Potato River Dalles (aka Willard Rapids)

Happy Independence Day!  Started off with a bang attempting a falls I missed in the past…only to find out now (March 2020) that I once again missed my target.  Not all is lost – I did find some very cool scenery!

Willard Falls [Fail]

Willard Falls is located directly upstream from Potato River Falls upper section.  When I visited originally in July 2018 (coincidentally almost exactly 1 year prior) I didn’t know this existed because I didn’t read closely enough.  Below image shows markers for Potato River Falls (Upper and Lower) and Willard Falls sections.

CORRECTION: It is now the future, 2022 to be exact. This is not the actual location for Willard Falls! More info will be coming soon in a future post.

Most of my information comes from the fantastic book “Wisconsin Waterfalls: Travel Guide by Bob Schneider” and his accompanying website waterfallswisconsin.com .  Here you can find more details on how to reach Willard Falls which I completely screwed up on this day.  Had I actually read the directions, I wouldn’t have wandered to the marker shown at the bottom of this overhead view:

Potato River Dalles?

In my epic stupidity I still found something very worthwhile.  Rather than following the correct instructions, my head told me to hike through the camping area and take the trails from there.

I followed he old two-track until it dead ended into pine needle covered forest floors with disappearing signs of a path.  “I’m already here,” I said to myself.  “Let’s just keep going and see what we find.”

Staying close to the river’s path it didn’t take long before I heard rushing water.  Dense forest cover gave only faint glimpses but no full view.  Take caution here: it’s a long fall down and likely would mean death.

Around the bend of rock cliffs I found a better viewpoint to some smaller falls & rapids.  Even still the falls below sound much, much larger.

This spot looked like my best option to climb down.  Even this route was quite sketchy as I slid down mostly on my butt.

At river level you could see smaller rapids upstream.  The river bends around and you lose sight of anything else but sounds like there is something there.

Right at my feet is a rocky shelf that redirects the flow of water around larger crags.  The coolest feature is where the swift water has carved a deep & narrow channel like a water jet making a small 5-10 foot waterfall.

Views downstream are breathtaking and really illustrate elevation of the cliffs.  Notice also how the river disappears from sight as it continues dropping down – also confirming there is another falls up around the turn.

Here’s an alternate view downstream of the small waterfall.  I don’t know what this area is actually named as I can’t find any information on the internet so I’m referring to them as the Potato River Dalles.  Feel free to correct me if you have more details!

For additional reference here is a zoomed in satellite topo view.  Blue marker is where I climbed down.  Notice how the topo lines drop about 30-40 feet in this area.  Water levels seem lower than average today – imagine what this looks like in the spring after snow melt!

I’ve got some ideas for next time to get better photos, stay tuned!


Here’s a short video of the falls & rapids.  Enjoy!


Map view exported from my GaiaGPS account.  Light blue & dark blue are from last year’s hike to Potato River Falls.  Red trail is this year’s journey.

Of course distance & elevation are much more than expected today since I completely missed Willard Falls.  This gives some idea of the difficulty to get here.  Hike itself is fairly tame until the end part.

Update From The Future

I reached out to the Iron County Forest manager and confirmed these rapids have no official name. However, after visiting in 2021 we are now referring to these “dalles” as Willard Rapids. Since they are just downstream of Willard Falls we felt this is a better descriptive name. Everything in this area will be called “Willard” while everything in the Potato River Falls main area will be referred to as Potato River Falls upper/lower/etc.

Lat = 46.4607811 , Long = -90.5286331 -- Show at Google Maps

2 thoughts on “Potato River Dalles (aka Willard Rapids)”

  1. Wow, Adam… you took an adventure in some very difficult terrain… you can actually drive most of the way up to where you went on an extension of the campsite road but like you said you can’t get down to the river without extreme difficultly… there are even bigger rapids on upstream but very difficult forest and ravines to get there! I have not been to the “Dalles” area… maybe will try it next time I am in that area!

    • Thanks Bob, yeah I decided just to hike in this day so I didn’t risk disturbing any campers but of course there is an option to drive in much further. Still only 1.5 miles roundtrip so not a bad walk. 100% agree there are bigger rapids/falls in the area but near impossible to access unless you are a bird. Only calling them the “dalles” because I have no other name at the moment but seems fitting down in the canyon!


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