Launching at 28th Ave (sadly closed by Upham Woods)

Exploring Coldwater Canyon

A local trail system services boat customers

A Dells Boat Company building

Continuing around the island

Very scenic

But the island itself is closed to the public

Great geology

The entire island area is scenic

Trees growing on the rocks

And back where we started


Blackhawk Island

Date Paddled: May 29th, 2010
Put-in: 28th Ave - Mile North of Upham Woods
Take-out: 28th Ave - Mile North of Upham Woods
Distance: 2.5 Miles
Time: 90 Minutes (estimate)
Gradient: 1.4' per Mile
Water Level: Wisconsin River @ Wisconsin Dells 3950 CFS (good depth)

A very nice trip in and of itself is the Blackhawk Island loop. It’s about 2.5 miles and the current isn’t too bad. The west side is protected from the big boats because it is relatively shallow (although private boats/jet skies can be a nuisance on the northwest side). The east side is the main channel but because this has been made no-wake this is relatively kayak-friendly as well.

Blackhawk Island itself is like a good chunk of the Wisconsin Dells in that it is publicly owned but largely set aside for exclusive use by private companies and private organizations (in this case run by and for 4-H, which is pseudo-public). So while the island has a cool trail system and boat access on the southwest side, it is not open to the public without approval from either the DNR or Upham Woods 4-H.

The parameter of the island is quite cool to kayak around though. Put in at the west landing (it’s a pull-off…but nice) and head upstream. There will be cool bluffs on the right… When you get to the fork at the top of the island end don’t go downstream just yet but explore the two gulches on the east side or the east channel…very scenic (but tour boats go in here, so be careful). After the gulches end, go downstream to the bottom of the island, then upstream around the south end of the island to complete the loop.

Webmaster’s Update – 2016:

The Blackhawk Island landing now has no-tresspassing signs and is no longer an option.  For a list of alternate landings, see the overview map below.

Webmaster’s Update – 2020

Four years ago, UW Extension shut down a key landing on the Upper Dells located at Blackhawk Island because of “safety” concerns. To this day the landing is still not available to the public…but a new “paddle pass” program has been implemented. If you pay five dollars, take an orientation class, and check in at the main office beforehand…then you can put in or take out here.

Other Wisconsin River Trips:

For details on access locations, see my Wisconsin River Overview Map.

  • Castle Rock Lake to the Lemonweir River 10 miles.  An ok section.
  • Lemonweir River Mouth to the Two Rivers Landing:  7 miles.  The first half of the classic Upper Dells.
  • Two Rivers Landing to Blackhawk Island 6.5 miles.  Second half of the classic Upper Dells known for its fantastic outcrops.  Note, the Blackhawk Island landing is no longer accessible without special permission from the local 4H club.  
  • Black Hawk Island to Wisconsin Dells Dam:  2.0 miles.  More nice sandstone outcrops.  You can take out at a public ramp off Indiana Ave or portage the dam and take out SW of the dam by a launch off Wisconsin Dells Pkwy/Hwy 12.
  • Dells Dam to Indian Trail Pkwy:  6.4 miles.  Classic Lower Dells section.
  • Indian Trail Pkwy to Pine Island Boat Ramp:  9.8 miles.  Few paddle this stretch as it isn’t as interesting.  But…it does have a good concentration of sandbars and few competing paddlers for them. 
  • Pine Island Boat Ramp to Portage/Hwy 33 Access 6.0 miles.  Not an elite section that is lacking in cliffs and bluffs.  It does have good sandbars though.
  • Portage to Baraboo River/Thunderbird Road:  5.2 miles.  A good section with great sandbars, but can be crowded in the summer.
  • Baraboo River to Dekorra Park:  2.5 miles.  River splits into several channels which can be fun to explore.
  • Dekorra Park to James Whalen Memorial Park 6.6 miles.
    • Dekorra Park to Camp Rest Park:  5.1 miles.  A terrific section with rock outcrops, large island deltas, hidden sloughs, and nice sandbars.  Unfortunately this part of the river is popular with motorboats and jet skis which can be a plague.  Multiple alternate access options.
    • Camp Rest Park to James Whalen Memorial Park:  1.5 miles.  Not a great section because of the open water paddling, powerboats and big waves.  The west shore though does have nice outcrops.
  • James Whalen Memorial Park to Prairie du Sac Dam:  14.5 miles.  The river turns into “Lake Wisconsin” here…an inadvisable section due to the amount of open water paddling required.  There are many intermediate access options.
  • Prairie du Sac to Mazomanie:  8 miles.  An ok section of the Wisconsin but lacking in sandbars. 
  • Mazomanie to Arena 9.7 miles. A great section with nice sandbars and scenic bluffs. 
  • Arena to Hwy 14:   8.0 miles.  Good section with a high concentration of sandbars.  One of the more popular legs on the Lower Wisconsin.
  • Hwy 14 to Hwy 23/Spring Green:  2.2 miles.  Neat mini-section with sandstone outcrops.  Very popular in the summer.
  • Spring Green to Lone Rock:  7.4 miles.  Another fine sandbar/bluff section with some nice rock outcrops too.
  • Lone Rock to Gotham:  8 miles.  This stretch has super impressive rock outcrops and sand banks.
  • Gotham to Muscoda: 7 miles.  Cool limestone rock outcroppings.
  • Muscoda to Port Andrew:  7 miles.
  • Port Andrew to Boscobel:  9 miles.  Wooded islands start to get massive.
  • Boscobel to Woodman/Big Green River:  9 miles and start of the less paddled stretch of the Lower Wisconsin.  Far fewer sandbars from here to the mouth, but good bluffs and side sloughs to explore.
  • Woodman to Adiantum Woods State Natural Area:  3.9 miles.
  • Adiantum Woods State Natural Area to Millville:  3.8 miles.
  • Millville to Bridgeport:  5.3 miles.
  • Bridgeport to Wyalusing (the mouth): 9 miles.

Trip Map

Overview Map



How did your trip turn out? Questions or comments? Feel free to leave your feedback.

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