Peshtigo River - Wisconsin

Date: July 9, 2020; Length: 9 miles; Duration: 3 hours 15 min

Put In: Big Joe Campground Landing

Parking lot with a brief trail hike down to the river. Landing makes for an easy put in.

Takeout: CCC Bridge

Side of the road parking just off the CCC bridge. No designated landing but an easy enough takeout around the bridge.

Paddling Experience = 3/5

This section of the Peshtigo is one of the calmer stretches of it. It had a class I rapid early on and then flatter water, but with a decent current. A lot of winding occurred in the middle, which also provided us with a lot of downed trees and logs to scoot over, squeeze around or completely portage.

Natural Scenery = 4/5

The banks to this section of River are mostly deciduous trees and some grassy marsh areas. The narrow river and more wooded land around here makes it feel more intimate. And there isn't much human development outside of the put in and take out areas.

Solitude = 5/5

No other paddlers were spotted on the River, nor was there much sign of people in general. Three bridges occurred in the first four miles and then nothing until the takeout.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~3 feet per mile. Some current to it, with occasional riffles.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
Paddling at this water level wasn't the problem. The gauge height of 4.96 ft was higher than the suggested minimum of 4.2 ft thanks to lots of rainfall just before and during the paddling. This section of river just happens to be riddled with downed trees and branches making for plenty of maneuvering, scooting over, and a short portage. Higher water levels could lessen this some but could also add flooding to the stretch of river with lots of winding.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Hwy C Bridge gauge, located about 35 miles downriver of the takeout of this section):

  • USGS Number = 04067958
  • Discharge Rate = 670 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 4.96 ft

Overall Experience

I was looking to paddle a river with my brother while up in northeastern Wisconsin. Something in the range of flat water to a few light rapids, so we ended up choosing a section on the north branch of the Peshtigo. It was about 9 miles from Big Joe landing to CCC bridge, which I got from the website called Wisconsin Trail Guide. The morning of our planned river trip came. With two people and vehicles, we parked one at the takeout and drove the other one to our put in of Big Joe Landing. We arrived and started unpacking and inflating our inflatable kayak and packraft, which became a hurrying process as we were welcomed by swarms of mosquitos and then downpouring rain.
After some quick inflating we were both on the Peshtigo paddling. But the mosquitos remained, while the rain became thunderstorms. To go with the theme of setbacks, were the numerous hazards of downed trees. This shouldn’t have been a surprise though, as both Mike Svob in his book Paddling Northern Wisconsin and the website Wisconsin Trail Guide give this very warning, which I unfortunately saw later on. There were branches across the river making for quick maneuvering and tight squeezes, logs just below the water surface to hoist and scoot over, and one instance of a full on portage needed. Much of the downed trees occurred in the middle of this section where the river tightly winds for a couple miles. This stretch also had some flooding, where it wasn’t always clear what the direction or path of the river was, which gives the impression that water levels aren’t the issue or a solution for that matter to all the downed trees either.
With these issues also came many positives to the river itself and it’s surroundings. One was the light but wavy Camp 8 rapid, a class I rapid in the first mile of this section, while it had a decent current to it throughout. It varied in width, usually depending on the route of the water, whether it be winding or rather straight. And it had a dark brown color to it with okay clarity, occasional plant life, and less boulders than downed trees. The banks of the Peshtigo were mostly lined with trees, along with some grass or marsh areas, that remained uninterrupted as houses were few and far between. They only occurred near the put in and takeout, while access points or bridges were also clustered, with four in the first four miles, followed by the takeout five miles later. And not surprisingly, we were the only ones on or off the water, almost including wildlife, as all we spotted were some geese, ducks, and one osprey in the just over three hours of paddling.
Takeout was manageable and on river right for us just after the bridge. It was a short walk back up the slope to the road and to the other vehicle. After a final ride back up to put in, we were officially done with this Peshtigo river trip. It was a challenging one for the obvious elements of mosquitos, thunderstorms, and hazards, but also time well spent for the shared experience out there. There is something special to passing through the undeveloped water and surrounding forests of northeastern Wisconsin, even in as brief a stretch as that was.