Yellow River in Iowa

by  yakaddict

A self-supported trip created by yakaddict

Trip Overview

The Yellow River is a 53.5-mile-long (86.1 km)tributary of the Mississippi River in northeastern Iowa. It originates in southwestern Winneshiek County and flows through southern Allamakee County, receiving tributaries from northern Clayton County, before joining the Mississippi near Marquette and Effigy Mounds National Monument.

Much of the river's course is very scenic, coursing between vegetated limestone cliffs. The watershed is located in northeastern Iowa's un-glaciated Driftless Area. The catchment measures 154,666 acres (625.91 km2) and is mainly state forest or farmland. Much of the region is quite rugged, and little urban development has encroached upon it.

Its beauty, lack of development, recreational potential and interesting wildlife habitats make it a candidate for development as a park. The state has developed Yellow River State Forest over time. The Yellow River is the coldest, fastest moving river in Iowa.

The best time I have found to paddle the Yellow is in early summer when its levels are higher from runoff. The ice cold water feels good in the hot summer months as well.

The Yellow River is spring-fed and normally runs clear cutting through rugged terrain. It is managed by the Iowa DNR as a coldwater stream and some classify it as primitive. The Yellow River is considered by many to be one of the more scenic and challenging runs in Iowa.

This section of the river is on average about 45-65 feet wide. The overall gradient from Sixteen Bridge to Yellow River State Forest is 10.3ft/mile making it one of the more exciting and swift runs in Iowa. Some paddling experience is recommended to ensure an enjoyable outing. Many novice paddlers make this trip with no problem but occasionally even experienced paddlers will take an involuntary swim (occasionally me). There is one mandatory short portage around culvert grates on Kurt Warner's land about 3 miles down river from the put-in.

The river is also known for producing trophy trout. Smallmouth fishing is also good. Walleye, pike, and white bass are common. The final 7 miles of the Yellow River pass through Yellow River State Forest and Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa's only national monument.

Paddle, float, fish or just enjoy the woods, clear cold water and limestone bluffs and trees along the way. This is a very fun and scenic run. Very few people leave this river disappointed.

The trip ends at the Ion Access.


Area camping at Pikes Peak State Park or Bloody Run as well as many types of lodging are available as is beverage of the ale and lager persuasion at Old Man River Brewery in McGregor, Iowa.


Canoe, kayak rentals, shuttles and additional info are available from Big Foot Canoe Rental. Located in the Village of Volney 7 miles north of Monona off County Hwy X26. Talk to Marcie or Steve there:

Bigfoot Canoe Rental

419 Big Foot Rd

Monona, IA 52159

Canoes/$25 per day and kayaks/$20 per day.


Paddled from Forest Mills to Bigfoot Canoe on Saturday and camped overnight at Bigfoot Saturday evening. On Sunday paddle from Bigfoot Canoe to Ion Access.


Paddling Iowa

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location