Pecatonica River: East Branch I
Highway 78 to Argyle
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
This section of the East Branch of the Pecatonica River is a tranquil, mostly slow-paced trip past preserved oak savannas, tallgrass prairie, lowland forests, southern sedge meadows and coquettish rock outcroppings in southwestern Wisconsin.
September 29, 2012
Blanchardville: ht/ft: 4.00 | cfs: 90
Water levels are almost always reliable.
Highway 78, south of Blanchardville, Wisconsin
Highway 81 Boat Launch, Argyle, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 11:45a. Out at 3:45p.
Total Time: 4h
Miles Paddled: 12.5
Bald eagles, blue herons, tons of kingfishers, snakes, muskrats, lots of turtles, tiny frogs and handsome hawks. Some bulls and pigs for good measure in the pasture too.
Only 6.3 miles but it’s not for the feint of heart. Highway 78 does not command a terrific amount of traffic but it’s a narrow highway with short shrift on the shoulder. Plus it’s a pretty hilly highway. You will be rewarded though, for the views below (and above) are quite exquisite.
Approximately 63 miles long, the east branch begins somewhere indistinctly around Barneveld before converging south down the hills with the main branch just west of Browntown. Prettier (in my opinion) than the main branch of the Pecatonica, and I’d argue more diverse, the terrain simply seems more imaginative and (I use this loosely) “wild.” In spite of the hills it’s not the swiftest of rivers but it does move along nicely enough. It’s really a go-at-your-own-pace kind of paddle. There’s enough current to kick up your feet and float or paddle with the flow to tackle more miles.
What we liked:
What’s there not to like about passing such diversity in landscapes – from oak savanna and prairie, to forests and meadows, with peek-a-boo cliffs and rock outcroppings, some sandstone, some limestone? And if you want that remote sensation of paddling a river through the rich countryside in a world without cars, this is a good example.
There are several access points along the river from below the dam in Blanchardville down to the Highway 11 Landing in Browntown. Note: There is not much info on what the river is like upstream of Blanchardville (psst! if anyone’s got the goods, please share!) and if you go much below Woodford and Black Hawk Park you will tangle with frustrating deadfall. But the 14 miles between Blanchardville and Arglye, and then 7 more from Argyle to Woodford, are solid and just about as pleasant as it gets in southern Wisconsin. This trip alone, which essentially parallels Highway 78 (though you never see or hear it!) can be tailored to a 14-mile trip, 12.5, or 7, depending on which of the put-ins you use.
What we didn’t like:
It’s not the easiest river to get to. From Madison, Argyle alone is only 50 miles away but it’ll take a good 75 minutes to drive there due to the winding country roads and couple towns you have to drive through first. But hey, it’s a very pretty drive. On a sunny day with good tunes and the windows rolled down, only a paddle on the river gets much better!
While the east branch is fairly narrow and shallow, we did see one motorboat on its way to fish by the golf course. Fortunately though, at that point you’re near the take-out in Argyle anyway.
If we did this trip again:
Done and done! I first did a shorter stretch of this (via the River Road put-in) three years ago. I’m glad I came back, because this was both better than how I remembered it and prettier than the 7-mile stretch.
Pecatonica River East Branch II: Hollandale to Blanchardville
Pecatonica River East Branch III: Highway HK to Hollandale
Pecatonica River East Branch IV: Argyle to Blackhawk Memorial County Park
Pecatonica River East Branch V: Woodford to Highway 11
Pecatonica River East Branch VI: Hollandale to Horseshoe Bend Road
Pecatonica River East Branch VII: Highway 78 to River Road
Camp: Pecatonica River Trails Park
Good People: Friends of the Pecatonica River
Map: Pecatonica River
Wikipedia: Pecatonica River
Miles Paddled/Driftless Kayaker Video (River Road to Argyle):