Dell Creek

South Avenue to Dellwood
☆ ☆ ☆

A previously unknown creek (to me, at least) that was rich in potential, coursing entirely through public land but poor in practical paddling since it's almost always obstructed with tree limbs and branches.

March 15, 2014

Class Difficulty:


Recommended Levels:
A fine level but a paddle we simply don't recommend.

South Avenue
Highway 23, Dellwood, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 3:30p. Out at 5:35p.
Total Time: 2h 5m
Miles Paddled: 5.5

Wildlife: A couple bald eagles, two swans, two sandhill cranes, two egrets, one owl, one deer and a bunch of ducks and geese.
Time worth driving to: 30 minutes

This turned out to be a serendipitous paddle: somewhere I hadn’t known and I’ve been wanting to do (until I got there and realized it was one and the same) and something that worked out because my others options didn’t.

So here it was, the Ides of March, with cabin fever paddling deficit disorder champing at the bit and all the unbridled desire in the world to begin paddling again. Yes, well, the spirit may be willing but the rivers are still icy. My first prospect was nixed by the gauge still reading “ice affected.” Then my second and third prospects also were kibboshed by the cold. At this point it was already 2pm and I was in the Baraboo area but running out of time.

I decided to check out the completely unknown Dell Creek, based on a tip from our pal Aaron Smith at Wisconsin River Trips, who mentioned it to me earlier. I’m all for exploring new waterways and I’ve become curious of checking out the far western section of Mirror Lake State Park, so this seemed like a good match.

Now, you’re not supposed to paddle unknown waters when it’s still lethally cold outside, or by yourself but the creek was mighty high and I reasoned that the window of time to paddle it might be brief, so why not choose a modest segment of it and seize the day?

What we liked:
When you look at this area on the gazetteer there’s a whole lot of lovely green flanking the entire river, meaning undeveloped and probably public land. With the Dells just to the north, Reedsburg to the west and Mirror Lake right there on the east, it seemed to me that the likelihood of some pretty rock outcrops and hills was pretty good. That's not the case but the surrounding public land – it’s all the Dell Creek Wildlife Area – made for very pleasant scenery, even if it wasn’t terribly dramatic.

This sense of being away from things is hard to appreciate, however, until after you pass under the Coon Bluff Road bridge. Upstream are a gazillion obstructions (see below!) but downstream it’s essentially smooth sailing. This last section, from Coon Bluff to the Highway 23 take-out, was serene and oh so pretty. In fact, in another month or so, once Mirror Lake itself thaws, I think a heavenly trip to really ring in spring would be to put in at Coon Bluff and paddle all the way into the state park up to or even into Lake Delton.

The accesses were surprisingly good, especially at Highway 23 (which I thought would've been crappy and possibly unsafe. To the contrary, it was great with plenty of room to park and turn around and an established spot to put-in/take-out, etc).

Also, with the high water level and banks mostly washed out, you could paddle around, rather than portage, some obstructions. True, you deal with weeds but I’d take that over getting out of my boat any day.

What we didn't like:
So, in point of fairness, what I am going to detail here about “what I didn’t like” should be understood in this context: Only reckless fools should, or would want to, paddle the South Avenue to Coon Bluff Road bridges! While there are a few logjams one must portage, (Officially, I had to get out and haul over an impassable section once. The rest of the time I “needle-and-threaded” my way through) the single issue here, is the unbelievable amount of downed tree branches one has to paddle through. I’m talking well over 50 such sections. Five zero.

As such, there are two schools of thought; A) just plow the hell through it all and hope for the best like a bull in a China shop or B) approach slowly and clear the dangling overhead branch by branch by branch. I chose a combination of the two. Consequently, both boat and I were absolutely filthy with tree debris. I looked like some misbegotten back-woods monster of campfire lore, The Beast of Dell Creek!

I don’t recommend anyone paddle that section. It’s just way too frustrating and unrelenting. But if you do and you wear glasses, you better make sure the earpieces are connected with a retainer because the odds of a twig/branch/limb snagging are about 100 percent. Oh, and if you don’t want your face scratched or your hands bleeding, it’s best to skip this section altogether! Basically, this was more bush-whack paddling than anything, which gets real old, real fast.

Lastly, I'd finished paddling and put everything away by the time I saw the swans and sandhill cranes. I hiked into the back section of Mirror Lake park via the Wild Rice trail. It’s there where the impoundment effect of the lake begins, which is to say where it was frozen (roughly a ¼ mile down from the Highway 23 bridge). That’s where I saw the swans but of course I didn’t have my camera. The cranes swooped in from overhead. Harbingers of spring!

If we did this trip again:
As I said above, I'll definitely return once the lake is unfrozen and start this trip at the Coon Bluff bridge. In theory I’m curious about the upstream segments of Dell Creek. One short trip would be North Avenue to South Ave, all of it flanking the public land wildlife area. Another longer trip would be putting in at Simon or Dore roads, both of which look tempting and hilly (on the gazetteer at least) but I’d be worried about blockages as well as water levels that far up.

Related Information
Mirror Lake: Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton
Camp: Mirror Lake State Park


View Dell Creek in a larger map

Shuttle Information:
Only 3.5 miles.

Photo Gallery:

South Avenue bridge put-in.

Just a tease of a taste for what lies downstream...

There's a whole lot of this.

Multiply this by fifty (at least), and this is half the whole trip.

Beaver evidence.

High water allows some paddling around obstructions.

Open clearance, thank God!

Still frozen marsh area upstream from Highway 23 - very pretty section.

Nice setup and a good indication that the water around Highway 23 is paddleable.

Takeout on downstream side of bridge on river-left.

The twiggy tree-strewn disaster aftermath!

This cemetery is close to the put-in at South Avenue.

What is it about Lyndon Station...?!?

Comment (1)

... paddling deficit disorder..." I like that, fits my mood perfectly.

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