Date: July 7, 2020; Length: 15 miles; Duration: 4 hours
Having spent most summers up in northeastern Wisconsin, I knew of the Wolf River but never made my way over to get on it or even see it in person. Checking out Mike Svob’s Paddling Northern Wisconsin book, I could see there were plenty of options for where to start and end a river trip on the Wolf. I ended up choosing the Lily to Langlade section of 15 miles mainly for the Wolf River State Trail that runs parallel to the river here. But this section also has a nice mix of rapids that stay at a class II or lower. Other sections, especially downriver get more extreme.
So with my route decided, I parked at my intended takeout in Langlade, a DNR landing off of Hwy 64, which had a big parking area and restroom, but no landing, although takeout seemed very accessible. From here I packed my packraft and hiked down 64 until I came to the Wolf River State Trail, which would take me all the way to Lily. This was no picnic early on though, as the bugs were constant on the trail, to the point that I was intermittently running with my full pack just to get a break from the bugs. At one point in the town of Hollister, between Lily and Langlade, the trail crossed over the river and I had my opportunity to switch to walking along highway instead, but the bugs had eased up by then and I continued on the trail. Almost four hours of hiking and I reached my put in at the Hwy 52 bridge. Here there was a small area for cars to park and a somewhat clear grass path to the water for a manageable put in.
After inflating my packraft, strapping down my backpack, and setting up my sprayskirt for rapids to come, I was on the Wolf River for the first time. The water was dark brown, but clear enough to spot the lighter colored boulders that would often appear just below the surface. Occasionally there were aquatic plants or weeds, but hardly any downed trees, even at the sides. The river stayed pretty wide and had a strong current, which came in handy during calm stretches between rapids. Beyond the water, trees lined the banks throughout the 15 miles of river, while only a handful of houses were in sight, around the town of Hollister. Even bridges were scarce, with only that state trail bridge between the put in and takeout bridges. That being said, there were three other landings of access, which were hard to spot from the water. With limited options, I was the only kayaker or packrafter out on the water, but did come across two different rafts, the first of which I’ve personally seen on a Wisconsin river. And how could I forget the one guy with a cooler of beverages just floating down the last of the class II rapids to this section. As for wildlife, I was surprised to not spot any, aside from one or two hawks way up in the sky.
This leaves me with the rapids to report on. Mike Svob writes more in depth about each of the named class I and II rapids, while the website named Wisconsin Trail Guide does the same. Either are great options for explaining what to expect and tips on how to best approach each one. What I will give is my takeaway of these rapids at the CFS I paddled at. The named class I rapids of St Claire, Big and Little Sheen, and 9 mile were all very runnable, especially for me in a packraft. There were also nine named class II rapids which sounds like a lot, but eight of them come in three main groups. The first group was a pair called Big Slough Gundy, with Little Slough Gundy to follow. Don’t let the names fool you though. Little Slough Gundy is most likely named for the length of it and not for how much it drops or the rapids it produces. This was the most challenging of the two and of the remaining rapids to this trip. The section was short but came with giant boulders and waves to maneuver thanks to strong flow and a steep gradient. I made it pretty cleanly until the end where a big wave surprised me and hit me on an angle, but my packraft took it well and I stayed upright. If I was in a kayak it definitely could have been a different story. From here, after some class I rapids and a calm stretch came Burnt Point, the lone class II rapid, which really seemed more like a class I, at least compared to my last class II experience an hour earlier. A group of three class II rapids then followed the 9 mile class I rapid. Oxbow came first, with a sharp left turn leading to rapids that took you further left, which was a pretty easy run for me. Cedar followed and would be the most challenging of this group of class II rapids. It was a succession of barely exposed boulders all over that was hard to run cleanly. Hemlock came last in this group and was comparably easier, like Oxbow felt. The final group of class II rapids started about two miles from my takeout. First came Upper Sherry, which seemed like a very manageable class II. The more intense Lower Sherry followed, with a mix of big and smaller waves and boulders, and felt like almost a hybrid between Little Slough Gundy and Cedar. This was a hard one to run cleanly and stay dry for that matter. And last of all was Larzalere, which wasn’t much of a class II, as there was a lot of space to move and avoid hazards.
After four hours on the Wolf I came to the Hwy 64 bridge and a low grassy bank spot after to takeout on river right that would lead back to my car. After deflating my packraft and packing it away, I got back to my car and officially finished my Wolf River trip. Looking back on it, it was a great experience in much more ways than not. The rapids were great, but so was the river itself and the scenery and solitude up in northern Wisconsin. I will be back soon, but on a new section of the Wolf next time.