Little Wolf River – Wisconsin [July 2020]

River Paddled: Little Wolf

Trip Date: July 25, 2020

Put In

Wolf River Road

Parking lot with a short trail leading to a small landing. Easy access from here.

Take Out

Big Falls

Small landing on river right as water starts to slow and widen out. Easy takeout leads to a small parking lot.

Paddle Length: 7.5 miles

Paddle Duration: 2.25 hours

Gradient: ~11 feet per mile. Good current, riffles and rapids.

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Royalton gauge, located off the Hwy 54 bridge, about 25 miles downriver of the takeout to this section. UPDATE: this gauge (04080000) was discontinued by the USGS in June 2020.):

Our Experience Paddling This Segment of the Little Wolf at These Levels

Paddling at this water level was great. It's just unknown what the actual water level was due to the gauge not giving out CFS or gauge height data. Regardless, the River had a good current to it with Rapids very runnable. There were also some downed trees but avoidable at these levels.

Paddling Experience

Paddling this short stretch of the Little Wolf was a great experience. It had a nice range of Rapids (riffles to a couple class IIs) and a good current for the calmer moments to the River. All on clear water with consistently good width.

Natural Scenery

The River was typically surrounded by wooded banks of both deciduous and pine trees. Some houses and a couple bridges were scattered throughout this stretch but nothing that seemed out of place for the scenery.

Rapids

For being a smaller tributary (to the Wolf), it had some nice Rapids to it. There were riffles, class Is, and a few class IIs intermittently spaced in this section. The final class II was called The Dells, which split then became a fast run of big waves in a narrowed width of about 15 feet.

Wolf River Rd - Big Falls

The Little Wolf is a river that I wouldn’t have known about or thought anything of if it wasn’t for Mike Svob’s Paddling Southern Wisconsin book. I had decided on paddling several rivers before getting and looking into this book. So when I found the 7.5-mile Little Wolf section from Wolf River road to Big Falls, I immediately added it for its run of rapids on a short and intimate section of river. When the time came, I camped at a park the night before, intending to get an early start at this river trip. Early the next morning I drove to the Big Falls takeout and parked in one of the handful of parking spots, where a small landing is as well. With my backpack already packed with my packraft, I hiked towards my put in. After a straight shot of a hike of about two hours I reached the put in at Wolf River road. It had a small parking lot off the road, with a nice carry in spot.
This river gave a great first impression once I got on it, with its nice water clarity alone thanks in large part to its rock and sand bottom. For a smaller tributary of a river it had good width to it, which fluctuated to some more narrow or wider areas. There were some downed trees, but none of difficulty to avoid, while a couple creeks entered in this stretch, helping to contribute to the already solid current. Throw in a steeper gradient and some good sized boulders here and there and I ended up experiencing some legitimate class I and II rapids. But more on that later. As for the scenery, the river banks were consistently lined with deciduous, pine, and other trees, that extended beyond for a little section of forest. On the contrary, some houses were scattered throughout this stretch of river. There were also two bridges between the put in and takeout, a good in between for this length of a river section. And I only came across other people or paddlers in the final half mile, where the river started to really widen out thanks to the dam just beyond my take out in Big Falls. As for wildlife, I spotted a bald eagle, some geese and ducks, and two deer (a doe and its fawn).
Now for those rapids. As Mike Svob writes and shows in his detailing of this section, the first rapids of concern come after about 1.5 miles of paddling. Here follows about a mile stretch of solid rapids getting up to class II’s. I experienced something similar while out there, feeling like it was a mix of class I’s and a couple class II’s, but like it extended beyond the mapped mile. I felt like the rapids finally let up just before reaching the J bridge. That could be explained by a possible difference in water levels, but that will remain uncertain as the gauge wasn’t registering specific CFS or gauge height data then online. From here came about three miles of mostly flat water, but the occasional riffles or class I rapid here and there. The next rapids came at the McNinch road bridge, with the only named rapid of this stretch to follow. The Dells was the final rapid, a more intense class II, where the river first splits around a small island. The water is already wavy and strongly flowing here but further ramps up as the river straightens but narrows to as little as fifteen feet in width. It is a quick run of big waves and a few big boulders to avoid on the sides, which are already lined with short canyon-like walls, making the experience feel even more intense. This could be a challenging run in a kayak but definitely doable for those experienced.
About a mile later I was finishing my trip with the opposite paddling experience, as the water widened out and felt like more of a long lake than a river at that point. But this was brief and I quickly was approaching my takeout on river right, where a handful of kayakers were putting in. With an easy takeout, I deflated my packraft but didn’t pack it fully away as it was still morning and I was planning to head a little ways west and paddle on the Plover River next, which I knew couldn’t possibly compare. Looking back, paddling this section of the Little Wolf was one of my favorite river trips for the river and its rapids and the scenery and its generated solitude.

Here are some pictures from this trip: