Wisconsin River – Castle Rock
Put-in: Castle Rock Lake Dam
Take-out: Two Rivers Landing
Distance: 10 Miles
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 is at the Castle Rock Lake dam (not accessible from the west…see map). While most of this property seems to be owned by the power company and largely set aside for public use as an apology for their massive eminent domain use in the 40’s…the landing itself is apparently ‘private’ and costs three dollars per person. A person/troll lives in a bait-shop next to the landing and chases (literally) down cars as soon as they enter for their ‘shakedown fee’. There aren’t a lot of options outside of this landing. You could put in on the lake and portage the dam (see photo-gallery for the portage path)…but Castle Rock Lake can be pretty mean and many of the Castle Rock Lake landings charge even more than this racket. The only public landing (a very nice one) downstream is the Two Rivers landing, but that is at the end of the route. Back to the dam…there are two ‘ramps’. One is a main boat ramp…that I didn’t see kayakers use…and then there is ramp into a small creek that quickly feeds into the Wisconsin. This appears to collect water that seeps under the Castle Rock Lake dike. Very clean creek with a mini-waterfall, but quite cold. There is a bathroom at this landing if you need it.
After you get into the water, you probably won’t see that many power boaters (because, again, the lack of good public access). This is open water, so obviously you will want to monitor the wind direction and speed, and avoid a trip like this if you are paddling into a strong headwind. There is a decent amount of wildlife on this section. We saw turtles, eagles, and fish. While again…this isn’t like the Dells…there are occasional bluffs. The first you will see on the west bank soon after leaving the dam. There is, I believe, a famous ‘Castle Rock’ formation on the west bank that is not visible from the water but supposedly there is a walking path to it from the water, per Mike Svob. I never did find this.
About three miles downstream, you’ll see one of Point Bluff’s put-ins on the east bank. This is primarily used for tubers. I believe they have another take-out on the east bank a few miles down…and then their main landing is 7 miles downstream from the dam. They are an option for rentals/shuttles/landings. If I remember correctly…they charge 45 dollars per shuttle/person (same if you have your own boat). To just use their landing, they charge five dollars per person (then, if you put in at the dam, you’ll pay the ‘dam master’ 3 dollars per person additionally). While the dam fee is unavoidable of sorts, a free downstream alternative to the private landing is the public Two Rivers Landing, which I recommend.
Getting back to the upstream part of the river… If you go on a weekend, you will probably see a ton of tubers on the water after the first Point Bluff. While it perhaps looks relaxing, this is not a good thing for kayakers. Most tubers are slow moving (which means you will encounter a lot of them), most are quite drunk, most are quite noisy, and they will use up the best sandbars. You will lose a certain percentage at Point Bluff’s west landing a few miles down…then all of them at Point Bluff resort itself. Just upstream from their landing, there is a cool rock formation on the east bank with a trail system that runs along the rock face. This is definitely worth exploring.
After Point Bluff, the remaining three miles to the Two Rivers landing (mouth of the Lemonweir) are quite pleasant, with few others on the river. There are plenty of islands and channels to zip around and decent sandbars to take a break on. Stay to your right and you’ll see a channel that leads to a massive rock formation (you can’t miss it, even if you take a left channel). This is unofficially the start of the Dells and is a cool formation to check out. On your right and a little upstream on the Lemonweir (it’s kind of hidey) will be the main landing. This landing is quite nice, with adequate parking and bathrooms and doesn’t cost anything. By taking out at Two Rivers instead of Point Bluff you extend the trip from 7 miles to 10 miles, but it is worth it IMO, as this is the best section of the river with a great bluff at the end.
Other Wisconsin River Trips:
- 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 might be inaccessible now.
- 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 Tipperary Road/Washington Street Landing: 4.7 miles. A nice section with rock outcrops, large island deltas and sandbars. Unfortunately this part of the river is INSANELY congested and overrun by motorboats on summer weekends. Many alternate access options.
- Tipperary Road to Prairie du Sac Dam: 13.2 miles. The river turns into “Lake Wisconsin” here. An inadvisable section due to the amount of open water paddling required.
- 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 mile. 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.
For an expanded list of liveries for the Lower Wisconsin, see my livery map here.
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