Weyauwega to Decker Memorial Park:
On the last leg of its journey before its eventual meeting with the Wolf River, the Waupaca River’s last few miles will appeal to those who appreciate quietwater paddling and the tempered excitement of what that can behold.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: June 2, 2017
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles
≈ 2-3’ per mile
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Waupaca: ht/ft: 1.67 | cfs: 290
Waupaca: Gauge discontinued in June of 2020.
This is a recommendable level. This section should always be reliable for paddling though it could get a little slow/low in the upstream section towards River Road.
Peterson Park, Weyauwega, Wisconsin
GPS: 44.32455, -88.93341
Decker Memorial Park/Gills Landing (Wolf River)
GPS: 44.30202, -88.88185
Time: Put in at 11:35a. Out at 1:15p.
Total Time: 1h 40m
Miles Paddled: 6.25
Hawk, deer, eagles, turtles and a variety of fish.
The bike shuttle is an easy jaunt down County Highway F/Gills Landing Road and then a short jog through Weyauwega. It doesn’t have much of a shoulder but it also has less traffic since it’s not a throughfare. When there is traffic however, it’s usually going fast – ya know, those dudes that gotta get their fish on or boat in the water ASAP!
I have this strange attraction to the Waupaca River. It’s magnetic is a way that very few rivers are for me. Maybe it’s because I’m always caught off guard by its simple beauty which resides in the land of a very “plain” Central Wisconsin, that seemingly holds very few secrets. Or maybe it’s because I’m from the area and yet this was a place I rarely visited until later in life, so I’m catching up. Or maybe it’s just because I seem to always have a really good time paddling this river regardless of whether it’s the upstream excitement of riffles and ledges, or just the long casual and quiet flatwater sections further down.
Whatever the case, I figured it was time to explore a new section – the last leg of the Waupaca before it meets the Wolf River. I knew it wouldn’t be the same as upstream (with its riffly waters and boulder gardens) because at practically any confluence, the flow is going to dissipate into slack water. And with that knowledge, expectations were set, and indeed they were met in a good way – there’s a real appeal to paddling the Waupaca’s quiet finish.
This adventure starts in Weyauwega (which up to this point, I’ve only ever associated with cheese) at Peterson Park. You can’t miss the park (well, maybe the shabby little park sign itself but…) because there’s a beautifully painted “Weyauwega” silo that sits within the park and welcomes you to the this small town in no understated way. There’s also a very pretty old barn and of course, a dam, which chokes the Waupaca from flowing freely, creating Weyauwega lake upstream.
For Waupaca River completists, one could choose to paddle through the lake (and people do) all the way to downtown and portage at the dam, but it doesn’t hold much appeal to me. For those who are interested in such an endeavor, the portage access is clearly marked to get around the dam. Otherwise, I suggest just putting-in below the dam and heading downstream.
After putting-in, the river is already noticeably wider than upstream but not too wide where it’s a slog. It was immediately comforting to know that the water clarity, and streambed makeup was characteristically similar to the upstream section, with rocks or sand. It all felt quite familiar again, despite whatever effects might come about from artificially damming the river upstream.
The best part of this trip is from the put-in to River Road. There are a few nominal boulders – not the trademark gardens one would encounter upstream – but there were numerous large rocks lying silently below the surface (easily spotted though, since the water was incredibly clear, even in its deepest areas).
The current was noticeably swift at these levels, which created a few riffly areas, albeit tame ones. When the river narrowed, it got deeper but no more than four-feet, and when it was wide, I was only floating over a foot of water. The surroundings are often tree-lined with very little canopy and the banks are mostly grassy. Aside from a watertower and some train tracks, there wasn’t much notable in the way of landmarks. I did however see a pontoon boat below some houses which made me think that “oh it must get deeper from here on out” but it didn’t and to be honest, there’s plenty of deadfall to negotiate so I have no clue as to how useful a pontoon boat would be (maybe it was a large decoration). There was nothing to portage, mind you, this is a wider section of the river afterall, but you’ll still find yourself maneuvering around branches and logs from time to time.
After the River Road bridge, the water got much deeper and the current essentially died. This section reminded me a little bit of when the Yahara meets the Rock river – a little swampier too. It’s still pretty but it’s definitely more of a slower paddle. Deadfall increases, but again, navigable, though there were a couple areas where I had to paddle through marshy grass at the river’s edge to get around an obstruction.
Though slow, this was a real pleasant part of the paddle. And it was enhanced by the sighting of bald eagles, turtles and deer – one with her fawn on the bank which was just a really pretty moment. That, and it was an unusually beautiful day where the light and sky was just right to cast pretty reflections on the still water throughout.
Just before the end of the Waupaca, you’ll see a very unique footbridge that marks the setting of a private park and abuts the confines of the Memorial Park. Here, the river is less a river and more of a marsh. Soon you’ll meet the confluence with the Wolf River – a much wider and deeper Wolf than upstream (which was very surprising to me – I had no idea that the Wolf eventually looked like this). Here, boat traffic is common as people head out to fish and whatnot, and there were some extremely large luxury crafts on the water that took me by surprise. These were the kind you’d find on Lake Michigan so the river must be deep if it can accommodate such boats. From the confluence to the take-out, it’s a short stretch on the Wolf to the landing at Decker Memorial Park.
The take-out is great but… it does require a fee. Now, I always question having to pay a fee for landings that are clearly maintained for the large motorized boat contingent instead of the silent sport adventurers but I paid it (I mean, I guess i did use the bathroom, so I’ll consider it a $5 bathroom fee). Anyway, it is nicely maintained.
The parking area shares space with a bar called Gill’s Landing and it’s my kind of Wisco bar with really friendly people serving up affordable drinks and food. I loved that they closed the inside of the bar on this day by hanging a sign on the door that said “the weather is too nice, so meet us in back at the outdoor bar.” There, I chatted with some good people – plenty of fishing talk (you can tell where the passion is in this area) – had a beer and headed out.
What we liked:
As mentioned, the first part of this trip to River Road is wonderfully “classic” Waupaca if there was such a thing, but there is something wonderful about an easy-going paddle towards the confluence of a river like the Wolf. Add on a easy bike-shuttle and a great place to have a beer? Yeah, there’s nothing to complain about.
What we didn’t like:
Not much in regards to the paddling, but again, paying for a boat landing kind of sucks.
If we did this trip again:
I’d absolutely revisit this paddle. The first clip to River Road is better than the rest in terms of traditional Waupaca paddling, but there’s something to be said for paddling through the silent sounds of quitewater and the unexpected encounters to be had.
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 IV: Riverview Park to Reek Road
Camp: Hartman Creek State Park
Outfitter: Adventure Outfitters
Wikipedia: Waupaca River
Miles Paddled Video: