Baraboo River
★ ★ ★

Baraboo River I

By on April 13, 2009

North Freedom to Highway 113
☆ ☆ ☆
(North Freedom to Haskins Park: ☆)
(Haskins Park to Highway 113: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)

A tale of two Baraboos, the first stretch is muddy, brown and unexciting. The second part, however, is much more interesting and exciting as it riffles and waves its way through downtown Baraboo.

September 20, 2008

Class Difficulty:
Riffles + Class I

Baraboo: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 370

Recommended Levels:
This is the recommended minimum level.

Village Park Boat Landing, North Freedom, Wisconsin
Highway 113 Boat Landing, Baraboo, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 12:15p. Out at 5:15p.
Total Time: 5h 0m
Miles Paddled: 15

What we liked:
Our curiosity (and unseasoned-paddler status) of what class I rapids actually looked and felt like lead us to this section of the Baraboo River.

The section between Haskins Park and Highway 113 (where the rapids and riffles are) is relatively short so we decided to start in North Freedom since we were already making the journey from Madison and wanted to make it a full day trip.

It’s was really a tale of two paddles.

North Freedom to Haskins park is completely uneventful.

The put-in at North Freedom was about the nicest thing about this section. It’s a small town throwback kind of park with a baseball diamond, gazebo and a certain kind of charm you only find in towns this size.

The river was open and we didn’t have to contend with any trees but it’s a long 10.5 miles with very little to get excited about. The water is muddy brown and so were the banks, leaving little opportunity to get out and break.

The fun really starts at Haskins Park. Before approaching the Shaw Street bridge, you’ll be greeted by the sounds of riffles and rapids making their way around a large horseshoe bend. It’s a nice hello to the more interesting part of this paddle. After the rapids, you’ll come across riffles here and there as you make your way through this short section winding its way through downtown Baraboo.

A highlight for me was paddling between Circus World Museum. Having seen it from the bridge many times as a kid, I was interested in a different perspective. And fittingly, we knew we were approaching it when we heard the sound of calliope music. Seeing the train cars and buildings from the water is pretty cool site.

As a kid, I remember hearing stories of circus performers falling in the river and dying while performing on the tight rope. I also heard that they once bathed the elephants in the river. Neither story can we confirm but true or not, it was something memorable and only adds to the lore of the circus and river.

The take-out at Highway 113 isn’t too far past the museum and is easily accessible with plenty of parking.

What we didn’t like:
The unpleasant smell of the river or more specifically, the smell of farm run-off which makes for a very dark and mucky river. And because of the muddy banks, there are very few places to stop and relax.

If we did this trip again:
We definitely would but we’d put in at Haskins Park in Baraboo and do the class I rapids a couple times to make it a worthwhile day trip since it is only 4.25 miles long.

Related Information:
Baraboo River Overview: Baraboo River Paddle Guide
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
Baraboo River VI: La Valle to Reedsburg
General: American Whitewater
General: Riverfacts
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Video: Tom Lindblade
Wikipedia: Baraboo River


Miles Paddled Video:

  • Kris in Madison

    Great Blog!! We also really enjoyed this stretch of the Baraboo River. A great short trip from Madison (where we are located!) and was so much fun for us amateur kayakers as well! Only started 2 years ago and have been back twice now! The best thing is that it is relatively empty on the river. A slightly longer and my peferential route is go just about 2 miles more upstream and there is a little boat entry off Hatchery Road.

  • Thanks a lot Kris! We were not aware of that put-in. 16.75 miles would be quite a paddle for a day trip but if the runoff isn't so bad, it might be nice. Thanks for the info!

  • Kris

    Oh you know what, my bad! Meant to post this on Baraboo II! I meant about 2 miles upstream from Haskins Park. Ha! 16.75 would be quite a day trip on the upper Barabo River! It has been fairly slow in the upper parts in our experience. Good lord I wouldn't feel my arms the next day! And I am pretty young!

  • That's great, thanks for the update! It's not unheard of but yeah, that's quite a paddle. Just curious, what road do you take to that put-in 2 miles upstream from Haskins? That would make it a perfect day trip. Thanks!

  • The name of the road is Hatchery Rd. From Hwy 12 going north, turn left onto Hatchery after the Cty W intersection. After about two miles the landing will be on the right — there's a wayside and good parking there — where the road turns sharply to the left (technically Rocky Hill Rd).

    Note: the water here is FLAT and very slow.

  • put in between hatchery road and rock hill rd. there is a small park there. the put in has a steep bank that's really fun to slide down into the water. you will only be on slow water for about an hour from that put in. some of the best rapids or riffles you'll find on this trip are just before the hwy 12 bridge. you will miss them if you put in at haskins park. this is also a nice route for a bike shuttle. you go right through town so just keep to residential streets and enjoy the pedal before the paddle.

  • Hey Paul,

    Timothy here. The park there is called Giese Park, at Hatchery Rd and Rocky Hill Rd. It's a nice area for putting in/ taking out, plus it has that ancient outhouse… My first ever Baraboo paddle started here and ended at the Hwy 113 bridge. And I couldn't agree more about the fun bike shuttle, especially if you follow the Ice Age Trail segment. Whether you pedal before you paddle or vice versa the trail along the river is either a nice glimpse of what's to come or recap of what you've done. Cheers!


Miles Paddled documents canoe and kayak trips on rivers and creeks throughout Wisconsin.

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