Date: August 25, 2020; Length: 11.5 miles; Duration: 3 hours
The Oconto is a river in northeastern Wisconsin that eventually flows into Green Bay of Lake Michigan. Mike Svob has three sections of it written up on and mapped out in his book Paddling Northern Wisconsin. My initial intention was to paddle on the first section for its collection of fun and challenging whitewater rapids. Instead I chose a portion of the second and much flatter section that took me 11.5 miles from Underhill to the Hwy 32 bridge. When the day came, I parked at a wayside parking area just off the Hwy 32 bridge, where there are plenty of parking spots, a restroom, and a nice landing area. After packing my packraft, came a 9-mile hike to the put in at Underhill park, where it was similarly well equipped for easy and convenient access.
Some quick packraft inflating and strapping down of my backpack followed before I was officially paddling on the Oconto river. And it definitely wasn’t rapids packed like that section farther upriver I referenced, but was still what you would hope for in a calmer stretch of river. It had more of a current than I expected, while a short stretch even had some riffles here and there. It also had more big bends than tight winding and stayed pretty wide and deep enough that I never had concern over possible scraping or getting by the occasional downed trees. And even with a brownish color to it, the water had good clarity, likely thanks in part to more of a sand river bottom with rocks and boulders a common sight. Beyond the water, the banks were typically lined with deciduous trees, with some more open and grassy areas mixed in there. Houses were scattered throughout most of this section, but no overly developed areas. Four bridges also occurred in this 11.5-mile section between put in and takeout, while still getting a 4-mile and 3.5-mile break between bridges in there. And with most of these bridges came the only other people, as I passed a small group of floaters around the County C bridge, a person fishing by County BB bridge, and a bigger group of floaters around the railroad bridge. As for wildlife, sightings were more sporadic and limited to a lone duck, hawk, and blue heron.
After a quick three hours I spotted my exit of the landing to the wayside area on river right. This came right before the actual Hwy 32 bridge, a good landmark to know you’re close or have gone too far for this takeout. Once there, takeout was easy and smooth, ending my trip deflating and packing away my packraft and gear. Looking back on this Oconto river trip, I’m glad I chose to paddle this section. It has the laid back nature of a flat water river trip, but without the workout of a paddle thanks to the solid current. And there are opportunities for some solitude out there or a fun social event of a float with others, whatever is more your style. As for me, I’m looking to return next year but to that more intense section of rapids upriver.