Dismal River - 4 Day Remote Paddling and Wilderness Skills Course

The Dismal is one of the last great wild rivers in this part of the country. Although it's scenic and navigable, the remoteness and difficulty of the river have kept it from being commercialized. If you're the type of person who thinks a good adventure is well worth a few scrapes and bruises, this is the trip for you!

For this course we will collaborate with Sandhill River Trips for logistical support. Through this collaboration we have been able to design a unique and challenging 4 day trip. 

Although we'll be paddling during the day, there will also be an emphasis on wilderness skills, including preparedness and survival skills, which are all important on a trip like this. We'll learn different techniques for fire starting, camp cooking, shelters, and harvesting food from the river. 

Here's a video that we shot of the "Day 2" portion in April 2016

The Adventure

The Dismal River valley provides a unique adventure that you'll remember for the rest of your life. As we paddle the cold, spring-fed river we'll witness whitetail and mule deer, turkey, muskrat, hawks, and of course, plenty of cattle. The thick junipers that line our waterway give one the feeling of isolation, as we paddle through the rugged landscape. By completing this course you'll become part of a very small group of adventure seekers. Many have completed sections of the Dismal, but few will know it as intimately as us.

The Scenery

The Dismal (especially the upper portion) is one of the most scenic rivers in the midwest. Here are some photos from our recent April trip

The Challenge

It has often been said that the Dismal is not a river for the faint of heart. This can't be overstated. If you enjoy a challenge, you'll love this trip. We often encounter strainers that block our path. The first two days of paddling are long, and temperatures can often reach the 90s in the afternoon, and sink to the 40s at night. The water is cold, and stays at a relatively consistent temperature year round. 

Sandhill River Trips

Sandhill River Trips started up in the summer of 2015, and they're well equipped to outfit any river trip in the area. They rent tubes, tanks, and kayaks for the Dismal and Middle Loup rivers. Sandhill River Trips is run by Ewoldt Grocery in Thedford, NE. We buy all of our rations (including local beef) at Ewoldt before the trip, and you're welcome to buy snacks from there before we head out.

Most importantly, Cay Ewoldt (who runs SRT) is the backbone of our logistics for this difficult 4 day trip. Without our partnership, this trip would probably not exist.

Difficulty rating: 5, Very Difficult

You don't need to be an experienced paddler to run the Dismal. You do need to be in moderately good shape, and have a strong sense of adventure. 


Cost of this course was recently adjusted to accommodate an unexpected equipment rental

The cost of this course is $285, which covers all kayak/canoe rentals, instruction, food, transportation to the river, and transportation back to your vehicle. 

Preparing for the course

We will send you a list of necessary equipment upon sign up for the course. Shoot me an email (sam@woodsongwilderness.com) if you have questions. We will also send a liability and media release form that will need to be completed before the course. 

Day 1 begins in the early morning and we like to hit the water by 9am. If you don't live close, we recommend staying at a local hotel to make your drive shorter for day 1. We highly recommend Roadside Inn in Thedford, because its extremely convenient, and owned by some great folks.

Day 1

The Dismal epitomizes the phrase "baptism by fire." It begins with the put-in, which involves shimying boats, gear, paddlers down a steep sand cliff. From there, the river snakes west, passing a large spring, an Elk ranch, and an exciting set of minor rapids. We end the day with a well deserved hot dinner.

Day 2

Easily the most challenging day of the trip. We will cover 23 miles, some of which is congested by fallen junipers. Scenery is incredible, wildlife is abundant, and towards the end of the day we'll see the thick juniper forests turn to rolling sandhills. 

Day 3

Focus shifts a bit more to wilderness skills as the river becomes much calmer. It's a good opportunity for a big breakfast, and a chance to catch our breath after 2 action packed days. The strainers from days 1 and 2 are nowhere to be found. Instead, we float peacefully through more scenic sandhills. 

Day 4

On our final day we paddle to our takeout point, having covered the entire length of the Dismal river, from source to (almost) its confluence with the Middle Loup River. Generally we are finished by noon. This gives participants a chance to head home, or to a hotel for a well deserved shower. 

If the 4 day Dismal River course sounds like your idea of a good time, here's a link to the registration page!

Sam Larson2 Comments