Fritillary on Red Milkweed, False Solomon’s Seal, Clay Colored Sparrow

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NEW! Paddler Pick Up – A new initiative to clean up the Kickapoo River
The KVR along with a variety of organizations and businesses have teamed up to provide red, mesh bags to anyone canoeing or kayaking the Kickapoo River. Paddlers are asked to use it for their own trash and the litter from others. The project is sponsored by the Friends of the KVR, the Kickapoo Valley Association, Mad City Paddlers, Wildcat Mountain State Park, and the KVR. Contact the KVR with any questions.

The Kickapoo River has been a favorite among canoeists for many years. The word "Kickapoo" is from the Native American Algonquian language meaning "he who goes here, then there." Translated locally as the "crooked river," it certainly lives up to its name, meandering its way along a 125-mile course that covers only 65 miles "as the crow flies." The shallow, gently flowing river is tame enough for the beginner but scenic enough forCanoe the Kickapoo the advanced paddler, as well. The upper stretch of the river from Ontario to La Farge is arguably the most beautiful, if not the most accessible for the public to enjoy.


The Kickapoo River is well known for rapidly changing water levels. The river will rise quickly during and after heavy rain; Flooding is a common occurence. During high water, passing under tree branches and some bridges may become difficult, and at times impossible. Debris dams or log jams can develop thus blocking river channel and causing extremely dangerous conditions. At the first sign of threatening weather, begin to consider seeking higher ground. "Normal" summer gage height ranges between 3 to 5 feet, at La Farge (Bridge 20). Water levels above 5 ft are not recommended for paddling. Check the USGS gaging station at La Farge or contact the Reserve Office for current river conditions.


The river is a textbook example of an entrenched dendretic river system. It is the longest river completely within the driftless portion of the upper Midwest and has been suggested by some geologists to be the oldest river system in the world outside of Antarctica. Over a period of millions of years, the river has carved a valley that varies from less than a mile wide at its greatest to a narrow gap at other places.

The river is fed by a number of smaller streams and tributaries, many of which offer excellent trout fishing opportunities. Springs and free-flowing wells contribute to keeping the river cool year round.

Log jams are a natural occurrence along the Kickapoo. Be careful when swimming or portaging. The cool water temperature, deep pools with surprisingly strong currents, and hidden logs can be hazardous.


The river will take you through both Wildcat Mountain State Park and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

A bird survey conducted in 1997 along the upper Kickapoo found that there are over 100 species of breeding birds that call the area home. Among them are several species considered either threatened or endangered such as the Kentucky Warbler and the Louisiana Waterthrush.

Other forms of wildlife often seen along the river include muskrats, beaver, white-tailed deer, raccoons, woodchucks, mink, and otters. The best opportunities for viewing wildlife are often early in the morning and on weekdays when traffic on the river is lightest.

The native flora is as diverse as the fauna here in the valley.  Short grass prairie remnants and Pleistocene era relicts are a few of the unique features found only in this special part of the driftless region. The imposing sandstone cliffs that line the river along your route areKayak on the Kickapoo River home to a number of rare and endangered species that are holdovers from the time of the last great ice age. Towering old growth pines and hemlocks shade you as you travel down the river where you’ll also see numerous species of ferns and mosses clinging to the weeping sandstone cliffs. Over 300 species of plants provide a constant display of color from early spring through late fall along the river.


Over the years, the canoe rental businesses and individual paddlers have established a simplified timetable for canoe trips.  Obviously, times are estimates and may vary with water levels, skill, and number of rest stops along the way:

If you plan an overnight trip, there are a number of lodging options available. Campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, motels, and cabins can be found through our additional links page. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve offers primitive, low impact camping at designated sites along the river. Campsites are listed in the visitor guide. Steep river banks can make accessing river campsites difficult. Easier access can often be found slightly upstream or downstream of the campsite. Camping fees are required; camping permits may be purchased at the Visitor Center or one of sixteen self-registration stations on the Reserve.  Low impact standards for camping and a pack-it-in, pack-it-out policy of litter control will be enforced. River campsites are generally small areas with room for only a few tents. Large groups should contact the Reserve office when planning a trip.

Safety is a primary concern when planning a canoe trip. Always carry a personal flotation device for every member of your party - it’s the law. Bring proper provisions along including a change of clothing, plenty of drinking water, insect repellent, sunscreen, plastic bags for removal of trash, and a first aid kit.

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Last Modified:  2/28/2015 9:04:33 PM
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