Difficulty III-IV at this flow (II-III(IV) normally)
Length 5.96 Miles
Flow Range 150 - 1000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 51 minutes ago 677 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 09/07/2020 3:52 pm

River Description

This is the most challenging segment on the Wolf River. The character of the river changes from (generally) longer boulder-garden style rapids (upstream of the reservation and the upper/prior stretch in the reservation) to shorter but steeper drops in this section. In all cases, fairly long flatwater pools separate the main rapids.

Access is controlled by the Menominee Indian Tribe, and permits are required. (As of 2014) You'll pay $35 up front, and get $5 back when you return your wristband at the end of the run. This fee includes a shuttle to the put-in. Permits may be purchased from Big Smoky Falls Rafting (715-799-3359) located at the take-out, and are generally available from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Trips perhaps a month before or a couple months after this time frame can usually can be arranged by calling the outfitter in advance. (Outfitters are generally NOT on-site outside the summer season unless they have confirmed bookings, so always call ahead for non-summer permits.) Permits are also sometimes available at Shotgun Eddy Campground and Rafting (715-882-4461), but this lacks the convenience of leaving your car at the take-out. Also note (by local ordinance), all cars must now remain in the upper parking area, to leave lower lot clear. You may drive down to park only briefly, to load boats, if you don't want to carry up to upper parking lot upon arrival at the end of your run.

Most trips start at the Otter Slide access, on Highway 55 south of County Highway B (though you may be able to request other options when you arrange your shuttle, particularly in non-summer or slack days). The first rapid is Sullivan Falls, a 7-foot tall, river-wide falls. You can scout on river left. In years past, a concession stand operator at this location was often confrontational with private boaters, making it unwise to dally here in or out of the river (I.E., scouting or playing the hole at the bottom of the rapid) when the concession owner was present. A new operator is now in charge and is reportedly much more boater-friendly. Still, it wouldn't hurt to carry some cash to buy a snack here (when the concession stand is in operation), or at least be VERY courteous and express thanks for being able to enjoy this spot.

An alternate Class II channel containin a drop called Evergreen Rapids (branching off to the right, just upstream of Sullivan Falls) provides an option to avoid the main falls entirely, or provides an option after running Sullivan a time or two, should anyone elect to do so.

Shortly downstream you'll arrive at Duck's Nest, a solid Class III drop. The rapid is divided into two sections (Upper Duck's Nest and Lower Duck's Nest), with a short pause between. At the exit of the lower part of the drop lies Dave's Wave, a very playable surfing wave. Better have a solid roll here, as the outflow fans out across a shallow boulder field which will be brutal to any who are slow to roll or are out of their boat. Also be aware that at high water levels, the rock wall on river left (before the final pitch into Dave's Wave) can become a dangerous undercut.

About 3/4 mile downstream is Lunch Rock, large, gently sloping shore rocks that make a perfect lunch stop and sunning spot on warm summer days. A narrowing of the river forms a tongue and wave (at higher flows) followed by a couple crease wave/holes. Those not beaching and eating may entertain themselves playing these features.

One mile further the river twists to the right and enters another Class III rapid called Tea Kettle or the Upper Dells which contains a very dynamic ledge/hole which can provide some interesting play. The exit of this stretch spills across a shallow spline of rock (river left) and into what can be a somewhat aggressive (or interesting) hole and rock (river-right). At moderate to high flows (~500+cfs), a few very agressive holes and wrapping waves form through here. A short bit of flatwater downstream brings you to the Lower Dells, one of the most challenging rapids on the stretch. It is recommended to scout the Dells on the left, as the entrance can be choked with strainers (or rafts!). This is one of the most impressive areas of the river, as near-vertical rock walls rise 20-30' from the river (for those with presence of mind to notice, while busy negotiating the water!), and the river trips through some complex waves and holes.

Very nearly two miles of flatwater ensue before the culmination of the trip at Big Smokey Falls. As you approach you'll see an island and a sign indicating "Footbridge" to the left, and "Falls" to the right. (To the left of the island, the river stays high, then tumbles down a nasty boulder sieve that has claimed at least one life. All traffic to this side must take out at an easy landing above the footbridge to the island.) For those running the drop, you may scout the rapid from the river right bank. Big Smokey Falls (right side of island) is a fairly long Class II-III slide leading into a a ledge-drop kicker into the final pool. A flip or swim early in this sequence can be nasty, so make sure you're capable of arriving at the ledge upright before you commit to this drop. Once in the pool below, paddle to the left shore to the take-out.

Recommended reading: Paddling Northern Wisconsin, by Mike Svob. Wisconsin Trails Press, Madison, WI.

MnktoDave has put together a great (open)Boater's-Eye video of all the drops on this run:

Rapid Descriptions

Otter Slide (Drainage ~501 sq.mi.)

Class - N/A Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This is the usual put-in for a run on 'Section 4' of the Wolf. While the name sounds like it should be a rapids, there is none here. The put-in lies in the middle of a long stretch of flat water, so any 'otter slide' is merely from the shore of the river into the water.

Drainage area at our listed put-in is approximately 501 sq.mi. (as calculated via USGS StreamStats Beta software).

That suggests flow here *could* be 1.082 * gauge reading (generally not a significant enough difference to merit a separate 'virtual gauge').

Trip Rapids

Class - II Mile - 1.22
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Topo maps show a 'Trip Rapids' at this point in the river. Most boaters will barely notice it, as it is very short (a single simple ledge/wave) and lies so close to Sullivan Falls.

Sullivan Falls

Class - III+ Mile - 1.63

MOST boaters will stay in the main channel (to the left of an island) to head to Sullivan Falls. Usual preferred route is just left of center, to hit a 'flake' on the lip of the (~3-4-5') falls for an 'auto-boof'. Current mostly sheets off to the right (toward a wall of rock) and wraps back to the left. A crease/wave in the pool below allows fine surfs and spins at most flows.

Evergreen Rapids

Class - II+ Mile - 1.72
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

An alternative route down the right channel at the island avoids Sullivan Falls. Proceed with caution, as this drop often holds wood. Again, most boaters will want to do the left channel (Sullivan Falls), but may wish to carry up (after their runs and playing there) to check out the right channel. Generally it is doubtful too many boaters will bother doing this more than once, just to say they've seen/done it.

Upper Ducknest

Class - III Mile - 2

At healthy flows, a couple of large rocks create substantial pourover/holes toward river-right midway down this drop. If in doubt, sneak by staying center-to-left. There is a final wave/hole (before the pool at the base of the rapids) which can be played. A brief pool precedes the next rapids, but at high flows, Upper and Lower tend to merge into one long rapids.

Lower Ducknest

Class - III Mile - 2.1

A significant rock outcropping river-left, as the flow trips though numerous waves, diagonals, and holes, finishing up with "Dave's Wave". Below this wave the flow spreads out across a massive field of shallow rocks which will be brutal on anyone who flips and misses their first roll attempt or who is out of their boat. (Best line of egress is usually to stay far right.)

Lunch Rock

Class - III Mile - 2.63

A handy spot to get out, stretch your legs, catch some rays, have a snack, ..., and watch boaters challenge the sucking/whirlpool/crease of a hole which exists here.

Upper Dells

Class - III+ Mile - 3.58

I believe some people call this Teakettle, while others call it Upper Dells. A couple early smooth waves lead to a ledge/hole within the dells. (This can be sticky at some flows, but is often played. At good flows it has strong eddies drawing you back upstream river-left.) Coming out of this dells, river-left spills across a spline of rock mostly parallel to the flow, while the main (center/right) current slides off into a large rock forming a wave/hole to river-right.


Class - II Mile - 3.85
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

An island splits the flow. Head right, and enjoy a fine little ledge and surf spot. (The left of the island drops the same gradient, but manages to have almost no play.)

Lower Dells

Class - III+ Mile - 4

Most boaters will take out (river-left) above this area to scout. A somewhat complex entrance leads into the dells. The crux move comes early. A hump of rock center-river with (usually) a somewhat aggressive hole to the left, and rather grungy alternative to river-right. Almost immediately downstream, as the canyon walls rise overhead, advanced boaters may try to catch a near river-wide wave/hole which allows some play. The heart of the dells is little more than splishy-splash, but you will trip across one final short ledge before you exit the dells into a wide pool below.

Big Smokey Falls

Class - IV Mile - 5.83

After nearly two miles of dead-flat water (the longest stretch of the run) you encounter an island. A very few people may plan to not run the grand finale, Big Smokey Falls, in which case you can take the left channel, and take out BEFORE passing under the footbridge.

The usual route is to head to the right at this island to a wonderful long sliding drop, through a series of waves and holes (a few are playable if you have the 'stones' to do so with what lies downstream), a couple of fine diagonal waves (especially at high water), and a final 'whoopie' off a ledge/drop (with a nice rooster-tail) into the BIG pool below.

Your take-out is at the left of this pool, where your vehicle awaits you (since your trespass fee includes a shuttle to the put-in).


Gage Descriptions

The river is very 'pool/drop', and can be paddled to quite low levels (almost any summer flow). The pools (flat stretches between rapids) generally retain plenty of depth, and most of the drops 'channel up' (constrict the flow) such that they are still runnable at low levels.

The 'recommended maximum' is set only as an indicator of 'high water', and represents a level at which the whole river takes a decided step up in difficulty (no longer class II-III, but now class III-IV or just solid IV). Upper Ducknest, the Dells, and Big Smoky will all get your attention at these levels.

Directions Description

A shuttle will be provided for you and your boat(s) upon payment of the 'trespass fee' and receipt of your wrist band. Do not even think about 'poaching' this run by setting your own shuttle without paying this fee.

This section lies wholly within Menomonee Tribal lands. Trespass is punishable by fines, jail time, and (possibly) confiscation of all gear and tangible goods used in commission of the trespass, I.E., your shuttle vehicle(s).

I have been told that driving tribal roads (virtually anything other than State Highways 55 & 47 or County Trunk Highways M & AA), getting out of your car and 'exploring' beyond the immediate road shoulders, or parking/leaving any (non-tribal-plated) vehicle on any roadside could be found to be in violation of tribal trespass laws. (Interestingly, non-tribal 'tourists' are allowed to drive the tribal road to view Sullivan Falls, Big Smokey Falls, and the Dells. There is (or was usually) a nominal fee charged to access these areas.)

It is therefore recommended that boaters ignore this shuttle information below. The only exception might be boaters looking for a l-o-n-g day, first purchasing a trespass wristband, leaving a vehicle at the take-out and using their own shuttle to start in Langlade County (likely on "Short Section 3"), to then continue with "Upper Section 4" and (Lower) "Section 4".

Date Flow Result Factor  
2012-08-04 Medium Fatality Other Read More
2012-07-07 n/a Fatality One Boat Trip Read More
1993-07-31 High Fatality Other Read More







Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1196116 09/22/09 Rob Add rapids
1215915 09/07/20 Rob updated image position
1197078 01/09/10 Rob Redo font/color highlighting for html standards
1203661 09/13/14 Rob Minor format fixes.
1197856 06/22/10 Rob Embed YouTube video
1215602 07/22/20 Rob updated name
1211690 04/02/19 Rob updated image position
1203719 10/13/14 Rob photos added
1192110 05/06/08 n/a n/a