Seeley Lake to Hatchery Road
☆ ☆ ☆
A lovely stream with solid water volume, Seeley Creek is the largest tributary of the Baraboo River that passes by some astonishing rock outcrops and lovely hills followed by one of the prettier sections of the Baraboo River itself but paddler beware: there are numerous necessary portages and one ornery landowner.
May 4, 2014
Baraboo: ht/ft: 13.7 | cfs: 1900
This is a paddle we simply don’t recommend regardless of levels. But if you’re stubborn enough to want to paddle it, catch it in early spring after snowmelt or just after a hard rain, as the creek can be shallow.
Seeley Lake off of Seeley Lane, North Freedom, Wisconsin
Giese Park wayside, intersection of Rock Hill Road and Hatchery Road, West Baraboo, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 4:00p.
Total Time: 4h 0m
Miles Paddled: 9.25
Wildlife: A bald eagle, sandhill cranes, muskrats, a couple turtles, great blue herons, one green heron, two American bitterns, a woodpecker and lots of redwing blackbirds.
I first passed Seeley Creek back in January, driving along County Road W and noticed some rather fetching rock formations near the bridge. A little light went off in my head, I made note of it on the map and thus an idea for a springtime paddle was born.
What we liked:
Seeley Creek itself was surprisingly deep so water level was never an issue. I’m not certain, since this was my first time on the creek but I’d venture to guess it has dependable volume based on its size and thus, can be paddled later in the year and not just spring.
The dam and artificial waterfall at Seeley Lake is pretty, as is the lake itself (though you will be appreciating its aesthetics with many others, mostly folks fishing). It’s a charming little tucked away spot (incidentally, the lake itself can be paddled, as well as the creek “on the other side,” where the inlet is).
Almost immediately, there is a stately moss-covered rock outcrop about 25’ high in a backwater on river-left. On the 3.5-ish miles of Seeley Creek, you’ll pass three more sandstone rock outcrops, each one bigger and more stunning than the one before. The last, on river-right and only a hundred yards or so downstream of County Road W, makes for a great picnic spot. Between the last rock outcrop and the confluence with the Baraboo the creek meanders pleasantly along pretty ridges and a savannah.
Then, the Baraboo River sneaks up on you. It’s so subtle that we almost mistook it for a channel of Seeley Creek that rounded an island. The Baraboo was still running high, so once we entered it, the effect felt like one of those flat “escalators” in airports for speed walking. This is notable because the Baraboo up here normally crawls at such a sluggish pace as to be negligible.
Immediately on river-right, rock outcrops are found both at the bank and also tucked back into the hills. This is one of the prettiest sections anywhere on the entire 120 miles of the Baraboo River. You will pass under one very cool, retro and iron-rusty railroad bridge bearing the plate “Built by the Lassig Bridge and Iron Works Chicago, ILL 1899.”
As the river makes a weird northern loop (see map) you’ll paddle through a very tranquil moraine area with soft green hills. A mile or so downstream from the railroad bridge on river-right is a rugged rough-hewn stone tunnel. Check it out! You can paddle through it to the other side, where there is also a creek (too many obstructions prevent much exploration on the creek side). I believe this is located at the awesomely named “Hoot Owl Hollow.” The stonework here is positively stunning.
The take-out is also on river-right upstream from Hatchery Road bridge, which is easy to spot and access. There’s room here for a few cars to park, plus there’s a strangely old, somewhat decrepit outhouse worth a look-see.
What we didn’t like:
As the French say, “por-TAJ,” or as a paddler says, “another [expletive deleted] portage!?!” Yes, my friends, this trip isn’t all wine and roses, at least not the first 1-2 miles. In fact, from the put-in at the dam to the first bridge at Freedom Road, you can expect 8-10 portages around impassable obstructions (mostly downed trees).
Compounding this conundrum is a disputatious landowner of the one and only house between the put-in and County Road W. The house hovers above the creek on the left and will remain in view for a couple hundred yards of the meandering creek. At first, the landowner seemed friendly by warning us of “3” downed trees. Being somewhat cocky and experienced with stoical maneuvering above or through trees and logs, we didn’t think much of it until we came upon the first one, which was indeed impassable and required a portage. As soon as we stepped a toe on dry land to get around the tree, we were shouted at for “trespassing.” (to be fair, I think the shouting had more to do with the distance between the guy’s house and the obstruction and less with anger).
Here’s what you’re supposed to do in these scenarios: Ask for permission and explain that you have no other choice, since the stream is fully obstructed.
Here’s what we did instead: Shouted back something or other about Wisconsin law and high-water marks as though we were legal experts in a riparian right-of-way. That just started a shouting match. For what it’s worth, the law is on a paddler’s side, at least in Wisconsin. Access to exposed shoreline is permitted “only if it is necessary to exit the body of water to bypass an obstruction.”
Technically, according to the “keep your feet wet” provision, one is supposed to have at least one foot in the water, but this is impractical to a point of Monty Python-esque absurdity. From the above encounter I could draw two conclusions; 1) the guy was itching for a fight and just waiting to bark at us the moment the inevitable happened or 2) he simply wanted us to respect his land and not be oblivious of the law. The fact that he knows full well about the “3” obstructions (in fact, there were eight) and yet felt no desire to clean them up almost felt like entrapment. Or his selfish desire to hoard his piece of paradise by ensuring that paddlers and anglers kept away. However one interprets it, the first 1-2 miles of paddling left a malingering impression (I myself was beginning to worry that my two friends were going to mutiny me, since this trip was my idea!).
There may be another 1-2 portages between Freedom Road and County W but if there are, you will be far from the crankasaur, so confrontation is unlikely.
If we did this trip again:
I would put in at Freedom Road. While there still may be a need to portage once or twice, it’s nothing like upstream. There are no houses at the bridge here, so access to the creek should be hassle-free (the bridge at County W is in front of a farm, so access is uncertain). Plus, paddling up to the first rock outcrop upstream of County W is a most pleasant experience.
General: The Baraboo Iron-Bearing District of Wisconsin
Almost half the distance of the paddling trip itself, it’s an easy shuttle in a pretty area of rolling Baraboo Hills.