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Kickapoo River in Wisconsin

Trip Overview

The Kickapoo River comes from Native American words meaning "man who goes here and there." It is also described as the "crookedest river in the world." Whether that's true is open to debate, but it certainly deserves its reputation as one of the most scenic rivers in Wisconsin. Its upper reaches, covering about ten river miles, are lined with farmland and 100-foot sandstone bluffs topped with virgin hemlock, along with white pine, birch, maple and oak. The Kickapoo rises rapidly during rains and can be quite challenging in the spring. But it also empties quickly, and there is always enough water to enjoy a pleasant paddle. Frequent strainers, a few sweepers, and many crosscurrents provide safe challenges for the novice paddler (who probably rented an aluminum keelboat from one of the local liveries), plenty of interest for the intermediate canoeist, and a restful bit of heaven for more seasoned folk.

The above description applies to the section between Ontario and Rockton. Below Rockton there are few bluffs but more woods. It becomes somewhat twistier (after canoeing this far such a statement could be hard to believe). One could make a three- or four-day trip on this river if following it to its confluence with the Wisconsin River.

As for wildlife, I usually see kingfishers, great blue heron, swallows, warblers and turtles, have seen an otter and several water snakes, and have heard quite a few wild turkeys. As the river becomes more popular I also see an occasional human turkey, but I'm glad to say it is rare to see any garbage left behind.

I have paddled the Kickapoo many times, both solo and tandem, and I never tire of it. I make a regular pilgrimage in mid-October to absorb the sights, smells and silence.


Camping at nearby Wildcat Mountain State Park is almost worth the trip by itself, considering that it offers several hours of either moderately or very hilly hiking. The park sits atop a 400-foot ridge overlooking the Kickapoo valley and boasts several stunning overlooks.There is camping available on the river, but only at a few places, one of which I will not divulge and the other (that I know of) in the village of LaValle. Every ten miles or so there is a town or village where one can get food and drink, but I recommend bringing supplies.


The only fees are to camp at the state park and to pay the canoe livery for rental, shuttle, or car spotting.


Take US33 or US131 to Ontario. Canoe liveries are located in town near the junction of US33 and US131.


Hwy131 and other roads cross the Kickapoo in many places, and there is a put-in at nearly every crossing. The best ones are at the little park in Ontario, at bridges 5, 7, and 10, and at the tiny village of Rockton. Further downstream, there's Mickey's canoe landing in La Farge, as well as a continuing series of put-ins and take-outs at the other towns on the river.


Two books: "Whitewater/Quietwater" and "Canoe Trails of Southern Wisconsin." Both of these are available at Rutabaga, a Madison, Wis. paddlesport shop that has a website.


The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Bureau of Parks and Recreation

101 S. Webster St. - PR/1

Madison, Wis. 53703

  • Duration: Day Trip, 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip