Willow - B) CTH.E to end of falls (3.5 miles)


Willow, Wisconsin, US

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B) CTH.E to end of falls (3.5 miles)

Usual Difficulty I-II+(IV) (for normal flows)
Length 3.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 30 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
WILLOW RIVER @ WILLOW R STATE PARK NR BURKHARDT,WI
usgs-05341752 200 - 1500 cfs I-II+(IV) 01h29m 142 cfs (too low)
Likely too low. We have no actual experience with this gauge. We need your input regarding best flows for this reach. Gauge (292 sq.mi.drainage) is downstream of dam below this reach, but should very accurately reflect flows here.


River Description

Removal of a couple dams revealed a wild set of ledges. Be EXTREMELY careful! The final series land in shallow water sheeting across rock, and most generally SHOULD NOT BE RUN!


The following is edited combined input from two contributors:

A Wisconsin State Park pass is required for all reasonable put-in & take-out parking areas.

Mild rapids start on a bend about 150 yards below CTH.E bridge. At peak snowmelt this section may be well over bank-full and becomes class III- water (very rare but fun), otherwise this is generally Class I-II. (The river tends not to hold water very long after snowmelt or heavy rains, so is usually shallow and not pushy at all.) In summer you will scrape down the next 1.5 miles but usually find routes through easy rapids until CTH.A bridge. There are several small ledges that have micro-surf waves, great for beginners.

After a mile and a half, there is a parking lot on river right at the A bridge (permit required for Willow River State Park). This would be the best place to take out as portaging the falls is difficult and dangerous.

The lower canyon section (below CTH.A) is very picturesque and worth seeing, but that is best done on foot and from shore. This stretch should only be attempted by properly skilled whitewater boaters who have thoroughly scouted the falls area before proceeding (before putting on), and should only be done at normal (low) flows. Beyond CTH.A, there will be about a mile of flatwater with two mild drops. A bluff on the right will signal the lead-in to a canyon. Entering the canyon will commit you to approaching the falls, so keep alert to get out before the falls! ONLY EXPERT BOATERS SHOULD consider proceeding beyond this point in the river! Proceed with caution once the ledges become constant. There will be a horizon line for a 5-foot drop that (at least in medium to low water) splits around a knob of rock at river center. This 5-footer leads directly to a 4-foot ledge, and 50 feet later the river goes over a taller falls (varyingly reported anywhere from 12' to 20' tall) which lands VERY SHALLOW, generally less than 1' deep, thus is not safe to run. While the two lead-in drops may be runnable, they are too close to the taller falls for comfort and safety. Immediately after the big falls there are two final ledges/falls which may be runnable by suitably skilled whitewater boaters.

While we have reports of people running various drops in this sequence, as well as successfully portaging the big drop, we also have reports that someone went over the falls and ended up in the hospital for a few days. Therefore we most strongly recommend that you get out well before the canyon. When water is high it would be difficult to avoid being swept over the falls, and near impossible to portage because of the sheer canyon walls and lack of eddies at high flows. Even at low flows, logistics and terrain make this very risky -- rocks in the river and on shore will likely be VERY slippery regardless of flows, making footing treacherous around these falls. We have conflicting reports regarding logistics for anyone ignoring this advice and attempting to run (and/or portage) this stretch. We therefore decline to specify which side is 'best' (to eddy-out and portage) in order to further encourage thorough scouting, and personal decision-making, before putting on and committing to this stretch.

Egress to river-left to a (State Park) parking lot up the hill (it's pretty steep) or proceed an additional 1.5 miles (not included in mileage figures listed above) to the reservoir in the State Park Recreational Area where there is a boat landing or (beyond that) a beach.


A fine photo journal of these falls (and many others) is available at Go Waterfalling.com.

There is a non-boating video on YouTube showing the falls in summer with people wading in the river, which gives pretty decent perspective on the size of the final ledges and the big falls.


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-09-05 17:46:48

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.6CTH.AN/ATakeout Access
3.4Willow Falls sequenceIV+Portage Hazard Waterfall
5.5USGS gaugeN/A

Rapid Descriptions

CTH.A (Class N/A, Mile 1.6)

This is the recommended take-out for all but the most skilled boaters. Do not proceed beyond here unless you have thoroughly scouted the lower falls section on foot prior to putting on, to have awareness of what you are getting into, and a solid plan for dealing with the ledges and large falls in the lower canyon.



Willow Falls sequence (Class IV+, Mile 3.4)

EXTREME CAUTION!!! This falls (varyingly reported as anywhere from 12' to 20' tall) all lands very shallow with water sheeting across rocks. Vertical canyon walls make portaging exceedingly difficult. Two lead-in ledges and sliding bedrock make it easy to be swept into and over the larger falls! Do not put-in nor boat beyond CTH.A without first scouting (on foot) the whole falls sequence to carefully assess your skills to handle the drops, flows, eddies, and portage at this falls.




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