Blue River

This is one of the best kept paddling secrets of Southwest Wisconsin.  While never very big, the Blue River flows by some super scenic driftless bluffs.

Trip Reports

Bluff Road to Bowers Road

Date Paddled: May 6th, 2017
Distance: 4.1 Miles
Time: 2 hours 46 minutes

A spectacular paddling prospect hidden in the driftless area of southwest Wisconsin.  Fun rapids, hidden valleys, boulders, and occasional outcrops make this the favorite paddle to date for 2017.


Bowers Road to Shemak Road

Date Paddled: October 21st, 2017
Distance: 6.6 miles
Time: 5 hours (3 hours is more typical)

A paddle through a narrow, hidden valley features blufftop outcrops, relict pines, giant boulders, and classic driftless scenery.  The best trip of 2017 and one of the best paddles in Southern Wisconsin.


Hwy G to Forest Road

Date Paddled: April 27th, 2024
Distance: 8.0 miles
Time: Expect 4 hours

Aside from a few logjams, this is a pleasant and open stretch of the Lower Blue River (located in Southwest Wisconsin).


Overview Map

Detailed Overview

Nearby Guages



Jun 14th, 2024 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Thanks Charlie for the feedback. Some of those fences yes might be new which is too bad. The upper blue truly is a hidden gem, but can only be done in highish water.
Jun 13th, 2024 - Charlie from Lower Wisconsin River
I paddled this portion today (6/13/24) and it was definitly a beautiful area to see. The riffles, bluffs, and fields were a treat. Since the trees were fully leafed out the wooded areas had an almost fantasy feel to them, particularly in one area with boulders in the river and pools made on the sides. The CFS for the Platte is about the same today as when you went - 184. However, I spent a lot of time shimmying myself free from rocks and shallow spots. I'm not an experienced river reader, so perhaps I just kept taking the worst routes, but I think a higher river would have made for a more smooth ride for me. The first gate fence is so bogged down with debris now that I was able to pop over top of it, but all the others I had to portage. The barbed wire one I didn't have anything to help lift it up high enough. There was another one that nobody has mentioned, so perhaps it is new. The fence up on the hill leading down to it certainly looked pretty recent. It was too high on the river to get over and the banks didn't have a great spot to portage (maybe the left side was better, but I went with the right). I had to pop the kayak over and have it beach itself by a log, and then climb over a boulder which had barbed wire bolted into it. Made for quite the adventure! There are certainly times, particularly in the first half, when you could fool yourself into thinking you are far away from any civilization and experiencing the world as it was. Thanks for the guide!
Aug 29th, 2023 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Yeah, logjams on the lower Blue are major issue unfortunately.
Aug 28th, 2023 - John Esser from Madison but I have a cottage on Jones Lake (slough)
For those trying to paddle the Blue River from these upper areas to it's mouth, you will have problems with "log jams" in the lower areas plus it does not end on the Wisconsin River but flows into a slough where, if the water is high enough, you can paddle to the Wisconsin River. I've tried paddling up the Blue to the Wisconsin highway 133 bridge but the log jams are not passable unless one exits their boat on a log then pull the boat over the logs. The bank is too high so it's not possible to exit ones boat to go around the logs.
Aug 30th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Thanks for the update.
Aug 30th, 2020 - Zacgh from Black Earth Creek
Did the blue river yesterday (8/29) and a 172 CFS. Was sufficient probably 70 percent of the way but there was stretches that were leaving me wanting higher water levels. Other than a few cows later in the trip, one tree that was down (easy paddle to the side or under) crystal clear water and great weather. No fences, just 4 ribbons across the river that are high up and easy to get under.
Jun 25th, 2019 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Appreciate the updates. It does appear paddlers do prefer high flow rates when it comes to Snow Bottom. If you could share your pictures that would be great! Maybe upload them to an online service and I could insert the urls into your comment?
Jun 24th, 2019 - Martin Olson from Waupaca River
I just paddled the Blue River with a group of 24 on June 21, 2019. We put in at Snow Bottom Road which has an adequate parking lot. We put in just below the bridge. We took out at Shemak Road for a trip of 8.2 miles which took us about 4.5 hours to complete. The Platte River gauge was 320 CFS. Comparing the original post of 117 vs ours of 320 may not provide a reliable water gauge level for the Blue River. The water depth was adequate for this paddle, however I would not care to do it at a lower level. An additional 3 inches would have been ideal. We had one logjam to portage, cleared out a couple of other trees and had a couple of limbo trees. Overall we had a great time on this paddle. Wild Parsnip is everywhere, avoid this plant! I could submit a couple of photos for reference as well.
May 26th, 2019 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Thanks Jon for the update. I definitely think my 250 max estimate before was too low and will update my estimates with a reference to your summary.
May 26th, 2019 - Jon from Starkweather
Paddled Bluff Rd. to Shemak on 25May2019 (Aaron, feel free to add these comments to your Bowers to Shemak section if you like). Platte gauge was at 450 CFS @5.3 ft. We put in on the opposite bank from Aaron's photo because we saw the fishery access sign on that bank. Lots of debris was weighing down the old cattle gates. Until debris is removed, most paddlers would portage the gates, at least at these water levels. Some barbed wire was also weighed down with debris. We brought y-shaped lifting devices to help us sneak under (collapsible hot dog fork with a plastic handle for me, custom-made PVC "y-er" for companions). A few logjams, (mostly downstream from Bowers Rd.) One portage had lots of nettles, but I was wearing long pants. There was a fresh skin of mud along many stretches due to the river being higher the day before. This made the take-out at Shemak and some of the portages a bit slippery. We'd been hoping to catch the Blue with enough water in it, and the beautiful scenery and made it worth the portaging and fence lifting. Aaron, you might want to update your CFS guide (quoted below) to reflect our experience. We're by no means advanced whitewater paddlers. Backferrying and river reading skills help, but one of us was in a 12' Tribute (sporty rec boat with a keel). Shorter boats with more rocker help on most twisty/riffly streams. The Blue is seldom more than waist deep, so wading a boat to shore after tipping/swamping should be doable for many paddlers. (Yes, one of us hit a tree and swamped.) Aaron wrote: "251+ CFS: I assume these are near or at bank breaching levels. Maybe of interest for professional whitewater paddlers but for few others." As always, assess the risks and conditions to make sure your skills and boat are suited for your trip.
Apr 20th, 2019 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Appreciate the feedback Matt. The Blue River is one of my favorites...that one hill on the bike shuttle is pretty brutal though.
Apr 20th, 2019 - Matt from Black Earth Creek
Just found the website this year and this was my first paddle using your guides. CFS was 162 which was pretty good but we scrapped the bottom a little bit in the rapids. No portages were required. Had an amazing trip, the bike shuttle was fine except for one hill that we walked. Thanks for the guide.
Nov 25th, 2017 - admin
Appreciate the comment! More of the Blue River actually might be navigable...might try to explore the headwaters next spring. If you do Snow Bottom, consider leaving a comment letting readers know the latest conditions of this stretch.
Nov 24th, 2017 - Rich Bostwick
After doing the stretch upstream, which was way cool, I can't wait to do this one. Thanks for the great pics!
Oct 16th, 2017 - admin
Thanks for the comment and the heads up about my typo. Not sure how I missed that...
Oct 15th, 2017 - Rich Bostwick from Rock River
Hello! Thanks for bringing this wonderful waterway to my attention. We ran it today. Platte levels were @ 155 & we found that to be OK--no dragging, but a few bumps. Big deal. Can't wait to do another stretch. One small item--at the top of the post, it states the takeout to be Snow Bottom Road, should be Bowers Road. Love the pictures & video--very enticing! Thanks!!

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

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