Date: June 15, 2021; Length: 12 miles; Duration: 4 hours 15 min
Planning: The Peshtigo River is located in northeastern Wisconsin and flows over a hundred miles southeast before entering Green Bay of Lake Michigan. In his book, Paddling Northern Wisconsin, Mike Svob has nine different trips outlined, with the first four successive and first five consisting of class I-III rapids. I chose his second trip of Burnt Bridge to Goodman Park, a 12 mile stretch, which had a fair share of rapids including three class IIIs.
Paddling: The river was typically narrow, with some islands and a few creeks coming in, following a mostly straight route with some wider bends. The water level was good and just had some minor scraping in the occasional shallow rock beds, while hazards or downed trees were never a concern. The current was lacking in calmer stretches but very present during times of riffles and rapids, which were prevalent. This section of river gave the whole range of paddling experiences, with the most technically challenging occurring in three class III rapids.
Rapids: In this 12-mile stretch of the Peshtigo, there were seven named rapids entailing class II-III rapids, with several other unnamed or mapped rapids and riffles as well. The first of the named was Michigan rapids, occurring in the first mile after putting in. This was a technical class III rapid, with several winding pitches and awkwardly located boulders to avoid. The first and last pitches were the most tricky, with extra narrow winding occurring and quick maneuvering and decision making necessary. A couple miles later came the Upper Dells rapids, an easy class II, with minimal maneuvering and the most challenging part being navigating the shallow rocks to avoid at this level. Moments later the river split around a big island, where the next class III of Dells rapid took place on the right side of the island. I stopped just before the rapid to get out and scout. It was an intimidating series of six good sized drops in an extra narrow channel of river, that also happened to start with an L curve around a large downed tree to get in position to run all the drops. But when the time came to actually run the Dells rapids, the tricky start and series of big drops went smoothly in my wide based inflatable packraft, as I just had to stay in the middle of the channel and hit each drop square and everything went smooth sailing. After about a mile and a half came the next class II of Roaring rapid. It was similar to the Upper Dells experience, feeling like an easy class II and pretty straight forward with plenty of room and time. A near four mile lull of rapids came until the two pitches of Cooper rapids. These were once again comparably easy runs, with the second pitch having a right bend to navigate, but the main concern being avoiding any exposed shallow rocks at this level. Two miles later came the last sets of rapids in Taylor rapids and falls. The rapids before the falls were more of the same in the easy class II category, while the class III of Taylor Falls itself was another matter. It has a slow lead up where there are flat rocks in a calm body of water just above and to the left of it, which is where I got out and scouted my options and is also where a paddler could portage the Falls. Unlike the straight forward series of drops to the Dells, Taylor Falls had one significant drop and a narrow area for where to best run it. After sufficiently scouting and planning my approach, I gave it a go and cleanly ran the big drop but then came close to having issues immediately below where another smaller boulder of an overpour creates a big bump that I wasn’t able to avoid. I ran it over and got a little wobbled and off balanced momentarily but remained afloat on and not in the water. Another set of Taylor rapids followed the Falls, which may have been the best class II of this section.
Observations: The river had a reddish brown color with decent clarity. Forests lined both sides of the river throughout, with only a handful of scattered houses early on and one bridge about halfway along. Another gravel road, which I used for my shuttle, ran along the river much of the second half. As for people, I was the only paddler out there, at least for what I saw at the time. Wildlife spottings were also lacking with only some ducks, a snapping turtle and four deer in my sights.
Reflecting: This is one of my, if not my, favorite river trips I’ve taken. The rapids are the highlight that sticks out, with the different class III rapids ranging from winding technical pitches, to straight shots of drops, to one major technical drop or fall. But then the other riffles and rapids were enjoyable as well as the calm stretches of paddling. Put all that in with a narrow intimate river surrounded by forest and it doesn’t get much better. So I’d definitely recommend this section of the Peshtigo to other paddlers, as long as they are comfortable, experienced, and equipped to handle some challenging rapids, a few of which you could instead portage.