☆ ☆ ☆
A trip that begins with a bang of rapids, several scenic sandstone bluffs, an expedition trek to an incredible waterfall (albeit artificial), but then peters to a long and unremarkable monotony (the only highlight of which is finishing, in order to bike shuttle a fun dedicated state trail the whole way back to the put-in).
Huge waterfall at dam on Big Creek created Lake Redstone.
April 23, 2015
Flatwater (Plus one Class I(II) drop)
Reedsburg (NOAA Gage): ht/ft: 96.8 | cfs: n/a
1.8' per mile
West Main Street boat launch, La Valle, Wisconsin
Walnut Street boat launch, Reedsburg, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 10:20a. Out at 2:50p.
Total Time: 4h 30m
Miles Paddled: 12.25
Wildlife: Sandhill cranes, geese, wood ducks, deer, turkey vultures, bald eagle, muskrat, frisky fish, turtles, hawks and an owl.
Time worth driving to: 1 hour
This trip has been simmering on the back burner for some time now. I still have a desire bordering on a fool’s errand to paddle the entire Baraboo, because it’s such an old gentleman of a river steeped in history nearly inconceivable. And because it’s one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the country. And because Sauk County is like the “little Vermont” of Wisconsin. Throw in a fun rapid in the beginning and exposed sandstone bluffs along the way, and I’m a cheap date.
Plus I’ve long carried a flame for the button-cute little city of Reedsburg. Unfortunately, there’s nothing romantic or swoon-worthy about the long, tedious segment of the Baraboo River from Lake Redstone to Reedsburg. But the short clip from La Valle to Lake Redstone is a gem.
What we liked:
The put-in access is excellent, as it’s a concrete ramp boat launch (that said, it’s situated between two bars, so parking may be an issue during the summer. If so, just leave your car down the street. La Valle is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hamlet.)
Less than 100 yards from the put-in, lies a thrilling rapid underneath the Highway 58 bridge where there used to be a dam. The best run is on the right; the chute on the left is shallower and has precarious rocks. I wore my sprayskirt and I’m glad I did. The rapid comprises two drops, roughly five feet total. It’s not dangerous but it’s not a drop to take for granted either. There’s an eddy on the right that recirculates back to the drop to run multiple times.
The next mile is fairly humdrum frankly but soon you’ll see a lovely sandstone bluff on the right – the first of four to Big Creek. You’ll pass under the handsome bridge of “The 400 Trail,” one of the prettiest state trails for bicycling in Wisconsin; go left, as the right channel around a downstream island is a mess. More sandstone bluffs appear on the left up to the confluence of Big Creek.
What’s “Big Creek,” you ask? A little stream that creates a huge impoundment thanks to the dam at Lake Redstone. If the water is high enough, you can (and I encourage you to) paddle upstream a third of a mile to a rapid, take-out and walk 30 feet to the huge waterfall that is the dam (I sawed and trimmed a navigable path myself, so this is totally doable).
The waterfall is crazy impressive, at least 40 feet high. There are hiking trails to the left and right to the top. To the left of the dam/waterfall is a levee that presumably helps keep artificial Lake Redstone a basin (or prevents the lake from catastrophically flooding the valley below). If you wished, you could schlep your boats from the creek up and then down the hill and put-in on the lake. For a nice review and more on Lake Redstone, see here.
There’s a makeshift boat launch at a wayside immediately downstream from the confluence of Big Creek at the Baraboo River, off Douglas Road, where you should just quit your trip then and there, for the rest of the river to Reedsburg is just painfully monotonous.
What we didn't like:
I repeat, it's painfully monotonous from Big Creek to Reedsburg. Seriously, it’s all a hardwood floodplain wetland. The only thing that breaks it up is one mother of a logjam that you must portage around on the right (there’s a well-worn foot path, so it’s obvious that this huge obstruction has been around for awhile), which in turn is followed immediately by another obstruction that I barely squeezed through all the way to the right in between the bank and the butt end of the root base of a down tree.
Also, the surround sound of traffic from Highway 33 is constant. Ordinarily I would say something like “you’re never far from the road…” but that’s too passive. Here, you feel like a semi is about to run through the wetland woods at any moment, so watch out.
Lastly, locating the takeout in Reedsburg is a bit of a wild goose chase. To be fair, there are signs telling you to turn left here, turn right there. Essentially, (not that I recommend using this boat launch either to begin your trip or end it) the access is on the downstream side of the Webb Street bridge on river-left. But to access it you are encouraged to follow the signs along Webb Street > Railroad Street > Walnut Street taking you in a roundabout fashion. Once there you find yourself in a deserted dirt field. Rest assured, there’s direct access to the river.
Also but unrelated to the river, some d-bag on an ATV rode the 400 Trail when it was soft from intense rains and rutted the hell out of it. Not only is this profoundly inconsiderate, it’s prohibited. Now taxpayer dollars have to go to maintaining the trail just because some yahoo was selfish.
If we did this trip again:
I’d definitely do the La Valle to Big Creek section again and combine it with an exploratory of Lake Redstone. But I won’t paddle all the way down to Reedsburg again.
Baraboo River I: Village Park to Highway 113
Baraboo River II: Haskins Park to Highway 113
Baraboo River III: Union Center to Wonewoc
Baraboo River IV: Haskins Park to Highway 113
Baraboo River V: Haskins Park to Highway 33
Miles Paddled Video: Baraboo River IV: Haskins Park to Highway 113
General: American Whitewater
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Overview: Hunt Fish Camp
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Video: Wisconsin Paddles: The Baraboo
Wikipedia: Baraboo River
7.8 miles by bike along the trail or 7.9 miles by car along Highway 33.
Nice put-in at La Valle.
Outstanding rapids below Highway 58 bridge in La Valle.
Former mill building.
Floodplain forest for first mile.
Occasional pleasant openings with pretty views of Driftless hills.
First of four sandstone bluffs.
"400 Trail" bridge.
Another impressive sandstone bluff in the first 3 miles.
"Quaint" tunnel on Big Creek.
View from the top of the dam at Lake Redstone.
Back on the Baraboo approaching a monster logjam.
One of several pretty sandbar beaches on this trip.
Eviscerated bridge literally to and from nowhere!
Approaching downtown Reedsburg.
Another bridge for the "400 Trail" near the takeout.
The takeout in Reedsburg.
On the "400 Trail".