Red River - Wisconsin

Date: May 29, 2022; Length: 4.5 miles; Duration: 1 hour 45 min

Put In: Weed Dam Powerhouse

Lower Red River Park occurs right after the dam, with a parking lot and restroom available. Put in can take place from the open low grass banks on the left or from a few trails leading to areas to access on the right.

Takeout: County A Bridge

Side of the road parking, with steep grass inclines leading down to the rocks just off the water by the bridge. I chose to use the upstream right side of the bridge for parking and taking out.

Paddling Experience = 5/5

This stretch of the Red River is known for Monastery Falls (III-IV) & Zeimer's Falls (III), which didn't disappoint. But the lighter unnamed rapids were also fun and frequently occurred. Even the calm stretches were enjoyable with a decent current and fairly narrow and winding river.

Natural Scenery = 5/5

Aside from some houses at times, this section of the Red River felt as natural as could be. The water was pretty clear with rocks and boulders always in the mix, while the banks were consistently surrounded by forest.

Rapids = 5/5

Monastery Falls (III-IV) was intense. The initial drop had a sticky hole that had me stuck just beyond along the rocks before I could free my packraft and finish the remaining drops. Zeimer's Falls (III) was more forgiving but tricky in the complete left to right maneuvering required after the first drop. And then there were all the less technical, lighter rapids that were a lot of fun to hit.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~10 feet per mile, with two class III rapids in the first half of this trip and several riffles and light rapids in the mix throughout.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: The water level was ideal. The lowest recommended level was 150 CFS, so I had enough to avoid any scraping and also had a more manageable level for rapids, especially for Monastery and Zeimer's Falls.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Morgan Rd gauge, located about 5 miles upstream of this trip's put in, with a dam in between.):

  • USGS Number = 04077630
  • Discharge Rate = 188 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 6.3 ft

Overall Experience

Planning: The Red River is a small river located in northeastern Wisconsin that flows southeast. The river flows several miles upstream of the dam shown above and another eight or so miles beyond this trip’s takeout before it merges with the Wolf River. These stretches of the river are believed to have access issues and lack the appeal of the rapids-filled section that Mike Svob included in his book, Paddling Northern Wisconsin. His trip of the Red River starts just below the Lower Red Lake (or Weed Dam) Powerhouse and ends at the County A bridge, with several rapids mapped out and two in particular written and warned about. Monastery Falls is a class III-IV and Zeimer’s Falls is a class III.

Shuttle: A short stretch of river makes for a slightly shorter shuttle of 4 miles. The route from my takeout to put in was mostly back roads that were quiet and often lined with trees, making for an ideal shuttle.

Paddling: The rapids are the big draw to this section of the Red River and rightfully so. There were several drops beyond the big drops of Monastery and Zeimer’s, with plenty of brief boulder gardens and riffles in the mix as well. Beyond the rapids, the paddling was still pleasant. The current was decent and the river stayed narrow and winded at times making the brief time out on the water go by even faster.

Rapids: Monastery Falls is a class III-IV depending on water levels, with my lower level run of it a class III. But even at lower levels, this class III rapid is no joke. There are several drops that occur in a steep narrow boulder surrounded chute, with specific spots to hit and quick decisions necessary. The initial drop is the most challenging, for how near you are to the boulders on the left and with a sticky hole right after the drop that swept me over to the far left side and had me stuck along the rocks for a few moments. Once free, I was able to finish the remaining drops cleanly but they’re challenging in their own right. Zeimer’s Falls is a class III and less ferocious than Monastery, but requires more maneuvering with ideal runs starting left and ending on the far right side of the right channel. I happened to run Zeimer’s twice as I forgot to turn my GoPro on the first time and had two very different runs of it. The first was clean from start to finish, while my second started with an awkward drop on the left side making me overcorrect paddling over to the right resulting in me nosing the right boulder wall just before hitting the last drops.

Observations: The water is pretty clear and has an abundance of boulders in and around it, with forest surrounding the water. What more can you ask for in natural surroundings. There were still a handful of houses in the mix, but no bridges. I was the only paddler out on the water at the time but did pass by two people sitting at Zeimer’s Falls. Wildlife consisted of a deer on the hike, along with a blue heron, several ducks, and a turtle while I was on the water.

Reflections: I have nothing but positive reflections from this short trip on the Red River. The scenery and solitude were great, with a nice current and water level for both calm and whitewater stretches. The rapids experienced had a nice range too. The light ones were fun to hit waves in the moment, while the fun to the two class III rapids was more had right after their runs when I was in the clear, especially with Monastery Falls. I’d definitely recommend this section of the Red River to other paddlers that enjoy whitewater, as you can easily portage the two class III falls if you’re not up for that level of rapids. I’d like to return to paddle it again at a higher water level to experience the difference in these rapids as well.