Upper Iowan River

Hello all. I’m from South Texas and new to river kayaking. I’m looking to visit an Army buddy of mine in Iowa and wanting to kayak and fish the Upper Iowan River for 3 days, any info would be appreciated, want to know best time to go, we’re to camp, best place to start and any outfitters that would drop off and pick up. Thanks

I’ve done the Upper Iowa several times and always camped at Hutchinson Family Farm just outside of Decorah. Its not spectacular camping but has always served me well. I believe they do shuttles, though I’ve alway self-shuttled with friends. There’s a better equipped campground at Bluffton but it tends to be crowded and loud. When paddling past it on Memorial Day its the only place I’ve ever paddled where the whole valley smells of suntan oil.

Its a nice river, beautiful bluffs near Bluffton and a nice little waterfall just upstream from Decorah. It can be a “party river” on holidays as there is a college in Decorah. (Good pizza joint on the Main drag of town though.)

For a bit “sportier” paddling in the same area, the Yellow River is worth a try. An Iowa paddler I know well is a proponent of the Volga River, also in NE Iowa, though I’ve never paddled it. The Turkey is another decent river in the area.
If you want to cross the Mississippi, the Kickapoo in Wisconsin (camping at Wildcat Mountain SP) is also a nice paddle. Ontario to LaFarge is the most popular stretch on this river. There are several shuttle services in Ontario. (The Kickapoo also can be a “party river” on holiday and mid summer weekends.)
All these rivers are in the “driftless” region, which remained unglaciated during periods of glacial advance and so have more interesting topography than much of the midwest.

There’s a good guide book to Iowa, “Paddling Iowa” (creative title, no?), by Nate Hoogeveen that’s worth looking at and should be available to your friend through local libraries. That should be of some help to you… Enjoy
PS: There are parts of the Upper Iowa that dip into MN where they require license numbers on canoes. I’ve never heard of anyone getting busted for that on the Upper Iowa, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. If you did unexpectedly get tagged for that I’d feel badly for not mentioning it.

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Thanks for the reply. Those 2 campgrounds you mentioned come up a lot I’m wondering if paddlers are not allowed to camp along the river or there is no place to camp, I’ll have to do more research. As far as the Yellow River I had looked at that but doesn’t look like I’d get much fishing done LOL and don’t know if I could make it into a 3 day trip, river looks fast moving but fun.

I have never seen campers along the banks on any trip I’ve taken on the Upper Iowa. I believe its all, or mostly, privately owned land along the banks, with the exception of the campgrounds and landings. I don’t recall seeing “No Trespassing” signs, but I wasn’t ever really looking either. On the Upper Iowa I’ve always had a camp from which we shuttled.
Its not like the Wisconsin, Buffalo, Current or other rivers I’ve paddled which have some sort of declared “scenic” or “protected” status and on which campers are often seen on islands or along the banks. Every state is different and there may be designated stretches on the Upper Iowa where its allowed.
I’d give Hutchinson’s or some other campground along the river a call and inquire about the allowability of camping along the banks. The Iowa DNR or park service could also answer such questions.
Many of the landings in Iowa are at bridges where county gravel roads cross the rivers. They mow a path down to the water but otherwise the landings are unimproved. Some are quite steep and awkward, but perhaps campable in a pinch. Some have a place to park, others you just park in the ditch along the road.
Expect something like this:

View from Hutchinson’s:

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In Iowa, certain sections of certain rivers are designated as public from high water mark to high water mark, and this will include islands and sandbars. These are called “Meandered” rivers. A low resolution map is here:

You can gather more information by searching. It appears the majority of the Upper Iowan is not included. I don’t fish and I don’t shuttle, so I have no other helpful information for you.

So i’ve paddled the upper iowa a couple of times, and the volga, yellow, and big paint creek. All were nice, most of the time big paint creek won’t have enough water. I haven’t done the turkey but would like too. I’ve stayed at both Hutchinson Farm and also the commercial campground closer to Bluffton. I prefer Bluffton campground. You can get a half day paddle down to the campground, and a full day to pole line road. The Hutchinson Farm services the area below that. If you don’t like crowds my advice is get out on the water before 10 am ahead of a crowd. Not hard to do. I’ve used commercial shuttles, dusty dirt roads. If you do the yellow you can stay at the state forest campground on paint creek a few miles away. A farmer also has a shuttle business for the yellow… The town park where the volga put in is located allows camping, very cheap, folks are friendly. I’ve been accused of picking my rivers in iowa according to their proximity to a pizza ranch.

In general there is a lot to like about paddling in northeast iowa. A couple of slides from my paddle 50 presentation at canoecopia

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Nothin’ wrong with that. I wish we had them in Texas.

The cedar river in NE Iowa is a nice paddle. There are several county parks along the river with camping, showers, rest rooms etc. The biggest problem is the low head dams from days gone past and small power station dams. Requires some research.