Putting in below the Kilbourn dam

Not pictured, but an Amtrak train frequently runs atop that left bluff

The first of many ducks

This can be a popular section on summer days

Not a boat landing, but rather a private duck path

One of the nicer outcrops

Known as Hawks Bill

Several nice sandbars

Lot of tubers on the river

The famous Lake Delton breach

Entering the Sugar Bowl Grotto

Entering a cave

Not too big but neat

 
 

Wisconsin River – Lower Dells



Put-in: East of Mexicali-Rose
Take-out: Indian Trail Landing
Distance: 6.4 miles
Gradient: 1.3' per Mile

The best place to start a trip on the Lower Dells IMO is to just put in below the Kilbourn dam on the west bank. Here is where Rivers Edge Resort drops off kayakers/canoers/tubers (they do rentals/shuttles). It’s not a proper boat landing but rather a specialized tour-boat landing with a rail system…so probably won’t work for big boats, but is perfect for kayaks. Parking is free. The next three miles will be pretty scenic as you go through the cool areas of the lower Dells. Word of caution…this area can be busy in the summer. To avoid the power-boats, megaphones, and wake issues…consider travelling this section very early in the morning, on a weekday, or in the spring or fall. The tour jetboats are quite dangerous, as the wake they kick up is enormous and will flip you if you don’t take their wake head on (the boats can travel up to 50 mph and the boats are huge). Some jetboats will slow down for you (one driver announced on his speaker that kayaks were their kryptonite. So I suspect their may be some internal rules or even regulations determining how fast these monsters can buzz kayaks, but if there are, most ignore such rules. There boats are also serious hazards on the upper Dells as well. And because they are so fast, they can finish their trips/loops very quickly and you’ll end up seeing the same jetboat numerous times. After you pass the breach on your right you’ll come up on your first landing options. The new Newport landing will be just after Dell Creek and should be done by 2012. Should be very nice but costs the same.  (RIGHT next door is the private Rivers Edge Resort landing. They do shuttles and rentals…although they do charge money to use their landing.)

Taking out after Dell Creek shortens the trip too much IMO and you miss the Rocky Island Region (must-see). Keep floating around the big bend and then you’ll encounter the Rocky Island section. Very cool…there are little caves and coves you can kayak in. Make sure to check out all the little islands in the area. Again, tour boats can be a problem…so be vigilant. There is a sneaky private landing on the right shore (west shore) but this is completely private and I haven’t even included it on the below map. About a half-more mile and the lower Dells unofficially ends. River traffic calms down considerably as there are some shallow areas (minor-minor riffles in low water) that scare away the big boats and make this pleasant for kayaks. While nothing special, this section has nice sandbars and woods. You’ll come to a big bend where the river arches sharply to the right and here you can see evidence of the homes caught in the 2008 flood. Keep traveling a couple of miles to take out at the Indian Trail landing. This is difficult to spot, as it is blocked by an island and has to be accessed from the downstream side, but this isn’t too bad. Right across from the Indian Trail public landing is a public landing (more full boat ramp) on the east shore that I suppose you could use, although I think the shuttle route on the Sauk County side is more direct.

Webmaster’s Update:  One of the access points may costs money.  See comments below for details?

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


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Overview Map

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11 Comments to “Wisconsin River – Lower Dells”

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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)

    1. 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.

      1. Unfortunately this is the put-in on the West bank below the dam that you are referring to in your review.

        1. Drat…well paddlers could always launch on the east bank by the public sandbar with parking by the powerhouse.

  4. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

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

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