Wisconsin River

The Wisconsin generally speaking is pretty good for kayaking.  In Central Wisconsin dams are a serious impediment for paddlers, but from Wisconsin Dells to the mouth there are many great water trails to be enjoyed.  Highlights include scenic bluffs, sandstone outcrops, and huge sandbars.

Trip Reports

Biron Dam by Hwy 66 to Veterans Memorial Park


Date Paddled: October 4th, 2020
Distance: 4.4 miles (with side trips 6.4 miles)
Time: Expect 2 hours

This was a fun adventure that featured two dams, two paper mills, several scenic boulder gardens, and one tricky portage.

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Castle Rock Lake Dam to Two Rivers Landing


Date Paddled: August 12th, 2012
Distance: 10 Miles
Time:

This is a tweener section of the Wisconsin River between the string of dams up-north (which makes those sections largely un-kayakable) and the Dells.  While lacking the quantity of rock formations downstream, this is a pleasant section with mostly wooded banks, some development, and a number of sandbars and sloughs.  The start of this trip […]

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Two Rivers Landing to River Bay


Date Paddled: August 19th, 2012
Distance: 7 Miles
Time:

The most famous section of the Wisconsin River is in the Wisconsin Dells area.  This is commonly divided into ‘Lower Dells’ (below the Kilbourn Dam) and ‘Upper Dells’ (above the Kilbourn Dam).  And in the Upper Dells you can kind of divide that in half….this review will be about that upstream half.  The put in […]

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Town of Lyndon Landing to Black Hawk Island Landing


Date Paddled: September 8th, 2013
Distance: 6.5 Miles
Time: 8 hours (abnormally slow though)

Of the many areas in the Dells to paddle, this is the best and is a must paddle for Southern Wisconsinites.  In a previous review, I paddled the first half of the Upper Dells from Two Rivers landing to about halfway on the flowage lake (take-out at River Bay Campground).  For this trip, I’ll pick […]

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28th Ave to 28th Ave


Date Paddled: May 29th, 2010
Distance: 2.5 Miles
Time: 90 Minutes (estimate)

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 […]

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Hwy 12 Dam Launch to Indian Trails Landing


Date Paddled: June 13th, 2021
Distance: 6.0 miles
Time: Expect 3 hours

The Lower Dells is a classic water trail famous for its fantastic freestanding rock formations and even several caves you can paddle into.  Unfortunately, it is also very crowded, noisy, and features huge waves that are a big problem for paddlers.

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Pine Island Boat Ramp to Hwy 33 Access


Date Paddled: May 25th, 2020
Distance: 6.0 miles
Time: 3 hours 6 minutes

This is an obscure section of the Wisconsin River sandwiched between the Lower Dells and Portage.  It's not an elite stretch of the Wisconsin because of its lack of unique features...but it does have many nice sandbars.

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Dekorra Landing to James Whalen Memorial Park


Date Paddled: August 16th, 2020
Distance: 6.9 miles
Time: Expect 3 hours

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.

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Prairie du Sac Dam to Ferry Bluff or Arena


Date Paddled: August 13th, 2011
Distance: Ferry Bluff (8 Miles) or Arena (14 Miles)
Time: 3 Hours 20 Minutes (Ferry Bluff)

From the Prairie du Sac Dam to the Mississippi River is probably Wisconsin’s most popular all-around canoe and kayak destination (well…if not top, tied with the Kickapoo and St. Croix for popularity). A number of reasons why this section is so popular: It is not impeded by any dams Great sandbars (at least after Ferry […]

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Mazomanie Adlers Landing to Arena Public Boat Ramp


Date Paddled: August 8th, 2015
Distance: 9.65 miles (not bad because of how straight this is)
Time: 4 hours 46 minutes (without breaks you can do this under 4 hours)

A long overdue visit to the sandbar capitol of the state.  Terrific bluffs and sandbars make this a must paddle for those living in southern Wisconsin.

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Arena Landing to Hwy 14 Landing


Date Paddled: August 3rd, 2019
Distance: 8.3 miles
Time: 4 hours 50 minutes (3.5 hours would be more typical)

A return to the Lower Wisconsin with its broad waters and scenic grandeur.  This popular stretch is known for its sandbars and has one of the highest concentrations on the river.

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Lone Rock Boat Landing to Gotham Boat Landing


Date Paddled: August 7th, 2017
Distance: 8.3 miles
Time: 5 hours 13 minutes (3-4 hours is more typical)

One of the most scenic sections of the Lower Wisconsin that includes a 2.3 mile stretch of sandstone outcrops, huge sandbars, interesting sloughs, and impressive sand banks.

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Overview Map

Detailed Overview

  • 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 Trails Landing:  6.2 miles.
    • Dells Dam to Newport Park:  2.2 miles.  This is the heart of the famous Lower Dells with many scenic outcrops.  Unfortunately jet boats are a serious plague on this stretch.
    • Newport Park to Indian Trails Landing:  4.0 miles.  Features the famous "Sugar Bowl" and four super cool caves.  The outcrops soon disappear and this stretch is mostly uneventful (but peaceful) big river paddling.
  • Indian Trails Landing 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.

Nearby Guages

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Comments

Jul 25th, 2021 - Jon from Starkweather
I'd recommend these two outfitters. For trips that end in Spring Green: https://thebestcanoecompanyever.com/ They have a "next 4 days" forecast on this page: https://thebestcanoecompanyever.com/conditions/ For trips farther downstream: https://canoe-camping.com/ Traders seems to outfit the drinking and partying crowd more than the above outfitters, so their campground might be noisy?
Jul 21st, 2021 - Aaron from Dell Creek
The best camping locations are subjective. My favorites are the sandbars and you can see where these are from a satellite map. The best region is Mazo to Lone Rock. There are countless ideas you could try. If you prefer a "proper" campground the following is a good option. Day 1: Arena to Trader's Island Campground (8 miles - +16085887282...they can also shuttle you I think.) Then for day 2 you could do the campground to Lone Rock (9.5 miles).
Jul 21st, 2021 - Kate from Lake forest
Hello! Wow! This is definitely the most helpful website i have come across. Thank you for making it so detailed. Unfortunately I am still unsure which trip may be best for my family. I was thinking the lower wisconsin river but then read about the currents. Perhaps you could advise me on which might be the best fit for what we are hoping to do? My husband and I would like to take our 2 daughters on a 1 night camping canoe trip. Their ages are 7 and 9. (Would wear life jackets though are good swimmers). We would probably want the 2nd day shorter than the 1st. Campground preferred but sandbar works too. We are from Northern Illinois (near Kenosha) so somewhere in a 1-3hr drive or so. We would like to use an outfitter where we leave our car at put in and they will pick us up at the end and drive us back to our car. Do you have any suggestions for me on which river or river camp spots would be best options for us? There are just so many! Thank you very kindly.
Mar 30th, 2021 - Aaron from Dell Creek
You saw a campground on the Lower Dells? I honestly don't know. On the Upper Dells Holiday Shores Campground is located next to Witches Gulch.
Mar 30th, 2021 - Gwyn from Green Bay 54302
On the Ducks we saw lots of turtles on the shore, there also was a camp ground. Does anyone know the name of the camp grounds? Or where this is located so we could explore. Thanks so much.
Nov 25th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Thanks for the tips. The put-in you refer to is pretty good...but it would mean a longer trip. I need to scout the new take-out by Illinois Ave. Another option would be to take out at the dam itself...just take out by the portage path on the left and hike up the public parking lot (but it would be a long hike).
Nov 25th, 2020 - Eric Guderyon from Wingra Creek
I do this trip with slightly different put-in and takeout that I think makes for even a better trip as it cuts off some of the lake paddling and you start directly across for Witches Gulch. It is about a 2-3 hour paddle, and the shuttle is only about 4 miles so it makes for a great bike shuttle, plus both the launch and take out are free and open to the public,a rarity in the Dells area. I recommend putting in at the Upper Dells Kayak launch and taking out at the Illinois St Bridge at the mouth of Crandall's Bay, just before the dam.. The put in is marked as "61st landing" on your map, and is a really beautiful place to launch,as it has a nice level beach in a fairly sheltered cove. It is DNR land with facilities, a big paved parking lot, and an old paved road down to the water, but it appears to be closed at the present time. I am not sure if it is due to covid 19, or budget cuts, but all the buildings are locked and the gate to the big parking is chained and locked. There is another small parking lot just outside the main gate with room for 6-8 cars and room for more cars along the road. It is about a 300 yard walk to the landing, and you have to go around 2 gates, but it is all downhill on an old blacktop road, so it is really quite easy if you have a cart. The fantastic scenery starts right at the launch and is non stop for the entire trip with lots of stuff to explore. I have only done this trip in the late fall, after the tourist season is pretty much over, so I can’t speak to what it would be like in high season,with Jet boats,Ducks, and tour boats, but on a sunny late fall day it is a truly spectacular trip. An additional thing to note is that this trip includes an area called the Narrows, that can be a bit turbulent in certain conditions. Luckily this section can be easily avoided by simply going around Black Hawk Island. The take out will be on river left, once you see the dam and start seeing buildings, you can either go under the Illinois St Bridge and then left into a little marina where they have a nice floating kayak launch, or just before the bridge there is a small beach that is just steps a small free parking lot.
Nov 15th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Worst case scenario, you just launch on the opposite side of the river by the public beach. Great to hear that you had a nice trip without those annoying tour boats. Fall is really the optimal time to experience the Dells.
Nov 15th, 2020 - Eric Guderyon from Wingra
Did this trip on 11/7/20, we put in at the same place you did, behind and down river a bit from Bella Goose Coffee shop, by the docks for Dells Boat tours, and took out at Indian Trails take out. As it was Nov there were no tour boats operating and there were only a few people fishing so it was an easy place to launch, in high season I am not sure you are allowed to park/launch at this spot. But during high season, if you were just stopping for a cup of coffee, and happen to unload your, and then drive down to the take out, I don't know if any would/could stop you. We did a bike shuttle, easy trip 4-5 miles, fairly flat, most of it on small roads, bike trials, just a short section on Cty A, but it has a nice shoulder. This section is so beautiful it really should be enjoyed in peace and quiet, so it is worth the effort and planning to do it early or late in the year when there will be no jet boats, no ducks, no boat tours. 2 hrs on the water, 20 min bike shuttle. The landing is a bit hard to see from the water, but there is a big boat launch right across the river that can be used as a landmark to find takeout.
Jul 13th, 2020 - christen Kirby from Fox river
I am getting ready to do this trip. I am camping along the way. I have taken 2 nights to allow me enough time for this. I am currently studying maps for this. My first long trip
Jul 7th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
I honestly don't know. I will say that most of the fishermen we saw were below the dam...so I assume if there is good fishing it is there.
Jul 7th, 2020 - Chris from DuPage River
How is the fishing on this part of the river for smallmouth and pike?
Apr 14th, 2019 - Aaron from Dell Creek
From the Dells dam to Portage would be 22 miles...an extremely long trip that I haven't done. This section is plenty navigable with nice sandbars at lower levels...but no outcrops and some interstate noise. It is on my todo list. I suggest subdividing this trip based on my overview map above...or to turn it into a camping trip (but only when levels are low enough for sandbars). You do this, let me know how it turns out.
Apr 14th, 2019 - Ali Reigstad from Arlington
Wondering if you have ever traveled the river all the way down to Portage. Interested in a trip from the Dells to Pawquette Park in portage just north of where Hwy 33 crosses the river. Some areas look quite shallow. Do you know if this is doable? Thanks!
Jul 18th, 2018 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Drat...well paddlers could always launch on the east bank by the public sandbar with parking by the powerhouse.
Jul 18th, 2018 - Jay from Wisconsin Dells
Unfortunately this is the put-in on the West bank below the dam that you are referring to in your review.
Jul 17th, 2018 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Is this the put-in or the take-out? I just checked the put-in and didn't see any signs restricting access. If the put-in, paddlers could always launch across the river on the east by the portage path. Not as nice, but doable and public. If the take-out, paddlers can completely skip Riverview and use the neighboring public launch instead. They just have to be careful not to park in the trailing parking lot.
Jul 17th, 2018 - Jay from Wisconsin Dells
The ramp at the lower Dells is not a public launch. It is actually owned by the Riverview Company and they lease it to a new Kayak and canoe rental place. This new company allows launching but at a $5 per kayak fee or they also offer to pick you and your kayak up and return you to your car for $15 per kayak (launch fee included)
Oct 2nd, 2017 - admin
Thanks for the info Karen! I might have to take you up on your offer. By chance, do you know if though if the public can access the rock or would they have to get permission from the campsite or a camper?
Oct 2nd, 2017 - Karen Schmit
I can tell you exactly how to find the Castle Rock formation, and yes, there is a path! I walk around it very often, as it is located at the campground where I have my permanent site. I've seen Eagles, Great Blue Herons, Deer, turtles, snakes, otters, and more. There's even a few wolves that live up on "The Rock"...even a family of coyotes nearby that I often hear at night!
Apr 10th, 2017 - admin
Thanks for the great comment! Yes it is so tragic that that landing was shut down as its location was so important. Ironic as this is technically government land and should be public anyways.
Apr 10th, 2017 - Sam Peterson from Eau Claire - Chippewa River
For the last few weeks my partner and I were planning a paddle on the Wisconsin River. We had seen a few beautiful photos online from the water, including the glens like Witches Gulch and Coldwater Canyon, and knew we needed to check this place out. Your blog post was BY FAR the most helpful resource we could find! There's so little information out there about this waterway... and not unintentionally, I think. The boat tour industry certainly seems to have a monopoly on the area. Thank you so very much for all the photos and detail you provided about this trip. We went this past Friday and I already want to go back. By the way, the take-out beside Blackhawk Island is indeed inaccessible now. We went to check it out first and a fence has been built there. Ironically, when we pulled up with our kayaks atop the car, a gentlemen waved us down and told us about how he'd enjoyed this paddle many times, but on his most recent trip, he actually got arrested for trespassing at the landing. What a ridiculous shame, in my opinion. You'd think law enforcement would have higher priorities to attend to. Anyways, I digress. The river was even more gorgeous than we thought it would be. Thanks again for your resource, it was a fantastic help!
Jun 22nd, 2016 - admin
Hi Sharon, Yes, you can access Stand Rock (west shore) and Witches Gulch (east shore) from direct inland access points. Access to these areas is administrated by "Dells Boat Tours" and you can call them at 608-254-7227 for more information. There are small access roads leading to each. I'll email you specific map locations here in a bit.
Jun 22nd, 2016 - Sharon Shepherd from Chattahoochee river
Hi, We are headed to the dells this july. I notice you say that we can access Standing Rock &another cool site via a road for a small fee. I cannot find any information on how to do that. Can you direct me to a site that would help? Loved your photos and greatly appreciate your detailed info. Best, sharon Shepherd
Feb 28th, 2016 - admin
Hi James, Are you referring to Dekorra Park by the Baraboo River? If so, that is a long trip from the Dells! I have used that landing but can't recall if there are overnight restrictions. You might consider contacting the Wisconsin DNR to ask about this landing's rules. Hooker's resort is a competing privatizing landing next door that you could contact and they might be able to answer your questions. (608) 635-7867. Plenty of other take-out options in the area (two by the Baraboo River and numerous landings by Lake Wisconsin outlet). Let me know if you have any other questions, Aaron
Feb 28th, 2016 - James T from Aurora
Do you ever use the public boat launch at Dekorra? There's a parking lot across the street, Just curious if it's available for overnight parking on a multiday excursion
Feb 16th, 2016 - admin
It was done in 2012, and I'm fairly certain he is still there. It is an unfortunate situation because of the lack of public public access points on the Wisconsin River here until you get to the Lemonweir River. I suppose you could launch from the lake and portage the dam, but I'm not sure that would be fun.
Feb 16th, 2016 - james from Aurora
When was this trip taken? Curious if the troll is still collecting his toll?
Oct 6th, 2015 - admin
Thanks for the comment Robert! Am definitely looking forward to doing this section in the future. As far as wildlife goes, it's mostly timing really. I recently did the Yellow River which seemed kind of dead as well. The main reason being that so many birds have migrated south already. I'm sure things are much more interesting in the spring and summer.
Oct 6th, 2015 - Robert VandenBroeke from Colorado River
I paddled the Wisconsin River from Blue River down to Boscobel with my new packraft. It was a very enjoyable trip. I did have to get out and walk once. I was hoping to see more wildlife though, so that was a little disappointing. I plan on coming back next year to float the Kickapoo.

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

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