This section of the Peshtigo has been the heart of the Wisconsin boating scene since the 70s. Three commercial rafting companies are supported by the river since the main action is roughly a mile of fairly continuous class II-III rapids (with the remainder of the run having somewhat tamer rapids and swiftwater), and is normally runnable all summer. That said, most experienced whitewater boaters will prefer levels above 5 inches at the CTH.C bridge gauge (which equates to ~350 cfs) and will find major play potential and some challenging holes at levels from 12 to 35+ inches (or roughly 750 cfs to 2000+ cfs). At high water, rafts have been known to get caught in some of the holes for hours on end and even overnight! Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or expert, "the Pesh" is a great run.
The major drops are named (with lack of imagination, originality, or flair): "1st drop", "2nd drop", "3rd drop", "Five Foot Falls", "Horserace", and "S-curve".
Take-out is possible at Kosirs Rapid Rafts at the County C bridge. (This bridge has the 'boater gauge' painted on it, though to read it at high water you will have to step into the water or be in a boat on the end of your run.) Kosirs is also a convenient place to score a shuttle and a campsite. Rapids Resort Bar is all of 100 feet from the river, and welcomes kayakers. You can put in a order at the bar, tell them when you expect to be back, catch a shuttle with them, run the river, then walk up to the bar and have your lunch waiting for you! If you are not too tired, you can then catch another shuttle up for a second run.
The non-commercial-boater put-in is from the end of Farmdam Lane, and is actually on a tributary (Otter Creek) just before its confluence with the Peshtigo. Putting in here, it is about a half-mile flatwater paddle to the first rapid.
Be aware that immediately after turning onto Farmdam Lane you will see a big clearing on the right. This is the commercial put-in. If you get a shuttle with Kosirs, or get dropped off by someone and are already dressed and ready to launch, or park your car far enough out of the way, no one will care if you use this commercial put-in. Please be courteous and do not interfere with rafters and raft guides, but pass discretely around them to put-in. However, if you are going take your time getting ready at your put-in, talking animatedly with your cohorts, please stay to the left and follow Farmdam Lane until you reach the aforementioned non-commercial-boater put-in.
From the public landing put-in (on Otter Creek), you'll have a half-mile of flatwater before coming to Farm Dam. (Or, if using the rafting put-in, merely a tenth-mile.) A broken-down rock dam will offer some tame surfs as a bit of a warm-up for what's to come.
Downstream of the initial rock dam, boulder-bed rapids continue about 0.2 mile before diminishing to flat/flowing water.
A mere 0.3 miles of flatwater brings you to continuous class I-II boulder gardens across the next full mile.
After the "Upper Roaring" mile, you come to a very brief break in the boulder-bed rapids. As the boulder-bed resumes, the river bends to the left and you'll see a power line crossing overhead, which is your signal that "First Drop" is imminent! The river bends back to the right and the horizon line comes into view.
Beginner/Intermediate boaters will probably want to scout the drop (eddy out river-left). More experienced boaters will be able to boat-scout and hit their line.
At higher flows, a 'curler' in this drop flips rafters by the droves. Many folks carry up to re-run this drop, and (again, at moderate-to-high flows) people are known to 'body surf' the drop, getting 'stuffed' by the curler, to pop up well downstream.
Do be aware that there are some large boulders in the outrun. At least a few boaters have gotten black eyes after flipping while surfing the bottom hole and (literally) coming face to face with one of these boulders.
Some of the best surfs, spins, and blasts can be done on Second Drop. You can tire your arms out on surfs that seem to last an eternity if you have the stamina. A river-left eddy provides easy repeat play.
The rapid is created by river-wide sloping bedrock. The trough and immediate run-out is rather shallow, so be prepared to bump your head if you end up upside down. If you can get on the big wave in the center at higher flows you can angle your boat in a way to front-surf in a seam all day. At higher flows this becomes a sticky hole, known to stop rafts like a brick wall and even keep them over night!
There is a fun little hole followed by some surfable waves (at levels above 8") that is great for bow stalls and squirting in between 2nd and 3rd drop. Right below this hole is "Rescue Eddy," which is the last eddy before Third Drop, Joey's Hole, and Five Foot Falls.
At low-to-moderate levels, third drop can provide some play but at higher levels it gets VERY sticky, and those who fail to 'punch' it (or avoid it) will provide entertainment to others. At high water a good line is to stay left on the main drop and angle river left as you punch the first hole, then drive hard river-left to avoid Joeys Hole. There is a sharp ledge in the middle of the river on this rapid. At high water the hole below the ledge becomes nasty, but at lower water it can be run with ease.
At high-water there is a small channel far river-left which may be a good sneak route for any boaters not wishing to take on the meat of the main flow and its holes, especially since a swim at Third Drop or Joey's Hole will likely mean a swim over Five Foot Falls.
Joeys hole is a beautiful surf at low to medium levels. This is a excellent spot to learn to flat spin, play king of the hole with your pals, or just enjoy the solitude of a surf. It is too shallow at most levels to loop this hole. At higher levels most boaters try to avoid Joeys hole as it is notoriously sticky and only about 75 yards above 5 foot falls.
The traditional line on Five Foot is down a twisting chute, fairly well over to river left. Currents carom off a rock wall on shore, twisting back toward the main flow (center river) and tripping through a couple of holes. A straightforward line right down center river is possible, as the river mostly just slides down rock. Between those two lines the drop is more vertical, but it lands on fairly shallow rock.
At ~400' in length, this is the longest and most continuous of the six major rapids on the river. Many beginner/intermediate boaters will be well served to scout this drop (usually from river-right, getting out at a right-hand bend as a house comes into view on the river-left shore). A lead-in of easy waves progresses to a couple of significant holes on river left (if you enter this rapids on the right you will avoid these upper holes).
At low flows, there are many eddies to catch on your way down, working the rapids. At moderate-to-high flows, eddies are surging, swirling, boiling affairs. There is a wide hole right before the end of the rapids known as "Wahaha." The remainder of the rapid is rather shallow, so punching Wahaha and staying upright is essential. There are two sharp rocks known as the "Dragons Teeth" river-right toward the bottom of the rapid, so it is best to be somewhat further left when you hit Wahaha. However, if you get too far left you will enter "Forever Eddy." At high water there is a strong eddy fence and the only way out is from the downstream end of the eddy. If you catch the eddy and exit the downstream end, you can completely sneak Wahaha and be far away from the "Dragons Teath." If you flip here, tuck forward and kiss your boat. People have gotten beatered badly when upside down through here.
It should also be known that there has been a foot entrapment fatality (a customer on a commercial raft trip) at the bottom of Horserace. (If/when out of boat, float as near the surface as possible -- KEEP YOUR FEET UP! Do not try to stand up in strong current!)
The final significant drop, S-Curve, lies in the left channel around an island. Flow wraps hard to the left, across a submerged ledge, and into a moderate-sized hole. Old-school boaters delighted in doing 'enders' here to their hearts content. With modern playboats, it is possible to loop and cartwheel in this hole. At low water the rock that creates the hole become more exposed and harder to surf, but there is a jetstream of concentrated water about two feet wide below the rock. It is deep here and a textbook spot to squirt. As with so many rivers and rapids, every level can reveal different diversions and entertainment.
Immediately after the pool below S-Curve, you begin nearly a mile-long stretch of continuous class II+ boulder-garden rapids. Lower Roaring Rapids are just a bit more technical/difficult than the Upper Roaring Rapids stretch, and are a great way to wind down after the more intense action of the six larger rapids. Catch eddies, surf waves, and boof rocks before the gradient diminishes to the final flatwater paddle-out.
As the gradient peters-out below Lower Roaring (at about the 4.1 mile mark) you'll have flatwater until your take-out. Hwy.C and Kosirs Rapid Rafts (at 4.71 miles) can be used for your take-out, otherwise you have about another half-mile (flat water with a minor bit of rock-garden rapids just prior to) getting to Boat Landing 12.
A USGS gauge and paddler's gauge both exist at the Hwy.C bridge. A reading of 4.0' on the USGS gauge equates approximately to 0" on the paddler's gauge on Hwy.C bridge. Rather surprisingly, readings beyond that tend to be nearly a direct linear correlation, with conversion from tenths being required.
The formula, then, is: (USGS - 4.0') * 12 = Paddler's Gauge.
For example, if USGS reads 5.15': subtract 4', getting 1.15'. Now multiply by 12 to get 13.8" (or round up to 14") as the approximation of the Hwy.C bridge gauge reading. (At higher flows, correlation may vary by an inch or so.)
Min(175 cfs, 0") and Max(1230 cfs, 21") are estimates for 'best' runnability.
While the reach can be paddled at levels below 230cfs (4.0' on USGS gauge, or 'zero' on the paddlers gauge) it will be increasingly scrapey. (We are aware of runs down to -4" or so.)
At levels above the 'suggested maximum', the drops on this run will get big and continuous. Experienced boaters will certainly enjoy runs above the listed "maximum", but caution is urged. In truth, the river is runnable at all historic high levels.
Gauge Data (using data from 1998-06-01 through 2008-08-24):
Drainage area at gauge: 447 sq.mi.
Elevation at gauge: 980 feet
Minimum mean daily flow for record period: 102 cfs (Aug.18, 2007)
Maximum mean daily flow for record period: 2340 cfs (Apr.17+18, 2002)
10% of time flow exceeds: 614 cfs
90% of time flow exceeds: 162 cfs
10/90 Ratio: 3.79
Ave.runnable days/year: 192 (53%)
The 10/90 of 3.79 confirms that this river has what would be considered relatively uniform flow
(which is why it is runnable most of the year, and is able to sustain the rafting businesses in the area).
Approximate stage/gauge correlations (2015.07; subject to periodic adjustment):
6.25 = 27" =1610 cfs
6.00 = 24" =1420 cfs
5.75 = 21" =1230 cfs
5.50 = 18" =1050 cfs
5.25 = 15" = 874 cfs
5.00 = 12" = 697 cfs
4.75 = 9" = 527 cfs
4.50 = 6" = 381 cfs
4.25 = 3" = 267 cfs
4.00 = 0" = 174 cfs
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Five Foot Falls
2nd Drop Stubby's
Horserace Rapids on the beautiful Peshtigo
1st drop hole
surfing on the peshtigo
It's a blast
Surfing at 2nd Drop
WI, Peshtigo, Third Drop
WI, Peshtigo, First Drop on the Roaring Rapids.
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