Grant River I
Short Cut Road to County Road U
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
You could say that prior to hundreds of miles between our first visit to this river and now, we indeed, took it for granted (pun, sheepishly intended). With regards to Wisconsin driftless paddles, this is as captivating as they come, with endlessly engaging twists, turns, rock formations and riffles. Best yet, it sets the stage for an amazing stretch to follow.
April 23, 2016
Riffles + Class I
Burton: ht/ft: 5.40 | cfs: 180
This is a very recommendable level. We recommend a minimum of 175 cfs because much lower and you’ll encounter some scrapping. Update: On April 20, 2019, we paddled this same stretch with gauge levels at ht/ft: 6.83 | cfs: 305. Despite the higher flow, the paddle was almost identical with less scraping (there still was some). We also put-in at 1:00p but took-out at 4:15, shortening the trip by 45 minutes with one stop between. The faster trip might’ve been due to the faster flow (or we just had a few too many beers in 2016).
Short Cut Road, West of Lancaster, Wisconsin
County Road U bridge, South of Beetown, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 1:00p. Out at 5:00p.
Total Time: 4h
Miles Paddled: 11.25
Wildlife: Deer, nesting geese, hundreds of carp, trout, bald eagles, ducks, turtles and a dead cow.
Lesson learned: rivers change and so do perspectives. We essentially did the Grant River a disservice with our initial report seven years ago with our lean reporting on this section (mind you, seven years is quite awhile ago and Miles Paddled wasn’t quite what it’s grown into today). So this time, we’re going to “dis” the diservice and service this river the way it was meant to, because the Grant is an excellent paddling destination, deserving of a spotlight.
Back in 2009, my first paddle through the driftless (my paddling “youth”, if you will) was this section of the Grant. My expectation then, was of a non-stop riffly ride surrounded by endless rock outcrops and scenery unparralleled. Those expectations were a bit unreasonable (considering how special that tall order was) and based on nothing but the perspective of others.
Now, “non-stop” may not be true but consistently interesting with riffles and outcrops and amazing wildlife opportunities? Absolutely.
Back then, I came across the recommendation via Paddling Southern Wisconsin by Mike Svob and a now-defunct Rutabaga blog. Its popularity was well documented for good reason. Why? Because it’s excellent and reliable. What’s changed though is our perspective, because after many miles on many rivers and creeks, we have a much deeper bench for which to compare the Grant. And it’s a solid paddle. A special paddle. One that deserves more recognition than it probably gets. And it really is one of the best paddles in our part of the driftess.
This weekend’s forecast had us scrambling for A) non-rainy weather, B) good water levels and C) decent temperatures. It just so happened that the Southwest corner of Wisconsin was willing to provide all three. It was time to revisit the Grant.
What we liked:
The put-in is just south of the Highway 81 bridge off Short Cut Road. It’s marked but there’s nothing remarkable about it other than it’s a public access point and we’ll take that any day of the week.
It isn’t immediate but the Grant has a lot in store. It slowly builds the plot for the next 5.25 miles. Small riffles and a train tressle mark the beginning of what becomes a delightful trip. Again, not non-stop mind you, but one of those trips where straightaways are brief before it gives way to amazing scenery or something of interest at the very least. With almost crystal clear water, the river is riffly, pretty, with unique rock formations, walls – and on this day, plentiful wildlife – we were treated to a delightful run.
Sometimes the splashyness of the riffles was outdone by the splashing of what we thought were trout spawning on the river bottom. Turns out, it was literally hundreds of big fat carp. It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It was an amazingly fun expectation that everytime we approached an upstream riffle, we’d surprise huge schools of these guys. It was quite fun, almost a riot at times. The wildlife experience only added to the fun we had. In addition, we saw numerous bald eagles, turtles, deer scurrying up the steep bluffs, ducks, some crazy goose, various river critters and while not wild, the sad fate of a cow lying lifeless in the river (not the hairy boulder we thought it was on approach).
The first 5.25 miles are almost perfect, the pacing is just right. There’s stretches of nothing until there’s something. It’s a damn near perfect stretch. You could then choose to take-out at the Grant River Road bridge but even for a short day trip, that’s pretty meager. Unless you’re living just down the road, we can’t recommend a visit to the Grant without making it worth your while (I mean, that’s like suggesting it’s worth driving 2 hours for a 3-mile stretch). Taking-out early would be premature because it doesn’t give you the complete narrative of what this river has to offer (and it’s the appetizer for the next course… more on that later).
The enjoyment continues but with what felt like flatter and longer stretches between features compared to the first half of the trip. Still, there’s plenty in-store, just at a different pace. Twists and turns lead into intimate little canyon-like curves. Slabs of rock, some fallen, some eroded, some white, some green – all just beautiful. Ridges frame the paddle throughout, creating inviting and intimate narrows.
The take-out, beneath the County Road U bridge is decent. There’s a staircase which arguably helps the exit, otherwise, there are standard erosion-preventing boulders under the bridge to climb upon. Back in the day, the staircase was offlimits unless you used the local outfitter or asked their permission. That may still be the case but we literally saw no sign or other signs of that being the reality. It could be because we just paddled this before their season started? I asked some fishermen if there was still an outfitter and though they didn’t know his location, they did indeed know a guy by the name of Dick who still shuttled. So do note, while the stairs may be offlimits during the peak season, you still have every right to access this take-out below the bridge.
If we can recommend one consideration for this trip – it’s all about the time of the year – this being early spring. It was perfect and it was the ideal time of year to paddle this section. There is plenty of agri-paddling through fields of corn and whatnot but the benefit of this time of year is that the crops were down and views of ridges and outcrops were unhidden. Even the farmers were prepped for Spring with huge piles of brush ready to burn on the banks (some dangerously so).
We camped that night at Nelson Dewey State Park where we essentially had the park to ourselves – save for only 3 other groups – all of us at the walk-in tent sites overlooking the Missisippi. It was a beautiful punctuation to a great day.
What we didn’t like:
The hairy boulder/dead cow but that’s a sad fact of life. And one of us forgot our tent… knowing full well he was camping (chalk that up to early-season unpreparedness?)
If we did this trip again:
Be it perspective or naivety, this new tango with the Grant changed my view of it. It’s as pretty as they come, a solid stretch putting other rivers in the area (looking at you, Platte) on notice. She’s a popular underdog (oxymoron), unfairly overlooked and written off (by yours truly). It was such a delight to paddle this river again with this newfound perspective. We’ve paddled a lot of water but the Grant is truly a gem. Definitely paddle it in spring – you’ll thank us.
If Grant River I is where we were smitten though, Grant II is where we fell for the girl (again).
Grant River II: County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road
Miles Paddled Video: Grant River II: County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road
Camp: Nelson Dewey State Park
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Wikipedia: Grant River
Miles Paddled 2019 Video:
Miles Paddled 2016 Video:
Previous Trip Report:
May 23, 2009
☆ ☆ ☆
Expectations were high for our first trip to the Grant. While beautiful and scenic, there was an awful lot of flat water paddling but it was still a wonderful day in the driftless.
Gauge: Burton: n/a
Time: Put in at 11:15a. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 4h 15m
What we liked:
On our first visit to the Grant, we chose to paddle Grant River 1 following the book Paddling Southern Wisconsin by Mike Svob. It’s a pretty little river with numerous sections of continuous riffly/rapid areas as well as a couple intense curves that push you intimately close to rock walls (and might give the beginning paddler a heart palpitation depending on water levels).
The put-in on this section of the Grant is on Short Cut Road, not Porter-Hill Road as indicated in the book. The take-out is off Blackjack Road which leads down under the County U bridge (A note on the take-out below).
As expected in this driftless area of Wisconsin, the rock bluffs were beautiful and the wildlife was interesting. We surprised some huge fish, one that I almost had to fend off with my paddle (I’m guessing it was a musky) and we saw a Gar for the first time. It was laying lifeless on a shallow rocky shore. Crazy looking guy (at first I thought it was a dead snake).
We camped at Grant River Recreational Area not too far from the charming little city of Potosi (home of that beloved Snake Hollow IPA). It’s a federal campsite, run by the Army Corp., and we were very lucky to get a spot as it’s full 24/7. Get ready for RV campers, kids (lots of them), dogs (even more of them) and a train that runs through the campsite all day and night, every hour blaring its horn.
The camp was so full in fact that we were asked to share our site with a late-arrival on a bike. Her name was Julie and she was making her way from Madison to Denver on her first cross-country bike trip, a sort of post-college expedition. There is evidence of her travels and us crossing paths somewhere on crazyguyonabike. I can’t find her blog anymore but I did follow it for a time afterwards to see if she made it. 18 days later, she did.
What we didn’t like:
There are a few long miles of flat, flat, water. It made for more work than fun which was something we weren’t counting on. Also, the river is entirely surrounded by private property. The local canoe company wasn’t very approachable at first. We were outsiders on their territory (and not spending money with them). Once we greased the wheels, this toothless fellow allowed us to park in their customer parking at the take-out point but wanted $5 to use the stairs. We declined since we could use the rock take-out directly below the bridge.
If we did this trip again:
I think we had much greater expectations for the Grant going in but it really is a beautiful, peaceful little river. We would probably paddle the second part of this section again, which is considerably more riffly but we’d choose a different take-out.