Apple River - Illinois

Date: July 18, 2020; Length: 14 miles; Duration: 4 hours

Put In: Townsend Rd Bridge

Side of road parking near the bridge. A walk through tall grass brings you down to the river. Put in off some rocks at river's edge.

Takeout: Highway 20 Bridge

Side of the road parking. No great flat takeout spots and a steep climb up some boulders to get back to the road.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

This section of the Apple is almost like paddling on two different rivers. The first part had a consistent small rock bottom to it that winded a decent amount and produced some riffles and class I rapids. The only problem there was it being a little too low of water level, as I had to scoot or stand and move my watercraft to deeper water a handful of times. The second part had deeper water, more current, and less stopping but also an absence of rocks.

Natural Scenery = 4/5

Once again this differed based on the part of river. The first part had deciduous trees and cool rock canyon walls, along with some tall grass and farm land. The second part was more open and more consistently tall grass and farm land.

Wildlife = 3/5

The typical bald eagles, hawks, and ducks were spotted. But what surprised me was the, technically not wild, cows in the river at one point and then just off the river some miles farther down.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~8 feet per mile. Good current throughout with riffles early on.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
Paddling at this water level was good but could have been better. The first half of this section has intermittent riffles and class I rapids that would have been smooth runs at higher levels. Instead there was a lot of bottoming out and scooting or standing up and moving to a deeper part of the river. The second half of this section was a different story with no issues. Overall, the river had good flow and current even at these levels.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Hanover gauge, located 9 miles downriver of the takeout to this section):

  • USGS Number = 05419000
  • Discharge Rate = 235 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 4.28 ft

Overall Experience

I was looking to paddle on a river in northwestern Illinois and came across the Apple River. It flows southwest and eventually merges into the Mississippi River. I decided to paddle an 11.7-mile section from Townsend road bridge to Elizabeth Scales Mound Park. The information on the section I chose came from Mike Svob’s Paddling Illinois book (though his mileage here is about a mile and a half short of Google Maps). He also has information on another section just downriver of the Apple River in this book. When the time of this river trip came, I chose to camp at Apple River Canyon State Park the night before, as I was coming off paddling the Pecatonica River just to the east in Illinois. This state park was just northeast of my put in so, not wanting to drive the extra miles, I decided to paddle first thing in the morning and hike back after.
After an early rise I was at my put in of Townsend road bridge. There was just side of the road parking and no landing here, but I managed to get on the river without issue. This section of river felt like two different rivers changing about halfway through. The first half started on water that was surprisingly clear, with boulders and rock formations around and small rock beds for a river bottom. This paired with a higher gradient and winding nature to the river, gave the experience of riffles and class I rapids, which could only be deterred with lower than recommended water levels. Unfortunately I found myself bottomed out in shallow rock beds a handful of times, having to stand up and move to deeper water. Beyond the water, there were cool rock formations forming little canyons along one side of the river at times. Deciduous trees were also a common sight along the river, with some more open tall grass banks as well. Farm land and buildings were sometimes a ways off the river, with one half mile stretch of river actually being used by one. I first spotted a wire that hung across and at least a couple feet above the river that I wasn’t sure of the purpose for at the time. I got my answer just down the river as I came to a big group of cows just off and actually standing in the river. Thankfully the sight of me floating towards them got those in the water to move and I floated by as they eyed me do so. After this came three more low hanging wires that didn’t require a portage. This was still early on though and the river returned to rock formations, boulders and rock beds, and riffles once more.
The total change in river seemed to come around Grebner road bridge, as the Hells Branch creek came in just after it. Water level was no longer a concern as the river deepened. But with that came a lack of boulders and no more small rock beds and as a result a muddier look to the water. It lost the cool rock formations and most of the banks of deciduous trees, becoming more consistently an open area with farm land just off the river. Going with that theme, came another small group of cows that I spotted just off the river on a grassy bank. But trees were not completely absent in this second stretch, as some down trees caused a need for a little maneuvering to pass by cleanly. There were commonalities to this whole section of the Apple though. Bridges and access points were one, being more evenly spread out and in general not the easiest to use. People were also consistently out of sight, as I was the only paddler and just spotted one small group fishing at a bridge. And aside from the cows, I saw some bald eagles, hawks, and ducks while out there.
Nearing the end, I planned to takeout out at Elizabeth Scales Mound Park. Somehow I missed it though and mistakenly took out at the Hwy 20 bridge instead, paddling almost a full extra mile. But it was good timing nonetheless as the clouds were darkening and it started to downpour and thunder while I was taking out under the bridge. And just as quickly as this weather came, it left and I was left with my hike back in the peak of today’s sun and heat, reaching over 90 degrees. I also had a limited amount of liquids, which started to become more of an issue as the miles started piling on. What put this over the top was coming to a detour in my planned hiking route, as a mile section of bridge that crossed over the river twice was blocked off on both sides. This forced to me to go out of the way to get around this, adding a couple miles of hiking at least, while in some pretty hilly country. In the end though I arrived back at my car, after four hours of hiking, got everything put away and made my way to a gas station to get some much needed liquids. Overall, it was a good experience, though challenging at times. The first part of this river was definitely the highlight, while the second part became more mundane by less frustrating with an absence of bottoming out. At some point I would like to come back and check out more to the Apple, preferably upriver to see how much farther those rock formations and canyons, and resulting riffles and rapids extend.