Wisconsin River X
Portage to Dekorra
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
A mostly overlooked and underappreciated section of the Wisconsin River located after the rapture of the Dells but before the splendor of the lower 92 miles, this quick trip is worth a look.
April 22, 2014
Wisconsin Dells: ht/ft: 8.5 | cfs: 18,000
We recommend this level. Water levels are almost always reliable on the Wisconsin.
Paquette Park, Portage, Wisconsin (Sunset Park boat landing is an easier access point, just upstream.)
Hooker’s Bar boat launch, Dekorra, Wisconsin (Dekorra Park boat landing is also just upstream.)
Time: Put in at 2:40p. Out at 5:00p.
Total Time: 2h 20m
Miles Paddled: 8.25
Sandhill cranes, a couple blue herons, turtles, the biggest bald eagle nest (with occupant) I’ve ever seen and at least a dozen cormorants.
10.5 miles. It’s better to drive than bike, as a good segment of this is necessarily along Highway 51, which while not bicycle-unfriendly, it’s stressful cycling, as cars and trucks vroom past you at 60+ mph. Approaching Portage there is a pleasant levee trail one can take that parallels 51.
Well, of course there had to be an Earth Day paddle! I’d first paddled this segment of the Wisconsin River some four or so years ago but really didn’t remember it specifically. Having done it again, there’s good reason for the foggy memory: it’s not terribly memorable! But it does it have its charms, more at the beginning and end of this trip.
It lacks the fantastic rock outcrops further upstream as well as the endless lush bluffs downstream (which probably makes it neglected) but again, it’s not without its own character. Plus, it does offer something its more becoming areas up- and downstream lack: floodplain bottomlands which allows for through-the-woods routes that can be downright spooky and spectacular in their own rights.
What we liked:
What I liked: Maybe it’s because less than a month ago I was in New Orleans and that New Orleans is probably my favorite city anywhere, so the view of a riverside levy in downtown Portage along the Wisconsin River makes me nostalgic and playfully imaginative that I am somewhere romantic (not that Columbia County is short on romance, need I say anything more than Pardeeville?).
Speaking of romance, for those of us in love with the Wisconsin River, there’s always something special about doing a characteristic stretch of it because it’s so varied. True, you might have to work a bit harder to find what’s so special about the river in this section, as it lacks the drama and beauty found elsewhere on the river throughout the state but this trip is kind of like a middle child: reliable but taken for granted and forgotten about, so just doing its own thing.
Like a lot of segments on the Wisconsin River, there are various access points not only to lengthen or shorten the trip but to tailor what kind of trip, landscape-wise, you’re looking for. Putting-in off of Levee Road (see map below) takes you through a very pretty but mostly flat and sandy stretch between the Dells and the city of Portage where the river runs through the Pine Island Wildlife Area, an area rich in wetlands and oak savanna habitats. But for Levee Road itself, which is scarcely driven on, there are no nearby roads, just sandbars.
Or taking out further downstream, in Whalen Bay off of Lake Wisconsin, allows for the “return” of sandbars, the rise of riverside bluffs and beautiful rock outcrops.
Some indisputable plugs about this trip:
1) Honorable mention goes to the mouth of the Baraboo River on river-right, a little more than midway into the trip. For those of us with a crush on the Boo, thinking of its muddy meanders and rock outcrops starting all the way up in the Elroy environs, seeing its last hurrah merging into the mainstream provides a perspective of putting the puzzle pieces together.
2) Whether at the Baraboo on the right or the floodplains of Duck and Rocky Run creeks on the left, there is usually a whole lot of water to allow paddling through the woods, which is a cool novelty. Again, for someone recently returned from actual bayous and cypress swamps, I was pretty charmed by this effect.
3) Just upstream from the Dekorra landing on river-left, pretty rock outcrops begin, one of which has a cave-like cleft in it big enough to paddle inside. It’s not everyday you get to do that! Special thanks to our pal Aaron over at Wis. River Trips for pointing out this cave on his site.
Additional food for thought: Even if you don’t use the takeout at Hooker’s Bar in Dekorra, I definitely recommend checking it out for a drink or meal after your paddle. No beers on tap but the bottle selection is pretty good and based on a non-scientific observation of 7 out of 13 folks (my friend and I included) at the bar drinking rum and Cokes, I’m guessing they make a good one. Great bar food here too with a surprisingly diverse menu (plus a grill your own steak option).
What we didn’t like:
Right, so as you’ve figured out, this trip isn’t mind-blowing or anything but how many trips are, or have to be, to still be good? The only thing I didn’t much care for was the very high water, which submerged all the little islands and sandbars. But it allowed for flying time on the river, especially with the wind at our back (though I would later curse that same wind on the bike shuttle). Plus, all that water really allowed for some back-slough paddling through the floodplain woods, which was wonderful.
If we did this trip again:
I’d do this trip again anytime, whether putting in upstream or taking out downstream. Just depends on what you’re feeling.
Wisconsin River V: Lyndon Station to Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin River VI: Dekorra to Whalen Bay
Wisconsin River VII: Downtown Dells to Norway Drive
Wisconsin River XII: Pine Island to Portage
Wisconsin River XIII: River Bay Road to Norway Drive
Wisconsin River XIV: Castle Rock Dam to Lyndon Station
Map: Pine Island Wildlife Area to Dekorra
Wikipedia: Wisconsin River