Pine River - Wisconsin

Date: August 23, 2020; Length: 9.6 miles; Duration: 2 hours 30 min

Put In: Lotto Rd Landing

Lotto Rd ends at the river, with a small parking area just off it (marked private). Make sure to get permission if parking here (I hiked to it). The access spot is narrow but a smooth put in.

Takeout: Highway 139 Bridge

No designated landing but a few good takeout options near the bridge. A short walk from here leads back to the road with shoulder parking.

Paddling Experience = 5/5

A solid current and rapids on a smaller river will almost always make for a great paddling experience. And it did again with this section of the Pine. The current was consistently solid and rapids intermittently occurred with varied ranges of length and intensity.

Natural Scenery = 5/5

The area was pretty desolate with forest of deciduous and pine surrounding the river, along with the occasional tall grass or marsh areas. All this in the already beautiful northern Wisconsin land, traveling on a dark but clear river.

Rapids = 5/5

Right away the rapids seemed to be more intense than advertised, likely due to high water levels. But the right amount of intense in solid class Is and IIs. One that stood out was called Dam rapid, which was the site of an old dam that is now an island taking up much of the river. Go left and it's a short and straight but steep drop with boulders in the middle. Go the recommended right and you have to wind around a narrow 90 degree left turn to then avoid boulders on both sides.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~4 feet per mile. Good current, riffles and rapids.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: Paddling at this water level was great. There weren't any concerns of scraping at this level, yet the river stayed consistently narrow and didn't flood. It had a solid current to it and made some of the rapids more intense than advertised while others the opposite. That being said, I'd recommend lower levels for those less whitewater experienced or equipped. The few downed trees were easily avoided as well.

Gauge Information

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

  • USGS Number = 04064500
  • Discharge Rate = 1500 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 5.15 ft

Overall Experience

The Pine is a river in northeastern Wisconsin that I was looking to paddle earlier in the year but of a section a ways downriver. Wisconsin Trail Guide is a website that had information on that section, which ended with the confluence with the Menominee River. Once I got Mike Svob’s Paddling Northern Wisconsin book, opportunities for paddling on the Pine greatly expanded. He has about a 41-mile stretch of it described and mapped out, starting at the bridge of Hwy 55 and ending at the bridge of Hwy 101. I initially chose the first section from Hwy 55 to Hwy 139, a 15.5-mile stretch, but got a late start to the day and decided I’d take an earlier put in off of Lotto road, reducing it to about a 9.5 mile trip.
So that day started with driving over to and parking off of my intended takeout of Hwy 139. It had a small area off the road to park and an open and flat enough area near the bridge to takeout. Before I could do that, I had to start my hike to my put in. When I was reading up on this section in Mike Svob’s book he mentioned that Lotto road was a private road and place to put in, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect once I finally got there on foot. After a little under three hours I had a better picture. Lotto road has driveways off of it and is otherwise a dead end that stops at the river, with a space to turn around and a small cleared spot to put in. Having hiked there, I still don’t know whether or not cars can park there, but for me it was a smooth and unnoticed put in with only the overly active bugs a pain. That pain also motivated me to have likely my fastest transition onto the water, quickly inflating my packraft and strapping down my backpack and putting on.
Once on the water I was in relief for the absence of bugs swarming me, but also for the sights surrounding me. The banks to the river were occasionally tall grass and marsh, but mostly pine and deciduous forest for as far as I could see. It had a remote feel to it with a lack of development as well, only having a handful of houses in two areas and one bridge between my put in and takeout. Going with this theme, I was the only one on or off the river while I was out there, while at the same time only managing to spot a lone hawk for wildlife. As for the river itself, it had a dark brown to black color to it with decent clarity and little vegetation. It winded some and had a few downed trees but they were easily avoidable. The seemingly high water helped there and also contributed to a solid and distinguishable current, while the river remained narrow. Throw in some boulders and a decent gradient or elevation drop and the already solid mix of mapped out rapids grew in rate and intensity. In the first mile there was a mile stretch of class I and a possible class II rapids. From here came the most challenging rapid, a class II called Dam Rapids, since it is the site of a former dam. The rapid occurs and narrowly splits around the former dam of an island now, with the right side being the recommended route to take. The left side is more of a straight shot but with a steeper drop and hard to avoid rocks in the middle, while the right side takes a full 90 degree left turn before the majority of the more gradual dropping occurs. The hard part here is maintaining your positioning in the middle while turning then quickly reading the river for where to position going forward. Rocks are along both sides, along with the surprise one just under the water surface at this level that I ran over to end it. The remainder of rapids were much less technical runs but fun riffles to class II rapids nonetheless. CCC Camp Rapids felt like an easy class II at worst, while the last mapped rapids around Stevens Creek were more of the same.
So after the last mile of calm water, I reached my put in off Hwy 139 bridge, where I took out on the downriver left side. It was a smooth transition out of the water, then deflating and packing away my packraft before returning to my car. Looking back, this was my favorite river trip of the year. It had everything from the solitude in a beautiful remote natural setting to the all the best things to the river itself. The water was dark and clear, narrow and intimate, fast flowing and produced some nice rapids. So I’d definitely recommend paddling this section of the Pine, even at lower levels, and will be back to paddle more of it downriver in the near future.