Sugar River

This is a popular river with Madison locals.  The best parts of the river are those upstream of Paoli.

Trip Reports

White Crossing Road to Valley Road

Date Paddled: October 22nd, 2018
Distance: 4.9 miles
Time: 3 hours 7 minutes

This is about as far upstream as you can paddle on the Sugar River.  Although not super exotic, this is still a pleasant paddle through open grasslands and marsh.


Hwy 69 to Hwy A

Date Paddled: September 19th, 2021
Distance: 7.7 Miles
Time: 5 hours with a long lunch break

A guest review for the Sugar River near Paoli.


Hwy 69 Landing to Highway A

Date Paddled: July 2nd, 2016
Distance: 7.7 Miles
Time: 4 hours 15 minutes

A surprisingly nice paddle on the upper Sugar.  A narrow channel, lush wooded banks, and up-tempo current make this a worthwhile trip.


Hwy A to Belleville Community Park

Date Paddled: July 2nd, 2022
Distance: 6.6 miles
Time: Expect 2-3 hours

This stretch of the Upper Sugar starts nice, but gets less interesting as it approaches the Belleville Dam.


Belleville Community Park to Exeter Park

Date Paddled: August 31st, 2019
Distance: 4.7 miles
Time: 3 hours 36 minutes (2.5 hours would be more typical)

This is one of the nicer water trails on the Sugar River.  Highlights include great access points, a few surprise sandbars, and an attractive wooded section.


Overview Map

Detailed Overview

Nearby Guages



Aug 19th, 2022 - Jilayne S Paley from Platteville
We have a kayak group based out of Platteville but kayak everywhere within a 2 hour radius. There are usually 3-10 paddlers every week. We would love to include you. We usually paddle in Mondays but fit in a few weekend paddles too. We have lots of info on great options. Please contact me!
Apr 29th, 2022 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Other than that ledge, it sounds like a great section. It's now on my todo list!
Apr 29th, 2022 - Ryan from Sugar River
Just for curiosity's sake I decided to try a pretty far upstream segment of the Sugar River, from County Highway J (Riley) to White Crossing Road. To my surprise, there are signs someone has cleared the largest obstructions on multiple occasions, some possibly fairly recently based on the color of the sawn wood. I was able to get through without having to portage or get out of my kayak (wouldn't recommend a canoe). I did have a mishap in one place where there's a drop of a foot or two through a narrow opening without room for doing anything with a kayak paddle - the current hustled me under the riverbank before I could change direction, where I was able to hold out for several seconds but ultimately turned my vessel into a bathtub while attempting to extricate myself. A few bumps and scratches otherwise. I wouldn't recommend it to most.
Jul 18th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Appreciate the update. If viable a hiking shuttle on the Sugar would be pretty cool.
Jul 18th, 2020 - Jon from Starkweather Creek
We paddled from Riverside Rd. to Canal Street in Paoli on 17July2020, 115CFS at 3.6 ft. More folks on the river than I would have expected on a Friday afternoon, including two people in a giant float tube. Paddling time was a little under two hours. I was impressed by the water quality improvement projects, brush along the streambank and large rocks for erosion control downstream from the Bruce Company. An angler we passed reported catching two brown trout near Paoli. Sugar River Outfitters says Valley View Rd. to Paoli is clear, but he hasn't heard first hand reports about Bobcat Ln. to Valley View. Here are links to maps. The Capitol Water Trails one shows a hiking trail that I plan to walk. (Walkable shuttle route for a patient paddler??)
Jun 9th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Great to hear this section is in good shape. I believe the preceding section might have a cattle fence that might not be circumnavigable though. As always, I appreciate the updates.
Jun 8th, 2020 - Eric Guderyon from Wingra Creek
I did the section from 69 to A today and had a great time. The river was 85 CFS/ 3.45 ft, and was very cloudy which was surprising because it has been a while since our last good rain. The section from the Paoli landing to Bosco was surprisingly nice, lots or rifles, good mix of open farmland and tree lined banks. There was only one cattle gate that was easy to duck under but could be a problem at higher levels as it is not just a wire or cable but a flat piece of metal that could be dangerous if hit at speed or unaware. But other than a few duck unders, some low hanging limbs and one easy mandatory portage at a small log jam, the river is open all the way to Bosco. We did a shuttle that was easy and pretty thanks to the Ice National Scenic trail that is right there and is an alternative to using hwy 69 or PB to get back to Paoli, you can then take Ridge Rd to Sunset Lane which will take you to 69 just north of the put-in . There is a shortcut you can take off the trail right before the bridge under Scenic Valley Parkway. As soon as you see the bridge start looking for a small dirt path on your right, it leads to an unnamed farm road that will take you up to Scenic Valley Parkway, if you miss it don't worry, there is a driveway 200 yards past the bridge that will also take you up to Scenic Valley Parkway
Aug 18th, 2019 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Ugh...pretty bad news. The Sugar has been beat up pretty bad by highwater this year. Hopefully this will improve in the future. Thanks for the feedback.
Aug 17th, 2019 - Big Red from Yahara
Did the section from Falk Wells to the County A takeout on 8/17/2019. A number of deadfall trees that needed to be portaged, including a section where a large screen TV was dumped in the river. One of the cattle gates is no longer passable and had to be portaged. A deadfall tree has landed in the middle of the section of the cattle gate and forces a tricky portage to the paddler's left. Due to water levels and deadfall I wouldn't recommend this section at the present time. Riverside road to Paoli is still in good shape.
Mar 4th, 2019 - Lauren from sugar/badfish
Ok. Thanks, anyway.
Feb 27th, 2019 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Hi Lauren, unfortunately no, that missing paddle wasn't that brand or color.
Feb 26th, 2019 - Lauren from Sugar & badfish
Love your website! I’m very happy to have stumbled upon it last year. I’ve done this stretch multiple times and lost a black whisper paddle. Does that fit the description?
Jun 13th, 2018 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Hi Michele, I highly recommend joining a paddling club. is the largest in southern Wisconsin and they frequently do trips in the SW part of the state.
Jun 12th, 2018 - Michele Nungesser from Cadiz park in Browntown
I am looking for people to go kayaking with. I have one friend in town that kayaks with me but would like to get with other people who enjoy the same thing I do. Madison is too far for me to drive and have checked with Dubuque and Platteville about kayak groups but know luck. If u have any suggestions please let me know thank you-
Jul 3rd, 2017 - admin
Really appreciate the review!
Jul 3rd, 2017 - LBkayaker
This is a really nice river to paddle. The only reason I give it 4.5 instead of 5 stars is the put-in at Bobcat Rd. It is extremely muddy, and not a lot of room to maneuver. We hired Kelly from Sugar River Outfitters LLC to shuttle us with our Eddyline kayaks to Bobcat Rd. He is prompt and professional, and very knowledgeable about the river and the area. Volunteers clean up the river, so one can easily maneuver around some downed trees. The current is good, and the water deep enough so that we didn't have to get out and portage. It is approximately 8 miles from put-in to take-out in the village of Paoli. The best part of the trip is that upon take out you can have a beer and listen to music on the patio at the Hop Garden Tap Room ! It doesn't get any better than that! Put-in: Bobcat Road Take-out: Paoli Time: 3.5 Hours Date Paddled: 07/02/2017 Depth: 3 feet

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

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