some knowledge from a great little blog that no longer gets updated which gave me some insight into the last miles of the trip – slow flatwater, so I knew what I was in for).
All indications proved true but I’m happy to say, the missing piece was completed. It’s really the tale of two halves. The first six miles being unexpectedly fun, though with a bit of deadfall, the other five – pretty flat, scenically bland and loud.
Earlier in 2017, I had paddled the last section of the Waupaca River that flows into the Wolf River. At the time, I’d planned on paddling this section but while scouting, the access points weren’t very welcoming to the weekend paddler. At the time, Reek Road was not an option – with God only knows what was growing in all four corners, and there was no way I was going to paddle through Weyauwega Lake. I could’ve taken-out upstream at Harrington but decided to just bag on that paddle altogether since I eventually wanted to paddle the last section anyway. But on this trip – and surprisingly this late in the year – that all changed – the weeds had been cleared (and by cleared – they looked burnt) so thanks to whomever did that.
The put-in is at Riverview park just downstream from a tempting (but dangerous) spillway that creates a healthy current. There’s a concrete landing sitting up just a foot above the water, making for easy access.
Before putting-in, a guy pulled up in a white VW bug with his kayak strapped on top. I asked if he ever did this section, to which he said no. To my surprise, he told me that he was taking out at Highway 22 but hadn’t figured out how to get back. He said he usually just figures something out. Anyway, he mentioned the last time he was out, he flipped three times (clearly he was new to paddling). He said it was the unknown of what’s around the corner which worries him (uh, yep). Anyway, he put-in quickly and was off. I always find it interesting when I/we meet paddlers who throw caution to the wind like that. Being of the planning variety, I’m always part impressed and part befuddled.
The best part of this trip is from Riverview Park to Highway 22, but while 22 is great for putting-in or taking-out, there’s no convenient parking since it’s a busy highway so you’d have to drive-and-drop (or pick-up) your boat and gear if you wanted to access there (the aforementioned blog has put-in there – doing just that, drive-and-dropping their boats). The final four miles, Highway 22 to Harrington (4 miles) and Harrington to Reek Road (1 mile) are skippable, though again, those particular bloggers sure love that section. The last mile though, in my opinion, is completely skippable as it’s straight as an arrow and hugs a roaring highway the entire time.
After launching, the current from the upstream spillway is immediately felt as it carries you behind the downtown shops and restaurants, but that soon gives way to foliage, backyards and some industrial buildings following the first bridge – a pedestrian bridge. It was kind of cool going through downtown, however brief it is. It doesn’t feel like you’re adventuring through typical suburbia – it’s a little more rundown.
At the second bridge at State Street, there’s a nice little riffly drop with a pushy current that continues with a lovely riffle bed that carries you below and around a gentle bend and city walkway for a few hundred feet. Riffles continue – in fact there were lots of riffles on this upstream section. Then comes an exciting drop at the third bridge (Shearer Street) – a little Class I run which is short but exhilirating (but also a little dodgy as there were some treelimbs to dodge at the end of the rapids).
Soon you’ll paddle up and around the Waupaca Wastewater Treatment Plant and an old retaining wall that’s just barelly retaining its title of being a wall as it leans awkwardly towards the river. Just beyond that is the first of two portages. A rather large tree extends bank-to-bank but it was easy to portage on river-right and surprisingly, there was a well-trodden path, evidence that others do indeed paddle this. Oh, and I saw the fresh muddy footprints of the guy I had met at the put-in. (I kind of figured I’d eventually I’d meet up with him – I was hot on his trail).
It quiets down for a short stretch but there’s a lot of deadfall. This section is generally treelined and narrow but there are some open grassy areas. Riffles continue but they’re mostly created by the deadfall. I should probably emphasize that. There is a lot of deadfall to duck and dodge and many tight turns, so if you’re not comfortable with that, this won’t be for you as the swift current can make it tricky. It’s often pushy and some of the turns are surprisingly technical at times.
Soon the Waupaca Country Club greens appear and after a short straightaway, there will be a sharp river-right turn below an old bridge with another wonderful Class I drop. It comes up quick and the slot is actually kind of narrow but it’s a ton of fun.
Now, before I actually ran it, I see the guy I met at the put-in! He’s standing downstream of the drop in a tree/strainer with his boat tilted upward, dumping water out of it. I ran the drop and then yelled (the obvious) “did ya dump?” (because what else do you say?)
“Yeah, my paddle is downstream” he said (yikes!). So I said I’d grab it and wait for him. Now let me tell you, I’m pretty good with hide-and-seek. Especially on rivers. I’ve certainly lost and found a thing or two. But I looked at every obvious strainer, catch-point, float-point, etc., and never found it. I looked everywhere but nothing! All I could do was carry on. Mind you, this was only about two miles into the trip so I took some consolation in knowing that he could just take-out at the Country Club and walk back. Though he wasn’t stranded in the middle of nowhere, I still felt pretty bad that I couldn’t help.
After that, the river alternates between riffles and flatwater as you course through the, well, golf course. There are a few pedestrian bridges as well as some more tricky branch-dodging beneath many low-hanging trees. But up to this point, this paddle was way more fun than I expected.
Then comes Royalton Road and portage number two – immediately after paddling below the bridge. It’s a relatively easy portage mind you, as it involves portaging over a mowed lawn at Riverside/Kiwanis Park, but it’s an unnecessary annoyance that could be fixed by cutting 3′ of log from the river (we’ll get to this in “didn’t like”).
Having scouted from Kiwanis Park, (and anticipated this portage) it gave me a clue as what to expect for the next 3.25 miles – and it proved true. More deadfall. More log-rolling. More paddling as close to the banks as humanly possible to navigate the openings from broken trees that are still attached to their stumps. Often, it’s a game of finding the tallest clearance point near the bank, but the pushy current made some approaches difficult, and it would be especially taxing for beginners.
What I liked about the first half of this section is the diversity of the surroundings. There were notably higher banks, eroded sand bends and some nice birch clusters. The water also deepened for a bit but then returned to more of a shallow current. And as riffles continued, boulders also appeared to dot the clear-watered riverbed. They mostly peer from below the water line but on occasion, they do they peek their heads out.
The river will then widen to give you a break from constantly out-manuevering trees, and soon you’ll come upon a concrete structure, perhaps a fish habitat at one point? Just past that, I was greeted by a deer scurrying across the width of the river – always a cool sight – especially as it lunged through the deeper parts. Besides another couple of pedestrian/farm bridges, there’s not much unique as the paddle starts to wind down to flatwater before the Crystal River enters on river-right, just before a train trestle.
After the Crystal River’s confluence, it gets a little wider and there’s a little less deadfall. There’s nothing particularly interesting to look at, just a lot of brushy banks. While the banks increase in height – so does the width, making the deadfall easier to navigate. To be honest, it’s really kind of boring after the Crystal.
After a hair-raising branch duck, the Highway 22 bridge appears. I had to note this branch-evasion because the current was particularly pushy leading up to Highway 22 and the deadfall, though negotiable, could cause a disaster for the novice paddler. Just beyond, you’ll find a few interesting banks with tall pines. The riffles disappear completely, the deadfall reduces and though there’s nothing exciting, it becomes an easy, relaxing, paddle.
About a third of the way through this last section, you’ll navigate around the airport. It’s not often you paddle by a golf course and an airport. Right? Well, neither are a big deal, very short lived, and the airport is not seen at all. The highway is another story though. Just after the confluence with the Crystal, the din turns to a hum, which turns to an engine, that at this point turns into a fleet of semis that just gets louder as you head due-highway.
The river then becomes much wider, which is awesome because you don’t have to deal with deadfall (just paddling around it instead of under it). But the monotony of the flatwater wasn’t all bad, it put me in one of those happy paddling zones where I just enjoyed the simplicity of being out on the water.
On your approach towards Harrington Road, the deadfall continues to keep its distance except for a couple minors turns next to manicured yards. Beyond that it’s at its widest and there’s no deadfall. It’s plain but pretty as it opens to prairie. There was one unexpected shabby farm bridge that kinks this section – and it became deep, and the current weird (deep currents man, they do get weird) as some gentle riffles carried me downriver.
Finally, the last plain and boring strokes to Harrington await. Again, paddling past Harrington to Reek Road is essentially pointless. Not only do you get closer and closer to the highway, it’s essentially a straightaway, albeit a short straightaway. The take-out is OK – it’s a basic bridge take-out on river-left. Though the current is swift at the bend, it’s totally manageable.
What we liked:
Six miles of unexpected fun! Sure, there was five-plus miles of lackluster scenery but it was exactly what I expected (flatwater next to a highway) so it’s hard to complain about it. The enjoyment of the first section far outweighed any disappointment downstream. The drops and Class I rapids within the first 2.75 miles were awesome. Downtown to Royalton Road are best for paddlers who like rapids, the rest would appeal to flatwater paddlers.
I also really enjoyed meeting some new friends, my neighbors at Hartmann Creek State Park where I camped. They too are paddlers. They talked me out of the paddle I was going to do the next day (a re-paddle we have on our site but not one I’ve personally paddled) and suggested something else nearby – one I hadn’t even really considered (that report and gem of a paddle is coming soon). But long story short, Mother Nature had a say in the next day’s agenda – by way of lightning and thunder – so it didn’t happen (but I returned a couple weeks later – and thanks Rick and Sharon, you were right – well worth it!)
What we didn’t like:
First, although the first two sections totally exceeded my expectations, they were just too damn full of deadfall to recommend. It’s for paddlers who just want something new, come what may.
Sadly, those portages (and those that have been created by storms since I paddled this) were/are avoidable but the DNR won’t allow them to be removed. You see, while I was portaging at Riverside/Kiwanis park, a couple walked by and struck up a conversation, struck by their own curiosity of whether I knew I had to portage.
The guy told me the DNR won’t let “us” take that stuff (deadfall) out anymore because it would destroy the fish habitat. I should be shocked here but I shrugged it off because I’ve heard this story before. He also added that they can do so on the Crystal River because there’s a business on the river (Ding’s). Now, I’m totally familiar with keeping fish habitat intact (and supportive to a 3-foot point) so let me be (not even selfishly) clear – Waupaca – you’re missing an opportunity here. Make it paddler friendly.
If you made some minor adjustments, you’d have another paddle trail (and trail for revenue) perfect for pros and beginners. There’s only two major portages but they don’t really need to be there. One is at park for God’s sake! First, remove the two logs – not even remove, cut an opening, thereby keeping most of the log in the water (and the fish habitat mostly intact).
Then, do something about the un-bike-friendly east side of Waupaca you have going on. There are no bike lanes and the sidewalks are side-awkard. Then, extend the landing at the bike trail to include parking off Highway 22. It’s could be a popular take-out.
People do paddle this as evidenced by many limb cuts (some are old, but many fresh). Isn’t it better to keep paddlers safe? If it were cleaned up, the entire Riverview Park to Highway 22 could be a great section.
Second, (and again) Harrington to Reek is pointless. It’s basically a straightaway with the highway getting louder and louder until it crescendos one last time. You might as well take-out at Harrington for parking if you’re looking to explore this section of the Waupaca.
Finally, upon return from my 40-minute bike shuttle, the dude’s white Bug was still there! The guy I met putting-in, who had a lead on me, then dumped, then I had passed – that dude I had left helplessly standing in the water next to a hole 9. I had subsequently paddle at least eight more miles, then shuttled forty minutes – and he had not returned? Holy crap, I’d paddled and shuttled and he’s not even back?
So on a recon mission – and since I had to go get my boat – I stopped by the Waupaca Country Club thinking he might still be stranded. Maybe he didn’t realize he was really close to the put-in? Nothing. He wasn’t there. (Sidenote: At the Club, I’m not sure my cut-off sleeve shirt that didn’t have a collar was particularly welcome – totally didn’t mix with that crowd). Then I headed to Highway 22. Again, nothing. So I had to leave without knowing what happened to that guy. It’s understandably been on my mind since.
If we did this trip again:
I’d absolutely do the first section up to Highway 22. After that, it’s for birdwatchers and beginners. There’s just nothing much going on, but then again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – paddling is better than no paddling.
Tomorrow-Waupaca River Overview: Tomorrow-Waupaca River Paddle Guide
Tomorrow River: Rolling Hills Road to Amherst
Waupaca River I: Amherst to Durrant Road
Waupaca River II: Buchholz Road to County Highway Q
Waupaca River III: County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park
Waupaca River V: Weyauwega to Decker Memorial Park
Camp: Hartman Creek State Park
Wikipedia: Waupaca River
Miles Paddled Video: