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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A Crystal River canoeing Wisconsin adventure near Waupaca has long been on my radar. This river is not to be confused with the swimming with manatees Three Sisters Springs National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Word on the street is it is a picturesque river with some thrilling rapids and crystalline water.

Crystal River Wisconsin

Crystal River Wisconsin

During a Wisconsin road trip adventure, I finally made this trip a reality. The previous night I stayed at Eden Prairie Resort near Appleton. The succeeding morning my destination was Waupaca and Dings Dock for my Crystal River canoe rental.

Related: Canoeing with the manatees on the Crystal River

Crystal River Wisconsin Dings Dock canoe rental in Waupaca

Renting at Dings Dock

Dings Dock is located on the near pristine Chain O’ Lakes in Waupaca, Wisconsin. It was easy to pinpoint with billboards pointing the way. I parked my car and approached the rental booth.

The canoe rental cost $29.00, and after 30 minutes expired, I heard my name called over the intercom prompting me to board the pontoon shuttle and the inflatable dock. They also offer pontoon boat rentals and Dings Dock tubing. I ventured to guess it is the best tubing in Waupaca, Wisconsin.

Dings Dock Waupaca Wisconsin

Nice view of the Chain O’Lakes before you even put in

Pontoon boat livery service

Dings Dock is unique in the fact that they shuttle you to the put-in on a pontoon boat. Every 30 minutes they ferry paddlers across the lake to the mouth of the Crystal River. If you are tardy for the previous shuttle, like me, no worries because the next one is not too far away.

Dings Dock canoe rental

Pontoon boat to the put-in for the Crystal River Wisconsin canoe adventure


In fact, I welcomed the interval as I required time to change and pack. I did a double take when I saw the antiquated canoes toting behind the pontoon.

Crystal River Wisconsin canoeing

Crystal River Wisconsin paddling through the woodlands

Crystal River Wisconsin – Questionable canoes

The canoes were 12 foot long fiberglass vessels. They were as heavy as any 16 footer and extra wide. I saw some 16 foot canoes on a rack, and I asked if I could use one of those, but the staff member rejected my request. He might have given me the Dikembe Mutombo finger in intimidation as well..

They also provided these tiny plastic paddles resembling large toothpicks. Fortunately, I brought my own paddle and canoe pole.

Related: Kickapoo River canoe poling adventure

Crystal River Wisconsin

Lovely paddle through the woods on the Crystal River in Wisconsin

We boarded the boat and another not too thrilled operator loaded us up and drove us across the lake. It was August, so late in the season, and I think the staff was ready to return to college. They seemed tired of dealing with jocular tourists.

There was no welcome aboard or thank you for paddling with us. When we got to the other side the passive driver simply said “get out here.”

We had to jump in waist deep water. They then pushed over our canoe. It was not horrific service, but it was not preeminent either.

Crystal River Waupaca

Crystal River Wisconsin – Beginning of the trip under the bridge with a small riffle

Brought a dry bag

The signs indicate that no coolers or bags are allowed. I asked the attendant if I could not bring a bag. She said they warn you not to bring anything since it might get wet, but you can bring what you want.

I brought a dry bag, my own paddle, and a canoe pole. They just assume you are going to dump, so they tell all paddlers not to bring any valuables.

Crystal River Wisconsin canoe poling

Poling the Crystal River Wisconsin and showing off my Montem Life dry bag

Three hour paddle on the Crystal River Wisconsin

The Crystal River Waupaca adventure takes about two to three hours depending on your tempo. The river goes through private property, so no trespassing signs abound. Bringing lunch is unnecessary, and there is nowhere to eat it except the canoe if you did.

Crystal River Wisconsin

Crystal River Wisconsin scenery


The reserved staff member gave us minimal instruction. He said do not get out of the boat, keep left at the portage, and keep left at the lake. He also briefly described the take out. We were then on our own.

Chain O'Lakes Wisconsin

Keep left at the lake was one of the few instructions given by staff – It would be hard to get lost here

Crystal River Waupaca version is a beautiful river

The river evoked memories of the Weeki Wachee in Florida. It was crystal clear, and we paddled through sections of the river with homes along the bank. The river also transversed through forest as well.

Crystal River northwoods Wisconsin

The Crystal River Wisconsin is not a wilderness river, but it is spectacularly beautiful. This is true even when it flows through neighborhoods.

Related: Weeki Wachee canoeing adventure

Crystal River Wisconsin thrilling rapids

There was a series of thrilling riffles and rapids. The rapids run class I and perhaps a II. The river was really low and the fiberglass canoes were heavy and lugubrious, so there was a lot of scraping and banging.

I canoe poled most of the river, so the shallow river with rock bottom was ideal when there was sufficient water. The lake section was muddy, so I could not push too hard in this section or run the risk of getting the pole stuck.

As you paddled down the river, the riffles and rapids became more challenging. At one section I got stuck. The wide canoe was a novelty for me.

Dings Dock puts a lot of neophyte paddlers on the river, so I am sure they like these boats as it is similar to putting a teen driver in a 1950s Oldsmobile. Although you scrape and bang a lot with these crafts, they are durable.

Crystal River Wisconsin rapids

Small rapids on the Crystal River Wisconsin

Swim break on the Crystal River Wisconsin

At one section of the river, I pushed the canoe into some deep weeds and docked it. An inconsiderable sandbar stretched partially across the river and then dropped off to an exemplary bathing spot waist deep.

I used this area to cool off and take a swim and sit down in the deeper area of water. Despite the fact it only takes two hours to complete, might as well carpe deism and dawdle in the outdoor splendor.

Dinged up on the Crystal River Wisconsin

At one section of the river, I heard a more tumultuous hullabaloo from around the corner. Frothing whitewater greeted me. I should have parked myself in the canoe for this river obstruction.

Instead I tried to navigate in the erect position. The only problem was there was no channel unobscured with rocks. I collided with a boulder at the cusp of the rapids, and I catapulted out of the canoe.

The canoe remained upright, and I braced against the lip of the rapids to stay out of the water. I bruised my leg against the canoe while vaulting out. Other than a couple of bruises, I came away unscathed.

Crystal River canoeing Wisconsin

Enjoying a flat water stretch of the Crystal River

Take out at the Crystal River Wisconsin

The take out was clearly marked and easy to find. I pulled up and emptied my canoe. A bus arrived in a timely manner and took all the paddlers who consummated their journey back to Dings Dock where our vehicles were parked.

Mixed review on the Crystal River Wisconsin

I have mixed reviews on the Dings Dock experience. If I was in the area, I would not hesitate to do it again. The price is reasonable, and the service is efficient. However, I would not make a special trip to paddle this river.

The lackluster attitude of the staff, the lugubrious canoes, and the densely populated river would not entice me to return. I would drive four hours out of my way to paddle many rivers in Wisconsin; however, this is not one of them.

Dings Dock Wisconsin

Tough day at the office in a Ding’s Dock cubicle

Dings Dock other options

Besides canoes, Dings Dock provides a variety of other outdoor boating options. You can tube the Crystal River if paddling is not your forte. You can rent pontoons, they offer kayak and canoe rentals, and stand up paddleboards to explore the Chain O’Lakes.

They also rent cabins. Next door is a casino, so Dings accommodates to those with ecclectic tastes and for a range of options for a group of travelers.

Crystal River canoe poling

Having a blast canoe poling the Crystal River

Paddle with your own canoe or kayak

For those with your own canoe or kayak, you can paddle the river with your own craft. In fact, a kayak would be a more prudent option, especially with a paucity of water flow. Anything would be better than the cumbersome heavy boats Ding’s Dock provides. For an in depth paddle guide, check out Miles Paddled.

Crystal River Paddle Guide

Adventure on!