Baraboo River – Cascade Mountain
Date Paddled: October 14th, 2015
Put-in: Wayside Park (by Cascade Mountain)
Take-out: Hwy U
Distance: 3.81 Miles
Time: 2 hours 33 minutes (2 hours would be more typical)
Gradient: 2-3' per mile (guestimate)
Water Level: Baraboo River @ Baraboo (the city) 252 CFS or 7.23'
The idea for this trip was to capture the lower Baraboo when the leaves were turning, when the mud banks had dried and the water levels were properly down. This is not an elite prospect, with little that makes it very distinct, but it was pleasant and peaceful (aside from the infernal racket from I-90 and then later I-39).
The Baraboo River is known for having a lot of down trees…and this section wasn’t too different. But, by Cascade Mountain the river is big enough you can pretty much go around the jams. It helps that the channel is also strong enough (when flooding) to bulldoze a significant percentage of messes to the side. The frequent floods deter bankside development, which was a nice bonus to the trip. Much of which was along the Leopold Wetland Management District, but you wouldn’t know it because of the high muddy banks (typical Baraboo). The hardwoods on the banks, however, were quite nice and it was very pleasant just letting the current carry me under the tree canopies.
The trip was done for color, but there weren’t as many sugar maples as expected (many silver maple, but they tend not to be as colorful). Often times the best part of any fall paddle is not actually the scenery above the water but in it. In this case, it was a neat experience seeing the leaves floating with the current and getting stacked up in odd crooks and crannies on the river.
Something that makes the Baraboo River special are its many rock outcroppings, but most only appear on the upper stretches. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find one just prior to the take-out on Hwy U.
In summary, this is a three-star trip that I recommend for locals, but for those farther away, you can probably do better. Early into the trip, things were going swell and I almost debated giving it 4 stars, but…the mud got old. Suspended in the water, the substrate and on the banks, it was everywhere. Many rivers have sandbars…not the Boo…it has mudbars! Portaging would have been an adventure, as many of the mud banks were 4-5′ high. But at times this provided a unique experience and enclosed feeling. You can’t help but wonder what the river looked like before logging, channelization and farming permanently damaged the watershed.
Wayside Park is a popular access spot for paddlers and with good parking. However, there is a steep 5′ bank to negotiate just to get into the water. A little awkward to say the least, and I suggest leading your boat down first with rope if possible.
There is a bridge at Hwy U, with the best access being a drainage ditch just northwest of the bridge. Note, the banks are steep here for parking, but the shoulders do flatten somewhat the further west you get away from the bridge. There is no outhouse at either the put-in or the take-out.
I’m not aware of any local liveries (kind of odd if you think about how popular the Baraboo River is).
Bike shuttle is pretty easy at 4 miles, with low traffic and just a few minor hills on Cascade Mountain Road.
Hazards and Log Jams:
Not a single major log jam (big surprise for the Baraboo!). Somebody has cleaned out many of the snags, which is appreciated. There are a few hoppers and squeakers, but I thought these were easy to negotiate in my smaller boat. Bigger boats and/or inexperienced paddlers may want to be careful as occasionally fast current and protruding deadfall can cause issues if you’re not attentive.
The main hazard is actually just upstream of the put-in, so you’ll probably miss it anyway (but will see it). It consists of the river constricting sharply into class 2 rapids…that go straight through a strainer. Pictured and videoed at 0:09.
River Depth, Navigability and Current:
Per the local gauge in Baraboo, the river was at 252 CFS which is relatively low but typical for fall. That’s actually what you want. This stretch NEVER gets too low to paddle. Despite the low flow rate, I never ran aground and frequently was able to stick my paddle deep into the water before touching. The problem with the Baraboo is it floods easy and often. Even when not flooding, it doesn’t take much rain to really push up water levels and make the current pushy and sloppy with mud. Low water also gives this stretch nice character and gives you the ability to get around many downed trees.
Typical low turnout for fall, but I did see a couple of eagles, a few great blue herons, a bank beaver den and a few deer with nice antlers.
Alternate Baraboo River Trips:
There are a lot of paddling options on the Baraboo. For a visual overview see my overview map.
- Upstream of Union Center: The Boo splits into the west branch and main branch. They seem interesting up to Elroy (or Hillsboro) and have enough water to run, but I suspect jams are an issue.
- Union Center to Wonewoc: 6.2 miles. A great section with the largest rock outcrop on the river (reviewed here).
- Wonewoc to Strawbridge Road: ~3 miles. I don’t know much about.
- Strawbridge Road to N. Dutch Hollow Road: ~9 miles. Probably pleasant but there will be a few jams.
- N. Dutch Hollow Road to La Valle: 3.8 miles. Second best section on the entire river with great rock outcrops (reviewed here).
- From La Valle to Lake Redstone: 4 miles. One of the more underrated sections of the Boo, which I really liked (reviewed here).
- Lake Redstone: Definitely a fun paddle as well with fantastic red rock formations, a swimming beach and a spillway waterfall (reviewed here).
- Lake Redstone to Reedsburg: ~10 miles. Supposedly kind of boring, but the log jams should be cleared out.
- Reedsburg to Rock Springs: 14.8 miles. Good potential but serious log jams are likely. There is a cool canyon to paddle though by Rock Springs.
- Rock Springs to North Freedom: ~7 miles, but there are some jams here (not sure how many). Seems like a nice paddle, with rock outcrops halfway into the trip.
- North Freedom to Hatchery Road: ~7 miles that should be pretty log jam free and is on my to-do list.
- Hatchery Road to Hwy 113: 8 miles. There are many fun rapids though the city of Baraboo making this a great trip (reviewed here).
- From Hwy 113 to Hwy W Landing: 4.9 miles. An unreviewed wooded trip I liked many years ago, but since then log jams have probably become an issue.
- From Hwy W Landing to Hwy 33: 3.56 miles. On my to-do list.
- From the first Hwy 33 bridge to the second Hwy 33 bridge (by Cascade Mountain): 8 miles. A stretch I’m curious about.
- From the Cascade Mountain wayside to Hwy U: Simple but pleasant short section flanked by busy interstates (reviewed here).
- From Hwy U to the mouth: 5 miles. The final leg running through floodplain forest (reviewed here).