Difficulty I(II) at this flow (II-III+ normally)
Length 5.4 Miles
Flow Range 200 - 1000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 83.6 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 04/17/2019 10:31 pm

River Description

Easy access. Best whitewater section of Popple. 27% of length is 14 rocky rapids(II) with two falls (III) over ledges. Trip 1.5-2.5 hrs (avg 1.9)

Little input (30cfs) to flow from groundwater (springs) is a limiting factor for this river. The best water levels are usually not from snowmelt, but from early spring rains that come when the ground is still frozen until trees fully leaf-out (April-May). A rain of 1” at this time will provide excellent water levels, while from summer through fall it may take a 3” rain.

In 1965 the Popple River became a *State of Wisconsin designated) “Wild River.” This state designation pre-dated and was the model for the national Wild and Scenic River program. The issue that rallied public support for the creation of a protected, Wild Rivers designation was the 1961 proposal to build a dam across Big Bull Falls that would have impounded waters (to be named Aspen Lake) for nearly the entire length of this section of the river (all the way back to Little Bull Falls) and turn this spectacular stretch of river into a lake for private development (see image 888955 under photos tab). The dam was not permitted, Wild Rivers legislation passed, and today over 90% of the land along this stretch of the Popple is owned and protected by the WI DNR.

Geologically the bedrock outcrops at each falls along this stretch is metamorphosed basalt and intruded volcanic granite that originally solidified off the ocean floor south of the equator nearly 2 billion years ago. It is some of the oldest rock in North America. The unique values of ancient bedrock and wildness add value to your run down this action-packed stretch of river.

Drops include Little Bull Falls (II+) and Big Bull Falls (III). Both have marked portage trails that facilitate scouting. Big Bull Falls can also be viewed from the signed hiking trail off of West River Rd (from Hwy 101). Neither of these are "falls" in the traditional, vertical sense.

Little Bull is a curved ledge with underlying bedrock features that create a deceptively sticky, boiling pourover. (It claimed a life 2008.06.14, at 340 cfs, and nearly 2 more 2011.06.24 at 510 cfs).

Big Bull divides around a bedrock island (well worth exploring). The right side, with two consecutive ledge drops, is the preferred run at flows below 5-600 cfs. At higher flows (over 700) the left channel may become preferable.

Twelve separate rocky rapids (II) are spaced out into 3 extended groupings; above-and-below Little Bull Falls, mid-run, and above-and-below Big Bull Falls.

This run has a 6-mile paved-road shuttle allowing paddle-down-bike-back option (50 min. avg. bike ride, hill climbs included).

If an extension of this section is desired, easiest would be to start upriver on Newald Tower Rd. (adding 4.7 miles and 2-3 hours of in-river time with only 3.5 miles more to the shuttle). See Popple River Section B) Newald Tower Rd to Morgan Lake Rd.

Rapid Descriptions

Anunson Trace Rapids

Class - II Mile - -0.04
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This rapids can be added to the run if you drag your boat a short ways above the bridge along the river-right.  The bridge and bedrock ledge concentrate flow through this short drop. At high flow (>650 CFS) the center path leads to a large sucking hole directly under the bridge.  At lesser flows the hole is a sweet s-shaped path past the brink of the hole.  At low flow, the rapids ends in a confusing river-wide stone-field.  Be prepared to stop or back-ferry immediately after s-shape drop.

Nagler Rapids

Class - II Mile - 0.31
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

A good warmup rapids with a boulder field at the end.  It ends in a large relatively still-water pool providing easy access to the start portage (or scouting trail) on river left, immediately after the private cabin.  The portage is on private land.  Use is thankfully permitted, so please respect the land-owner’s property.  A 1/3-mile emergency-only hike-out exit from Little Bull Falls is along a gated, private access road to the cabin on river-right, across river from the portage takeout landing.

Portage Landing

Class - N/A Mile - 0.41
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The portage is signed and is 385 feet. The start of the portage (or scouting trail) is on river left, immediately after the private cabin.  The portage is on private land.  Use is thankfully permitted, so please respect the land-owner’s property.  A 1/3-mile emergency-only hike-out exit from Little Bull Falls is along a gated, private access road to the cabin on river-right, across the river from the portage takeout landing.

Little Bull Falls

Class - II+ Mile - 0.47

Scout this drop before running!  The last 70 feet is a boulder-lined channel leftover from the logging era that diverts most of the flow down the falls side of the island. This mini-gorge results in little to no option once committed.  The falls is a short, somewhat horse-shoe shaped ledge.  It can form a quite aggressive hole at moderate-to-high flows and should be run by groups of experienced whitewater boaters with spotters and throw ropes ready.

This gets REAL retentive! It is NOT recommended as a playspot because of a submerged, cross-river, flow-stopping bedrock wall, 10-feet downriver from the drop (Photos Tab: Little Bull Falls @30 CFS #888780).  This hidden feature pushes almost the entire outflow from the hole from left to right.  Just above the drop, deflected current is running right to left.  This combo of opposing tail-push and bow-push tends to spin boats broadside in the hole. Exit the hole with the current to river-right.  Contrary to the prior desription on this page, it is not possible to touch bottom and stand up in the hole (I have tried at low water).  Rescue rope extraction from the hole (by experienced paddlers) has occasionally proved to be difficult, nearly fatal!

Klopsteg Rapids

Class - II Mile - 0.49

From the small pool right after Little Bull Falls, action soon gets very tight with good flow.  Take a good look downriver for the occasional river-wide strainer before starting.  At the end of the wider right-then-left turns, the rest of the river comes in from the backside of the island, giving the next part more volume.  The exit from the river-wide boulder fan at the end is on the far left.  Rapids are named in recognition of Paul Klopsteg's successful efforts to prevent Apsen Dam and thus save this section of river from being flooded (see article under news tab)

Slide-by Rapids

Class - II Mile - 0.88
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Class I-II, the last in group of initial rapids above and below Little Bull Falls.

Little and Big Murphy Rapids

Class - II Mile - 2.11
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

There is a submerged rock in the main path through the right bootleg turn at the end of the main run in Big Murphy.  At flow rates below 300 this usually undetectable rock can stop, or broadside and flip a canoe.  At such flow rates, staying tight to the right through the bootleg is desirable.

Nine-Day Rapids

Class - II Mile - 3.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

At 1/3 mile in length this is the longest rapids on this stretch. Many guide maps have the wrong location of this rapids.  It is not where the DNR “nine-day” campsite is.  Historically (from logging era), the original name for this rapids was changed from Long Rapids to Nine-Day Rapids when it took Anunson's crew 9 days to clear a log jam at the foot of this complex set of rapids.  At flows under 300 CFS, to avoid hanging up on the rocky shallows, stay to the outside (river-right) as the river widens and turns abruptly left.

Big Eddy Rapids

Class - II Mile - 4.18
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The name refers to the large pool just after the big boulder on the right shore.  The angular rock (looks like a turtle to some) in the pool at the end of this rapids marks the start of the run towards Big Bull Falls.

Temptation Rapids to Portage

Class - II Mile - 4.4
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This short, simple rapids, followed by a brief stretch of gently flowing flatwater is a disarming leadup to the urgency ahead.  In early spring runs, from here to Big Bull Falls may be lined with high ice shelves that constrict or block passage (even if the upriver runs were clear of ice).  Get a good view downriver before swift water begins again.  If ice shelving looks too dangerous takeout, engage reverse and look for a usable spot to get out on river-right.  The drag through the woods around the falls is adventuresome but doable.

The portage landing is on the right in a big, quiet pool after the large cedar tree behind the prominent shore rock. Sounds like an easy exit but unless you anticipate pushing up into the eddy after getting past the projecting rocks and initial wave action, the swift current will speed you beyond it.  If this happens, it may be possible to power land on a river-right point of land before the falls.  Landing on river left before the falls is an option for hiking off-river along the trail to West River Rd.

If you do grab the eddy and portage or scout the falls you will find the portage trail starts on an island so you will be crossing a little side-chute/creek of water.  The eventual end of this 465-foot portage is not clear and thus varies with choice and conditions.

Portage Landing

Class - N/A Mile - 4.51
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Portage is signed and is 465 feet

Big Bull Falls

Class - III Mile - 4.54

An island splits the flow. The right trips across a fun double-ledge of drops that is the usual choice at low to moderate flows.  At flows below 5-600 the left is a narrow, generally congested (rocky) channel that is not runnable.  At flows about 700 the left channel becomes runnable  At very high flows (1350 cfs), the left side becomes the runnable route and the right is not because the current and wave train on the right goes straight into the woods below the drop.  At such high levels, take out well above the drop to scout, because the ferry from river right to river left becomes difficult at high water.  Scouting of the left channel can also be done from the hike-in trail off of West River Rd before starting the entire run.

Long-Day Rapids

Class - II Mile - 4.65

A tight start runs through 2 sets of high action before widening out at the big right turn.  The rest is swifts and class I flow all the way to the take out.


Class - N/A Mile - 5.3
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Pass under the bridge (read the staff gauge on the downstream left abutment).  Takeout can be left, on shallow land before the little rapids or left, on the shallow gravel shore just after the rapids.  Continuing on through the next section will add another 3-5 hours to the in-river part of your trip.


default user thumbnail
John Roberts
2 years ago

5/11/2018 374cfs Good Run. Plenty of fluid to clear rocks but some morphology (not all pushy and big waves). Ice is gone and pathways were clear of trees or logs

default user thumbnail
12 years ago

A lone boater died here ther weekend of June 14, 2008. Body found just below little bull falls. http://wcco.com/wisconsinwire/22.0.html?type=local&state=wi&category=n&filename=WI--KayakingDeath.xml

default user thumbnail
12 years ago

As of 4/26/2008, the Popple was running great this last weekend. Carefull of a large tree on the left side of Washburn Falls. Safer routes on the right sides of Little and Big Bull falls.

default user thumbnail
Bill Barclay
14 years ago

As of 5/13/06 there was a large limb hanging down into the chute through Big Bull Falls. Check before you run this or bring a saw.

Gage Descriptions

The stage may be read on site at the Hwy 101 bridge over the Popple, in the end of this reach. Relative flow may also be judged from the small rapid just downstream of the Morgan Lake Rd bridge.

The relationship between the USGS flow and this staff gauge is:
1.0 =  92 cfs
1.5 = 187 cfs
2.0 = 281 cfs
2.5 = 328 cfs
3.0 = 470 cfs
3.5 = 565 cfs
4.0 = 659 cfs
4.5 = 754 cfs
5.0 = 848 cfs

Previously posted Gauge/flow analysis based on data from 1963-10-01 to 2008-05-11, was based on USGS gauge data at Morgan Lake Rd, However, there is no publicly viewable gauge at the Morgan Lake Rd. USGS station.  The gauge/flow analysis for the gauge at Hwy 101 is considerably different.  This analysis is based on 33 first hand observations from 2006 to 2016.

Gauge/flow analysis based on data from 1963-10-01 to 2008-05-11
Drainage area at gauge: 139 sq.mi.
Minimum mean daily flow during stated period: 10 cfs (1989.08.12)
90% of time flow exceeds: 33 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 246 cfs
Maximum mean daily flow during stated period: 1,610 cfs (1979.04.25)
10/90 ratio ('flashy-ness'): 7.45 (under 3 is fairly steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')
Average days per year over recommended 'low' threshold: 51
Average days per year over recommended 'high' threshold: 1

Directions Description

There is either a 6.2-mile direct shuttle via 101 to Maple Drive to Morgan Lake Rd. or a 7.6-mile shuttle via 101 to County C and Morgan Lake Rd that brings you past the Fence Post convenience store for gas, snacks, a beer and bison burger lunch, but not much more.  Both routes are paved but involve hill climbs (for bike-back trips)..

Date Flow Result Factor  
2008-06-14 Medium Fatality Solo Paddling Read More





John Roberts




Thomas O'Keefe


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1208982 02/26/18 John Roberts added space to title
1208985 02/26/18 John Roberts corrected high flow info for Big Bull and added photos
1208783 01/23/18 John Roberts Making room for inserting a new reach between
1208892 02/11/18 John Roberts separated into 2 reaches, added rapids, corrected location, corrected gauge info, updated details
1208893 02/11/18 John Roberts Minor update
1208894 02/11/18 John Roberts Added 1 rapids
1208904 02/13/18 John Roberts minor change
1208895 02/11/18 John Roberts done for now
1208986 02/26/18 John Roberts historical correction to name
1209023 03/02/18 John Roberts standardized max gradient flow
1209027 03/02/18 John Roberts spelling corrections
1209030 03/03/18 John Roberts added text of 1961 Aspen Dam threat
1211649 04/01/19 John Roberts updated image position
1209031 03/03/18 John Roberts referenced Aspen Dam photo
1211942 04/17/19 Rob updated description
1192106 05/06/09 Thomas O'Keefe n/a
1196688 11/22/09 Rob Fix/remove broken links.
1198718 11/20/10 Rob Minor changes (gauge/flow)
1208772 01/17/18 Rob minor reformat