Wisconsin RTS Trips

2023 RTS Paddling Trips

The River Touring Section (RTS) has been a proud part of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Sierra Club and the paddling community in Wisconsin for 56 years.  Since its inception in 1967, RTS has offered dozens of paddling trips and instructional clinics each year to its members and the general public.  RTS has embodied Sierra Club’s motto, to enjoy, protect and explore our environment by introducing the rivers of Wisconsin, and beyond, to new generations of paddlers and by providing endless opportunities for people to safely improve their paddling skills, explore new waterways, ingrain leave-no-trace practices, and develop and share a love of the natural world.

Sadly, RTS’ affiliation with the Sierra Club is likely coming to an end.  Paddling, canoe-camping and whitewater paddling in particular, comes with risks.  To address those risks, Sierra Club’s policies for leading paddling trips have evolved such that it is no longer possible for an entirely volunteer-led group like RTS to lead trips in compliance with those policies.

The requirement that trip leaders maintain American Canoe Association (ACA) level-2 or level-3 instructor certification is the most difficult of the new regulations for volunteer leaders to meet. ACA certification requires at least 4 days of training in addition to training, travel and lodging expenses every 4 years, plus annual fees - amounting to over $1000 every 4 years, not counting time off from work.  One is also required to provide ACA-level canoe or kayak instruction during each certification period to maintain certification status. ACA certification is offered for either canoeing or for kayaking.  RTS allows both canoes and kayaks on its trips, so trip leaders possibly need to maintain certifications for both boat types.

Other new requirements, including that trip details and trip-leader resumes are sent to national SC for review and approval at least 90 days before each trip start date are also challenging, especially if trips need to be tweaked (a different river or co-leader substituted) or postponed due to weather/water condition or illness.

RTS will not be offering any trips or clinics in 2023.   Sierra Club’s watercraft outings policies are currently being reviewed and possibly revised.  If and when the new policies are implemented, RTS co-chairpersons will review them with trip leaders to determine if RTS can resume trips and clinics in the future.

RTS Paddling Trips  - Basic Information

The River Touring Section (RTS) typically offers more than 30 paddling trips each year for Sierra Club members and non-members alike. All trips are free unless otherwise indicated and are led by volunteer leaders from RTS who have met Sierra Club and RTS trip leader training and approval criteria. A complete list of trips is typically posted by mid-February of each year, but may be amended over the course of the year. Scroll down for the most recently updated trip list.

Each trip has specific participant requirements that are determined by the trip leader based on expected trip difficulty, water and weather conditions, and similar safety concerns. Below are some Basic Participant Requirements applicable to all RTS paddling trips:

PRE-REGISTRATION REQUIRED: Each trip description includes the name and contact information of a trip leader. You must contact the designated trip leader prior to the trip to register and to get the logistics of the trip (when and where it departs, camping information, etc.) Trip leaders will provide additional information about the trip and help you assess whether you have the equipment and abilities needed to participate. Trip leaders reserve the right to limit participation based on the number of people registered, participant skill levels, trip difficulty, and other reasons. That said, new participants are welcomed and encouraged!

GEAR: You are responsible for providing all of your gear—boat, paddles, PFD, food, and so on. You’ll also need to provide weather-appropriate clothing. A wet suit or dry suit may be required for cold temperatures, especially on whitewater. Quick-drying clothes and a change of clothes are suggested, as well as appropriate protection to minimize sun exposure such as a hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt and/or sun lotion and portable water for hydration.

All participants MUST wear a properly fitted and securely fastened life jacket (PFD) whenever on the water during an RTS trip. For Class II and higher whitewater, participants should wear a PFD designed for whitewater and a whitewater helmet, and may be required to have a boat that is properly outfitted with flotation. Inflatable PFD's are not sufficient on any RTS trip unless specifically authorized by the leader of that trip. Canoes will ideally have thigh straps, ropes, a spare paddle and a bailer when used on whitewater. Kayaks require neoprene sprayskirts on whitewater, unless they are of the 'sit-on-top' variety. Additional items may be suggested or required, depending on the trip. Currently, while Sierra Club has Covid-19 restrictions in place, trip participants must have face masks that they are willing to wear over their mouth and nose when in confined indoor spaces with those outside their household. This includes on car shuttles.

You are responsible for providing all of your camping equipment—tents, sleeping bag, etc. Trips marked “Car Camp” mean you’ll return to a camping site near your car for the evening. “Boat Camp” or "Canoe Camp" means you need to carry all your overnight food and equipment with you in your boat, whether canoe or kayak. “Portage” means you’ll likely need to carry all of your gear and your boat at some point on the trip. 

LIABILITY WAIVER and REQUIREMENTS: All participants are required to sign a liability waiver prior to the trip or clinic and to abide by decisions made by the trip leaders. RTS most often uses a group sign-up sheet with liability waiver form and has participants sign it at the put-in just prior to the official start of the trip. You may ask to see a copy of the waiver form sooner than that is you wish.  Alternatively, an individual liability waiver form can be used. Parents or guardians must sign a liability waiver form for dependents/minors (under age 18), and must send along a signed liability waiver and medical release form if not accompanying the dependent/minor on the trip. Ask about this during registration if it applies to your situation.

TRANSPORTATION: You are responsible for providing/arranging your own transportation on RTS trips. The Sierra Club does not have insurance for carpooling arrangements and assumes no liability for them. We can identify people who have space in their car and people who need rides, but we do not make transportation arrangements. Shuttles are typically run in advance of paddling trips to get most of the cars to the take-out before starting to paddle, with the drivers then riding back to the put-in in as few cars as possible. This is done on a volunteer/informal basis and is not considered to be part of the official SC trip. Note that some shuttle drivers may request to only transport paddlers vaccinated against COVID-19. Face masks worn appropriately over the nose and mouth are currently required on shuttles involving persons from more that one household.

OTHER: Glass containers and alcoholic beverages are not allowed on the water during RTS trips. Non-paddlers must be pre-approved by the trip leader, and are discouraged on whitewater trips. Pets are prohibited unless the trip announcement explicitly mentions that pets are allowed.

 CST 2087766-40. Registration as a seller of travel does not constitute approval by the State of California.

CLASSES OF WATER: We want your RTS experience to be fun. We also want it to be safe. The International Scale of River Rating Difficulty (see below) is a guide for assessing the difficulty of a stretch of water and will help you decide if a trip is appropriate for you and your skill level. Except for the occasional quietwater lake trips, all of our trips are on rivers (moving water or whitewater). Many of these trips are suitable for paddlers with solid quietwater canoe/kayak skills. Trip leaders are always happy to discuss the nature of the river with you.

International Scale of River Rating Difficulty

The International Scale of River Rating Difficulty is a guide for assessing the difficulty of a stretch of water. Temperatures below 50° F should increase a rating by one class. Water levels are another key determinate of river difficulty, and should be assessed prior to paddling.

  • Class I - Moving water with few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions.
  • Class II - Easy rapids with waves up to three feet and wide clear channels that are obvious.
  • Class III - Rapids with high, irregular waves often capable of swamping an open canoe. Narrow passages that often require complex maneuvering. May require some scouting from shore.
  • Class IV - Long, difficult rapids and constricted passages that often require precise maneuvering in very turbulent waters. Scout from shore often necessary and conditions make rescue difficult. Canoeists and kayakers should have the ability to roll and/or self-rescue.
  • Class V & VI - RTS does not offer trips at these levels

 Adapted from the American Canoe Association Web Site. 


2022 RTS Paddling Trips -

April 2-3:  Mid-WI Exploratory Class II-III 

Car Camp (or motel). Several small rivers around Merrill have dells sections that can be run with spring flows.  Rivers will be selected the week before the trip based on ice breakup and water levels. This trip is recommended for skilled whitewater boaters with good self-rescue skills. Wetsuit or dry suit required. Registration Contact/Leader: Dave Hiller: 608-444-8695, dave@davehiller.com

(NEW DATES) April 9-10:  Robinson and Morrison Creeks Class II

Car Camp. Runnable when the water is up in the spring, these small, scenic creeks are a lot of fun. The two drops on the Robinson can be portaged. Wet or dry suit required. Registration Contact/Leader: Phillip Johnsrud: 715-572-9884, johnrudp@tds.net.

April 23: Bark River, Class I - CANCELLED

Day Trip. Sugar Island Rd to Dousman.  Registration Contact/Leader: Kasy Culbertson: 608-222-0746 (preferred), or kasy.kayaks@gmail.com

April 30:  Bark River Class I

Day Trip.  Dousman to Atkins-Olson Memorial Park.  Registration Contact/Leader: Kasy Culbertson: 608-222-0746 (preferred), or kasy.kayaks@gmail.com

May 14-15:  NE WI Rivers (Wolf, Pike, Red?) Class II 

Car Camp. Enjoy a late-Spring run down two of our favorite wild and scenic rivers (TBD). Paddlers should be comfortable on Class II rivers.  A great trip to sharpen skills, including surfing. Wetsuit or dry suit required.   Contact/Leader: Mari Gasiorowicz: 608-512-7394, mgasiorowicz@gmail.com, Co-leader: Kevin Olson

May 15:  Baraboo R.  Class 1

Half-Day Trip:  Giese Park or Gander Mtn parking lot to Maxwell-Potter Conservancy.  This section used to be blocked by 3 dams, now removed; allowing boaters and wildlife to return.  Bike shuttle may be feasible. Registration Contact/Leader: Carl Zimm: beampowered-stages@yahoo.com, 608-957-3673.

May 28-30:  Bois Brule R.  Class I-II

Car Camp.  Paddle three distinctly different, beautiful sections of this northern river, ending up in Lake Superior.  Campsites available at Brule R. State Campground and Copper Range Campground; some reservable online; others first-come, first-served. Please share sites. Contact/Leaders: Kevin and Carol Olson; 608-356-8992, 608-963-2678-Kevin's cell; olsonfam44@rucls.net   Co-leader: Pat Wilson.

June 4-5:  Wolf R. Sections TBD, Class II+

Car Camp. Trip is concurrent with RTS whitewater clinics. Camping available with clinic participants at Bear Paw. Join other RTS paddlers for a reunion weekend.  Contact/Leader: Kevin Olson: 608-356-8992, 608-963-2678-cell; olsonfam44@rucls.net.

June 11-12Pike and Wolf R.  Class II+

Car Camp. Practice whitewater skills from the recent clinics before they get rusty – or just come to enjoy these wild, scenic rivers. Pike R. on Sat; Wolf R. (Section TBD) on Sun. Registration Contact/Leader: Phillip Johnsrud: 715-572-9884, johnsrudp@tds.net.  Co-leader:  Kevin Olson

June 15-16: Upper Iowa River; Moving Water

Car Camp (or motel). Beautiful NE Iowa is in the Driftless Area so there are many rock features, high limestone walls, and springs to enjoy. Due to its popularity on weekends, this is a mid-week trip, and appropriate for all levels able to paddle about 14 miles per day/current aided. Recreational kayaks welcome. Registration Contact/Leaders: Sue O’Brien, sueob1@gmail.com, Carol Brewton.

June 25-26:  Mecan R.  Class 1

Car Camp. Premium trout stream with crystal clear water. Can require precise maneuvering around narrow, tight bends, or deadfall. Will paddle sections above and below Dakota. Possibly paddle upper Mecan on June 24. Sat. night potluck. Registration Contact/Leader: Kasy Culbertson: 608-222-0746 (preferred), or kasy.kayaks@gmail.com.

TBD:  Wolf and Nearby Rivers Class II-II+

For women and non-binary paddlers; Car Camp at Bear Paw. Have fun and build skills, confidence, and sense of community. Sat. evening potluck and music around the campfire. Fri. afternoon (optional): review skills, wet-exits and strokes on a nearby lake or run the Red R. Registration Contact/Leader: Mari Gasiorowicz:  608-512-7394, mgasiorowicz@gmail.com.

July 6:  Red R.  Class II

Day TripRegistration Contact/Leader: Kasy Culbertson: 608-222-0746 (preferred), or kasy.kayaks@gmail.com.

Date TBD:  Black Earth Cr.  Class 1+

Half-Day Trip:  Bike shuttle feasible. Registration Contact/Leader: Carl Zimm: beampowered-stages@yahoo.com, 608-957-3673.

July 9-10:  Waupaca R. and Chain of Lakes.  Class IJ

Day Trip.  Camp at Hartmann Creek SP.  Registration Contact/Leader: Kasy Culbertson: 608-222-0746 (preferred), or kasy.kayaks@gmail.com.

July 8 or 11:  Plover R. (Jordan Park to Deer Rd) or Waupaca Cr.  Class I

Day TripRegistration Contact/Leader: Kasy Culbertson: 608-222-0746 (preferred), or kasy.kayaks@gmail.com.

July 16-17:  Black River Family Trip   Moving Water

Boat Camp. This popular kid-focused trip is offered to encourage young families, adults with kids, and the young-at-heart to join us on the water. We’ll stop to play and explore, hike up a hidden waterfall, cook-out and sleep in tents on a sandbar.  Registration Contact/Leaders: Justin & Beth Piggush: 608-797-3989, jpiggush@gmail.com , Co-leaders: Bobbie & Pat Wilson, Carol & Kevin Olson.

Late July to early Aug: Montana Whitewater Class II-III

Car Camp. Join experienced paddlers on classic whitewater rivers in Montana, possibly inc. NF Flathead, MF Flathead, Blackfoot, Gallatin, Boulder, Yellowstone and Stillwater.  Must feel comfortable on rivers such as Wolf R. section 3. Opportunities to play, practice skills and hike. Join us for all or part of this trip. Registration Contact/Leaders: Phillip Johnsrud: 715-572-9884, johnsrudp@tds.net.  Co-leader: Kevin Olson.

August Date TBD:  Bark R. (Rome to Hwy 106) and Maunesha R. (Waterloo to Fireman’s Park.  Class I

Day Trip.  Registration Contact/Leader: Kasy Culbertson: 608-222-0746 (preferred), or kasy.kayaks@gmail.com.

Aug. 17-18; Namekagon River; Class 1

Car Camp. The Namekagon is designated as part of the 200-mile St. Croix National Wild and Scenic Riverway. We’ll paddle the middle section of this river if there is sufficient water; otherwise, we’ll go to the lower section. Its popularity is high, thus a weekday trip. We’ll paddle around 14 miles per day/current aided. Camping is free. Registration Contact/Leader: Sue O’Brien, sueob1@gmail.com, Carol Brewton.

Sept. 5-10: Boundary Waters Canoe Area  Quietwater 

Canoe Camp. Experience the BWCA after Labor Day when there are fewer groups. Trip includes paddling and portaging. Limit 9 people, 4 boats. Well behaved dogs allowed if approved by trip leader. Registration Contact/Leader: Katy Golden: 414-378-1053, katyrenny@yahoo.com.

Sept. 10:  Wolf R.  Class II; Wolfman Safety Boat Volunteers:

Car Camp (free at Scout Camp).  Practice rescue skills early Sat. morning as a volunteer safety boater for the Wolfman Triathlon (short section 2).  Must be a solid Class II+ paddler.   Good opportunity to support the local paddling community. Registration Contact/Leaders: Kevin Olson: 608-356-8992, 608-963-2678-cell; olsonfam44@rucls.net, Co-leaders: Dan York and Justin Schmitz.

Sept. 10-11:  Wolf R. Section 3 Class II+

Car Camp. Paddle Wolf R. Saturday after the Wolfman and again Sunday.  Section 3 for sure, and possibly another Section TBD.  Registration Contact/Leaders: Dan York, 608-345-8147, danwyork@sbcglobal.net, Co-leaders:  Kevin Olson and Justin Schmitz.

Sept 17:  Badfish Cr.  Class 1

Half-Day Trip:  Old Stage Rd. to Casey Rd.   Bicycle shuttle feasible. Registration Contact/Leader: Carl Zimm: beampowered-stages@yahoo.com, 608-957-3673.

Sept. 22-23:  Kickapoo R.  Class 1

Car Camp. Celebrate the first days of fall on this narrow, scenic river that winds through the heart of Wisconsin’s driftless area. Practice moving water skills as you maneuver past tall sandstone cliffs and around occasional downed trees. Group campsite reserved at Wildcat Mountain State Park. Paddle one or both weekdays. Registration Contact/Leaders: Carol and Kevin Olson, 608-356-8992, olsonfam44@rucls.net.

Sept. 24-25:  Pike and Red R.  Class II+

Car Camp. Enjoy the fall colors on these classic whitewater rivers. Registration Contact/Leader: Kasy Culbertson: 608-222-0746 (preferred), or kasy.kayaks@gmail.com.

Oct. 29-30:  Wolf R.  Class II+

Car Camp. Annual Halloween trip. We’ll paddle section 3 of this scenic river on Sat. and section 2 on Sun. Wet suit or dry suit required. Indoor potluck dinner on Sat. night (if COVID-safe by then). Registration Contact/Leader: Phillip Johnsrud: 715-572-9884, johnsrudp@tds.net.

RTS Annual Meeting:  Jan. 7, 2023  11 AM to ~3 PM.

Location: First United Methodist Church, 615 Broadway St., Baraboo, WI. Potluck at noon (if can be done safely), otherwise BYO sack lunch.  Then business mtg, 2023 trip and clinic planning and maybe a slideshow or two of 2022 trips. Bring dish to pass and table service (or BYO sack lunch). Pre-registration NOT required. For any additional information, contact: Kevin Olson: 608-356-8992, olsonfam44@rucls.net.

Questions/Comments?  Please contact Kevin Olson, RTS Chairperson:  608-356-8992, 608-963-2678-cell; olsonfam44@rucls.net

last updated: 2-13-2023