Waupaca River: County Highway C to Brainards Bridge Park—Flat Water Paddling

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Reliably fun and quite scenic, the Waupaca is a favorite destination for Central Wisconsin paddling.

Written by

Barry Kalpinski


7.75 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

90.6 miles


2 of 5 diamonds

The Waupaca isn't challenging by any means but there is an awkward Class I drop where debris gathers that requires moderate boat control.

Time To Complete

0 hours


Spring, Summer, and Fall

Dog Friendly


Fees Permits


Land Website




The Waupaca River has always been a favorite for paddlers in Central Wisconsin and it’s easy to understand why. It's a very clean, swift-moving river with plenty of boulder gardens and other features to keep things interesting throughout the journey.

What Makes It Great

The Waupaca is a beauty and paddleable almost the entire year which is why we highly recommend this section and it's one to revisit often.

The current is swift and is felt from the moment you put-in but never so much so that you won’t be able to manageably avoid the occasional strainer. There are plenty of riffles and a Class I now-and-then to keep the paddle exciting. The river twists and turns, is dotted with boulder gardens (almost a Waupaca hallmark) and it shifts from sand to a rocky bottom throughout the trip. 

Since this is a well-paddled section, you’re not likely to encounter too many portages, save for the occasional shallow that needs some scooting-through.

This section of the Waupaca is anything but remote. You'll hear the sound of the highway and eventually the city throughout most of the trip but it doesn't detract from the experience (unless that’s the kind of thing that really bugs you). 

It also doesn’t detract from the wildlife as you’ll find yourself accompanied by deer, heron, turtles, fish and maybe even an otter or muskrat along the way.

Post-Paddle Diversions: Hartman Creek State Park is one of my favorite State Parks in all of Wisconsin. It’s a hidden gem, albeit with nothing overly dramatic to speak of. It’s just pretty and the the campsites are well maintained. It’s also perfectly situated near of a lot of great water to paddle. Another must-visit post-paddle destination is Central Waters Brewing Company, brewers of some of the finest beer in Wisconsin. Stop by the tasting room for a Mudpuppy Porter on Nitro or if you’re lucky, you’ll get to sample some of their fantastic Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Who is Going to Love It

The Waupaca is the kind of river that paddlers return to time and again because it's got the right mix of natural beauty, wildlife and it's easily accessible. If you've paddled it once, you'll no doubt, return once again.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Put-In at County Highway Q, Waupaca, Wisconsin: The put-in at County Q is very nice. It's easy to find with plenty of parking and easy access to the water.

Take-Out at Brainards Bridge Park, Waupaca, Wisconsin: The take-out is at Brainards Bridge Park (a well-manicured park at that) is an absolutely gorgeous park and ending to this paddle. 

Extended Trips: There is plenty more to explore, specifically upstream on the Waupaca. There’s a wonderful 6.5 mile section upstream of Amherst where the Waupaca is known as the Tomorrow River. Amherst to County DD is a ten-plus mile stretch that is a little more challenging but beautiful (just lock up your gear if you’re self-shuttling). County Road DD to County Q is a short 7-mile stretch that is mostly flatwater but still pretty, although you’ll definitely have some deadfall to maneuver around.

The downstream side is soon met with a dam and then eventually met by the Crystal River which finally meets the Wolf.

Related Links: 2015 Trip Report | 2012 Trip Report | 2011 Trip Report | Video

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