Difficulty II-III(IV)
Length 1.5 Miles
Gauge Fox River Channel at Kaukauna
Flow Range 1000 - 10000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 45 minutes ago ~ 920 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 03/25/2020 7:24 pm

River Description

Do not rely on our reported 'virtual gauge' reading (and corresponding color-coding) to accurately reflect conditions for this run.

	Information on actual flow through the dam into the 'bypass reach', is available at https://www.kaukaunautilities.com/resources/boater-flows/.

All flow values (cfs) in this description refer to KU values for Tainter gate opening as reported in the chart on that website.

Quick Facts:

Location: Downtown Kaukauna.
Shuttle Length: up to 1.4 miles. (See details in "Directions" Tab.)
Character: Bedrock riverbed creates sweet waves for surfs and spins. The first two parts of this run are heavily 'citified' (cement and stonework banks, highway and railway crossings, buildings and industry surrounding), while the lower third part is braided channels between wooded islands within a nature preserve, having an amazingly 'wilderness' feel to it. (Watch for nesting Bald Eagles!)

Special Note: There are four scheduled releases each year: the 3rd and 4th Saturdays of June, the final Saturday of September, and the 1st Saturday of October. Target releases are 3,050 cfs (10' of Tainter gate opening), but subject to change (up or down) based upon flow available. Always check KU website for up-to-date information. These releases exist during a 'trial period', after which continuation of releases may be re-evaluated.

Put-in is approximately 643' elevation.
Take-out is approximately 602' elevation.
Thus total elevation change is approximately 41'.

General Overview

Sloping bedrock in the Fox River in Kaukauna provides Fox Valley paddlers in-town exercise. This stretch has garnered quite a following, with its east-central Wisconsin location drawing boaters from many parts of the state (and beyond!) to catch this when it has good flows.

A few features may be regainable (depending on water level, hull speed, and boater skill). However, boaters are likely to be a bit frustrated by many features which are catch-on-the-fly, one-shot play. At most common flows, features will be too shallow for vertical/aerial moves, and likely nothing 'retentive' enough (at usual flows) to consistently link multiple elevated moves, which means this isn't the best opportunity for the full-on freestyle crowd. That said, various waves and holes should allow a great mix of fast dynamic surfs, flat-spins, low-angle moves, and good old-school 'blasting' for any paddler with reasonably strong whitewater paddling skills, making it a great intermediate whitewater play/run. Added to that, the huge drainage area means it occasionally 'goes big' (over 10,000 cfs), which is a rare treat for upper-Midwest boaters to experience and are actually the 'preferred flows' for a good number of boaters well-experienced with this run.

Caution: A potentially dangerous dam interrupts this stretch of river. The dam (between Part II and Part III, as defined below) angles across the river (from river-right to river-left). The far river-right channel (above the dam) is the outflow from a powerhouse which almost always carries significant flow, causing strong crosscurrents as the dam diverts most or all that flow to a paper-plant far river-left! Excellent water reading skills and full knowledge and confidence in setting a ferry-angle to paddle across strong flows will be necessary to successfully negotiate this section of the river.

If you have an open-cockpit 'recreational kayak', if you don't know how to roll your boat, if you can't catch an eddy or do an upstream ferry (and definitely if you don't know what any of that means!), then you probably should not be considering this run! It is highly recommended that this section should not be boated alone (I.E., with just one watercraft, regardless the number of passengers), nor by boaters inexperienced in whitewater skills and without the company of experienced boaters for safety.

We highly recommend novice boaters attend any of the four scheduled recreational releases each year, when they should hook up with experienced boaters to accompany them.

All that having been said, moderately-experienced, reasonably skilled whitewater boaters should not be at all intimidated by this reach at a wide variety of flows. Flows of 1500-4000 cfs (and likely up to 5000-6000 cfs or higher) should easily be able to be paddled without incident.

While the rapids descriptions below may be a bit confusing and likely to make this sound lengthy, this is just a 1.5 mile reach (and half of that is the 'paddle out'). However, at good flows, if you explore all the channels and options, you will have paddled much further than that, and should have an excellent workout.

It should also be noted that even when there is not sufficient flow for the upper part of this reach, it may still be possible to save your day. If you drive here and find the initial channel looking too low or lame/tame, don't leave before checking The Trolls, as well as the Thousand Islands area (which may receive some of the outflow from the hydro channel which may spill over the lower dam). Access to check and possibly boat the lower channels is typically by parking at Thousand Islands Environmental Center, then paddling/ferrying over to an island, to carry across and up into the "Hidden Channel" to surf Mystery Wave, or (by folks who know where it is safe to do so) carrying up to put-in above the 'ogee wall' (lower dam), paddling across to the necessary location, and dropping over the dam into the "Infant Falls" channel or the "Mystery Wave" channel. Levels of 4,000 to 7,000 cfs can make this wave quite fun, with fast carving and spins/roundhouses possible.

Be aware that mid-to-late summer water quality may be affected by algae blooms in Lake Winnebego. (Passing through the area July 24, 2013, the water quite literally looked like pea soup. This may not be an every-year situation.)

HUC has been 'fudged' (to 04040003 rather than 04030204) to allow this reach to sort into the "Southwestern Lake Michigan" drainage rather than the already overlarge "Northwestern Lake Michigan" drainage. If this causes anyone trouble or concern, post a note using the "Comments" button which should appear below for all registered, logged-in users.

Enjoy the following YouTube video overview showing much of the run: https://youtu.be/bfaFGAgAh6A

(The following list identifies the routes and river-features shown in this video:
  0:00   Island Street Bridge/Wave
  0:25   Passing under Railroad, surfing unnamed wave in right channel above Elm Street
  0:36   Left Channel, passing under Elm Street
  0:54   Left Channel "Pancake Wave"
  1:26   Right Channel, passing under Elm Street, "The Trolls"
  1:39   Right Channel, heading down the right side (skirting to the right of UGH, the Uniform Gnarly Hydraulic)
  1:51   Below the Ogee: Right-most Channel, surfing "Spin Cycle"
  3:37   running the crossover channel below "Spin Cycle"
  4:32   running 'Infant Falls'

Rapid Descriptions


Class - N/A Mile - -0.001
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Trying to lay out the features ('rapids') and their distances from the put-in ('Mile x.x') is rather awkward here due to the convoluted nature of this run with the many river channels to explore, each with its own features.

The 'as the crow flies' distance from put-in to take-out is actually just 1.05 miles. Depending upon available flows, some features listed here will not exist, or be so lame as to be skipped, or may be uncatchable, or wicked and need to be avoided. Thus many boaters/groups (depending upon the skills and interests) may skip certain entire channels and routes described herein. However, at moderate flows, for at least some paddlers, there are features to enjoy in every channel. So, if you explore ALL the channels and options described, you will have paddled (and hiked-up) much further than the 'crow flies' distance. In an attempt to better characterize the resulting 'longest trip' (though not accounting for likely repeat play on features, sometimes involving repeated carry-ups) ...

ALL DISTANCES BELOW represent NOT a 'distance downriver', but rather a continuous path (of boating and carrying up) to hit most every channel and feature which is likely to be present at such a moderate/'optimum' level.

Entrance Gate ===================== PART I ==

Class - N/A Mile - 0


The reach starts from the parking lot of the RiverView Middle School or the public library parking lot. Walk up under Highway 55 (Lawe Street) bridge to a corner in the chain-link fence, where a key-card gate and 'improved' put-in have been created. (See photo.)

Note: Before putting in, some boaters may hike upstream to look at the larger dam above this reach. Depending on which gates of the dam are open (and how much), a couple powerful waves may exist in the outflow from that upper dam. Boaters who may think of going for a put-in up here to try some surfs on those waves should be aware that they are formed by piles of flat rocks which look almost like large slabs of broken concrete. Extreme caution is advised! (In general, this is just not worth the effort, and very few boaters will ever bother.) Also, be aware that doing so would violate the mandate (which exists on nearly every dam on the Fox River) to be no nearer than 500' from the dam. That distance is very nearly at the gated put-in.


Class - N/A Mile - 0.01

There is a long drop to the water at low-to-moderate flows. (Generally, it is necessary to step/jump down to a cement ledge, grab your boat, get in, and slide off the cement into the water (likely peeling plastic shavings off your boat in the process). Another access point exists downstream of Island/Catherine Street, but above the railroad bridge and may be a better low-/moderate-water access. (More about this below.)

Ten Boat Wave

Class - II Mile - 0.105

Before proceeding further, we should note that this run has significant areas which are walled-in, fenced-in, private property, and braided channels. Getting out of the river is not an option through the first half of this section! Swims (out of boat experiences) will be somewhat difficult to recover swimmer and gear, find a place to get ashore, and reunite boaters with their gear.

Right in front of the Middle School is Ten Boat Wave (TBW). (The photo above shows this area at a non-boatable flow.) A smooth, glassy wave when well formed (usually at moderate, two-gate flows: 3000-5000 cfs) appears you could have ten people surfing at once. Short play boats may have difficulty staying on this wave at some levels. A short cylindrical cement pier (with manhole cover) forms a minor eddy (at low/moderate flows) toward the left shore/wall. Boaters may be able to attain and regain the wave from here, but it will take some effort and skill. At levels above 'one-gate' (above ~2500 cfs), this manhole will become submerged and provide no refuge. In general, this wave does not have a steep enough face for anything but straight-on front surfing.

At about 1.5 gates (~3750 cfs), a breaking wave (Wall Wave) can form against the concrete wall on surfer's left (river-right). Tricky eddy service along this wall is possible at some flows.

Island Street Wave

Class - II+ Mile - 0.187

At the Island Street bridge (at Oak Street), pass just to the left of the river-right bridge-pier to drop into Island Street Wave (ISW), which allows surfs and spins at nearly all boatable flows. It is advisable for other boaters in your group to attempt to eddy-out alongside or behind the bridge-pier to wait their turn on the wave, though there isn't likely room for more than a couple boats, and they'll have a major stuggle to maintain the eddy at 2-gates or better (~4000+ cfs). On the wave, river-left/surfers-right becomes an outstanding "western style" surf experience as levels push somewhere over 5,000 cfs, while river-right/surfers-left provides a great carving surf. At lower flows it may be possible to regain (up the middle, from below) as long as you don't flush down too far. More often, this will be catch-on-the-fly, one-shot play. When you flush off ISW, you may look for the waves center-river which can be difficult to catch, but worth the effort.

Otherwise, a pair of smooth waves (Wall Wave II) at river-right and below (pretty much against the right wall) may have eddy service at lower flows.

For repeat attempts/play on these upper features, a second metal-grate access is just downstream (and just upstream of the railroad). Use it to get out, carry back up to the put in, and try again for play on these features. At low-to-moderate flows, it may also be possible to carry-up instream along the river-right wall for repeat attempts at ISW.

Railroad Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 0.273
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A railroad bridge crosses just below, with many bridge-piers in the water. At high flows (when the Appleton gauge is above 10,000 cfs) you should have a good look here before putting on, as clearance under this bridge can get a bit 'iffy'. There are signs warning of the dam downstream.

Island ========================= PART II-A ==

Class - N/A Mile - 0.313
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Below the railroad bridge, a large island splits the river, with plenty of water (and playable features) in both channels. Many boaters have preferred the left channel, while some others tend to prefer the right.

Fortunately, it is pretty easy to do them both, perhaps most readily by taking the left channel first. Thus, we will layout the next series of features based upon that.

HOWEVER ... to do so means we are FUDGING the 'Distance' figures, to have all the left-channel features sort together, followed by the right-channel features.

(Left Channel) Goose Ledges

Class - II Mile - 0.352
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Swiftwater trips over shallow rubble far channel-left, at some levels creating some minor features which are out of the strongest flow and may have at least enough eddy for repeat play, if so inclined. The trouble is, from those features, it's a hard ferry across to the right of this channel for the next pair of wave/holes, Goose Ledges (in honor of the Canada Geese which regularly watch the action from the river-left bank/wall). The upper is the more well-formed, and may allow surfs and spins. (Both have no eddies, and will be catch-on-the-fly.)

(Left Channel) Elm Street Waves

Class - II Mile - 0.48

The leftmost section of the bridge has a small pocket-wave immediately downstream, while the second-from-the-left section has a better wave/hole on it's right side immediately under the bridge. Eddy service may be minimal, so if you and your friends all want to have a shot at it, it may be best to attemp to 'queue' upstream waiting to take turns (though that may not be easy to do). A small river-left shoreline eddy (immediately below the bridge) may make repeat play possible for some.

-- OR --

Tight river-right, immediately upstream of the bridge, surf a juicy hole, catch the eddy behind the bridge pier, and stage for Pancake Wave 100' downstream. Again, it may be nearly impossible for multiple boaters to queue up for this wave, so any who catch it may have to plan on being dropped in on by anyone subsequently hoping to ride this feature, which will be a 'one-and-done' (for any who can catch it at all).

(Left Channel) Pancake Wave

Class - N/A Mile - 0.52

Downstream of Elm Street, to the right (near the island) are a couple of shallow wave/holes which (if you can catch them) may allow some fine surfs. You are unlikely to be able to repeat play unless you get ashore on the island and carry a bit upstream to relaunch and try again.

At higher flows (above two gates), a sweet wave forms to channel-left (near the north shore of the river) at the end of the slope/gradient. When this is 'in', it is the best feature for easy repeat play, since there is a huge river-left eddy once you break out of the current.

The Transition =================== PART II-B ==

Class - N/A Mile - 0.6
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Looking downstream from below Elm Street, you will see the far-left portion of the lower dam on this reach. Even though the river has been split by an island, this channel is quite wide. Anyone missing a roll or swimming in this midsection ('PART II', either channel) will be swept toward the dam, which (below this left channel) varies from about four to seven feet in height and lands hard on bedrock (no cushion, and little-to-no boil). Rescue of a swimmer is most likely to be by grabbing onto another boater's kayak and aggressively swimming and paddling to the island (channel-right shore) or to river-left shore.

While there is plenty of distance to the dam, do not be too cavalier about any flips or swims here! Be aggressive (as a swimmer and as a rescuer) to get boater and gear into an eddy and secure on shore as quickly as possible! If you are swept past the end of the island (as a swimmer, or as a boater-with-swimmer-in-tow), there is much stronger current, and risk of being swept over the dam. In such a case, it is likely best to emphatically tell the swimmer to let go (if/when passing over the dam is imminent)! Both have a better chance of less injury if they can get some distance between them. A swimmer who has gotten too close to the dam may have little choice or effect on where they flush over, but a reasonably skilled boater (without swimmer clinging on) should attempt a more controlled launch and landing off the dam into the shallow bedrock below. (Best option is to make your way as far right as possible in this area before dropping over, to minimize the drop/height. Failing that ... whether you launch a solid boof or grunge over and pencil and piton, get ready for a hard hit. And, then, do your best to look for and continue to support the battered and bruised swimmer.)

Those who have finished playing the features in this channel (without swimmers) should then head toward the island (far to channel-right). Immediately at the end of the island, hang a right and paddle 'upstream' (it's really across the width of the river, but it's against the flow which is being diverted parallel to the dam below). Stay as close to the island as possible (paddling around and under branches and brush from shore) to stay out of the strongest flow. As you get to the other side of the island, you will be in the outflow of the right-channel, and will need to turn your bow more 'upstream' to those currents to ferry across to beach at a public access area. From there, you can carry up to run (most of) the right channel (described below in 'option B'), or proceed to one of the options to pass over the lower dam.

To run the right channel, you'll carry up to Elm Street. You then have three options.

Option 1) At low-to-moderate flows, it may be easiest not to cross the railing up at Elm Street, but rather find a place to go down to the water. Make your way along shore to a cement 'hip' under the bridge. From there, you can carefully walk a bit further upriver in the water (feeling carefully with your feet for rocks, lest you stub your toes or trip). There should be enough eddy (and possibly some rocks in the water to 'anchor' your boat upon) to mount up, peel out, and run whichever route you have chosen under the bridge ("The Trolls", as described below).

Option 2) Cross over the Elm Street railing, cross the street and (VERY CAREFULLY) cross over the precarious railing on that side. Carry upstream on the grassy shore, looking for a spot with enough eddy that looks decent to get down to, get into your boat, and head to the Trolls. (NOTE: I would strongly recommend against getting in your boat up on the lawn to 'seal launch' unless you are exceptionally good at 'butt-hopping' your boat off shore to land a 'boof'. This area is shallow at virtually all boatable flows, so anything which is not a boof will be a piton!)

Option 3) Cross over the first railing carry north on Elm Street to the island, then carry upstream (west) on the island. Unfortunately, there is a 'sea-wall' surrounding the island, protecting it from the flows, and fairly shallow and rocky waters surrounding. You will most likely have to place your boat atop the wall (likely parallel with it, rather than perpendicular as would be more normal), enter your boat, and then 'butt-hop' your boat off the wall, landing a sideways 'boof' (likely on a brace-stroke to stay upright). From here, you'll have a few minor set-up waves in the brief channel before getting to the Trolls.

(Right Channel) The Trolls

Class - III Mile - 0.87

At moderate and higher flows, it is STRONGLY recommended to scout this area before putting on anywhere above (especially if you are thinking of skipping the left-channel features to just come down this right channel). While there are routes at virtually all runnable flows, you should have a good 'visual' on this to know where you want (and don't want) to be!

The (southern-more) Elm Street road bridge has three bridge piers, creating four 'tunnels', each of which has (potentially) playble features that I like to call The Four Trolls:

'FatheR' Troll/FRumpy (Far-Right) - a well-defined (more abrupt) ledge, hidden well back under the bridge. At 'two-gates', this is a great surf and flat-spin spot.

'MotheR' Troll(Middle-Right)/GRumpy (Center-Right) - somewhat less of a ledge, creating a hole which may be playable at some flows. (You know one of them has to be the 'grumpy' old troll!)

'Teenage(r) Troll'/CLumpy (Center-Left) - this ledge/hole has a decidedly mercurial nature. Most of the time, it looks rather surly/gnarly, but looks can be deceiving. I have had some fine rides in here at some flows, but more often ... you're likely better off just leaving it alone!

'Baby Troll'/Lumpy (Leftmost) - flat/unsurfable at low flows (one gate), becomes a smooth surfable wave at moderate flows (two gates), and a fast wave (better for longer hulls) at higher flows. At four gates and higher, this may be the only reasonable route, avoiding the other options. (From any of the other choices, it would be hard to avoid a total disaster of going into the Uniform Gnarly Hydraulic downstream.)

(OK, I'll be the first to admit the names are really stupid/corny, but I needed something to differentiate the features, and this was what I came up with.)

There are adequate eddies across the whole river (again, at 'two-gates', plus or minus) to allow repeat play at each wave that you find workable, as well as allowing play across all four of these waves (as long as you are aggressive, in control, and upright)!

Utmost caution is urged (especially at two-gates and higher) because of what lies downstream (as will be described below).

(Right Channel) Uniform Gnarly Hydraulic (UGH!)

Class - III+ Mile - 0.95

The main flow of this channel (downstream of 'The Trolls') slides down shallow bedrock, then drops over a short ledge which forms a Uniform Gnarly Hydraulic (UGH!) which should be avoided by most boaters at almost all levels.

The right-most side (furthest-right-side of photo above, midground/center up/down frame) may be runnable (even minor playable) at some flows, but always scout from the new public access along here before putting on, to know whether this is reasonable or not! The lower dam (mentioned by the warning signs above the railroad bridge) is not far downstream. (The 'superstructure' on the dam, mentioned elsewhere in the description, is visible in the distance center-frame.) Anyone who ends up swimming here will be swept toward that lower dam, and will be largely at the mercy of where the currents take them to spill over the dam.

The other option (below The Trolls, at two-gates or higher) is to avoid UGH altogether using a route far left (center-foreground toward frame-left), down a series of waves over shallow rocky debris then spilling over a short ledge. With enough water, a few diagonal waves and holes may allow surfs before you spill into the slackwater below.

As previously mentioned, there is a landing below on the right shore of this channel, just before meeting the currents sweeping from right-to-left across river by the lower dam. You can use this landing to make multiple runs of The Trolls, or (when ready) continue with PART III of the run.

Lower Dam ====================== PART III ==

Class - III+ Mile - 1.08
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After having whatever fun you care to have on the center-section routes, a crucial decision must be made of how and where to run the lower dam to get to the third section of this run. This dam can be among the most fun and yet the most potentially dangerous parts of the run. All boaters (or at least one or more experienced boaters in your group) should have a firm visual impression of what they will need to do to successfully negotiate this area. Done correctly, it can be a piece of cake; done incorrectly it could really ruin your day (and cause significant scramble for your rescuers)!

While technically, it is not a true 'class IV' drop, it is the reason for that rating in the listing, so less experienced paddlers are aware of the potentially serious hazard it represents. There are quite a number of options which may be done by reasonably skilled boaters, with adequate caution, awareness of flows, and at least one guide-paddler having prior familiarity with this run. The only way for novice boaters to safely, thoroughly, and properly scout these routes is at lower flows ('one-gate' levels: less than 3000 cfs). At higher flows, these routes should be done only in the company of someone well-familiar with this section. It is highly recommended all first-time-on-this-run-boaters (on the water without a very experienced-with-this-run boater) take a close look from shore (before putting on the water) by walking up to the dam from within Thousand Islands Environmental Center before running any part of this dam.

A) Far Right (Thousand Islands Channel) (the only option(s) which lead to the far right channel below, nearest the Thousand Islands Environmental Center building): At some flows, the center of this rightmost section of the dam can be run, dropping about 2' onto slab, sheeting the flow horizontally 10'(+/-) into a shallow wave/hole. Even at flows up to three-gates (6200 cfs), the water sheets so shallow and swiftly (across the bedrock below the dam) that you will almost certainly feel and hear the boat impact on the bedrock. While it will sound nasty, it is unlikely to cause meaningful damage (to boat or body). However, being off center (especially to the left, but potentially to either side!) will drop you into a uniform boil. At higher water levels (mostly above 3-gates/7000 cfs), the entire width will increasingly become a uniform low-head-dam/boiling hole. In all instances, it will be very difficult to judge (in your boat when on the river upstream) just where it is potentially 'safe' to drop over. Therefore the recommended route is either tight to the right shore, or well to the left where trees dot small islands immediately below the dam. In either of these locations, the flow off the dam spills onto a series of shallow ledges, where one can quite safely bobble down. If you run the left side of this part of the dam, generally the flow should allow boat-scouting to pick a line in the clear spaces between tree-filled small islands.

B) Right of cement superstructure: It may be possible (for some boater, at some flow) to drop over the dam near a short vertical cement pillar (where the dam actually abuts the island), a good distance to the right of the only significant superstructure sticking up from the otherwise uniform lip of the dam. This puts you into a VERY narrow channel (with water boiling back toward the dam trying to flip you into it), which then widens to sheet across a shallow ledge before dropping off into a fairly shallow pool. Downstream of this area is often blocked by a tree/logs. In general there are far more fun options available, so (along with the difficulty/danger of this route) it is very strongly recommended NOT to use this route!

C) Left of cement superstructure (Infant Falls Channel): At many water levels, it is possible to drop over the dam a good distance to the left from the aforementioned superstructure. Specifically (at least as of 2015/16), there is a large tree which has fallen (from the island downstream of the dam) to lay across the dam, very fortuitously positioned almost precisely where the flow divides left and right of the island below. Drop to the right of the large downed tree, (ready to 'punch' the recirculation below!) and then thread through a couple trees (upright, and leaning across) in the flow, to a sweet ~4' boof (Infant Falls) into a deep aerated pool. This puts you into an otherwise quite generally uninteresting channel (possibly one tame beginner-surfable wave). You can beach at the left, and carry up the island to 'do laps' on the falls, or launch into the 'Mystery Wave' channel (by putting in at the other side of the large tree fallen across the dam). Optionally, another choice (after running Infant Falls) is to beach at channel-right, carry up (over a pretty decent sized hill/hump on the island) to the cement pillar (as described in option B above), where you should be able to relaunch above the island/dam, where you can paddle along the dam (past the 'superstructure') to run the dam at this same spot (item (C)), or another spot.

D) Right-side access to the 'Hidden Channel': Drop over the dam just to the left of the large tree on the island which lies to the left of the significant superstructure (as described in B and C above). This has significantly less difficulty/danger than some of the other options, but should still not be taken lightly. Water pours down sloped bedrock alongside the dam (with no real significant ledges or features) then twists downstream into the 'Hidden' or 'Mystery' Channel. (See description in Part III below.)

NOTICE: As of 2015/16, a tree has fallen from the island below so that its branches block part of this flow! While it is possible to 'walk the plank'/'thread the needle' between the branches and the boil from the dam, this is best done by launching from the island (after running Infant Falls) so you can scout before committing to this line!

E) Left-side access to the 'Hidden Channel' While one could drop over the dam in the next stretch to the left, there is generally little to recommend doing so. (It tends to have much more boil back into the dam than the prior access mentioned.)

F) Far left (Mill Channel): At all but the lower flows, it may be difficult to readily determine where the divide-point is between water heading to the right (option E above) versus heading to the left. At the divide-point, there will be very little 'drop' over the dam, but there will nearly always be significant boil to contend with. The further left you go (across this final, left-most part of the dam), the taller the dam/drop is, and the harder the landing would be (as it will land shallow and sheet away in the highest sections). If one were to drop over where it is a relatively short drop, you would be met with water spreading wider and wider (sheeting shallower and shallower) across the sloping bedrock, then jumping off a short (~3') ledge onto a fairly shallow landing. This puts you into the far-left channel (as described further below in Part III). Again, given the other options which are either themselves much more fun and/or put you into channels which have better (best) play, this is an option least likely to be taken nor recommended.

=============== END OF OPTIONS FOR RUNNING LOWER DAM ===============

(1st Channel) Spin Cycle

Class - II+ Mile - 1.147
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Brief slackwater below the lower dam leads to another short wall/dam in this river-right channel. (This may be rather difficult to spot from in your boat until you are quite close!) The left section of the wall/dam (left-of-center) is broken out, creating a bit of a chute (and a possible wave below). These left-side chutes may provide some surfs and vertical possibilities (stalls/squirts/enders), but care should be taken not to get into the uniform part of the hydraulic formed by existing sections of the wall/dam (unless you want to practice sticky-hole escape-techniques).

The center of this short dam creates a wave/hole (Spin Cycle) which (at low-to-moderate levels) allows effortless surfs and spins as the water sheets thinly across the shallow bedrock and into a mushy foam pile. At higher levels this whole area may become quite sticky and most may do well to avoid it. A viewing platform/pier extends into the river just below, and provides a convenient place to exit. Doing so, however, misses some of the best play waves on this river. Islands split the river into numerous braided channels (hence the name of the area, '1000 Islands'), each having unique features to explore.

(2nd Channel) Infant Falls

Class - III+ Mile - 1.41
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Option C above gets you into this drop and channel. Alternatively, paddlers who dropped into the Environmental Center channel (using option A on running the dam) would need to stay as far left as possible, ferry across outflow from this channel, beach and carry up the island to get to this fun little falls. A bit of rolling boil in the narrow transverse channel below the dam, threads through some trees, then quickly leads to a short ledge, Infant Falls. About 50 yards downstream (at good flows) you should find a tame surfing wave (great for beginners), with a couple eddies and no significant ugliness or consequence below. Most paddlers will wish to beach on the left (likely at or below a small outflow channel on the island) to carry up for repeat runs of this sweet little 'boof'.

(3rd Channel) Mystery Wave

Class - III Mile - 1.54

From options A or B above, staying left in the river, beach your boat, get out and carry across the island. Either put-in alongside the wave or carry up on the island nearly to the base of the dam to run the approach to this wave. Experienced boaters (at moderate flows) may use option D above to drop into this channel from above the dam, skipping both the previously described channels, or doing the multi-combo runs and carries.

Mystery Wave (AKA "Hidden Channel Wave") can be caught from an eddy just upstream of the wave. Peel out into the strong current, and do your best to stall yourself for a fast ride on a steep-faced wave. Depending on flow, sometimes MW isn't in, but a couple different waves may appear. In all cases, caution is urged, as the outflow runs across much shallow rock (if you are upside-down or out of boat) and pushes straight into islands and trees. At moderate-to-high water levels, those who miss the wave on their first attempt (and those successful, looking for another ride) will need paddle hard to get quickly to channel-left, take-out and carry up for another attempt at these waves. (Eddy service is sometimes available at certain flows.)


(4th Channel) Mill Wave

Class - II+ Mile - 1.67
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As you exit Hidden Channel, stay to the left to connect to the far-left channel. The Mill Wave channel features really come to life at a range of around 6,000 - 10,000 cfs and higher. Water spilling off this part of the dam flows across shallow sloping bedrock, and can form a smorgasbord of surfing opportunities starting on far river-right/surfers-left of this channel, culminating at far river-left/surfers-right with the Mill Wave. Mill Wave has good eddy service and becomes a bigger, better breaking wave at higher levels, but don't forget how shallow the water is. A flip here may mean a close encounter with the flat limestone riverbed.

At higher flows, boaters may wish to carry up the bedrock toward the dam to ferry across to a couple wide upper waves which can provide good surfs. Fair eddy service exists to allow repeat play of these waves, if they are well formed enough to entertain you.

The Paddle Out

Class - N/A Mile - 1.77
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If you have shuttled vehicles downstream to CTH.ZZ, when you are done playing, follow the flow downriver (pick a channel) until the islands give way to wide open river, where you'll paddle to far-right to a landing with zig-zag paved path up to parking for just a few vehicles.

At flows less than 'three gates' (less than 9000 cfs in channel), all channels between the islands downstream will be exceedingly shallow, necessitating 'knuckle-walking' or getting out to carefully drag your boat in some stretches. At the scheduled release flows, I would not recommend the bother! (Though the alternatives described below are not all that much better!)

Some boaters will either:
A) Park at the Nature Center, then use a combination of paddling and portaging (from the far-left Mill Channel) to either get back above the short dam to then paddle to far-right channel to drop into the 'Nature Center Channel', or to just get over to the river-right shore to get out at the Nature Center.
B) Park at Elm Street bridge (on the first big island, near 'the Trolls'), whereby they'll finish their trip by paddle and portage to get above the short dam, then paddle across/up to the landing river-right below 'UGH' (Uniform Gnarly Hydraulic), to then carry back to their vehicle.

I'm sure some (many?) paddlers will find the inconvenience of all this to be a major drawback of the run (again, at least, at flows under 'three gates'/9000cfs). I tend to consider it part of the unique allure of this 'in-town wilderness' run!

ALSO . . . you will often hear gunshots while on the river! Don't be too concerned -- there is a "Sportsmen's Club" just across the street from our listed take-out.

The Landing

Class - N/A Mile - 2.23
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At the end of all islands, paddle across the river to the far right shore to a landing. For kayakers, this is normally a bit awkward, as it is quite a step up to get from your boat to the raised pier. A serpentine paved path leads up to the parking area with enough space for only a handful of vehicles.


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5 years ago

Hit this Monday (June 8) with Appleton gauge at 7000, and KU reporting "total gate opening" of 6', which they translate as 1850 cfs in the bypassed channel (the river). This is about half the flow planned for the four scheduled releases (scheduled at 11'/3340cfs). At this (6'/1850cfs) flow, Ten Boat Wave did not really exist, but Island Street Wave was a pretty sweet surf, allowing a few good spins before I flushed (not regainable) and headed down. Took the left channel and had a few (mostly tame) surfs on various wave/holes there, but nothing too good or exciting, and nothing regainable if I missed or flushed, thus found that side mostly frustrating. At end of island, paddled 'upstream', across to the new landing below the right channel, carried up to put in from the cement shoulder under Elm Street (southern bridge) to play 'the Trolls'. Leftmost was lame/tame/unplayable, one of the center ones looked a bit intimidating (a bit too 'flippy' at this flow), but the other center slot and the rightmost 'troll' were SWEET (though admittedly a tad shallow) for a fine variety of surfs and spins. There was definitely some scrape heading down toward the right side of UGH (the 'Uniforn Gnarly Hydraulic'). No problem dropping through the right at this flow, but the center/left side was definitely (as almost always) boily/keepy. At this flow I was able to (very carefully) boat-scout various locations on the 'ogee wall' (the lower dam) by maintaining an upstream ferry and paddling near enough to see over/beyond the dam. (THIS WOULD NOT BE SAFE/FEASIBLE AT RELEASE LEVELS!!!) I ran a few routes I had never explored before, and then headed to the 'Mystery' or 'Hidden' channel, and found the wave there to be EXCELLENT! Very nice pile to the left, smooth glassy to the right. Not regainable in boat, but it was definitely worth carrying up two or three times to relaunch and replay this fine big powerful wave! ************************************************************************************************** Bottom line (at least for me, on this day) this was TOTALLY a fun level, and I look forward to hitting it on some of the release days!

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6 years ago

(Edited info from "BT100" on 2014.03.09): Changes/updates to Kaukauna Utilities Badger plant have been completed, so river flow in the bypassed channel will be back to the normal (reduced) flows. I.E., using the gauge for Fox River in Appleton, you must now subtract 5,200 cfs to *approximate* flow in the bypassed (natural) channel here. As always, check the KU website for more accurate reading of the gate settings and corresponding flow in the natural channel. At flows of 'three gates' or more, some will still use the normal put-in (which may be sketchy) for epic action on "Island St. Wave". For others, an option might be to seal-launch downstream, below the railroad trestle on river left. At these flows, Mystery Channel was outstanding, and Goose Ledges were good too!

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Brian Tungate
8 years ago

5,600 cfs today Starting at 1000 Island Nature Center, ran the boney channel into the first main channel going river left of 1000 Islands. This channel has Infant Falls up towards the base of the dam. Perfect level to run the falls, 50 yards downstream was a great little sufing wave. Thinking about taking the stand up board back for this one. This entire channel below Infant Falls is great for beginners, couple eddies, a wave, ferrying, no consequence below. Next main channel over (Hidden Channel) too much water for the Mystery Wave. Eddy modification continues on river right in hopes of making wave attainment here more consistent. Alas, we were not shut out on surfing though. 20 yards downstream of the Mystery Wave was a super nice, fast wave- perfect for short playboats. Eddy service to boot, but washing off meant a carry back up. Met an open boater from Appleton just finishing up his day when we got there. Lake Winnebago gets drawn down in the fall. This lower section should keep running thru October. Great color, great place to explore, features somewhat limted, but definately still worth the effort.

Gage Descriptions

As a result of negotiations (between AW and FERC), Kaukauna Utilities is providing online flow reporting for this reach. Unfortunately, this is not a USGS gauge which we can access and report directly. However, you can click this link to go to:

Kaukauna Utilities

That website has a report of 'Tainter Gate' opening height and table of resultant flows in this reach.

Note that this will be substantially different from (and more accurate than) the flow information reported by the gauge linked to by this description.

The USGS gauge (which is used to create the virtual gauge reported on this  section and used to determine color coding for runnability) is about 8 miles upstream in Appleton. River flow is highly regulated by a series of locks and dams. A significant amount of flow arriving at Kaukauna is diverted, some possibly into the locks channel, but more into a powerplant channel. Thus, our reported "virtual gauge" flow does not reflect actual flow in the main streambed channel. Further, the 'natural channel' for this run is broken up by islands (in the middle and lower portion of this reach where one encounters braided channels), so it is nearly impossible to quantify (from this gauge) the amount of the flow you are boating in any particular channel.

The online gauge serves only as a preliminary indicator of likely runnability. The best gauging is the previously cited Kaukauna Utilities page, or visual inspection, looking at the dam upstream of the put-in. There are eight 'releasable' gates in the dam. One releasing is low boatable, two is good/medium, and three is high. (If you see more than three gates releasing, you had best check the railroad bridge (just downstream of Island Street/Katherine Street) for safe passage!)

The detail description of this run includes mentions of 'one-gate', 'two-gates', or 'three-gates' levels, broad generalizations from before the KU website and tables.

Flow analysis below is based on the Appleton gauge well upstream.

Gauge/flow analysis (based on USGS data, 1986-2006):
Drainage area at gauge: 5,950 sq.mi.
All time minimum daily mean flow: 783 cfs
90% of time flow exceeds: 1,640 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 8,100 cfs
All time maximum daily mean flow: 18,000 cfs
10/90 ratio: 4.9 ('flashy-ness': under 3 is quite steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')
Average runnable days per year: 47

Directions Description

Shuttle for the 'full run' is shown below.

Boaters doing various partial sections (such as the lower-water runs of just the '1000 Islands'/Mystery Channel) may just shuttle via walking up a boardwalk (through the woods on river-right, between the river and the road), or (for upper and middle sections of the run) along road shoulders, sidewalks, and river-access areas along the river in town.

No Accident Reports



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Requirements to Provide Whitewater Recreation Upheld for Fox River (WI)

Thomas O'Keefe

In an important affirmation of the value of whitewater recreation at federally-licensed hydropower projects, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled that licensee's have a responsibility to provide recreational opportunities in accordance with area needs. The fact that risk may be involved in such activities as whitewater boating does not obviate a licensee’s responsibility to provide these opportunities.

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Federal Regulators Issue New License for Fox River (WI)

Thomas O'Keefe

Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a new license to the City of Kaukuna for the Badger-Rapide Croche Hydroelectric Project (P-2677). We are pleased to report that they recognized whitewater recreation as a legitimate use of the Fox River and incorporated our recommendations in the new license.




Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1206897 10/04/16 Rob minor edit
1211600 04/01/19 Rob updated image position
1213833 10/30/19 Rob updated description
1206888 10/01/16 Rob minor edit
1202767 10/02/13 Rob minor format changes
1213834 10/30/19 Rob updated description
1214537 03/20/20 Rob updated description
1214544 03/25/20 Rob updated image position
1200326 06/24/11 Rob Add KU link onto main page.
1198566 11/05/10 Rob Minor formatting fix.
1196411 11/02/09 Rob
1197545 04/12/10 Rob Clean up some of the (complex) gauge description.
1197803 06/11/10 Rob Minor change flow description.
1203678 09/30/14 Rob Minor edits for 2014 access progress.
1200503 08/10/11 Rob minor edit for midsection (pancake wave)
1201340 05/22/12 Rob Formatting fixes.
1203147 03/09/14 Rob Edit info for hydro project (completed)
1208344 10/04/17 Rob minor edit
1202757 09/25/13 Rob Remedy demoted html items.
1204705 06/09/15 Rob minor rework, for new gated access
1203689 10/10/14 Rob minor edits
1204708 06/11/15 Rob embed a few more photos
1203731 10/15/14 Rob Add photo for rightside ledge below Elm St.
1206885 09/27/16 Rob minor edit
1209743 06/01/18 Rob minor edit
1207485 04/23/17 Rob minor edit
1209381 05/01/18 Rob fix typos
1208680 01/06/18 Rob remove duplicate rapids description from main description
1193474 04/11/09 n/a n/a
1194972 05/19/09 Rob