Wisconsin River XV
Spring Green to Lone Rock
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
An easy, straightforward, entirely delightful stretch of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway featuring innumerable sandbars, wooded islands, rolling hills and even an exposed sandstone rock wall. Great accesses at the put-in and take-out make for an all-around great little day trip.
September 4, 2017
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater
≈2′ per mile
Muscoda: ht/ft: 1.85 | cfs: 7200
We recommend this level, although it’s a little on the low side. That said, there’s always enough water to paddle the Wisconsin.
Highway 23, Spring Green, Wisconsin
Highway 130, Lone Rock, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 11:45a. Out at 3:15p.
Total Time: 3h 30m
Miles Paddled: 7.25
Wildlife: Turtles, bald eagles and sandhill cranes.
For several consecutive years a small group of our friends has paddled and camped at a different, remote area for Labor Day weekend. (The first year it was canoe-camping down the Black River. Last year it was car-camping and day-paddling the Bois Brule River.) For a variety of reasons, it wasn’t in the cards this year. Meanwhile, back closer to home, different friends paddle a stretch of the Wisconsin River each Labor Day in concert with then heading over to Beatlefest at the Spring Green General Store. I’ve always been curious about this event… but always out of town and missed it. So, this year it all came together.
Also, while we’ve done countless day trips on the Wisconsin River from Prairie du Sac to Prairie du Chien, none of these is documented on the site. One of the inestimable charms of the Lower Wisconsin River is its beckoning opportunity to camp overnight on its thousand-odd sandbars and islands. Few rivers in the state, especially down in the lower half, offer this incredible experience. So it’s natural to think big and plan for multiday trips (which is how we have the Lower Wisconsin documented on our site). However, it can certainly be broken down to bite-sized single-day trips, each of them magnificent, frankly.
The length of any of these individual trips will be determined by access to the water – or lack thereof. Given the few bridges spanning the mighty river and the wild surroundings, paddling the 92 miles of the Lower Wisconsin between Prairies du Sac and Chien is generally a strung constellation from one town to the next. Spring Green to Lone Rock is one such string – a good one that I’m glad to have revisited, as I’d misremembered it as being a little dull relative the stretches up- and downstream from it. It may not be as pretty as those, but it’s not dull at all.
The put-in at Highway 23 is unlike most places where paddlers begin trips. It’s part of a huge park called “Peck’s Landing” (on river-right, upstream side of the bridge). The river makes an unusual horseshoe-shaped bend to the south here at the base of Tower Hill State Park and the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center (both on the opposite bank from the landing) then ricochets back to the north and west. This is a very popular place in summer, particularly on holiday weekends (such as Labor Day), so expect crowds. Of the Wisconsin River’s 430-some total miles, the single most-paddled portion of it is the 24 miles from Prairie du Sac to Spring Green – one of my personal favorite sections. Starting at Spring Green, however, the throngs will thin out. Indeed, the further downstream you paddle, you’ll find fewer people and feel a more intimate experience.
Once on the water, I recommend making a beeline to the left before reaching a rather large island in the middle of the river. The reason for this is there’s a beautiful (but brief) exposed rock wall on the far left bank. On this trip, all of the bluffs and hills will be on the left (south). And the only exposed rock wall on this trip is at the very beginning, on the left. I recommend heading left too because the shore on that side is wild and wooded. You won’t be able to see it from the water, but Frank Lloyd Wright’s former home, Taliesen, is above you, ensconced in a bluff. Even after the hill recedes, the left bank has the look and feel of a mysterious jungle, dense and undeveloped.
Things are less showy for the next few miles, but still entirely pretty. As with most of the Lower Wisconsin River, if a notable wind is coming from the southwest – which is to say most of the time – you’ll be hunkered down and power-paddling here. Fortunately, you’ll have your choice of umpteen sandbars and islands to relax and catch your breath. Some of the islands are quite large, which will split the river into an array of side channels, which, depending on water levels, can be fun and engaging (or cause you to get out and take your boat for a walk). In between all these islands, on the right, is a state natural area called Bakken’s Pond, a wetland full of rare turtles and salamanders. It’s not really accessible from the river, but it’s pretty cool and worth checking out afterward.
Eventually, very aptly named Long Island will come into view on river-right. It’s over one mile long! There are two options for taking out: 1) river-left, off Highway 130 (generously upstream of the Highway 133 bridge) at the mouth of Otter Creek or 2) on river-right, technically just upstream of the Highway 133 bridge (although you’ll first have to paddle under the bridge, then round a jutting peninsula clockwise, then paddle upstream a slough called “Long Lake”, back under the bridge to a small landing on the left). If you opt for the river-left landing, then keep left of Long Island. You’ll see a postcard-quaint red barn at the base of a bluff – that’s your cue to make your way to the left bank. You can either paddle upstream a whopping 200′ to an actual boat launch at the mouth of Otter Creek, which can be muddy, or simply get out just after the mouth where the land is flat, a bit rocky and less muddy. Either way, there’s a spacious parking area here. If you opt for the river-right landing, stay right of Long Island and then hook right around the jutting peninsula. It’s a little inconspicuous, but not hard to find.
What we liked:
Any trip down the Lower Wisconsin River is bound to be beautiful and fun, and this trip is no exception. An exposed rock wall, undulating hills, wild woods, large islands, sandbar stop-offs – there’s just so much to enjoy! Other than potentially running aground in shallows, there are no obstacles or hazards to worry about.
(Necessary PSA: if you don’t know how to swim, then you must always wear a life jacket. People tragically die on this river on account of underestimating sandbars that suddenly drop off into deep channels and then get swept in the current.)
What we didn’t like:
In a word, wind. We all go paddling because it’s supposed to be fun, a way of getting away from normal life for a spell. When it begins feeling like work, well, that kinda defeats the purpose. Weird weather happens, of course, and it can’t always be predicted; you gotta just roll with it. But if you have the luxury of planning on a less windy day, then do so.
(For me personally, I had to use my 10′ crossover kayak for this trip, which, while totally doable – it’s a boat, it floats – is a poor choice. The Lower Wisconsin River is wide, slow and straight, whereas a crossover boat is made more for meandering creeks with rapids and obstacles. Again, if you have the luxury of boat choice, go with something long and with less rocker (meaning more of the bow and stern is in the water, to help the boat stay straight and go with the flow). Such a boat on such a river on any given day will be a workout. But on a windy day, hoo boy, brace yourself!)
Admittedly, this is not the most scenic stretch of the Lower Wisconsin River. Except for the very beginning, the bluffs here are a little more bashful and off in the distance. And but for the one exposed rock outcrop, there’s not a whole lot of geology in this stretch. (It is still quite pretty, however.)
And now here’s one for the Miles Paddled Department of Random. During this trip I spotted something strange snagged in some tree debris at an island. As I paddled up to it I realized it was an inflatable doll. Yup, that’s right: inflatable doll. Named Cindy. More unsettling, Cindy was facedown in the water. Not knowing what else to do, I “rescued” Cindy and towed her back to the take-out with us. Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m mentioning this at all or at least in the “What We Didn’t Like” section. Well, scrawled in permanent marker on the doll’s back was a crude misogynistic (and racist) message (which I won’t repeat) pretending to be an “if found, call this phone number.” I’m sure it was some idiot’s idea of a practical joke, but in this era of Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Riley, Harvey Weinstein, Michael Oreskes – and way, way too many other disrespectful chauvinists – enough is enough.
If we did this trip again:
While Peck’s Landing at Highway 23 is awesome and supremely easy, I’d rather put-in at Highway 14, two miles upstream. Not only would this add a little more paddling to this essentially short trip, it would include some very notable scenery: Tower Hill State Park, the mouth of Mill Creek (which can/should be paddled upstream a short distance to see an extraordinary sandstone wall and hand-dug tower part of a former lead shot tower), plus an additional sandstone wall below the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center.
Regardless, I’d definitely paddle this trip on a less windy day and in a much longer and better boat.
Wisconsin River Overview: Lower Wisconsin River Paddle Guide
Wisconsin River I: Boscobel to Wyalusing
Wisconsin River II: Gotham to Boscobel
Wisconsin River III: Arena to Gotham
Wisconsin River IV: Prairie Du Sac to Arena
Wisconsin River VIII: Lone Rock to Muscoda
Miles Paddled Maps: Lower Wisconsin Riverway Mileage
Miles Paddled Video: Wisconsin River IV: Prairie Du Sac to Arena
Article: Lower Wisconsin River Worth Getaway
Guide: Wisconsin Trail Guide
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Wikipedia: Wisconsin River
There are two shuttle route options for this trip – one hilly and gorgeous, the other flatter and more residential. It would behoove the bike shuttler, unless deliberately seeking a workout, to opt for the latter, via Highway 133 and then Kennedy Street, on the north bank of the river, for an 11-mile distance. Along the way you’ll pass Bakken’s Pond SNA. If you’re driving, however, then treat yourself to some pretty and picturesque countryside via Highway 130 and then County Road C, on the south bank of the river, for a 10.3-mile distance. Just before the County Road C/Highway 23 intersection is Taliesen, which can be seen from the road.