Lower Wisconsin River Paddle Guide
Paddle Guide

Lower Wisconsin River Paddle Guide

By on October 6, 2011

In 1989, the Lower Wisconsin Riverway was created to protect the last free-flowing 92 miles to the confluence of the Mississippi River for recreational purposes and to help protect natural wildlife habitats. From Prairie Du Sac to just south of the city of Prairie Du Chien, the river is un-dammed with no man-made barriers to disrupt the flow. Of course, the river’s water levels are greatly impacted by the slightest rain which can produce some unpredictable height and current. Consequently, almost no paddle will be the same as water levels change daily.

Water levels really are everything and dictate the time it will take you to paddle (more water = more flow = quicker paddling), the availability of camping (more water = less sandbars) and it definitely affects the fishing (if that’s something you’re considering). At higher water levels, the strength of the currents are often pushy. Even at lower levels, sudden drop-offs and undertow are something to be aware of (always swim upstream of sandbars for added precaution).

If the water level is low, you’ll find yourself zigging and zagging, searching for the deepest channels and putting on extra mileage while traversing the river back and forth. This can make for an exhausting paddle if you’re not prepared for it and if you have headwinds to contend with, it can add to the discomfort. At the same time, camping opportunities are plentiful as there are many more sandbars.

An appealing aspect to the Lower Wisconsin is the freedom to camp practically anywhere. That makes this a very popular canoe and kayak destination for multiple night trips. On the lower 92 miles, no permits are needed to camp as long as you’re on a sandbar or island. Technically, the banks are off limits since they are usually privately-owned but sandbars are plentiful when the water is low. Two considerations, one in your control, and the other not so much, is wind and holiday weekends. Headwinds can make for a much tougher go of it, while holiday weekends, (often the most convenient time to paddle a trip) are usually busy and will often make for a more congested river, especially further upstream (closer to Sauk which is also closer to Madison, meaning more population) and less so as it moves down to the Mississippi.

And of course, weather is important to keep an eye on when planning to paddle the lower 92. Storms can suddenly sneak up on you. If you’re camping on a sandbar, keep your kayaks tied down incase the water rises. We once woke to find that our sandbars were gone except for a tiny strip of land where we had placed our fire the previous evening. When looking back at the gauge (in height, feet) the water rose from 1.27 to 1.40 which was a pretty substantial change. It was a learning moment.

For planning purposes, what’s a good distance for day trip? In normal current, 8-12 miles is a realistic amount of distance to attempt in a day and is our (personal) general rule-of-thumb. That of course, again, depends on water level and wind which will always affect a canoe or kayak trip on a river as wide as this one.

92 miles of unimpeded river, all culminating at the confluence to the mighty Mississippi and the beautiful Wyalusing State Park make this a wonderful endeavor. And the solitude you’ll experience and the multiple access points make this an incredible destination for paddlers. That’s the great thing about the lower Wisconsin, river access is plentiful (the put-ins and take-outs, of which there are many along the lower 92, are well-maintained and easily accessible) which makes adjusting the route to suit your plans very easy.

Being such a popular destination for paddlers and since we’ve recently finished paddling the lower 92, we thought we’d combine all the information we have (maps, conditions, outfitters, our paddle reports, etc.) on one page. These sections are how we broke it down but it’s easy to tailor your own experience because there are so many landings.

Map:


Prairie Du Sac to Arena
Miles: 14.25 | 2010 Trip Report

Due to its proximity to Madison (and therefore, denser population) this uppermost section of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway is the most traveled. In fact, a third of the river’s use is within the first 30 miles of the dam. It’s sometimes overlooked for quiet water enthusiasts for that same, populated reasoning, but it’s definitely a paddle worth consideration, be it for a day trip or the start of a longer journey. It’s an incredibly scenic section and there’s lots of wildlife and numerous sandbars to camp on.

The put-in at Veterans Memorial Park in Prairie Du Sac is a hidden little park off Water Street/Highway 78 with lots of parking, camping and a view of the dam (as well as an old military helicopter to set the mood).

The train bridge just a mile into the trip is definitely something to be prepared for. The water is channeled into a narrow and very forceful section under the trestle, which results in some strange currents at certain water levels.

A point of interest midway through on river-right is Ferry Bluff State Natural Area where a beautiful bluff suddenly towers hundreds of feet along a mostly flat stretch. On the opposite side (river-left) resides Mazomanie Nude Beach. It’s a wide area in the river so you won’t have any problem steering clear if it’s a concern (just keep looking river-right because the bluffs are gorgeous). Also, there is no camping one mile upstream or downstream from the beach. The DNR says the islands are posted. We’ve never located any of the signs but maybe they’re posted in conspicuous places on those surrounding islands. The last stretch, heading towards Arena, you’ll find many sandbars and small islands to navigate.

The take-out in Arena, Wisconsin is a popular place to put-in for canoe rentals. It has a traditional boat landing as well as a designated canoe landing located on a sandy beach. There are facilities too.

Lower Wisconsin River Paddle Guide

Arena to Gotham
Miles: 25.5 | 2010 Trip Report

Just like the upper stretch, you’ll no doubt, have more company on the water due to the proximity to the Sauk/Baraboo/Madison area.

The put-in at Arena is a popular place to put-in for canoe rentals. It has a boat landing but also a separate canoe launch which is spacious and easy to access. It’s probably one of the best we’ve encountered on the river so far.

The first 13 miles are what we’ve come to expect from the Wisconsin River. Huge sandbars and swift-moving water. You’ll soon pass under a train trestle which indicates you’re approaching Highway 14 and Spring Green, where you’ll start seeing the bluffs of Tower Hill State Park on river-left. You may also witness bridge jumpers if it’s a holiday weekend. There’s a couple options for take-outs, one at Tower Hill and Peck’s Boat landing in Spring Green.

Small islands and low banks continue. Past Highway 130/133 and around a long island, aptly named “Long Island”, (which also indicates the Lone Rock area) you’ll find a stretch of beautiful rock walls and bluffs, arguably the most scenic on the trip.

The take-out at the Lone Rock Public Boat Landing in Gotham is a nice landing but the parking can be a little challenging. There’s also a posted sign that says “No Overnight Parking” but that doesn’t seem to stop anybody. Watch for snakes that like to sun themselves on the rocks at the landing.

I should note, due to my fear of the reptilian variety, that the area around Gotham seems to be a popular habitat for the Northern Water Snake. They’re harmless but it’s a little frightening to see one swimming alongside your boat or even visit your camp because the size of them can be quite alarming. Once, we had a persistent snake visit us multiple times while camping on an island (we must’ve been on his island). You’ll commonly see them sunning on the rocks at the take-out in Gotham.

Lower Wisconsin River Paddle Guide

Gotham to Boscobel
Miles: 23.5 | 2009 Trip Report | 2013 Trip Report

This section has less bluffs and geologic scenery as other sections but it makes up for it with a more remote feel and enough wildlife to keep it interesting. You’ll surely spot some eagles, bass jumping and carp surfacing. In fact, the Wisconsin is one of my favorite place to fish. You never know what you’ll catch.

The put-in at the Lone Rock Public Boat Landing in Gotham is a nice landing. The parking can be a little challenging and there is a sign that says “No Overnight Parking” but that doesn’t seem to stop anybody.

Just past the put-in, Avoca State Wildlife Area begins. The tall grasses give the banks a very priarie-like feel. About halfway to Muscoda, you’ll pass some limestone outcrops. Past Muscoda, (where there’s another access point) the river is mostly straight and there are many islands leading up to the very large Coumbe Island which indicates the Blue River Boat Landing.

The rest final leg of this journey is dotted with larger islands which offer many different channels to navigate. You’ll eventually see some bluffs on river-right which indicate you’re closing in on Boscobel.

The take-out at the Floyd Von Haden boat landing in Boscobel is a fantastic access point, one of the best on the entire stretch of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. The parking is plentiful and there’s easy ramp access to the water.

Lower Wisconsin River Paddle Guide

Boscobel to Wyalusing State Park
Miles: 31.25 | 2008 Trip Report

The last section before the confluence with the Missisippi River is less-traveled and feels the most secluded since it’s further from Madison and it’s by far the most alluring for those reasons. At times, you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. And wildlife surrounds you. If you like bald eagles, you’ll see plenty. If you like to fish, you’ll have plenty of opportunity as well.

The put-in at the Floyd Von Haden Boat Landing in Boscobel is a fantastic start to this section with lots of parking and an easy inlet with ramp access to the water.

Easter Rock bluff is the highlight at the put-in but throughout most of the trip, bluffs are usually kept at a distance. Much like the preceding section, there are numerous larger islands to weave around. The river starts to feel much wider past Bridgeport on your way to the meeting with the mighty Mississippi.

Depending on water levels, the majority of the trip will offer numerous sandbars until a few miles before heading into the Mississippi, where the bottom drops out in sections and it gets very deep (once, I literally watched an entire tree move swiftly beneath my kayak heading up river – talk about strange currents).

On your approach to the confluence, bluffs on river-left indicate the northern point of Wyalusing State Park. Entering the Mississippi River is a unique part of this trip. Be cautious of boat traffic as you approach as the resulting waves and wakes will surely keep you on your toes. Make your way river-left until you see signs for the Wyalusing trail (it’s not well-marked). You’ll weave your way through the Wyalusing backwaters to the take-out.

The take-out at Wyalusing State Park is a traditional boat landing. They do of course, require a State Park sticker (or day sticker) to access it.

I should note that this section is far too much paddling for a 2-day trip. This is definitely a 3-day paddle which would allow for a much more leisurely trip (and a lot more sandbar time). Also of note, though we’re a fan of bike-shuttling, there is really only one direct route from put-in to take-out and it’s on some steep terrain so we wouldn’t recommend it.

Lower Wisconsin River Paddle Guide

Current Conditions:

USGS Water-data graph

USGS Water-data graph

Weekly Riverway Report:
Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board

General Information:
Lower Wisconsin Riverway
Lower Wisconsin River Basin
Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board

Guides:
Wisconsin Trail Guide
Paddling Southern Wisconsin by Mike Svob

Outfitters:
Blackhawk River Runs (Mazomanie)
Carl’s Paddlin (Lone Rock)
River View Hills (Muscoda)
Traders Bar & Grill (Arena)
Wisconsin Canoe Company (Spring Green)
Wisconsin Riverside Resort (Spring Green)
Wisconsin River Outings (Sauk + Boscobel)

Good People:
Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway
River Alliance of Wisconsin

Maps:
Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board: Riverway Maps
Wisconsin DNR: Lower Wisconsin Riverway Guide

Miles Paddled Mileage Maps:

Lower Wisconsin River Paddle Guide
(Click for Downloading and Printing)

TAGS
RELATED POSTS
MILES TO DATE:

2312.25
HELLO
Miles Paddled documents canoe and kayak trips on rivers and creeks throughout Wisconsin.

Say Hello or Contribute
PADDLE REPORTS

Apple River (IL)

    Apple River
    4.20.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East Canyon Road to South Apple River Road

Ashippun River

    Ashippun River
    9.27.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Ashippun Lake to Ski Slide Road

Badfish Creek

Baraboo River

Bark River

    Bark River II
    4.15.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Merton to Highway 83

    Bark River I
    7.15.10 | ☆ ☆
    Burnt Village County Park to Fort Atkinson

Beaver Dam River

Big Bureau Creek (IL)

    Big Bureau Creek
    6.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Red Covered Bridge Park to County Road 1150

Big Rib River

    Big Rib River
    5.10.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Goodrich to County Road A

Billings Creek

    Billings Creek
    8.13.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road F to Landing 10

Black Earth Creek

Black River

Black River: East Fork

Bois Brule River

Boundary Waters (MN)

Cannon River (MN)

    Cannon River
    5.31.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Faribault to Dundas

Carroll Creek (IL)

    Carroll Creek II
    6.21.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

    Carroll Creek I
    4.26.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

Catfish Creek (IA)

    Catfish Creek
    5.7.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mines of Spain to Massey Marina Park

Cedar Creek

    Cedar Creek
    9.28.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road M to Cedarburg

Coon Fork Creek

Covel Creek (IL)

    Covel Creek
    6.18.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East 18th Road to Highway 71

Crawfish River

Crawfish River: North Branch

Crystal River

Dell Creek

    Dell Creek
    3.15.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    South Avenue to Dellwood

Door Creek

    Door Creek
    4.1.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Femrite Drive to Fish Camp County Park

Duck Creek

    Duck Creek
    3.23.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road G to Duck Creek Road

Eau Claire River

Eau Galle River

Embarrass River

Flambeau River: North Fork

Fox River

    Fox River II
    4.30.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road O to Endeavor

    Fox River I
    5.14.14 | ☆ ☆
    Swan Lake to Portage Canal

Fox River (IL)

Galena/Fever River

Grand River

Grant River

    Grant River IV
    4.24.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road

    Grant River III
    4.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

    Grant River II
    11.21.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road

    Grant River I
    5.23.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

Halls Creek

    Halls Creek II
    8.9.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Garage Road to Halls Creek Landing

    Halls Creek I
    6.28.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing

Honey Creek

Jump River

    Jump River
    8.30.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Luke’s Heights Lane to Big Falls County Park

Kickapoo River

Kickapoo River: West Fork

Kinnickinnic River

Kishwaukee River (IL)

Koshkonong Creek

La Crosse River

Lake Columbia

Lake Mendota

Lake Michigan

Lake Superior

Lake Waubesa

Lemonweir River

Little Platte River

Little Wolf River

Maunesha River

Mecan River

Mill Creek

Milwaukee River

Milwaukee River: East Branch

Mink River

Mirror Lake

    Mirror Lake II
    10.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

    Mirror Lake I
    5.24.08 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

Montello River

    Montello River
    11.8.16-11.10.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Harrisville to 11th Road

Mormon Creek

    Mormon Creek
    8.3.14 | ☆ ☆
    Mormon Coulee Park to Goose Island County Park

Morrison Creek

    Morrison Creek
    9.19.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Cemetery Road to Morrison Landing

Mukwonago River

Mullet River

    Mullet River
    10.20.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Plymouth to County Road M

Namekagon River

    Namekagon River
    7.16-7.19.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road K to Riverside

Neenah Creek

Nippersink Creek (IL)

Oconomowoc River

Old Pearl River (LA)

    Old Pearl River
    4.3.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Crawford Landing Road to Indian Village Road

Onion River

    Onion River II
    10.11.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road A to County Road V

    Onion River I
    9.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road V to Sheboygan Falls

Pecatonica River

Pecatonica River: East Branch

Peshekee River (MI)

Peshtigo River

    Peshtigo River
    9.2.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Burnt Bridge to Goodman Park

Pigeon River

    Pigeon River
    12.5.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Lake Michigan

Pine River

Platte River

Plover River

    Plover River
    5.19.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Jordan Park to Iverson Park

Prairie River

    Prairie River
    11.17.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Haymeadow Creek to Prairie Road

Puchyan River

    Puchyan River
    04.19.15 | ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Huckleberry Road

Red River

    Red River
    12.9.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Gresham to County Road A

Red Cedar River

Robinson Creek

    Robinson Creek
    7.8.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old County Road I to Kelly Road

Rock Creek

    Rock Creek
    3.26.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Lake Mills to Millford

Rock River

Root River

    Root River
    8.2.13 | ☆ ☆
    5 Mile Road to Horlick Dam

Root River: South Branch (MN)

Rubicon River

Seeley Creek

    Seeley Creek
    5.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Seeley Lake to Hatchery Road

Six Mile Creek

    Six Mile Creek
    6.7.14 | ☆
    Waunakee Village Park to South Woodland Drive

Spring Creek

    Spring Creek
    4.20.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Fair Street to County Road V

St. Croix River

Starkweather Creek

Sugar River

Token Creek

    Token Creek III
    5.22.11 | ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek II
    8.22.09 | ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek I
    5.2.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

Tomorrow River

    Tomorrow River
    7.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Rolling Hills Road to Amherst

Trappe River

    Trappe River
    8.2.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road WW to Wisconsin River Road

Trempealeau River

Turtle Creek

Upper Iowa River (IA)

    Upper Iowa River
    5.24.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Chimney Rock Road to Bluffton Road

Waupaca River

    Waupaca River V
    10.24.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Amherst to Durrant Road

    Waupaca River IV
    4.12.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River III
    9.22.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway DD to County Highway Q

    Waupaca River II
    7.7.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River I
    7.9.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

Wausau Whitewater Park

Wedges Creek

    Wedges Creek
    9.20.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Middle Road to Black River Lodge Resort

White River

Wisconsin River

Wolf River

Yahara River

Yellow Creek (IL)

    Yellow Creek
    4.19.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Bolton Road to Krape Park

Yellow River

Yellow River (IA)

    Yellow River II
    5.6.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old Sixteen Road to Highway 76

    Yellow River I
    5.5.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Highway X16 to Old Sixteen Road

Zumbro River (MN)

    Zumbro River
    6.1.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Zumbro Falls to Millville
Support the Cause
Timothy's guidebook is out! Order on Amazon.com.



Support Miles Paddled and visit our Spreadshirt shop!