The Crystal River Wisconsin version near Waupaca has long been on my radar. This river is not to be confused with a river of the same name in Florida. I have heard it is a fun river with some nice rapids and crystal clear water. During a Wisconsin road trip, I finally made this trip happen. I was staying at Eden Prairie Resort near Appleton, so the next morning I drove to Waupaca. I stopped by Ding’s Canoe rental to rent a canoe.
Renting at Dings
Ding’s Dock is located on the Chain O’ Lakes in Waupaca, Wisconsin. It was easy to find with billboards located in advance that helped point the way. I parked my car and walked up to the rental booth. I paid $29.00 for a canoe, and 30 minutes my name came over the intercom to board the pontoon shuttle.
Pontoon boat livery service
Ding’s is unique in the fact that they shuttle you to the put-in on a pontoon boat. Every 30 minutes they shuttle paddlers across the lake to the mouth of the Crystal River. If you just miss the previous shuttle, like I did, no worries because the next one is not too far away. In fact, I welcomed the interval as I needed time to change and pack. I did a double take though when I saw the mini canoes they were toting behind the pontoon.
The canoes were 12 foot long fiberglass canoes. 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 just shook his head. He might have given me the Dikembe Mutombo finger as well. They also provided these tiny plastic paddles resembling large toothpicks. Fortunately, I brought my own paddle and canoe pole.
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 Ding’s staff was ready to go back to college. They seemed tired of dealing with vacationers. There was no welcome aboard or thank you for paddling with us. When we got to the other side the unamused driver simply said “get out here.” We had to jump in waist deep water. They then pushed over our canoe. It was not horrible service, but it was not great either.
Brought a dry bag
The signs indicate that no coolers or bags are allowed. I asked the attendant I paid 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.
Three hour paddle on the Crystal River Wisconsin
The paddle takes about two to three hours depending on your speed. The river goes through private property, so you cannot get out of the canoe and on to shore at any point. There is no reason to bring any lunch or food, but if you really feel like you need to, you can bring it. You just have to eat it in the canoe.
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.
The river reminded me of the Weeki Wachee in Florida. It was crystal clear, and we paddled through sections of the river with homes along the bank. There were sections where we went through forest, but mainly it was through residential area.
Related: Weeki Wachee canoeing adventure
There was a series of fun riffles and rapids. The rapids run class I and maybe 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 perfect where there was enough 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 a little more challenging. At one section I got stuck. I was not used to such a wide canoe. Ding’s puts a lot of newbie paddlers on the river, so I am sure they like these boats as it is similar to putting a 16 year old driver in a 1950s Oldsmobile. Although you scrape and bang a lot with these crafts, they are hard to tip, which I discovered a little later.
Swim break on the Crystal River Wisconsin
At one section of the river, I pushed the canoe into some deep weeds and docked it. A shallow sandbar stretched partially across the river and then dropped off to an area about waist deep. I used this area to cool off and take a swim and sit down in the deeper area of water. Even though it only takes two to three hours to paddle the river, it is best to go a little slower and enjoy, especially if it is a hot day.
Dinged up on the Crystal River Wisconsin
At one section of the river, I heard a little louder roar as I approached. A nice little drop off met me around the corner. I should have sat down for this and got my paddle out. Instead I tried to navigate standing up. The only problem was there was no obstruction free channel or V. I hit a rock at the top, and I catapulted out of the canoe. The canoe stayed upright, and I slammed my hand against a rock to stay out of the water. I bruised my leg against the canoe on the way out. Other than a couple of bruises, I came away unscathed.
The take out was clearly marked and easy to find. I pulled up and emptied my canoe. A bus came about 20 minutes later and took everyone back to Ding’s Dock where our canoes were parked.
I have mixed reviews on both Ding’s service and the river itself. 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 ancient heavy canoes, and the densely populated river would not entice me to go out of my way to come here. I would drive four hours out of my way to paddle many rivers in Wisconsin, this is not one of them.
Ding’s Dock other options
Besides canoe, Ding’s Dock provides a variety of other outdoor boating options. You can tube the Crystal River if paddling is not your thing. You can rent pontoons, kayaks, larger canoes, and paddle boards to explore the Chain O’Lakes. They also have cabins for rent. There is even a casino next door, so if not everyone is a fan of outdoor adventure in your group, they can try their luck while waiting for you to finish boating.
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, I think a kayak would be better suited for this river. Anything would be better than the cumbersome heavy boats Ding’s Dock provides. For an in depth paddle guide, check out Miles Paddled.
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