BLOG 58. Best little boating stream in Wisconsin
by Cliff Jacobson
Between the fury of big rapids and the hushed quiet of backwaters, there’s a gentle mix of bubbling waters that challenge but do not intimidate—where pristine beauty, violet-sweet aromas and absolute solitude ravish the soul.
The Kinnikinnic River, in River Falls, Wisconsin is such a place.
The Kinni is hardly an undiscovered river. A 20 minute drive from St. Paul brings you to the dam and old grist mill that marks its beginning—a reminder of when this was a “working” river. The eroded spillway remains, creating a small impoundment where those who don’t understand the ways of running water may enjoy a flat-water float.
Three miles below the dam there is another sign of flourishing times—a once proud brick kiln. A tattered trail runs from the dam to the kiln—an easy hour’s walk.
A nationally revered trout stream, the Kinni is generally canoeable from March through November. Even during a summer drought there’s usually enough water to float a canoe. But a week of rain really brings the river to life. The first rapid—a gentle Class I drop, begins just below the put-in by the dam. From here, the water grades from riffles to Class II when the water is high. Nearly all of the approximate eight mile run contains riffles or small rapids, all of which are easily canoeable by those who have basic river paddling skills. Rocks, brush piles and sweepers dot the stream at every turn, requiring constant maneuvering. Every inch of the route is entertaining. Expect to drag some shallows when the water is low; when it is high, the route can be challenging.
The river moves fast, but not dangerously so. Occasional pools encourage a full paddle stroke but the channel is seldom more than two feet deep. Scratches and gouges are routine—the most polished paddlers won’t get downriver without scraping.
So what is the attraction of this shallow, narrow boat-eating stream? It’s not the lure of big rapids, for there are none. Nor is it the joy of family togetherness; the Kinni is too shallow to encourage the weight of coolers, kids and dogs. Slick, fast canoes that don’t turn quickly are a handful on this stream. And the wicked little drops, sharp rocks and usually cold water discourage swimmers and tubers. This leaves the river to trout fishermen and paddlers in small, short canoes and river kayaks. The Kinni is selective!
Except for the dam at its headwaters and the weed-choked brickyard there is no development of any sort along the way. Limestone bluffs with natural springs bolt skyward along the route and create the impression of mystical canyons. Often, it’s mid-day before the penetrating mist burns away and reveals the full light of the sun. Paddling the Kinni at first light is a magical experience.
The put-in is Glen Park in River Falls, Wisconsin. A 200 yard walk down a well-used trail brings you to the base of the dam and start of the trip. Take-out is at Kinnikinnic State Park (you’ll need a Wisconsin state park sticker) at the junction of hwy F and FF. Or, continue on to the St. Croix River and take out at Prescott, Wisconsin. Bring your own boats or rent them from Kinni Creek Lodge in River Falls (www.kinnicreek.com). The lodge offers shuttle service to Kinnikinnic State Park and Prescott beach.
You don’t need a dry suit or float bag to float the Kinni. You do need a light responsive canoe or kayak and at least three hours time. There’s so much to see along the Kinni that it’s best to plan a full day.