The Lower Kickapoo River is a picturesque meandering stream in southwest Wisconsin. Most people prefer to canoe the upper stretch by Ontario and LaFarge. This is for good reason as the river is more interesting up there with fun rifles and beautiful limestone bluffs, but the lower portion of the river is scenic as well and worth a paddle.
The Lower Kickapoo River
The Lower Kickapoo River is more of a muddy meandering stream through cattle country, but this does not mean the river does not have its merits. The tree covered bluffs along both sides of the river are beautiful and there are stretches where the river flows through tree lined portions where shade envelopes the river. For those used to the majestic Wisconsin River, these shady portions are a welcome respite during the hot summer months.
On this trip I was dropped off by Wisconsin River Outings at the small town of Steuben, Wisconsin: 19 miles upstream from Wauzeka. Wauzeka is where the Kickapoo meets the Wisconsin River.
Steuben is a two bar town with a campground. You can actually camp for $5.00 at the campground in Steuben along the river. The camping fee can be paid at either bar. Each of the towns along the way on the Kickapoo have their own little county campground, so it is possible to canoe and camp all the way down the river in a very frugal fashion.
Had the river to myself
For two days I had the Kickapoo River absolutely to myself. I only saw two people in two days along the river. They were in a golf cart along the shore. I was on the river the Tuesday after Labor Day, so definitely not a high traffic time, but one appeal of this stretch is it is not as highly paddled as the upper section.
As far as the wildlife was concerned, there was more to see along the river than the cows grazing on the muddy banks. The bird life was especially impressive with kingfishers, great blue and green herons, turkey vultures, goldfinches, woodpeckers, and a few bald eagles flew back and forth over the river. The most seen mammal was the muskrat, but beavers and river otters can also be spotted.
Plum Creek Campground
Five hours later after departing from Steuben, a section of exposed rock stood out on the right. Not soon after seeing this milestone, a grassy field came into view which was the Plum Creek Campground. This would be home for the night. It was not much, but it had shade, firewood, a couple of fire pits, and a place to put up the tent. The campground is free and found along a near deserted county road. Only about ten cars passed all night and through the next morning.
The only problem with the campground is there are no toilets. Furthermore, there are few places to go to find relief in the great outdoors. A bluff rises straight up out of the campground, so it could be a challenge to go there. I spoke with the outfitter and recommended someone put in a port-o-potty there. Problem with no bathrooms is people tend to get lazy, and I would hate to see people going right in the grassy camp area. That could definitely ruin the experience.
Another problem with this stretch is a lack of places to get out during the day. The river is characterized by muddy shores and high banks. Plus, most of the land is privately owned. In a pinch, a place could be found, but there are not many opportunities for lunch breaks and pit stops. These issues are minor though, and it did not detract from the wonderful experience paddling.
Paddle to Wauzeka
The next morning I was back on the river for a leisurely three hour paddle into Wauzeka. It was mostly the same type of scenery and soon the town of Wauzeka came into view before I paddled into the county park where my car was left by Wisconsin River Outings.
The Lower Kickapoo is not the most beautiful river in Wisconsin, but it was a peaceful two day paddle through the country farms and the bluffs of the Driftless Area. I would definitely paddle it again.
For those looking for more information on the Kickapoo and other local rivers, check out Morrall River Films, who produce helpful guides to local rivers in Wisconsin and Illinois.
Thank you very much to Wisconsin River Outings for the complimentary canoe rental and transportation to the put-in. Even though the trip was in part sponsored by them, the words, thoughts, pictures, opinions, and video are my own.
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When you were doing this river (Kickapoo – Paddle to Wauzeka) was there good areas to get out and take a dip besides the camp ground. I will be going this year in July. I love the areas were not that many people are around. Pictures you had taken are truly amazing. Also did you paddle at all or did you just drift? Was the current in the river good?
Thank you for your comment. On this stretch, there were not many areas to get out and take a dip. The river was kind of muddy with high banks. If you are looking for that experience, I would recommend the upper stretch starting in Ontario. The current was not all that strong. You could drift, but it was a pretty slow drift, so paddling was required.
I wrote this above, but repasting it here for your reference:
“Another problem with this stretch is a lack of places to get out during the day. The river is characterized by muddy shores and high banks. Plus, most of the land is privately owned. In a pinch, a place could be found, but there are not many opportunities for lunch breaks and pit stops. These issues are minor though, and it did not detract from the wonderful experience paddling.”
Thank you for commenting. I remember in your post you found a camping site 5 hours down the river. Think I might stop there for the break. I’m thinking of doing all 22 miles the same day. Looking at the satellite images on google maps. that looks like a very peaceful run. I’m going to give it a shot in July. Wish me luck! What do you think is the earliest time outdoor adventure travel would be able to get me a shuttle to Steuben? Think I might take you up on the suggestion to have them help out.
Hello Michael. Enjoy the trip. Wisconsin River Outings opens in May. You can give them a call at either 866.41.CANOE or 608.375.5300 to inquire further.
I finished the 22 miles of the kickapoo river. It was amazing. I’m supposed to be going again with a lady friend in July. Before the trip, everyone thought I was nuts doing all 22 miles. I started at 10:30 AM and ended at 8 PM taking 4X 15 minute breaks along the way. You were not kidding about having the river all to myself. I had seen no one the entire trip. This kind of trip is exactly what I needed. During my breaks, I noticed if you move toward the center of the river. That the bottom was more sand instead of mud. Made it a bit better to cool off when needed. Thanks for the info you provided. It made the trip a lot easier knowing what I was getting myself into before the actual trip.
Nice work completing all 22 miles in one day. That is one long day of canoeing. That is awesome that you did not see anyone. Have you ever paddled the upper stretch?
I did paddle Ontario Wisconsin as well. It is truly amazing. Beautiful, I tell you. But I’d only go to the upper on week days. It is an urban legend that college kids fill that upper part with urine on weekends LOL. I work as a computer administrator. My phone, e-mail, texts are always going off. So the alone time is needed more then anyone knows. I took tons of pictures. Epically of the black angus on the sides of the river that I thought were bulls. Scared the $h!t out of me. I stayed tight on the other side of the river to avoid them. Hey, I’m a computer nerd. We never see any live/wild animals except over the internet. I also mentioned your name to the Wisconsin River Outings – Boscobel as I used them for the shuttle to Stuben. My goal was to time lapse the night sky at the free camp site. But it was overcast the entire night. I will be taking one more trip to do this stretch of river again in another week to complete that one goal of the time laps. Even brought the telescope in hopes of seeing a meteor shower or anything that I could not see in the limits of a big city. This will be my, to go to site to get away from it all. Thanks for your take on this stretch of the river. Your name got brought up on Facebook group called – Wisconsin Paddling. Personally, I think the name sounds a bit kinky. But everyone enjoys it. Thanks again and I’ll give updates every now and then.
Yes, I avoid the upper stretch on summer weekends like the plague. It is great to go on a Monday or Tuesday though. Thanks for mentioning my name to Wisconsin River Outings. I have been using them and recommending them for years. Glad to hear I am being spoke of in a Facebook group. Maybe I will have to join to spy on it. Enjoy your summer!