Nicolet National Forest

Peshtigo River

The best period for running this river is during the high flow of spring run off. During the summer, plan trips to follow extended heavy rains. During normal summer low water periods, paddling becomes difficult and scraping or dragging through rapids is inevitable. There has been minimal development along this forested river route. The area was extensively logged during the early 1900's. Hike the Dendro-Eco Nature Trail near CCC Bridge along Forest Service Road 2131. Observe birds, waterfowl, and wildlife along the route. The Peshtigo is a Class II trout stream and is periodically stocked with rainbow and brown trout. Many Class I and II tributaries enter the river along the route. A good fishing trip.

Outside developed recreation areas, camping is permitted anywhere on National Forest System land. Within developed recreation areas, camping is permitted only at designated campsites.

Primitive —No permits are required for camping on National Forest System land. Campfires are permitted as long as they are used solely for warming and cooking purposes. Down and dead firewood may be used for campfires. Please pack out all trash, including all non-burnable refuse. Occasional primitive camping spots are located along the river. USGS topographic maps generally show public land ownership and are helpful in choosing campsites.

Know where you are when camping. Privately owned land is interspersed along the route. Obtain permission from landowners before camping on private land.

Developed —Three partially developed campgrounds along the route are maintained by the Forest Service. No camping fees are charged at these campgrounds. Big Joe Campground located off State Hwy. 139 has three walk-in sites. Campgrounds at Burnt Bridge and Burton Wells Bridge have limited facilities. When camping in developed campgrounds, fires may be built only in the fire pits or grates that are provided. Down and dead firewood may be used for campfires. Marinette County maintains the 15-unit Goodman Park campground at the end of Section 2.

River Facts

Section 1
START:Big Joe Campground
Off Wisconsin Hwy. 139
END: Burnt Bridge
Spring high:I-II
Summer low:Scrapy to I
LENGTH:17 miles
TIME:8-9 hours

Section 2
START:Burnt Bridge
Forest Service Road 2134
END: Goodman Park
Spring high:II-IV
Summer low:II
LENGTH:12 1/2 miles
TIME:6-8 hours
COUNTY :Forest & Marinette

Nicolet National Forest map 1/2-inch scale - $2.00 each
7 1/2' USGS quadrangle topographic map-$2.50 each.

Points of Interest

(0 mile) Big Joe Campground—The boat landing serves as the put-in point.

(1 mile) Camp 8 Rapids—Camp Eight Creek, a Class I trout stream, enters from the right just above the rapids. A Class 1 rock garden ends at a swinging foot bridge. A deep channel with medium current continues to Cavour.

(2 miles) Gruman Creek—This Class 1 trout stream enters from the right.

(21/2 miles) Cavour, Wl—Just beyond County Hwy. G bridge. The village is on the right followed by an old mill dam site on the left. From here the river meanders with smooth currents through oxbows and dead elms for the next 5 miles. Watch for fallen trees in the channel.

(3 1/4 miles) Bills Creek—This Class 1 trout stream enters from the left.

(6 miles) Whiting Creek—This Class 2 trout stream enters from the right.

(7 1/4 miles) Ovitz Creek—The creek enters from the right, marking the approach to the CCC Bridge.

(71/2 miles) CCC Bridge—The bridge across Forest Service Road 2131 is known as the CCC Bridge. An alternate landing site is on the right just upstream from the bridge. A self-guided nature trail on the left is an interesting spot to visit.

Camping: A primitive campsite is located just below the bridge on the left under some tall conifers.

(7 3/4 miles) Camp 12 Rapids—The next bend below the CCC Bridge begins a series of Class I-II rapids in several pitches. When water levels are medium to high, there are navigable chutes between the boulders. In low water, dragging may be necessary over some spots.

(8 1/2 miles) Little Camp 12 Rapids—A Class 2 rock garden. For the next 21/2 miles, a good current runs through the mixed hardwood forest and occasional tall conifers grace the banks.

(9 miles) Catwillow Creek—A Class II trout stream enters from the left.

(9 1/2 miles) Camp 5 Creek—The creek enters from the right.

(10 1/2 miles) Pile Drive Creek—The creek enters from the right.

(11 1/4 miles) Coldwater Rapids—Class I-II chutes. Coldwater Creek enters from the left at the end of the rapids.

(11 3/4 miles) Preserve Rapids—A 1 1/3-mile series of Class I-II rapids with several rock gardens and stretches of quick water. A bridge spans the river halfway through the rapids. The road is on private land and is gated in both directions. The second series of rapids below the bridge is a Class 11 rapids featuring two nice surfing waves at medium to high water levels. Work through the narrow channel of this set.

(131/2 miles) Whirlpool Creek—The creek enters from the right and is well known for good trout fishing in the pool and eddy at its mouth. The next 1 1/2-mile stretch is calm lowland paddling.

(15 1/4 miles) Smiley Rapids—A three set series of Class I-II rapids.

(16 1/4 miles) Big Rock Rapids—This is a Class II boulder field distinguished by a large boulder on the left at the bottom of the set. Riffles cover most of the distance to Burnt Bridge landing. Midway through the rapids set, a Class I trout stream, Rock Creek, enters from the left.

(17 miles) Burnt Bridge (Forest Service Road 2134)—This is the take out point for the first section. The landing is on the right downstream from the campsite. The site is named after an old railroad bridge which once spanned the river. The bridge was partially destroyed by fire in the 1920's.


Only intermediate to advanced canoeists should attempt this section of the river. The rapids tend to be long and rocky, and intricate maneuvering is required. There are 14 rated rapids and 2 mandatory portages around waterfalls in this section. Water levels must be medium high or better for the best paddling.

(17 miles) Burnt Bridge—The Burnt Bridge landing is the put-in point for Section 2 The slow current beginning under the bridge lasts only for 1/2 mile and is followed by Armstrong Creek, a Class II trout stream entering from the left.

(17 1/2 miles) Michigan Rapids—The rapids begin shortly after the mouth of Armstrong Creek and continue for 3/4 mile. While rated a Class II rapids in summer and Grade III in high water, this is a long challenging run at any water level. A short Grade II boulder field is followed by 200 yards of relatively calm water. Take out on the right before a sharp right turn in the river. The steep drop following the take-out rates as Class III-IV rapids.

Open canoes are not advised during the spring due to high waves. The large haystacks in this area can cause an open canoe to fill with water, and the continuing Class II-III rapids below the haystacks make immediate rescue difficult. There is a Forest Service trail along the right bank that can be used for scouting or portaging. The Class II-III rapids continue for another 1/2 mile until the river slows and passes through a lowland area. Michigan Creek enters from the right at the end of the rapids stretch.

(18 3/4 miles) Unnamed Rapids—A short Class II rapids followed by a quickening current prior to reaching the Upper Dells.

(19 1/2 miles) Upper Dells Rapids—Rated Class II-III rapids, this is a 1-mile prelude to the Dells. Just before the rapids, the river narrows and the current is split by a large boulder. Take out on the right below the boulder to scout. Check carefully for strainers, as the river narrows through this section. A short paddle takes you to the Dells.

(20 miles) Dells Rapids—The rapids appear soon after the river splits around a large island located below the Upper Dells. Take the right channel; the left is shallow, rocky, and filled with trees. Take out on the left (an island) to scout or portage the Dells, a solid Class IV rapids about 150 feet long and 10 to 20 feet wide. A rocky trail paralleling the river can be used as a portage. The Dells is steep and narrow, and water funnels through like a pipeline. Not recommended for open canoes during spring high water. Portaging around this impressive drop is recommended.

Just downstream from the Dells stands an old pine logging dam, one of the many used to control water flow on the Peshtigo. A fast current continues downstream for the next 1 1/2 miles before arriving at Roaring Rapids.

(21 miles) Mac Tackie Rapids—A Grade I rapids in two pitches.

(22 miles) Roaring Rapids—This is a 3/4-mile long Class II rock garden where the river widens. The rapids soften and disappear before reaching the Burton Wells Bridge.

(23 1/4 miles) Burton Wells Bridge (Forest Service Rd 2136)—This is the last take-out before leaving the Nicolet National Forest. The landing is downstream of the bridge, on the right. There is a primitive campsite here with toilet and fireplace. Across the river is the site of the old Keller settlement which was used during the logging drives. The present bridge is named after an logging railroad bridge that stood here during logging era. Halley Creek, a Class II trout stream, enters from the right 1/4 mile downstream.

On the left bank, Forest Service Road 2136 (Benson Lake Road) closely parallels the river for the rest of the trip. One mile down from the bridge, the river leaves Nicolet National Forest. During the next 3 miles, the river slows and several landing sites are available.

(26 1/4 miles) Cooper Rapids—This is a 150-yard long, Grade II rapids. The river widens through this stretch, providing a variety of chutes to run. Take out on the left immediately below rapids for Shrine Spring, a refreshing stop on a hot day.

There is easy paddling for the next 1/2 mile before running a Class II-III boulder field. The boulder field is followed by Hoosier Hole, a famous trout fishing spot. The next 1 1/2 mile is smooth paddling before entering the falls portion of the trip.

(28 1/4 miles) Taylor Rapids and Taylor Falls—CAUTION! From here to the take out point requires extra caution. Two vertical drops require portaging. Following a short Class 11 rapids, the river splits around a large island. Listen for the sound of falls. Take the left channel and take out on the left immediately below the island. The portage runs along the left bank. Taylor Falls is a 6-foot vertical drop. The portage is mandatory. Put in below the falls. A Class II-III boulder field runs from here to the Swede John Bridge.

(29 miles) Swede John Bridge—The river here is narrow, rocky, and beautiful. The high banks are covered with a mixed hardwood-conifer forest. Just below the bridge, a Class II rapids starts and continues for 1/3 mile before running out into a wide pool.

(29 1/2 miles) Strong Falls and Goodman Park—CAUTION! Take out on the left before a sharp left turn. Strong Falls lies 100 feet beyond this sharp bend. A small bridge marks the start of the falls. The take out is mandatory. Strong Falls drop 15 feet onto granite bedrock, an impressive sight from shore. The portage runs along the left bank. Marinette County maintains the 15-unit Goodman Park campsite here. This ends Section 2 of this trip.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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