The riverway includes the upper reaches of both the St. Croix and the Namekagon Rivers to where they meet, and then the combined waters widen up with islands and the St. Croix becomes the border with Minnesota. Upriver are beginner-friendly riffles and rapids on a winding, wooded course that seems completely cut off from civilization but for a couple of bridges. Free rustic paddle-up campsites make this perfect for multi-day trips, and the National Park Service keeps excellent maps – online and at park offices – with river mileage, campsites and rapids marked. Farther south, the river widens and offers a few Class I (beginner) and Class II (intermediate) rapids. South of Interstate State Park’s waterfall, the river is a great lazy paddle with numerous landings in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
More paddling spots: Upper Milwaukee River (Washington County), Willow Flowage (Oneida County)
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The Grant runs a mere 44 miles across the Driftless Area before it hits the Mississippi. But the middle portions of the river are perfect for a day of tubing. Pack a cooler and float along a sunny, winding river that passes through field and forest, offering pleasant riffles here and there as it bounces between the banks, with scenic bluffs and rock outcrops in the near distance. Outfitters maintain beaches and landings and host occasional music events. The shortest trip is about 2.5 hours, but a longer float takes you under a towering rock outcrop with a seep that drizzles down on passing tubers.
More tubing spots: Crystal River (Waupaca), Little Wolf River (Waupaca County), Kickapoo River (Vernon, Crawford counties)
While Waupaca’s Crystal River is short and sweet for beginner paddlers (and tubers), the namesake river on the other side of town has a bit more challenge to it. From the County Q canoe landing, the agile little river gets your attention with riffles and Class I rapids, occasional rock gardens and fallen trees, a stretch maintained by locals with kayakers in mind. The river runs clear on an 8-mile segment meandering through woods and fields. Kingfishers and heron are abundant, and even the rare river otter has been spotted along here. The takeout lies after a straight Class I run into Brainard’s Bridge Park. Local outfitters run trips and shuttles.
More kayaking spots: Kinnickinnic River (River Falls), Pine River (Richland Center)