Between Stevens Point and Appleton, just off of US 10 lies a slice of paradise in Waupaca: 22 spring-fed lakes all joined together. The Chain O’ Lakes is home to many childhood memories, some of the best pizza around and Ding’s Dock. Ding has been taking people down the Crystal River since your dad was a kid. Head over there any summer day and park your car. Pay your $16 and, unless you wore your swimsuit for underwear, change in the bathhouse. There are departures every 20 minutes, so reservations are not necessary. The trip begins with a 15-minute boat ride from Ding’s on Columbia Lake to the mouth of the Crystal River on Long Lake. The boats are large, ancient and smell like a lawnmower-you can’t help but love them. Enjoy the scenery and listen while the driver gives you directions-you will need them later on. At the mouth of the river, jump out of the boat into the lake and grab your fiberglass canoe. Don’t waste time looking for a good one-there aren’t any. Hop in, grab your paddle and you are on your way!
Over the next three hours you will paddle your way down a (crystal) clear, shallow river. About an hour in, you will portage your canoe in the town of Rural. This is a town that time forgot. Yankees from New York headed west in the mid-nineteenth century and founded this little burg. From the looks of it, not much has changed. In the old Phillips 66 station, you can buy soda for $0.50 or ice cream for $0.25 before continuing on your way. About an hour later you will encounter some rapids that will probably spill you. No worries, you should be used to that by now. The rapids are adjacent to a county park, so often there is an audience there to cheer you on. At the end of the journey, you will see a small beach with a big sign telling you this is the end. Drag your canoe onto the sand and pick up the telephone to tell them back at the Ding’s HQ you are done. About 15 minutes later, a school bus that is, if possible, older than the boat that you started this trip on, will roll up to give you a lift back to your car. Assuming you survived, purchase a t-shirt that will let all of your friends back home know you did just that. After all this hard work, it is time for pizza. The Wheelhouse is across the street and serves up the best pizza in central Wisconsin. If the weather is still nice, request a seat outside. If the three hours on the river was enough outside for you today, grab a booth inside. If you weren’t hungry before, you will be now.
The canoes are fiberglass, which is itchy. Try not to touch it. Wear your swimsuit as you will get wet. Do not bring any camera that is not waterproof.
The perfect mix of canoeing leisure and canoeing adventure.