Traveling Ted is a blog that takes readers along on my adventures hiking, canoeing, skiing, and international backpacking. Many blogs focus on one aspect of backpacking, but I tackle both the outdoor adventure side and international exploration as well.

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I told my dad I was going to canoe the Pine River. A confusing back and forth ensued for a few minutes until I realized he thought I was going to paddle the Pine River in Michigan. I posted on Facebook that I intended to paddle the Pine River in Wisconsin. One of my followers asked if it was the Pine River in northern Wisconsin. It occurred to me that the Driftless Region Pine River in southwest Wisconsin gets no respect.

Driftless Region Pine River

As you can see, the Driftless Region Pine River deserves respect

Reasons for the Driftless Region Pine River low profile

One reason for this is it shares the same name with two other premier rivers in the Midwest. Another is it is in the shadows of other top notch rivers in the same region. The Driftless Area in southwest Wisconsin features the Wisconsin River, the Kickapoo River, and the mighty Mississippi. Those are some of the greatest paddling rivers in the Midwest and you could argue the country.

Related: Canoeing the Pine River oxbow

Wisconsin River sunset

Difficult for any river to compete with the Wisconsin River and the Kickapoo River

Just because the Pine River is a common name and is near some other beautiful rivers does not mean it should be overlooked. If you are in the Driftless Region looking to paddle, why would you not check it out or why would you check it out. President Trump has confused me on the proper use of this phrase. My point is the Pine River is a river that stands out on its on merits and deserves a trip of its own. It deserves your respect.

Related: Wisconsin River for best canoe camping

Pine River Rockbridge

Put in near Rockbridge on the Pine River

Where is the Pine River and what the heck is the Driftless Region

The Pine River is located in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin about an hour west of Madison. It is called the Driftless Region because the glaciers never touched this region so the geologic or geographic features are a little different in this neck of the woods from the rest of the state and the Midwest. Elsewhere in Wisconsin and the Midwest, glaciers rolled over and smoothed over the landscape. Richland Center, Wisconsin is the main city along the river.

Drifless Area Wisconsin

Rolling hills in the Driftless Region

Pine River Paddle and Tube LLC

I met Mark from Pine River Paddle and Tube LLC at Canoecopia. He excitedly told me how the community has really begun to invest in the river. The river has been cleared of numerous logjams, parks have been built and improved around the river, campsites added along the river, and put-ins and take-outs upgraded. I have never paddled the Pine River, but I have heard it needed some work. I guess this has changed, so it was time to see for myself.

Pine River Wisconsin

Bluffs near one of the campgrounds along the Driftless Region Pine River

Pine River park

From one of the new putin piers for canoes and kayaks in Richland Center along the Pine River

Rockbridge to AA

Mark wanted to put me on the most spectacular section of the river, so he drove me to Rockbridge, a small community north of Richland Center. We deposited my car at the County AA bridge where my paddle would end. This would be a ten mile paddle. Before paddling, he drove me around to check out some of the parks and campsites along the river. I was not prepared to canoe camp on this trip, but I definitely will return.

Pine River poling

Set up the GoPro at the putin near Rockbridge to capture a poling shot along the Driftless Region Pine River

Canoe poling the Pine River

Related: Canoe pole instruction on the Allagash River

I bought a canoe pole during the winter, so this was my first trip checking it out. I got a quick lesson on an Allagash River trip, so I was excited to use it. The river was a little muddy in places. I got the pole stuck in the mud and in the course of trying to pull it out while the canoe lurched forward, I lost my balance and fell backward. The canoe tilted to one side and took in some water, but disaster was averted. I learned my lesson about muddy bottoms. You need to push a little gentler in mud or just let go if the pole gets stuck.

Canoe pole stuck mud

Paddling back to retrieve my pole stuck in the mud that almost led to disaster

Typical southwest Wisconsin river

Related: Paddling the Badfish with the Mad Traveler

I have paddled several rivers in the area including the Badfish, the Sugar River, and the lower Kickapoo. At first, the Pine River resembled those rivers. The beginning went through fields then switched off between partially wooded sections, more fields, and farm areas with forested bluffs in the background. A scenic river, but nothing spectacular.

Pine River Wisconsin

Typical southern Wisconsin river scenery – Pleasant but nothing magnificent

Related: Paddling the Lower Kickapoo

Bluffs change everything

Suddenly, I came across a bend in the river and the landscape change dramatically. As soon as I turned the corner, I was staring at 30 foot high limestone bluffs that sprung right from the shoreline. On top of these bluffs were a little grove of pine trees. For some reasons, the bluffs and the pine trees seemed to coincide. As my jaw hit the bottom of the canoe and threatened another dumping, I paddled past the bluff knowing the river had my respect. It was no longer the Rodney Dangerfield of the Driftwood in my mind.

Pine River bluffs

Bluffs along the Driftless Region Pine River change everything

Pine River wisconsin bluffs

Looking back downriver as I pass a beautiful bluff on the Pine River

Pine River Richland Center

These bluffs along the Driftless Region Pine River do not get old

Pine River Wisconsin

I had to sit down to admire this bluff – Pine River Wisconsin

More bluffs and scenery on the Driftless Region Pine River

This scenario took place for the rest of the afternoon. I would pole through the typical Wisconsin countryside and then come across sections of bluff and pine. It was a feast for the eyes. The day was hot and a bit humid with billowy clouds streaming across the horizon. It was my first canoe outing of the year, and I was so happy to be on the river.

Pine River farmland

Not a surprise to see a farm and barn paddling a southern Wisconsin River

Pine River Richland Center

The only canoe I saw on this day was mine

The Driftless Region Pine River to myself

I did not see another paddler on there river. In fact, I did not see another person along the river. I heard some car noise in the distance, and I paddled past some farms, but I had the river to myself. This was a weekday, so that explains part of it, but the Kickapoo and Wisconsin will have a lot more traffic during the summer months even during the week. Mark from Pine River Paddle and Tube did mention that sometimes on a summer weekend he will have 40 boats on the river. This is still a lot less than the Kickapoo receives on a busy summer weekend.

Logjam on the Pine River

Cheers from a Pine River logjam 

One logjam

There were a few obstacles on the river including one major logjam. Mark instructed me to keep river right when I saw a white structure on the left. There were a few other tricky stretches, but the major logjam was the only portage. I was actually able to pull over the right side, so I did not have to get completely out and carry the canoe on the shoreline.

Pine River County AA bridge

Last stretch of the Driftless Region Pine River before pulling up to the AA bridge

Pulling in to AA

I pulled in under the bridge at County AA to a canoe/kayak pier and pulled the canoe out. It took about four hours as I took many pictures and enjoyed a lunch on the logjam. The Pine River has always been on my radar as I have driven over it and even seen its confluence with the Wisconsin River farther down from Richland Center. I was glad to notch another river on my resume and have another nearby spot to paddle and camp in the future. REM sung that they would not return to Rockville, but I would definitely return to Rockbridge to paddle the Driftless Region Pine River again.

Hayden Pole

Using a Hayden Pole on the Pine River

Pine River Paddle and Tube

Definitely hit up Mark’s outfit if you are in the area. He can even set you up with a canoe or kayak if you call the day of your trip. Probably better if you give some advance warning though to make sure a canoe or kayak is available. His contact information is on his Facebook page.


Mark set me up with a complimentary canoe and drop off. This fact does not impact this post as the opinions, photos, videos, and respect for the Driftless Pine River are purely my own.

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