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Difficulty II at this flow (I-II normally)
Length Miles
Flow Range 600 - 1300 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 2110 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 01/27/2018 9:43 pm

River Description

A playspot develops for local (Rockford area) boaters at relatively low/moderate flows.
(Don't expect too much -- In general, I wouldn't drive more than a half-hour or so for it. YMMV.)

Matthew Cooper provides (2008.10.25):

I spent a few days last week playing at the Zen wave around 970cfs -1000cfs. These levels make it possible for some good enders and cartwheels in some areas. Bring your short-playboat and your beater paddle (lots of rock in the current)! Seal launch downstream the muddy slopes to the river (it looks steep but the mud is sticky and slow).

Avoid the far river right channel with the stone building remnants. There is a lot of wood in it. Immediately after that there is some picky surf available. There is a little wave with a glassy green tongue that you can front surf in. Be careful, there are rocks everywhere and it is shallow. I suspect that at higher water that this tongue might make a fairly pushy and good bow squirt, but again rocks. Surf or ferry over, there are more little waves, a few which you can carve side to side if you keep your paddle planted in the current.

Upcoming is the main flow of the river. There are two surfable waves here. The upsteam wave is kinda tricky and a hard paddle to get to. The second wave is the biggest on the river (still tame though). Catch it on side surf and carve around. (I've been trying to do flatspins in it but keep getting washed out.) When you do get washed out, paddle hard to your left (river right) and catch a not-so obvious underwater eddy with boils all around it. The big wave will be just to your right. Here it is possible to throw some big enders and squirts without getting bashed up. Keep paddling hard right through the eddy into the current and dip your bow down, the biggest push to be had is right there. There is a very nice eddy to the right (river left) of the main flow.

After getting washed out of the wave in the main flow, paddle up this eddy. There is a smaller wave/hole to your right (river left) with a solid eddy line that makes for the best play out here. Its a good side surf and you can flat spin. But with a left side approach you can double pump and throw squirts, cartwheels, helicopters, and stalls. Aim for the lower part of the wave as the top of it has a rock that will impede you from getting very vertical. I love this little spot, and I imagine that at higher levels the wave may get washier but may allow some big squirts (even for longer boats) and maybe some mystery moves. When you either flip or get washed out here there is one rock under the water but its pretty deep, Just relax and roll downstream a bit. There is massive eddy service far river left.

This is probably the only playspot around, and only rapids anywhere around the Rockford area, its a worthwhile little trip. The drive is really simple and there are no major consequences at the playspot. If anyone would like to have someone to paddle with in the local area I'd warmly welcome a river buddy. You can contact Matt Cooper at 912 341 9009 or just leave a comment here.

Peace, Coop

The following YouTube video shows some of the play possible at Pecatonica's "Zen Wave".

See photos of this spot at Team Dirt Clod Gallery

Rapid Descriptions

Gauge Location

Class - N/A Mile - 0
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Drainage area 1,326 square miles, elevation 743'.

Brown's Mill Dam

Class - N/A Mile - 0
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A canoe/paddle guide for the Pecatonica suggests that (depending upon flow) this may need to be portaged. We have no specific information about whether there may be play possible here, or what the parking/access situation may be. Has any whitewater paddler checked it out? Report!

Drainage: ~1,709 sq.mi.

Class - N/A Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Drainage area at our listed put-in is approximately 1,709 sq.mi. (as calculated via USGS StreamStats Beta software).


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chris bron
8 years ago

Matt, I am in rockford and just getting into paddeling after a long time off. I have never done whitewater, for the obvious reason I am from rockford. Would love to chat with someone from the area that is into it.

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8 years ago

The Zen wave can be a fairly decent playspot and indeed Zen-full. Though, correlation between the feature an the gauge can be tricky. After three years of coming here, it seems that anywhere from 600cfs-1300cfs will have you play. But that is only true if the marshland below the Sumner park rapids have been given proper time to drain. If the river drops too fast, the marsh cannot drop as fast and the features get swallowed up, even if the upstream gauge only reads 1000cfs. A more gradual drop in the water (I would say no more than 100cfs a day) means the correlation between the upstream gauge and the feature will be more precise. It was perfect at 1100 cfs today, as the drop in cfs has been gradual and the marshlands have had ample time to drain. The wave/hole that forms at 1100-1140cfs is challenging, but smooth. It was just deep and retentive enough to throw righty blunts, cartwheels, godzillas, etc. Its harder for flatspins due to the irregularity of the feature. But it can also be looped if you're spot on and stick it, (but I washed out 39 times out of 40) I think more Rockford area boaters should come here. Its a great spot to bring first timers due to the flatness and huge eddies below the feature. No regulations either. I imagine that the last of the play would dissappear around 1300-1400 cfs, which the Pecatonica is frequently higher than. Updated 9-9-11 by Matthew Cooper

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10 years ago

Ive been to the Zen Wave twice this summer. Once at 1650 and today at 1080cfs. 1650 was COMPLETELY washed over with no flow. 1080 today just presented tiny features, except for a very nice long eddy line. In fact, as long as the entire rapid isn't drowned, there is always a very long eddy line. Given todays pitiful waves and holes, but nice eddy line, I decided to fill my playboat 2/3rds the way up with water and go SQUIRT boating. Turns out its alot of fun doing a bunch of pirhouttes and stalls. The river is dropping fast considering the massive drainage area. So I imagine that 1080 today will not be like 1080 a week from now, when the swampy flats down river drain a bit. For the meantime, Im gonna rig up a low volume squirt boat with some plywood and pink foam. Should be fun!

Gage Descriptions

The gauge cited lies over 16 miles upstream in Freeport, IL. Drainage area at Pecatonica is 1.29 times that at Freeport (so actual flow at this site may be 25-30% over those shown on gauge). Of course, correlation is not assured to be precisely linear, especially at times when rainfall may hit different parts of the watershed differently. Nonetheless, the gauge should be a very good indicator of playability available here.

Below listed 'recommended minimum' (600 cfs), the river will be runnable, but the play at this spot will be greatly diminished.

Similarly, as flows rise above the listed 'recommended maximum' (1,000 cfs), the river will be runnable, but the ledge at this location will be more and more 'swallowed up', and there will be little or no play available.

Gauge/flow analysis (based on USGS data, 1914.09.11-2008.10.08):
Drainage area at gauge: 1,326 sq.mi.
Minimum daily mean flow (1936.08.04): 118 cfs
90% of time flow exceeds: 320 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 1,810 cfs
Maximum daily mean flow (1929.03.16): 17,000 cfs
10/90 ratio ('flashy-ness'): 5.66 (under 3 is quite steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')

Based upon USGS historical data and the listed min/max levels, expect this reach to be runnable (on average) 110 days per year. (Note: does not deduct for times ice may preclude safe boating)

Directions Description

This is a park-and-play spot, so no shuttle is needed. Ignore the drections below, but use the text-entry box to enter your home address or other starting location (you can enter just a zip, as the button suggests, or a city,state or address, city, state, or lat lng coordinates) to get drive time, distance, and directions to the put-in location.

No Accident Reports






Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1196359 10/26/09 Rob
1197720 05/23/10 Rob Additional info/comments.
1198207 09/26/10 Rob Remove info re; Rockton, since separate reach now online.
1208805 01/27/18 Rob minor edit (gauge analysis)
1194879 10/30/08 n/a n/a
1195738 08/05/09 Rob Embed YouTube video; tweak flow ranges.