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Eau Claire River
(EC1) Bear Lake Road to County N Bridge, Wisconsin Trail Guide

Trail Facts

Distance: 13.9 miles
Skill Level: Novice (Advanced)
Whitewater: Class II (Class III)
Approx. Paddle Time: 6-8 hours
Elevation Drop: 168 feet
Average Gradient: 12.1 fpm
Eau Claire River


Trail Review

When water levels are adequate, this reach of the Eau Claire River is one of the best whitewater trips for novice paddlers in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, water levels are normally too shallow for enjoyable paddling in the lower half of this segment during most of the summer. But when the conditions are right, the four-mile stretch between the bottom of the Eau Claire Dells and the end of Barnard Rapids are a wavy thrill-ride for those whitewater enthusiasts who are developing their skills.

Intermediate and advanced level kayakers will enjoy the Eau Claire Dells, a scenic rocky gorge where the river roars through a challenging; class III falls and rapids that approaches class IV in high flows. The Dells are located in the middle of this segment and should be portaged by novices.

Besides the Dells, noteable rapids include a long stretch of whitewater about a mile and a half below the Bear Lake Road Bridge. This stretch features two named rapids: Master Ledges (class II), and Three Rows Falls (class II). Downstream from the Eau Claire Dells are two thrilling class II-II's named Barnard Rapids and Sandberg Island Rapids. Both are fast, narrow rips when water conditions are high enough with multiple channels and beautiful scenery.

Those who run the Eau Claire Dells will usually only run the Dells, putting in below the dam and taking out just below the falls. Most paddlers who run the entire segment will portage the Eau Claire Dells altogether, taking out above the dam and hiking along the wide footpath to below the falls. Just be aware, there is a short series of steep steps you'll have to navigate near the end of the portage.

Others, especially the locals, will park at the parking lot south of the river on County Y and hike about 50 yards down to the river and putin below the Dells. This makes for an enjoyable six-mile whitewater trip with the takeout at the County N Bridge.

Much of this section meanders through a quiet agricultural countryside mixed with hardwood forests and frequent open meadows. Maple, hemlock, birch, and mixed pine often overhang banks of dense undergrowth including thick patches of canada yew in the Dells. The spring bloom in the Dells is beautiful!


The Dells of the Eau Claire County Park has an excellent family campground with 28 campsites, 16 with electricity. The campground offers easy river access above the Dells Rapids (just above the dam). The County Park is one of the most scenic in Wisconsin with several hiking trails along the river and numerous overlooks at the Dells. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and are non-reservable. The County Park sits in the middle of this segement, so you can easily stretch out your trip into two fun days of paddling and hiking.

Council Grounds State Park offers a family campground along the shores of the Wisconsin River near Merrill. There are 55 campsites in an heavily wooded area with showers and flush toilets. 19 sites have electricity. There are 3 group sites with electricity that hold 32 people each.

The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest has an excellent campground about 45 miles driving distance northeast of the Eau Claire River, in the southeast corner of the Laona-Lakewood District. The beautiful and popular Boulder Lake Campground has 89 family-sites and 10 group sites; many of which are reservable. Boulder Lake Campground lies less than 2 miles from the Wolf River near Markton.


For Advanced level kayakers, the best paddling for the Eau Claire Dells is in the spring during the snow melt-off, or after a sustained rainfall during the rest of the warm-weather season.

For the rest of the segment, paddling conditions vary quite a bit throughout summer and fall, mostly dependant on rainfall. In low water conditions, the riffles and rapids can become to shallow to paddle through, especially in the lower half of this segment. Most paddlers should avoid the river at high water levels!

River Level Information

Phone Contact for River Info: N/A
USGS Gage: 05397500 @ Kelly, Hwy SS Bridge

Please note that the flow information below may not accurately reflect paddling conditions above the dam at the Dells of the Eau Claire County Park!

Suggested River Levels:
300 cfs
Paddling not recommended.
Novice Paddlers: Scenic whitewater river trip. Rapids below the Dells will be bony in this range, you may have to step out and push in places.
Intermediate/Advanced Paddlers: Dells are low-runnable class 3, but not recommended.
Novice Paddlers: Low runnable flow, scenic whitewater river trip. All rapids below the Dells should be navigable in this range, including left fork at Sandberg Island. Portage the Dells.
Intermediate/Advanced Paddlers: Rapids between the dam and the Dells are wavy class 2’s. Dells are low-to-moderate runnable class 3. Main drop still boofing, sticky release.
Novice Paddlers: Moderate runnable flow, challenging whitewater river trip, Sandberg Island & Barnard Rapids are class 2 wavy fun. Portage the Dells.
Intermediate/Advanced Paddlers: Rapids between the dam & the Dells are class 2+ wave-trains. The Dells are medium-runnable class 3. Main drop still boofing in this range. Pushy current in tight confines, sticky drops.
Novice Paddlers: High runnable flow for less skilled paddlers, excellent and challenging whitewater river trip, Sandberg Island & Barnard Rapids are solid class 2 wave-trains. Occasional, pushy waves over 2 feet high may scare less-experienced paddlers. Fast current, watch for ‘stealth-boulders’. Portage the Dells.
Intermediate/Advanced Paddlers: The rapids between the dam & the Dells are class 2+ wave-trains. The Dells main drop is medium-to-high runnable class 3 with powerfull hydraulics in tight confines. Middle chute opening up nicely at higher end of this range!
Novice Paddlers: Avoid the river. Powerful hydraulics, flooded banks, strainers are very dangerous in narrow channels below the Dells.
Intermediate Paddlers: Scout the Dells - class 4 - carefully, be sure of your route. Sandberg Island and Barnard Rapids are heavenly class 2-3 wave-trains - play spots develop. Watch for strainers and stealth boulders. Mistakes compound quickly.
Advanced Paddlers: Spring meltoff conditions, rapids between the dam and the Dells are class 2-3 wave-trains. The current is very fast. Multiple channels open up below the bridge at the Dells Rapids.
Novice and Intermediate Paddlers: Avoid the river.
Advanced/Expert Paddlers: National Weather Service flood stage occurs @ 4000 cfs. Overall the river-hydraulics are big, powerful, pushy, and ripping fast. The rapids between the dam and the Dells are class 3. The Dells are running full blast, multiple routes bank-to-bank, solid class 4. Sandberg Island and Barnard Rapids are class 3 wave-trains. You could raft the river in this range.
In short… If you’re a kayaker sponsored by Red Bull, you’re going to be in heaven!
Paddling not recommended!
USGS Daily Discharge Graph:
USGS Water-data graph for site 05397500
A little graphic at the end of the page