Black River - Wisconsin

Date: April 24, 2021; Length: 9.5 miles; Duration: 3 hours

Put In: Brickyard Rd Landing

Dirt road leads to a small parking area and flat gravel space to put in on a right channel just before an island.

Takeout: Black River Falls Dam

A landing and dock are on the left just before the dam occurs. Parking spaces and a restroom are here as well.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

This trip started with light and fun rapids but quickly became flat water. The river remained pretty wide but had islands here and there producing more narrow channels. And luckily the wind was mostly in my favor making the flat water not feel so much so and giving me somewhat of a boost in paddling.

Natural Scenery = 5/5

With the majority of this section of river surrounded by the Black River State Forest, the scenery was what you'd expect and just about all forest for what you could see. Banks got high at times with hills or rock formations as well. Towards the end of this section though the houses become more common of a sight.

Solitude = 4/5

With my put in following a couple dirt roads and the Black River State Forest encompassing much of this section, you get your fair share of solitude. I only spotted a couple people by their houses towards the end before the river became more open and developed around it as I neared my take out in still the relatively small town there.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~2 feet per mile. Decent current and rapids early on but it really flattens out and slows down.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: At this level the initial rapids were runnable without scraping. The remaining flat stretch of river wasn't too shallow or flooded, while still lacking much of a current to work with.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Gauge located in Neillsville, several miles upriver of this section with the Lake Arbutus dam in between.):

  • USGS Number = 05381000
  • Discharge Rate = 350 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 3.9 ft

Overall Experience

The Black is a river in western Wisconsin flowing southwest into the Mississippi River.  Last year I paddled a section of it following a river trip described by Mike Svob in his book Paddling Southern Wisconsin.  The river section this time around also came from him in one just down river.  Two short sections combined for 13 miles with the first three miles consisting of solid class II rapids that intensify with higher water.  After initially planning to paddle this portion, I changed to a put in just past the whitewater and a take out just before a dam, coming to about ten miles.  So when the time came, I parked my car at the Black River Falls Dam Landing and hiked my way to my planned put in of Powerhouse Road.  This is an alternate access point that Svob labeled and mentioned, but once I got in that area I came across a sign for Brickyard Road Landing and followed it to what became my adjusted put in a little less than a mile down river of Powerhouse.  Brickyard was a dirt road that turned off at a point and came down to the river, where there is some space to park and open flat areas to put in off on the right side of the river where an island forms.

After inflating my packraft and strapping down my backpack, I was on the Black River once again.  Taking the island’s right channel quickly led me to some light rapids, likely a class I at this water level.  One followed the other right away, making for a fun start.  Around a mile in came one more light rapid and the last of them for the day.  Flat water, with a decent current early on, followed with the river remaining pretty wide.  At this water level I didn’t have any issues with scraping or other hazards to avoid or portage, even the channels to islands.  These islands occurred almost every mile, with one major one after a couple miles of the put in.  A handful of creeks also came in from both sides of the river throughout the trip, with one being an alternate access point of Hall’s Creek Landing.  The river itself had a dark brown color to it with decent clarity, while boulders were also a common sight both in the water and on the edges in formations.  But what really stood out were the endless trees thanks to the Black River State Forest surrounding much of this section of the river.  This along with the lack of houses or bridges for the better part of the trip made for a solitaire experience, with some wildlife of geese, ducks, a couple bald eagles, and a turtle spotted along the way.  I also came across four deer earlier on in the hike to the put in.  The final couple miles of this paddled section of river lost the state forest where more houses and bridges took its place.  Crossing the interstate 94 bridge was my sign that the takeout was around the corner, with the orange buoys warning of the dam in sight.

Once there, I took out on the left where there is both a landing and a dock.  I got everything deflated and packed away to end my second go on the Black River.  Looking back on it, the scenery to the surrounding state forest was definitely the highlight.  I’m sure I’ll be back to check out that 3-4 mile stretch of whitewater just upriver, but before then it will probably be a section farther down river.  There is a lot or river there to explore.