Eau Claire River - Wisconsin

Date: June 16, 2021; Length: 7.5 miles; Duration: 2 hours 45 min

Put In: Bear Lake Rd Bridge

Side of the road parking and a semi-clear grass path leading down to the water on the downstream right side of the bridge for the put in.

Takeout: Dells County Park Campground

Parking lot with bathrooms and a few landing spaces before the dam making for an easy takeout.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

Shallow rock beds and boulders just below the surface were all too common, while the Class II rapids were about as slow as could be. But, this trip has the making for a great paddling experience. I just needed to paddle it at a higher water level and I think it would be a complete different experience.

Natural Scenery = 5/5

Trees were a constant sight on both sides of the river, coming after a mixture grass or high sand banks and some rock walls towards the takeout. One bridge and only occasional houses helped keep the feel of the surroundings natural.

Wildlife = 5/5

There was quite the variety in wildlife. Birds alone consisted of geese, ducks, a couple blue herons and bald eagles, and an osprey. I also came across a snapping turtle, two deer, and a random cat by the water's edge.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~7 feet per mile. For a decent gradient there wasn't much of a current aside from the sections of rapids, though I'm sure the low water level factored in there.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
The water level was too low. Scraping on shallow rock beds was a common occurrence while the Class II rapids were slow runs.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: located at County SS bridge near Kelly, WI, several miles downstream of this trip's takeout.):

  • USGS Number = 05397500
  • Discharge Rate = 160 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 0.77 ft

Overall Experience

Planning: The Eau Claire River is located in northeastern Wisconsin and flows southwest into the Wisconsin River.  In his book, Paddling Northern Wisconsin, Mike Svob has two successive trips totaling 27 miles, which I used to plan for a 7.5 mile stretch from Bear Lake road to the Dells County Park Campground.  A handful of class I-II rapids occur in this section, with the takeout just before the dam and the Dells rapids.

Paddling: There was a nice mix of flat water and riffles to class II rapids, while the river remained fairly narrow with some winding and a good amount of islands.  And downed trees were never an issue.  The issue came with the low water level, leaving the river with little to no current, even when it came to the rapids which became pretty boney at Ledges specifically.

Rapids: The main two rapids to this section of the Eau Claire, were called Ledges and Three Rows Falls.  Ledges was a constricted run of scattered boulders, which was slow and easy to maneuver through at the low water level.  Three Rows Falls had a series of three short drops or falls as the name indicates.  The first one was basically a fun slide down at this low level, while the final fall was a steep drop.  This steep drop was slow but also somewhat difficult to keep from nose diving too much, with the lack of water flow and momentum.

Observations: The river was reddish brown and had decent clarity, where sand, rock bottoms and boulders were common sights.  Banks were typically grass, with some high sand ones and rocks walls towards the end of this section.  From here, trees occurred on both sides of the river.  Houses were few and scattered, while typically off the water a ways without overly altering the river landscape.  As for wildlife, I spotted a variety, from geese, ducks, blue herons, osprey, and bald eagles to a snapping turtle, beaver, two deer, and a house cat.

Reflecting: This river trip on the Eau Claire is one I’d like to come back to for the potential that it has at a higher water level.  The paddling and rapids experience would improve greatly.  So it is a river trip that I’d recommend if you can make sure the water is at a good level.  I plan to come back to paddle a section just downstream of this trip’s takeout, past the dam and majority of the Dells rapids.