Pike River - Wisconsin

Date: May 24, 2020; Length: 9.2 miles; Duration: 3 hours 30 min

Put In: Below Dave's Falls (off trail)

Parking lot with brief trail hike to the put in at a whirlpool below Dave's Falls. Easy access at the whirlpool.

Takeout: Yellow Bridge Landing

Before the bridge on river left. Tricky takeout location following two rapids, with class III rapid just down river. Some boulders to climb back up to the small parking area off the road.

Paddling Experience = 5/5

This 9-mile section of the Pike River felt like the perfect mix of calm and rapids stretches. Rapids weren't too intense or long while the flatter segments still had a decent current and intermittent riffles to them.

Natural Scenery = 4/5

After the start, you leave all sights and sounds of major roads and are just on the tight river surrounded by deciduous trees. There are some scattered small houses on the banks, but plenty more times of just the river and trees around you.

Rapids = 4/5

The rapids on this narrow river varied from easy riffles to solid class IIs. These consisted of a handful of drops or falls that were fun and doable, along with plenty of boulder garden maneuvering. Some definitely left me wet.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~11 feet per mile. Good current with intermittent riffles and rapids.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: This was a perfect water level to paddle at. It was high enough to not scrape on shallow rocks or need to portage. The suggested minimum CFS is 125 and gauge height is 2.25 ft. And the water wasn't too high (gauge height of 3.57 ft) to make for a safe run of the rapids. A gauge height of 4 ft and higher is where rapids get more challenging and dangerous on this river section.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Amberg gauge, located around the put in of this river section):

  • USGS Number = 04066500
  • Discharge Rate = 320 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 3.57 ft

Overall Experience

This Pike River trip marked my first solo river trip with rapids and to go with that the first use of my newly purchased and highly anticipated Kokopelli Rogue packraft. Just that morning I was acquainting myself with the process to inflating the thing, with the only hurdle being not grasping at the time how to set up the sprayskirt. Putting that predicament to a later day, I packed everything else for the packraft and other river trip essentials up and drove up to the takeout to this section of the Pike.
Parking at the Yellow Bridge Landing takeout, I repacked everything into an old school backpack of mine (forgot my bigger one meant for backpacking) and started on foot for the put in. It was about a seven mile walk along backroads mostly that was easy going with the very light packraft. The only challenging part of those two hours were the bugs, but I knew that’d be a different story once I just got on the river.
Arriving at the parking lot of the put in, I took a connecting trail a short ways to the river, at a whirlpool just below Dave’s Falls. From here, it was a matter of inflating my packraft (for only the second time now) and getting on the river. Inflation went smooth, but I then realized I didn’t have a place to put my backpack and it’s important contents (keys, phone, etc.), so inside the covered part of the packraft, by my legs, they went.
Finally on the river and the first rapids come shortly after some riffles under the highway bridge. The first rapid is a class II called Bull Falls. It ended up being a good, clean and dry first run that wasn’t too challenging but enough so that I needed to be alert and ready to maneuver. After Bull Falls there is a mix of calm stretches and moments of more riffles and easier class I rapids. Along the way I passed some campers and people fishing from the banks, as well as some small homes. After a few creeks merged with the Pike and a bridge landing, another class II rapid came and was called Scrounge Canyon. It definitely had the more narrow, winding canyon feel to it but didn’t compare intensity-wise to the first class II of Bull Falls. Getting into the last mile of this trip, I had one more (according to the maps I came across) class II rapid to face in Horseshoe Falls. It was a very brief rapid but a solid one because of the drop to the half circle shaped rocks. There didn’t seem like an ideal spot to run it other than to run it square and not tilted to avoid flipping. And it went well for me in the packraft, just getting a little wet as a result. From here I thought would be smooth sailing but I forgot what the takeout looked like in rapids right before it and the bridge. These were solid class I if not class II rapids that had me winding to find the best places to run them. And they brought me on the far right side of the river, while the takeout was on the left, with stronger class III rapids in store just beyond the bridge if I missed the takeout. But all worked out and I weaved my way back over to the takeout of some boulders just before the bridge leading up to the road and parking area.
At the Yellow Bridge Landing takeout and I seem to have underestimated what class II rapids entailed. My packraft seemed to have at least doubled in weight pulling it up the boulders and by my car, due to all the water trapped inside of it (also where my backpack was). And this was after having drained it a few times with an empty bottle towards the end between rapids. So looking back, I should have figured out that sprayskirt beforehand, but lesson learned and luckily my phone and car keys dried and recovered.  And it ended up being a great river trip of challenging rapids and calm waters in a beautiful environment with opportunity for solitude.