WI Black river suggestions

I am looking for advice on paddling the black river. I am located in Madison and have paddled a number of rivers in WI, but never this one.

  1. I have heard of biting flies on this river. true? Only late in the season?
  2. I am taking a group of 10…any suggestions for outfitters?
  3. Looking for class 1-3 rapids. Good stretches to explore?
  4. know of other rivers within 3 hours of madison that have class 1-3 rapids?

    Thanks for any help

I assume you’ve been to Rutabaga to
get relevant guidebooks. You might want to join American Whitewater so you can access their river info database. Have you done sections of the Wolf? That would be my choice for taking a group on a “new” river.

A Tale of Two Rivers
The dam at Black River Falls is under construction, hence, the river is very different than it has been since 1911.

The stretch from the Hatfield Dam to Black River Falls is very nice. It can be pretty big during the spring melt, but by now it is very tame with a few Class II rapids. I’m not a WW guy, but at this point, I would imagine you could run it in an open canoe without getting wet.

The stretch from BRF to La Crosse is spectacular. Cliffs, sandbars, sandstone, etc. Several shallow spots that may require dragging, but very very pretty. No rapids to speak of, but maybe a few ripples at higher water.

You may want to contact the good folks at the Friends of the Black River http://www.friendsoftheblackriver.org/ for more detailed and updated info.


re: black river suggestions
thanks for the info…very helpful!

A few photos, other info

– Last Updated: May-18-11 10:06 AM EST –

I did a trip on the Black River below the Hatfield dam a year or two ago. Here are some representative photos:


When we started out, only one turbine at the dam was operating. At that time, the river was much too scratchy for comfortably getting a canoe down the river, but it would have been doable. Just as we got going, the plant operator decided to do us a favor and he started another turbine, which of course doubled the flow. It was a pretty section of river, but still a bit scratchy. I think we took out below Power House Rapids. The book "Paddling Northern Wisconsin" by Mike Svob will help you out in choosing access points, and will describe river conditions along the way.

At normal summer flows, you'll be scratching bottom quite a bit on this section, but there are scheduled dam releases in summer that make this part pretty crazy. The guy who led the trip that I went on, who paddles that section of river a lot, said that during a good release, standing waves 6 to 8 feet high are normal in some spots. Under those conditions, safely getting to shore could be a problem, so make sure you know what you are getting into before paddling on a release date.

As far as biting flies go, I expect people are talking about deer flies, as the whole region is deer-fly country.

For other Class-I to Class-III rivers, check out the book I mentioned above. I think the Black River is probably one of the whitewater rivers that is closest to Madison.