Follow Wisconsin Trails writer Chelsey Lewis as she gets out to explore Wisconsin. Read more about this blog here.
Some of my life’s highest highs have come from travel experiences - kayaking the Apostle Islands, hiking to Macchu Picchu, chasing waterfalls in North Carolina, hiking the Wailea Ridge on Maui.
But as with anything in life, my adventures have also brought a number of lows - mysterious, disgustingly infected bug bites in Ecuador, discovering Berlin pretty much shuts down (except for clubs and bars) after 6 p.m., watching my 7-year-old sister tumble off the front of a falling horse.
Last weekend, the Kickapoo River provided its share of both.
Camp at Wildcat Mountain State Park Friday night. Get on the Kickapoo River by 10 a.m. and canoe to campsite M, just past Landing 12 (about a six-hour paddle). Camp on the river Saturday night, then paddle about four more hours to La Farge, where a shuttle would pick us up and take us back to Ontario.
How it really went down
High: Despite arriving at Wildcat after 9 p.m., the ranger had left our campsite information and a map at the station. We easily found our cart-in site (108), a nice, partially-shaded site with a fire pit, picnic table and Aldo Leopold bench.
Low: Without a ranger at the station, we had no way to get firewood. We had stopped at a gas station before arriving at the park with no luck, and most other shops in the small towns around the park were closed by the time we arrived. A bit of foraging in the dark rustled up enough twigs and branches for a small fire, but the stars provided the majority of our light for the evening.
High: We woke to a beautiful sunrise peaking between the pines. A good sign? I sure hoped so.
Low: The ranger station was still empty as of 7:45 a.m., so breakfast was going to have to be on the camp stove.
High: The short, 10-minute drive to Titanic Canoe Rental in Ontario was gorgeous. We had arrived at Wildcat in the dark and had missed the beautiful rolling hills and changing leaves of the Driftless Region.
High: Titanic is located right along the river, so we were able to easily load our gear into the canoe and launch onto the river.
Low: It took a little while to get used to the feisty current and frequent twists and turns of the narrow Kickapoo, especially with an extra 100+ lbs. of gear. We got caught in more than a few “eddy monsters” (as a fellow canoer called them), which turned our canoe perpendicular to the current and slowed us down considerably.
High: Although they were tricky to navigate at times, the Kickapoo’s twists and turns are what make it really beautiful. Sandstone cliffs line the banks in spots, and all along the route the yellows, oranges and reds of the changing leaves made for a beautiful paddle.
Low: By 1 p.m., our gorgeous sunny morning had given way to a cloudy afternoon. Rain was in the forecast for the afternoon, and unfortunately for us, the forecast was accurate. By 3 p.m. we were paddling through a steady downpour, still about two hours from our campsite. At lunch we had covered our gear with tarps and ourselves with rain jackets, but the relentless rain was starting to dampen both our clothes and our spirits. My friend (who was sitting in the front of the canoe) admitted the next day that at one point she couldn’t see very far in front of her. Not so great for navigating around the many fallen branches both above and below the water’s surface.
We channeled our inner Winklevoss and reached our campsite just as the rain began letting up, but after hauling our gear up the steep riverbank we realized our tarp-covering was sub-par and some of our gear had gotten pretty wet.
High: A good portion of our wood was still dry, so after resting for a bit we set to work building a fire in the damp fire pit. Spits of rain and drips from leaves hampered our efforts, but dry newspaper and some serious lung power produced a small fire which we kept going for most of the night.
Low: The temperature had dropped considerably from the morning and the night before, and even in dry clothes it was a chilly night for sleeping.
High: By the time we went to bed we could see the stars again, and we woke Sunday morning to a brilliant blue sky and warmer temperatures.
Low: Despite feeling rejuvenated by the sun and a decent night’s rest, the thought of another four hours on the river was daunting and we opted to paddle just another half hour to Landing 14 for a shuttle pick-up.
High: Our Sunday morning paddle was a great way to say goodbye to the Kickapoo after its wet temper tantrum Saturday. We had the river to ourselves, and the calm water made for easy paddling. I was almost tempted to continue on to La Farge, but we had to be back to Milwaukee by 3 p.m. (it was already after 10), so we said goodbye at Landing 14.
Even with plenty of lows, the highs of the Kickapoo River prevailed. The river was beautiful, remote and - with nicer weather - would be a fantastic weekend getaway or day trip in the summer or fall. Plus, canoe camping is a nice balance between true backpacking and car camping - you have to be conscious of what you're packing, but you can still bring a cooler of beer for sitting around the campfire.
Have you canoed the Kickapoo? What are some of your favorite canoe-camping spots in Wisconsin?