The Waupaca River from Hwy 54 in Waupaca to Harrington Rd. is a beautiful mostly wild stretch of river running right on the edge of town.
Length: 7.5 miles
Start: Kiwanis Park in Waupaca off Hwy 54
Finish: Harrington Rd. bridge
Time: about 3 hours on the river
Shuttle: Hwy 54 to Harrington Road is about 4 miles. Leaving a bike at the end could work well if you don’t have an extra vehicle.
Hazards: deadfalls in the first 2 miles block the river and with the moving water make the first section challenging.
The Waupaca River is one the nicest rivers for a leasurely paddle with changing scenery in central Wisconsin. Bob and I started this paddle at Kiwanis Park on Hwy 54 in Waupaca. The park is a convenient starting place to put in with it’s cleanly mowed river banks.
Right away we had to navigate around a large tree blocking the river. There was just enough room to get through the branches and keep our boats in the water. Trees are a challenge in the first part of this paddle. The river banks are 25 to 40 feet wide in the first 2 miles from Kiwanis Park. The river is also completely tree lined which means blow downs end up in the river. A portage or 3 may be necessary in the beginning. We only had to get out of our boats once on this day but there were many other places we had to pull our boats over logs and through branches. There is enough current in the Waupaca River to make all this maneuvering around trees an extra challenge. If you pay attention and know how to control your boat you should be fine but be prepared to portage in a few spots.
About 2 miles from Kiwanis Park the Crystal River enters the Waupaca River on the right. The Crystal is just a few hundred yards after a private steel and wood bridge. The Crystal adds plenty of extra water to the flow of the Waupaca. From here on the river gets wider and the extra width make it less likely trees will completely block your way. There were still a few spots where we had to get around large trees but less than the sections above.
There is another small private bridge to go under and the concrete remains of an old bridge to pass around before you see the bridge at Hwy 22 / 54 at about the 3 mile point. The Hwy 22/ 54 bridge could be an alternative start or end spot. We didn’t see any signs of this bridge being used by paddlers as we went by but the South side looks like the best access from our position in the river.
Longer, fairly straight sections with broad curves after Hwy 22 / 54 are nice and easy. Some of the broad shallow sandy sections may force you to walk your boat when the water is lower. We had plenty of water in the entire river. The Waupaca River runs just North of the Waupaca Airport. We saw a couple of small planes from the airport but it’s a small airport and we didn’t actually see the airport from the river. After the airport there is another small farm bridge to go under with a very sharp left turn after. The eddies and riffles after the bridge were fun to play in.
The banks of the river vary from small marshy sections to high banked outside curves. Most of the river is tree lined until you get near the end. A couple of farm fields are visible as you near Harrington Rd. The peace and calm of most of the upper sections is interrupted in the last mile with the traffic noise where the river runs near Hwy 10. We did get a view of the highway near the very end of our journey. There are not as many boulder gardens in this section like there are from Hwy Q to Brainerd’s bridge, West of Waupaca.
The Waupaca River from Hwy 54 to Harrington Rd. is highly recommended for a paddle trip as long as you are willing to deal with a few portages around deadfalls. We enjoyed seeing an Osprey circling around the river. We also saw a Blue Heron and turtles.
If you want to lengthen this trip you can extend your take out to the Lake Weyauwega landings. The landings in Weyauwega are an additional hour downstream. As of Summer 2011 Weyauwega lake has been drained to control weeds. The landings will not be very useable until the lake if filled again which will probably be sometime in 2012.
Photo Slideshow of the Waupaca River
Here’s our trip in photos: