The lower Red Cedar River is very different from the upper river due to two lakes which change the dynamics of the river.
The river divides into many braided streams and forms several backwater areas at the confluence of the Red Cedar River and Lake Tainter. Cattails, a bit of wild rice, and lots of other water plants grow here. Water fowl and shore birds are also abundant. I have observed raccoons, otter and mink in this area.
Since the river is divided, the current in the smaller streams is not too strong so paddlers have a relatively easy time working their way up stream. Using a push pole is another great way to travel up the river to explore its hidden features. The lake immediately below the river can be very shallow even a canoe will run aground occasionally. The best access to this portion of the lake is Champney Park.
When my daughters were still in elementary school, I took them out to the river delta very early one morning. A full moon was up and the wind was very still. As we paddled from Champeny Park to the river delta, the stillness of the morning dominated everything. Our path across the lake was lit by the light of the moon. The lake and swamp areas were all shadows and outlines in the moon light. We could hear the splashing of numerous ducks and their low plaintiff feeding calls. A few song birds also made faint calls in the stillness of the morning. We heard the whoosh from the wings of a flock of ducks that passed over head. A flock of geese completed the magical morning by flying overhead, honking their way in to the moon.
Below the river delta, Lake Tainter is large and open. The wind and wakes from boaters can make paddling the lake challenging at times. The lake then narrows for its final run to the dam at Cedar Falls. There are a few small bays that are fun to explore. The lake shore in this section is heavily developed with lots of homes, cabins and a few businesses along the lake. Lambs Creek Park and Kleist Landing provide access to the lower lake.
The portion of Lake Menomin north of I-94 has some of the most interesting places to paddle on the lake. Lake Menomin is narrow and river-like from the dam to the “cutoff” area. Below the landing at Cedar Falls the current is mild so a paddler can travel in any direction without too much extra exertion.
The river dog legs around the cutoff and opens up into wetlands. This is the most wildlife friendly spot on the lake. The cutoff, which is a narrow channel that cut though an island to facilitate the movement of logs, is a fun place to wet a paddle. An interesting trip is to put in at the DNR landing at the cutoff and then paddle upstream on the main portion of the lake and return downstream via the cutoff. This provides for a leisurely two-hour paddle.
The launch at Point Comfort Park is a convenient place to begin a paddle around Evergreen Island. A nice detour from Lake Menomin is Wilson Creek. Canoes and kayaks can be launched at La Point Park, Lakeside park or the canoe landing off Meadow Hill Drive. The creek can be ascended almost to 620th Avenue, if there are no trees obstructing navigation. The creek is a very picturesque and quiet place to escape for an hour or two.
Below the dam in Menomonie, the Red Cedar becomes a free-flowing river again. The stretch of river from Menomin to Downsville is the most heavily traveled stretch of the Red Cedar River. Most people put in at the launch just upstream from the highway 29 bridge. Adventurous paddlers can put in immediately below the dam and ride the river through the only stretch of white water on the river. But beware when the river is up, the back rollers on the ledges can get really big. My daughter and I got swamped once by the big water during the spring floods and we almost lost a canoe that day.
Canoeist and kayakers frequently share this section of the river with tubers who usually float from Riverside Park to the campground at Irvington. The paddle from Menomonie to Downsville usually takes two hours, although a well motivated paddler with two preschool kids in the canoe can make the trip in half an hour, even when a severe thunderstorm suddenly moves in.
The river has a couple of small rock gardens which are easy to navigate. Otherwise the river is an easy, no stress float, with plenty of beautiful scenery and interesting wildlife. With the Red Cedar bike trail running along the river, paddlers have the unique opportunity to do a peddle and paddle trip, i.e. combine floating down the river and then biking back up the river. This is one of my favorite ways to spend a day on the river.
The paddle from Downsville to the County Y bridge takes about two hours. The river has a few more bends and is deeper than it is above Downsville, but is an easy ride. The landscape gets wilder the closer one gets to the confluence of the Chippewa River because the river begins to flow through the Dunnville Bottoms wildlife area.
Most people take out at the landing just below the bridge on County Y. However, it’s possible to continue downstream to the confluence of the Red Cedar and the Chippewa Rivers and then either paddle back up stream, which is difficult or to continue downstream to Durand on the Chippewa.
This summer, take advantage of the wonderful opportunities on the Red Cedar River.