The Chippewa River in Wisconsin flows approximately 183 miles (294 km) through west-central and northwestern Wisconsin. It was once navigable for approximately 50 miles (80 km) of its length, from the Mississippi River, by Durand, northeast to Eau Claire. Its catchment defines a portion of the northern boundary of the Driftless Area.
The river is formed by the confluence of the West Fork Chippewa River, which rises at Chippewa Lake in southeastern Bayfield County, and the East Fork Chippewa River, which rises in the swamps of the southern part of the Town of Knight in Iron County, Wisconsin. The rivers' confluence is at Lake Chippewa, a reservoir in central Sawyer County, which is the official "beginning" of the Chippewa River.
The river flows from Sawyer County through Rusk, Chippewa, Eau Claire, Dunn, Pepin and Buffalo Counties, in Wisconsin, before emptying out into the Mississippi River. Sediment build-up at the river's mouth forms a delta that protrudes into the Mississippi, creating Lake Pepin in the process. Along the last 15 miles (24 km) of its course, the main channel forms the county boundary between Pepin and Buffalo Counties.
Major lakes along the river's route include the Radisson and Holcombe Flowages, Lake Wissota and Dell's Pond, all of which are reservoirs. The largest reservoir by far is the Chippewa Flowage, which is the 3rd largest lake in Wisconsin.
The river's confluence with the Red Cedar is just north of the Driftless Zone, at which point its floodplain widens out considerably, and includes numerous riverine islands.