Pecatonica River - Illinois

Date: July 17, 2020; Length: 13 miles; Duration: 3 hours 15 min

Put In: N Rock City Rd Bridge

Side of the road parking by the bridge. Not the easiest access just getting to the river from either side of the bridge.

Takeout: Sumner Park (Pecatonica)

Park with a parking lot and restroom. Takeout on river right at a small landing off a road in the park.

Paddling Experience = 3/5

A flat, mud banked 13-mile section of the Pecatonica in Illinois didn't make for the most exciting paddling experience but not a bad one either. It had a decent current with no downed trees to avoid, allowing me to make good time.

Natural Scenery = 3/5

It mostly consisted of deciduous trees for banks, with some high grassy ones scattered in. And outside of the one bridge between the put in and takeout, it lacked development.

Solitude = 4/5

13 miles paddled and no other paddlers or anyone else in general, until getting to the takeout at Sumner park. The lack of surrounding development definitely contributed.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~1 foot per mile. Decent current consistently.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
Paddling at this water level was alright. There was a decent current, while the river was consistently wide and deep enough to avoid serious hazards or scraping.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Freeport gauge, located about 20 miles upriver of the put in of this section):

  • USGS Number = 05435500
  • Discharge Rate = 2100 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 9.7 ft

Overall Experience

I was looking to paddle on a river in northern Illinois and came across the Pecatonica, which starts in Wisconsin. The information on the section I chose came from Mike Svob’s Paddling Illinois book. It was a winding 13-mile route from N Rock City road bridge in Ridott to Sumner park in Pecatonica. With my intended path planned out, I drove down into Illinois and found Sumner park and a place to park. Here there is a big parking lot, restrooms, and a landing just off a path that runs parallel to the river a short ways. After packing everything I’d need on the river, I started hiking towards the put in. When I was looking at the map and directions earlier, I noticed a trail, called the Pecatonica Prairie Path, that took a more direct route from Sumner park to Farwell bridge. This would have cut out some time hiking, when instead I added some more by missing where the trail left Sumner park and ended up hiking too far south before having to turn around and in place take Sumner road west until Farwell bridge. With my course corrected I reached Farwell bridge, crossing over the river and was making my way along the north side of it the rest of the way. Shortly before I reached my put in I saw a big buck a little ways off the road in the field, running off once I noticed me, which made up for the added time on foot.
After about three hours of hiking I came to my put in of N Rock City road bridge. It was limited to just side of the road parking and carry in access just off the bridge, but still manageable. Setting my backpack down under the bridge, I worked at the process of inflating my packraft, strapping down my backpack, and getting myself on the water. This was one of those wing its of a put in, with limited options of flat and open places to put my packraft and then try to get myself in it cleanly, but I managed and was on the river officially. First impressions of the Pecatonica weren’t the greatest with the water’s low clarity and light brown color. It also had some downed trees, but they were never of a concern due to the river’s nice consistent width. Creeks entered the river on both sides at times and a few islands, including one big one. With a very low gradient, it lacked rapids or riffles. Yet it had a decent current to it, which would further surprise me with how quickly I came to my takeout. As for the surroundings, the river was mostly lined with deciduous trees, with some more open high grass banks. Farwell was the only bridge between access points of this 13-mile stretch of river. Houses were just as scarce with only a little section occurring just after Farwell bridge. And going with the uninhabited trend, I spotted no other paddlers or people in general while paddling on the Pecatonica. I did see a couple hawks, a blue heron, and some jumping frogs and fish though.
Just over three hours after putting in, I was getting off the river at the landing on river right of Sumner park I spotted earlier. The takeout went smoothly having the landing. And with 13 miles paddled, it gave me about a 4 MPH paddling rate. After deflating my packraft and packing everything back in my backpack, I made my way over to my car and ended this trip. It was a solid paddling experience, with the nice current and paddling rate making up for my directional mistakes earlier. And the water wasn’t the most pleasant sight, but the lack of development and resulting solitude made up for this. I plan to return to this river, next seeking a section in Wisconsin to paddle on.