Tough to catch with water, but contains one of the longest IV- rapids in the state.
Some river guide descriptions break the run into two sections, using Kimball Town Park as the intermediate take-out/put-in. This shortens the upper trip to 5.0 miles, and yields a 'section 2' run with 1.5 miles of II-III rapids (down to just below Hwy.2) followed by about a mile of much lesser gradient before the confluence with the main Montreal River (midway through a described reach of that river). Breaking this reach as described here, you get virtually all of the whitewater on the West Fork in one reach.
Alternatively, put-in may be possible from backroads north of the town of Montreal, skipping Gile Falls and thus also skipping 1.6 miles of flatwater.
Gile Falls (at/near the put in) is a scenic area where the river is squeezed between rock walls to plunge over a short falls. At most boatable flows you will be best advised to avoid the reversal that forms here by skirting as far left as possible. Just downstream, the river is diverted 90degrees left through a vertical walls of rock.
Much flatwater intervenes until Rock Cut Falls (a.k.a. Railroad Rapids) is encountered. Scouting is highly advised, as this area has been known to collect snags. There are virtually no eddies to the bridge, and only a few small ones below. A great series of (almost unavoidable) offset holes in a relatively narrow boulder-lined channel lead to a bit of slack water under the (defunct) railroad bridge. The action resumes (only slightly diminished) leading to a river-right ledge and rock jumble creating a final slide into a pool.
A short distance downstream, another river-wide irregular ledge creates a fairly nasty reversal at most runnable levels. The best route is a 'sneak' well to the right, with a short boof ledge, then enjoying the rapids which lead toward and past a fine rock outcropping on the right. Fairly continuous I-II action and flat but swift water will bring you to Kimball Falls, easily recognized by the clearing and park buildings on the left. Again, take out well in advance to scout. A fun series of small ledges lead down to a bridge, immediately after which the river is twisted and contorted into wrapping diagonal waves funneling into a final, wicked-looking hole.
Use the park at Kimball Falls (above or below the drop) as a short-run take-out, or proceed the next 1.5 miles through fairly continuous I-II action (with a couple boat-scoutable larger drops bordering on III) to the Hwy.2 bridge. A sweet, surfable wave forms in the downstream end of the culvert to finish off your trip.The following video (via YouTube, courtesy of 'Duck Wild Producktions') does a great job of providing a boater's-eye view of the run from Rock Cut Falls to Kimball Falls: https://youtu.be/M-rGqNSHFx4
Click here for Part 1 of an article from the AW Journal, way back in 1981!
Click here for Part 2 of the article.
The article describes the following: Michigan's, Upper Presque Isle, Lower Presque Isle, Middle Black, Lower Black, Upper Silver, Lower Silver, Falls, and Rock; and Wisconsin's Lower Brunsweiler, Montreal Canyon, and West Branch Montreal.
USGS lists a sampling site just downstream of the Gile Flowage dam, showing drainage at this point as 78 square miles.
Gile Falls (at/near the put in) is a scenic area where the river is squeezed between rock walls to plunge over a short falls. At most boatable flows you will be best advised to avoid the reversal that forms here by skirting as far left as possible. Just downstream, the river is diverted 90-degrees left through a vertical walls of rock.
Alternate put-in, skipping Gile Falls and ~1.75 miles of flat water.
Just past a short zig-zag you'll come to a powerline crossing/clearing. Almost immediately you'll want to get out and scout from river-right (where the "Iron Horse Trail" passes through). This is one of Wisconsin's (and among the upper Midwest's) longest class IV rapids (nearly an unrelenting quarter-mile). The narrow channel is filled with action, with only a brief pause right at the (defunct) railroad bridge (now part of the "Iron Horse Trail"). Downstream of the bridge, the channel is slightly wider and the action slightly more manageable than above the bridge.
As the river takes a sweeping right-hand bend, it encounters a few good bedrock intrusions (ledges). At some flows, there will be keepy-looking holes, but there are sneak-routes available.
Mostly just as a 'way point' to measure progress, but could also be an alternate (emergency) access.
Located in a county park, the lead-in is a bit less-than straightforward. Get out (river-left) to scout well-before the bridge. As you pass under the bridge (which no longer allows vehicular traffic, but provides access to the park) the main drop has a steep wrapping wave to the right, a fine tongue leading to a diagonal wave/hole below.
Paddled on 4/5/20 from just below the Flowage to Hwy 2. Dam operator confirmed ~400 cfs + natural flow. Seemed a bit on the low end of runnable. After Gile (III- at this flow) all scenic flatwater until Rockcut falls. In this section there was one large river wide down tree which we portaged around. Other than that no in play wood. Rockcut was fully scoutable on RR. At this level would put it at III+ moves with IV- consequences due to length. From Rockcut/Railroad all fun boogie water until Zig Zag and Kimball. Kimball is also a good PnH spot and easy to lap, could also be an alt TO.
Instream flow study for the West Branch of the Montreal.
Contact Northern States Power recorded hotline at 715-893-2213 for discharge information from Gile Flowage. Minimum is around 200cfs.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
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West Fork Fun
West Branch Montreal
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In December 2019 Northern States Power submitted their Notice of Intent and Preliminary Application Document to relicense both the Saxon Falls and Superior Falls Hydroelectric Projects. These two projects regulate flows on the West Branch Montreal and Montreal Canyon. Both of these runs are enjoyed by paddlers from across the Midwest and offer opportunities that are unique to the region. American Whitewater will be filing formal comments and a study request within the next week requesting an evaluation of flow needs for whitewater boating and adequacy of accommodations for public access to the river. Paddlers in the region who know the river can help by filing personal comments.
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