Wisconsin River
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Wisconsin River map

The 430-mile Wisconsin River is the longest river in Wisconsin. It begins as a small stream at the Lac Vieux Desert dam and flows diagonally southwest across Wisconsin to the Mississippi River just south of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

 

Link to river info

Canoe map info

 

430 miles long

Started September 13, 2009 at Wisconsin/Michigan border

Basin covers 1/5 of the state through 25 counties

Drops 1,067 feet

The Game Plan

It’s mid-September, the leaves are starting to turn and it’s time to canoe the Wisconsin River. This river begins near the border of Upper Michigan with its headwaters, Lac Vieux Desert, which is actually in Upper Michigan.

Jim Woodruff will be following me on his blog. If you followed my Hugh Heward adventure you will remember Jim as the Topologist who did such a great job following all those that did this challenge. He’s become a good friend and I know you will enjoy his blog

 

  • Oops - already missed a turn!
  • I'm here!
  • Lac Vieux Desert Dam
  • Sign
  • Lac Vieux Desert - start of the Wisconsin
  • This is the US 45 bridge I had planned to start at - five miles downstream
  • Actually, I started here, on the other side of the culverts
  • The journey begins as a small creek
  • Very peaceful - reminds me of the Brule River back home
  • Another bridge to go under
  • First of many kayakers and canoeists that I will see today
  • Trees are beginning to change colors
  • Typical campsite along this section of river
  • WI River
  • Just another obstacle to go around
  • No, I do not have a permit
  • River widens as I get closer to Eagle River
  • WI River
  • Scene
  • Below Otter Dam
  • Another peaceful morning
  • Canoe rental outfit along Hwy 70
  • Notice how low the water level is
  • Rainbow flowage - the first of many flowages I will cross
  • Rainbow Dam
  • Canoe portage around Rainbow Dam
  • On the river between Rainbow Dam and Rhinelander
  • Just another beautiful day
  • Coming into Rhinelander Dam
  • Somewhere between Merrill and Wausau
  • Just beautiful
  • Below the Mosinee Dam
  • Scene from the canoe
  • Another bridge to go under
  • Scene
  • I believe this is the Du Bay Dam
  • Whiting Dam
  • Scene
  • Looks like it's going to be a tough start this morning - you are looking at the river through fog and I am in my canoe
  • Taking a short break - don't tell anyone
  • Beautiful landscaped home
  • My friend Ken McGrath in Wisconsin Rapids
  • This is Kerry at my put-in outside Nekoosa - he warned me about the green algae on the Petenwell flowage
  • On the Petenwell flowage
  • This is the algae Cary was warning me about - very toxic
  • These people are originally from Nekoosa and are good friends with my good friends Ed and Joanne Krcmar
  • Notice how thick the algae is
  • Another great morning
  • I did not pay
  • Below the Castle Rock Dam
  • More green algae on Castle Rock flowage
  • My put-in below Wisconsin Dells
  • Kilbourn Dam at Wisconsin Dells
  • On the river below Wisconsin Dells
  • Scene
  • These three are good friends of another friend of mine - Dean Johnson who was originally from Superior
  • One of the many beautiful rock formations in the Dells area
  • Here comes a Wisconsin Duck
  • There goes a Wisconsin Duck
  • Interesting way this guy gets to the river
  • Just beautiful
  • Scene
  • Scene
  • Scene
  • Wisconsin Duck coming out of the water
  • Last of the dells rock formations
  • Scene
  • Another beautiful scene
  • Campers between the dells and Portage
  • I-94 outside of Portage
  • On Lake Wisconsin
  • Merrimac ferry crossing Lake Wisconsin
  • Close-up of the Merrimac Ferry
  • Merrimac Ferry landing
  • One of many beautiful homes on Lake Wisconsin
  • Golf course near Prairie du Sac
  • Prairie du Sac Dam
  • Tailgating at the Packers game
  • More tailgating
  • Packers Fan
  • Pre-game at the Packers-Bengals game
  • Jet fly-over before the game
  • Start of the game
  • Jim McIntyre and Ken McGrath after the game - the three of us go back to kindergarden
  • Jim McIntyre and the old Coach
  • Ken McGrath and Coach
  • Back on the river heading for the Mississippi - no more dams!
  • Campers along the lower Wisconsin
  • Scene
  • Stuck on a sandbar - not the first time, not the last
  • Scene
  • Just another beautiful day - this is the weather I've had for the whole trip
  • Scene
  • Scene
  • Scene
  • My last campsite before I leave the river to go to Branson with LuAnn and the Wrights - notice that it is still daylight and I've stopped
  • Heading home for the Branson trip but still have 50+ miles to do
  • Sign
  • Just another bridge to go under
  • Nice colors - Wish I had my good camera - Using a box camera
  • Just beautiful
  • Scene
  • Went down the wrong channel and had to drag my canoe across this sandbar
  • It was not a short drag!
  • Last highway bridge at Bridgeport, WI
  • Getting closer to the Mississippi
  • Last railroad bridge to go under
  • Entering the Mississippi from the mouth of the Wisconsin - 430 miles completed
  • Making my turn onto the Mississippi - People on shore are working on their duck blind
  • Coming into Wyalusing State Park - THE FINISH LINE!
  • From overlook - Looking at Prairie du Chien
  • From overlook - Looking across the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers
  • Another overlook picture
  • At the overlook with both rivers in background
 

On the Wisconsin River

THE GAME PLAN

As usual there will not be much of a game plan other than I must be back on the 23rd of September because my wife LuAnn and I will be heading to Branson for a short vacation. So, once again there will be little time to smell the lily pads!

I will need to average around 50 miles a day in order to finish on the 23rd. Normally 50 miles is not that tough to do under normal conditions, but the Wisconsin is basically an industrial hydro-power and paper mill river and I will encounter 26 dams I will need to portage around. Behind each of these dams will be backwater flowages.

So basically for much of the river it will be like paddling on a lake with little current to help one along. Most likely I will be putting in some long paddling days to maintain a 50 mile average.

My gear is packed; I have my road map, some portage information and canoe on top of the car. I will head out tomorrow for Eagle River, Wisconsin and the headwaters of the Wisconsin River.

Although it will be a late start tomorrow, for I have a golf tournament tomorrow morning and will need a quick trip in the opposite direction to Somerset, WI. It’s our grandson Rory’s 6th birthday tomorrow and no way will I miss it.

I do hope to be paddling on Sunday September 13.

Sunday September 13th: Headwaters of the Wisconsin River - Lac View Desert to near Eagle River, Wisconsin

Rory’s birthday party was great.  The golf tournament - well, I could have played a whole lot better.

I did not get started to Eagle River until around 6:30 last evening and got as far as Ladysmith, Wisconsin and found a nice cheap motel. I was on the road by 6:00 AM and made it to Eagle River by mid-morning.

I stopped at McDonalds for breakfast and got some local information on the river. Everyone I talked to felt the water would be too low to paddle at the headwaters. In the Eagle River area the water is down 6 to 8 feet and up at the headwaters the Wisconsin is only a small creek. The consensus was that I should go to the landing on Highway 20 about 5 miles from the headwaters and enter there, so I was off.

I got to the landing and found the water to be about a foot or so deep and maybe 10 feet wide, plenty good to paddle. I started to unload my gear only to notice a canoe coming from above. I asked the couple where they started and they said at the headwaters. They said they had to pull their canoe around some beaver dams only in a couple of places and that the water was high enough to paddle because they were letting water out at the dam.

Okay, back went my gear in the car and I was off to the headwaters. On the way I made a quick call to let the guys I met at McDonalds know I was going start at the headwaters.

Remember earlier when I said I had few plans for this trip? Well, one thing not planned was how I was going to get back to my car or get my car down to the end. Back-up plan is to call my old buddy, Jim McIntyre from Racine to help me out. If you’ve followed some of my Atlantic to Pacific journal and this spring’s Hugh Heward Challenge, Jim was the one doing a lot of shuttling me around on those two adventures.

Turns out I will not have to call him for the problem has already been taken care of. At McDonalds I met some guys who were on a week fishing trip in the area. They were from Wausau and Portage, Wisconsin and after talking with them and finding out I knew some of the same people they did through my coaching days, they offered to drive my car back. Plan was when they left they would drive it back home and eventually get it over to Prairie du Sac which wasn’t that far from them and leave it in the WalMart parking lot. Why Prairie du Sac rather than at the end? Well, that’s another part of the trip. Next Saturday I need to get over to Green Bay to meet my friend Jim and another long time friend, Ken McGrath. Each year the three of us get together for a Packers game and this happens to be the weekend. I figure I will be able to make it to Prairie du Sac by then. If not I should be close and should be able to find a ride.

All problems solved for now, time to get paddling!

I finally got paddling around 11:30 AM. At the headwaters there was a small parking lot and a trail leading over to the headwaters. The river was basically a small creek which crossed the road I came in on, through two small culverts that one could not paddle through. I followed the trail to the headwaters and found a nice camping area next to Lac View Desert and the small dam which was the Wisconsin River headwaters. I took a few pictures, then went back to the car and unloaded my gear. (Because it was only 100 yds to the culverts I decided to put in on the other side of them.)

I was off. Another adventure begins and what a beginning. Leaves are starting to change, weather is perfect and I’m doing what I like to do.

It is hard to imagine that eventually this small creek would become a major industrial river. Right now it reminds me of the Brule River back home. The Brule is a famous wilderness canoe river back home and the first 35 miles of this river is much the same.

I met a number of day paddlers as I wound my way down the river. There were a few nice camping areas in this stretch, but of course I came upon them well before I could stop. My goal was to get as close to Eagle River, WI and State Highway 70 as possible and that was 40 miles away.

By dark I was getting close, but now I was past the camping areas and more into private river homes. I kept paddling well past dark until I was tired of bumping into logs and such. Eventually I pulled over to a cabin. There was no one around so I decided to throw my tarp down next to the cabin's dock and call it a day. No need for a tent, I just grabbed my sleeping bag and crawled in. Stars were out and as I stared at the Big Dipper I thought, "What a start!" Also thought, “I hope if the owners of this cabin happen to show up that they are understanding!”

Monday - September 14th: Close to State Highway 70 to Lake Alice and Kings Dam

What a great start to this trip. Yesterday I got in more miles than I thought, close to 40. Able to do that because I had more river current than I expected and of course paddling into the night a little helped.

Very peaceful evening last night. There were no visitors so I did not get caught for trespassing and I’m leaving right at daybreak before anyone does show up. Sleeping bag is a little damp so I strapped it to the front hull of the canoe until it dries out. Looks like another beautiful day.

It did not take long to get to State Highway 70 and my first dam, Otter Rapids. The paddle across my first flowage, Watersmeet Lake was easy - not hardly a ripple. Also it was just a short easy 500’ portage around Otter Rapids. Sure hope the rest are this easy, but I know better.

Once around Otter Rapids Dam I once again had some current . Lots of boulders in this section of the river as it parallels State Highway 70.

From Otter Rapids Dam to Rainbow Dam is only 7 miles so my river paddling was short lived as I was soon into the 4,165 acre Rainbow Reservoir. Once again it was a piece of cake crossing this body of water with only a slight breeze and that was at my back. Also, another easy portage around the dam.

I now have 20 miles to Rhinelander and the Rhinelander Dam. The first 10 was a very nice river paddle with the river being bordered on both sides by a nice mix of hardwoods with their leaves beginning to turn and the green of fir trees. Just a great setting. As I got closer to Rhinelander I first had to work my way through seven or so miles of wild rice fields and then across the Rhinelander Flowage. All went without a hitch as the slight breeze was still at my back. I again was making better time than expected and felt I had a chance to get well past Rhinelander today with the goal being Kings Dam which is at the 104 mile mark and would make for a 60-plus mile day. If I could do that I would be on schedule for my 50 mile daily average. Conditions are good and I feel good so we will try.

Portage around the Rhinelander Dam was not so easy and I was glad I had my bike trailer system. Here’s the description of how to do it from the info I got off the internet. “Access to the shorter portage route (about 1/3 mile) is gated but typically open during normal business hours (call 715 369-4241) ahead for access anytime) or about a mile long route goes along city streets (take out on left, put-in on right).

My route: Gate was closed, no answer when I called. So I put my bike together and as I was doing so, a person told me to go around the left rather than the right and put in below Trigs Grocery Store. Long story short, I did not find any place to put in below the grocery store so ended up biking to US Highway 8 and putting in behind a motel.

Off again and within 5 miles I was again at a damn - dam, the Hat Rapids Dam. This was an easy portage of 500’. Once around I had about 7 miles of a very scenic and quick paddle through light rapids to Whirlpool Rapids which was considered Class Two rapids, but was more like Class One, although fun.

Soon past the rapids the water began to slow as I approached Lake Alice and Kings Dam. It was getting late, but once again I’d made some great time, even with the damn - dam portages! At about 8:00 I called it a day not far from the dam and found a nice cozy spot for my tarp and crawled in my sleeping bag. Another great day under perfect conditions, although I am a little tired! Tomorrow…. we will slow down.

Tuesday - September 15th: Kings Dam to North of Wausau

Another beautiful evening and good start to the day. Easily got around Kings Dam and it was a short paddle to Hwy U S 51 just outside Tomahawk, WI and the start of another flowage, Lake Mohawksin. Many homes along this lake.

Goal is to get as close to Wausau as possible. To do so I will have five more dams to work around which is getting annoying. I was hoping for a shorter day, but as my friend Jim McIntyre would say to me, “Always got to get those miles, always got to get those miles!” The dams and flowages really slow one down so to get my 50 miles it could be another long day. We will see.

THE DAM DAY!

The Tomahawk Dam was not bad to get around, maybe because it was early in the morning. Then it was about seven miles to Grandmother Dam which was an easy paddle with decent river current with a small flowage to cross just before the dam. This was a little more difficult to get around because I needed to work my way down some wooden steps below the power plant.

Next came Grandfather Dam which was interesting. Just before the dam you took a channel on the left that went around the main dam to a smaller dam. Here I needed to hook up my bike trail and go about a half mile along a trail before I could re-enter the water.

Once on the water I again had some decent current and encountered a number of easy rapids to paddle through before entry to the Alexander Flowage. Again, every flowage I cross today was easy for I still had no wind or waves to contend with. Just the darn dams!

Alexander Dam was another bike and trailer trip through a state park and down a trail. Then it was a long steep descent to the river over broken concrete.

Once on the river I again had decent river current until I approached Merrill, WI.

I was thinking of stopping here for I was tired, but I was only at the about the 140 mile mark so I need another 10 to maintain my 50 mile average. So on I went. Once again I hooked up my bike trailer and worked my way around the Merrill Dam to Riverside Park just below the dam.

Here again I had some decent current which made the 10 or so miles to the outskirts of Wausau a quicker paddle than I figured. Which was good because when I found a little spot where I could throw my tarp and sleeping bag down for the night, it was once again dark!

All in all it was a very good day. Each dam had its challenges, but the paddle between each was very enjoyable. Excellent scenery on the river sections and many beautiful homes along the many flowages.

Tomorrow the goal is to get to Stevens Point and take a motel and maybe a little earlier stop. For now it’s time to find the Big Dipper.

Wednesday - September 16th: North of Wausau to Stevens Point

Again just a very nice night and it looks like another great day.

It did not take long to get to the Wausau Dam and the Rothschild Dam was in three miles with what looked like a difficult portage so I decided to bike portage around both dams. I entered at the Domtar boat landing below the Rothschild Dam making for about a six to seven mile portage.

Once back in the water I had a nice current to paddle for about 3 or 4 miles. Nice way to start the day.

It was about 10 miles to the Mosinee Dam and what looks like the most difficult portage. Description from internet notes: “A telephone is provided attached to an informational sign at the portage for assistance provided by Mosinee Paper. Be prepared for about a 45 minute to one hour wait. To call ahead from any phone dial, 715 692-3304.” You know I’m not going to do this!

This was not the only obstacle. Before I got to the dam I had to weave my way through a number of islands in the flowage before the dam. I did make one small mistake, but quickly got back on course. Once I saw the dam, I looked for another way to get around it. On the right I saw some homes and a road very close to the water. Looked like the answer to my problem except when I paddled over to it, there was this big sign saying “Private property. Absolutely no trespassing.” Darn, all I had to do was pull my gear about 20’ and I’d be on the road.

No one was around to ask permission so I paddled a little more to my right and noticed a park in the distance. There had to be a landing there so off I went and did find a landing.

Got my gear packed up and started into town and was told the best place to get back into the water was about a mile or so downstream. It did not take long to get to this very nice boat landing below the Mosinee Dam. So what I thought would be the biggest problem of the day turned out to be much easier than I thought. Unaware though that a mistake will soon be made.

Back on the water I had a beautiful paddle for about 10 miles before I needed to make a sharp turn into Eau Pleine Reservoir which eventually leads to the bigger Du Bay Flowage. Not quite sure if I was going in the right direction, I went over to guy and gal that were fishing near what I thought could be a shortcut to my left around this big hook in the river. They told me it was not the way to go and that I should follow the main channel to the right and go all the way around. So that is what I did.

As I paddled on I notice a couple of more fishermen on my left. They looked pretty serious about their fishing so I did not stop to talk to them and on I went. I’d been paddling for well over 45 minutes and still had not come to Eau Pleine Reservoir. Figuring I may have made a mistake I was about to check my road map to see if I could figure out where I was, when I spotted a fishing boat in front of me. Realizing my map would do me no good I quickly paddled toward the fisherman. As I got closer something looked familiar about this boat. Then I realized it was the same two guys I passed 45 minutes earlier. Yep,, I paddled in a circle around an island!

Back on course I now realized to make it to Stevens Point it would require another full day plus of paddling. My motel stay was out the window. Oh well, I will save a dollar or two!

Soon I was to Lake Du Bay which spreads across 6,800 plus acres. Once again I had no wind so it made for an easy paddle. I’ve been very, very lucky on all these huge flowage lakes. With wind they could be almost impossible to cross. I still have the biggest flowage, Petenwell in front of me. Hopefully my luck holds for that one. Petenwell is the second biggest open body of water in Wisconsin.

Most of the afternoon was spent crossing Lake Du Bay. It was getting late when I went around the Du Bay Dam and I knew now I would not make it to Stevens Point before dark. Because of my screw-up earlier I was still about 10 miles away.

It was dark when I did enter the Stevens Point Flowage. I had a choice, find a place now or go across the flowage in the dark. Of course I chose the latter and kept going. I felt like I was in a small plane trying to make a landing on a huge runway guided only by faint lights in the distance.

Eventually I did make it across and found a nice little park on my right. I paddled over and found a place next to a building that I could tuck in for the night.

It did not take long to fall asleep for this was the toughest day I’ve had so far. Maybe it’s just been too many long days. Tomorrow I’ve got to slow down!

Thursday - September 17th: Stevens Point to Near Petenwell Dam

I awoke this morning to a very damp sleeping bag and a dense fog. I could hardly make out the sign that I was camped by. It said, “ No Camping in the Park!” Well, how was I to know, I am from out of town.

Anyway, I thought maybe I should not push my luck so I quickly put together my bike trailer and was off. I made a quick stop at a McDonalds and looked over my info on the portage around this dam. Yesterday I did not realize I had two dams within a couple of miles of each other and both with descriptions of difficult portages. So, I bike about 3 miles around both dams and entered at Al Tech Park.

Finally back on the water. The fog had not lifted yet (see picture) so I stayed close to shore for a few miles. By about 7:30 it was going and I was in store for another beautiful day.

In ten miles I came to the my third dam, the Biron Dam. Because again it would have been a difficult portage at the dam, (portage notes: Take-out on the steep rip rapped bank and proceed down the dike to a trail for a ¼ mile portage into the right channel.) I took out at a boat landing about a mile before the dam and re entered at another boat landing about a ½ mile below the dam. Three dams and it’s not even 10:00 in the morning and in four miles I have three more dams to get around in the Wisconsin Rapids area. Going to be one of those days again.

As I approached Wisconsin Rapids I gave a call to my long time friend Ken McGrath. Ken and his wife Sue have lived in Wisconsin Rapids for years. He’s also a retired teacher, but still does a lot of substitute teaching. Sue still works as a Registered Nurse. Ken and I, “Newt” as I call him, have been friends as long as Jim McIntyre and I have. The three of us grew up together in Barron, WI. Jim stayed in Barron while in seventh grade, Ken and family moved to New York and I to the Minneapolis area. Even though that happened we still have stayed very close for all these years. In fact, as I mentioned at the beginning, on Saturday I will be leaving the river and meeting Ken and Jim for our annual Packers game trip. Also, our wives knew each other before we knew them for they went to the same nursing school in Minneapolis. Small world.

Newt was able to come down and say a quick hello as I was getting ready for my next bike portage. He was on his way to Madison to help one of his sons.

I asked him about the dams and he thought it would be best to go around all three for they were not that far apart and find a place to get in after the Port Edwards dam. Glad he said that for I’d already decided to do that figuring I could get to a little side lake outside Wisconsin Rapids. My road map showed a small river leading from the lake back to the Wisconsin River. By doing this I would not have to cross the Bridge to Port Edwards on the other side of river and fight traffic. So, after taking a picture of Newt, I was on my way. It did not take long to get to my little lake and I felt good about now only having one more dam to go around in Nekoosa.

As I was getting ready to put back into the water at the landing an older fellow was there (well, older than me) and came over to see what I was up to. After a few minutes of conversation with me explaining my adventure to him, I was about to put in and shove off when he said, “Coach, if you are canoeing the length of the Wisconsin River, why are you putting in here?”

I stopped and looked at him and explain my reasoning, which I quickly found out was wrong. Reason being that little river I was going to paddle back to the Wisconsin on had a dam at the end of this lake and no water below it to paddle in.

Okay, now what. As you know one of my few rules is not to go backwards unless absolutely necessary. So it was off to Nekoosa - another 9 to 10 miles down the road.

I put my bike trailer back together, thanked the man and headed on my way. As I turned back onto the road I took a quick look back at the older gentlemen and he had this look on his face as to whether this nut really knew what he’s doing. Sometimes I wonder the same about myself.

Anyway when I finally did get back into the water I met another guy, Kerry. Another nice person that gave me some very good advice about the algae on Petenwell Flowage. He told me it was very thick and very toxic. Last year they even closed the flowage for awhile because dogs and cats were dying from it. After some nice conversation with Kerry I was finally on my way. It was now about 1:00 or so and I probably had paddled for less than an hour and half and I’ve covered 30 miles of river by my portaging. Maybe for the first time it will be an early stop.

Once on the water it did not take long to get to the Petenwell Flowage. The following is a description from my internet notes: “The 23,040 acre Petenwell Flowage is the second largest inland body of water in Wisconsin. Rough water from wind and large boats can be hazardous to canoeists. Individuals must use extreme caution because of the size, complexity, and constantly changing conditions.”

I had none of the above problems. I crossed it with again a slight breeze to my back and no more than a ripple of wave action. Toughest part was working through the thick green algae Kerry had warned me about. (See pictures)

Yes, for the first time it was an early stop. Well, at least it was not dark. Very good day and five more dams are behind me thanks to my bike trailer system. If I may say so myself, I really like my set up. My bike - trailer system (My friend Jim Woodruff refers to it as my “junk yard”) not only comes in handy for the difficult portages, but it really helps in working my leg muscles that get little exercise in 12 or more hours of paddling.

Heck, it’s still light out and I’m sitting on shore just staring out over the water. Maybe I should keep going??? (I DIDN”T)

Friday - September 18th: Petenwell Dam to Portage, WI

Great night’s sleep and again it looks like another beautiful day for paddling.

Again the portage at the Petenwell Dam looked like it would be a tough one. So I took out at a boat landing short of the dam and pedaled around to the boat landing on the other side of State Hwy 21.

I was not on the water long for as I got into the Castle Rock flowage, I again was starting to be confronted with the green algae I had on the Petenwell flowage. Last night my canoe was covered with the stuff and it made for a messy unloading of the canoe. Plus no way could I use the water for washing. So rather than chance paddling through such a mess again, I made the decision to bike around this flowage.

Where I re-entered the water at a boat landing below the Castle Rock Dam I found a big yellow sign saying “Boat launch $3.00”. First one of these I’ve come across. As I thought, “Do they really charge canoeists portaging around the dam $3.00?” I noticed another sign saying, “Canoeists re-enter here”. Made me feel a little better.

I’ve been looking forward to this section. Soon I will be entering the Wisconsin Dells area which is one, if not the number one, tourist area in all of Wisconsin. Through this section both above and below the Dells Dam the river is lined with numerous sandstone high bluffs and rock formations.

Just past State Hwy 82 the bluffs began. Just gorgeous. Only one problem, I could not find my camera. Normally I have it and my cell phone in the small food container I have just in front of me, but neither the camera or phone was there. I was sure I did not leave anything at my campsite last night for I’ve been checking twice everything around me before I leave. (Never used to do that) Then I realized I set my tent up last night for the first time and before I went to sleep I put the phone and camera in one of screen pockets in my tent which is packed away. So I have no pictures of this area.

I will say that if you ever are in this area it’s a must-see either by canoe, boat or one of the many Wisconsin tourist boats. The high sandstone cliffs and numerous rock formations are unbelievable.

I took out at a private landing on the west side of the river short of downtown and the Kilbourn Dam. Glad I did for there was a huge sidewalk sale going on in downtown Wisconsin Dells and if I’d gone all the way to the dam I’d have been right in the middle of it. I got around all of this and was able to find an easy access to the water below the dam on the right.

Now with camera in hand I will take as many pictures of the lower dells as I can. Other than to restate that’s a must-see area I will let my pictures do the talking. (Please check photo album)

The rest of the day’s paddle was an interesting one. Once past the Dells area the river became very shallow. It was wide, but you had to continually move from one side of the river to the other to stay in the channel. If not you would find yourself getting out of your canoe and pulling across a sandbar. Of course on more than one occasion I found myself doing so, thinking I could take a shortcut.

Because of the sandy shore line and the many sandbars it’s a popular canoeing area and probably party area evidenced by the numerous places I saw remnants of campfires. Oh, to be young again! I did encounter four guys paddling this area. They were either getting in or out of their kayaks when I came by. I said “hi” and keep going only to hear, “That old dude is really booking!” Can’t say that that made my day.

It was getting dark as I approached Portage, Wi. I could hear the traffic from the I-39 freeway as I was continually getting in and out of my canoe to pull myself free of a sandbar for now it was difficult to find the channel.

Just short of I-39 I found a fairly isolated place and made camp. Another long day, but by far the most scenic. Need to get some sleep. For tomorrow I hope to be on the water early for I must get to Prairie du Sac hopefully by early afternoon. Tomorrow is Saturday and I will be driving to Green Bay to meet Jim and Newt for the Green Bay Packers game on Sunday. Hopefully I have a car waiting for me.

Saturday - September 19th: Portage, WI to Prairie du Sac, WI

Up and at ‘em early and had a very easy paddle through the Portage area and made it to the I-94 bridge by around 9:00 AM. I mention the I-94 bridge for that is the freeway we take whenever going south and I’ve looked down on this river many times. From above, it looks a little intimidating for a canoe -down here not so.

From here the little info I have tells me it will take about 8 hours of paddling to get to Prairie du Sac. That means I’d arrive around five o’clock. Fortunately these estimated paddling times are way off for I’ve found all along I usually do each section in about half the time, maybe a little more than half depending on obstacles. So I figured I’d be there early afternoon and on my way to Green Bay by 3:00.

Basically there was not much to this paddle for after the I - 94 bridge I was soon on Lake Wisconsin which again is a huge flowage of over 9,500 acres and takes me all the way to my “LAST” dam at Prairie du Sac.

Again the weather was perfect so it was an easy lake paddle. I’m getting close to the end now for once I get below the Prairie du Sac Dam the last 94 miles is designated as a wilderness river. I will begin that section next Monday when I get back from the Packers game. As much as I’ve enjoyed the journey I do not like the lake/flowage paddling so I’m glad this is now over.

Fittingly when I got to the dam I took out just before the dam at a golf course. When I left for this journey I’d just finishing playing in a golf tournament so I guess this was the perfect place. Besides, once again the take-out at the dam did not look that good.

I’m not sure what golf hole I was at but I got many stares as I put my bike trailer together and towed my canoe away. By the way I made it there by 2:00PM.

As expected (maybe I worried a little) I found my car, packed up and was on my way to Green Bay by 3:00. Actually I will meet Jim and Newt in New London, WI. Motels are cheaper there and we are cheap!

Wacky guy at the game

Note: Check out my Photos album for pictures of a few of the crazy tailgaters at the game.

Monday - September 21st: Prairie du Sac, WI to Muscoda, WI

Even though the Packers lost I had a great time at the game yesterday with two great friends. (See Pictures) I got back to Prairie du Sac last evening and got a motel room.

I now have 90 plus miles to go, which means I should be done in two days. Problem is I have less than two days to finish, because tomorrow afternoon I must meet my wife, LuAnn and our friends, Charlie and Joanne Wright in Minneapolis for our vacation trip to Branson, Mo. Not sure I can make it for I will need to leave my car here in Prairie du Sac, then when I finish I will need to find a ride back to my car, go back to Wyalusing to get my gear and still drive three plus hours to Minneapolis.

I did not make it. I made it as far as Muscoda and decided to stop around 6:00. Reason being there’s a nice park to camp at and gives me a safe place to leave my gear while I go back and get my car. I tried to get a hold of LuAnn a number of times to tell her I was stopping and would be in Minneapolis tomorrow, but could not reach her so just left a message.

It’s supposed to rain tonight so for only the second time I set up my tent. I was real cozy until around 4:00 in the morning when I was awakened by a nice pounding rain on my tent. Only one slight problem, the pounding rain on my tent was also pounding on my sleeping bag! Before I left for this trip I re-did my tent fly with water repellent spray. It was obvious the product was no good, I did not do it correctly or both. In any case I gathered my gear together and headed over to a shelter. Man, I’ve been lucky with so many things on this trip and here again with this being the only day of rain. One needs a little luck once in awhile. In my case maybe more often than not!

The rain let up a little around 5:30 so I put all my gear in my canoe and hid it in bushes then walked over to the local gas station to see if I could find a ride back to Prairie du Sac. Normally when people find out what I’m doing they are more than willing to help out. This was no different for I the first person I talked to took me about 15 miles down the road and said if he did not have to get to work he’d take me all the way. It took me two more rides and I was back to my car and back to my gear before 9:00AM.

I quickly packed up for it was still raining and headed for Minneapolis. About an hour down I decided to call LuAnn to tell her I was on my way. I did not call earlier for this morning she is at our daughter’s - she lives just down the road. Two days a week Lu helps with babysitting and this is one of the days. By now the twins, Devin and Drake are off to school and little Ryah should be awake.

I was about to dial when I realized I had a message from Lu from yesterday. This is what it said, “Larry, we are not leaving until Wednesday the 23rd!” Damn! I looked at the date on my watch, sure enough it showed Tuesday, Sept. 22nd. All this time I thought the 23rd was Tuesday! I could have easily finished! I could have not pushed so hard! I could have …. Oh, well as my friends would say, “Just another Hoff story!”
Thought about going back, but it’s still raining, my gear is wet and I’m too far down the road. Also, there’s my rule, never go backwards unless absolutely necessary. Plus, I will make some points by going all the way home and getting the yard mowed before we leave tomorrow. Good thinking on my part!

I will finish when we get back from Branson.

Tuesday - September 29th: Minneapolis to Sandbar south of Muscoda

I’m back. We had a great trip to Branson. Played some golf and saw some very good shows with the Oakridge Boys being the best. Only down side was the $200.00 LuAnn and I lost at Terrible’s Casino on the way. Good thing is Lu got $170.00 of it back on the way home. Although I lost $30.00. Not good.

Well, we got back to Minneapolis last night. I stayed at my sisters and left this morning for Muscoda. This time rather than leaving my car in Muscoda and coming back I did the opposite. I left my gear in Muscoda and drove down to my finishing point and left my car at Wyalusing State Park. Again, in two rides I was back in Muscoda and still had time to do a little paddling.

This section of the river, the 90 plus miles from Prairie du Sac to Wyalusing has been designated a wilderness river. There are no dams and much of the shoreline away from towns is public land. The river itself is very wide, many places close to a quarter of a mile with a current estimated at 3 plus miles an hour. Everything makes for good paddling except for one thing. The water level is very low and you must stay in the main channel or you eventually will be stuck on a sandbar. Most times I could do this although the channel keeps winding back and forth across the river and on more than one occasion I found myself turning too late and ending up stuck and dragging my canoe.

I only went about 5 miles today and set up camp early on a sandbar. I figure with the current I can easily make it to Wyalusing by early afternoon.

So I will take it easy and lay back and do a little reminiscing.

Wednesday - September 30th: Sandbar to Wyalusing State Park on the Mississippi River

You know I am not cut out for this stopping early. Last evening I found myself just sitting on a log looking out over the water and thinking way too much. I like it better when I push all day long. Maybe it’s because I’m by myself. Last spring when I paddled with Dan, Mark and Toby the last few days on Lake Michigan, I looked forward to stopping early.

I made my turn onto the Mississippi River at around 1:00 PM. Another great trip almost finished. A trip with perfect conditions. With all the big water I had to cross this could have been a bear. Would I do this river again? No. Would I do any part of it again? Yes.

If one threw out the industrial part with all the dams and big flowages this would be a great river to paddle. The first 35 miles was beautiful and I recommend it to anyone for a day or two of paddling. The river sections between dams and flowages were also great to paddle but the problem is they are short. I definitely would do the Dells area again. It’s very scenic and there’s excellent camping all the way to Portage, WI. One could make it a short trip or week trip just depending how you’d like to do it. The same is true for this last 90 miles, lots of wilderness and you have a choice of camping on sandbars or at designated campsites with facilities.

It took a little while to find the channel off the Mississippi River to Wyalusing Park, but eventually I made. As I pulled into the landing, a guy, a little older than I, was just getting out of his kayak. Being a little proud of finishing I told him what I just did. He said, “Really, that must have been fun” and went on his way to load up his kayak. We did have a nice talk, but I mentioned that statement simply because once a trip is over, it is over. You realize it’s your adventure and now it’s time to get on to something else. So, I think I will stop at the casino on my way home and win back the $40.00 I lost on the Branson trip! (I will not report on how that turned out).

At the confluence of Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers

From September 30:

...I made my turn onto the Mississippi River at around 1:00 PM. Another great trip almost finished. A trip with perfect conditions. With all the big water I had to cross this could have been a bear. Would I do this river again? No. Would I do any part of it again? Yes.

If one threw out the industrial part with all the dams and big flowages this would be a great river to paddle. The first 35 miles was beautiful and I recommend it to anyone for a day or two of paddling. The river sections between dams and flowages were also great to paddle but the problem is they are short.

I definitely would do the Dells area again. It’s very scenic and there’s excellent camping all the way to Portage, WI. One could make it a short trip or week trip just depending how you’d like to do it. The same is true for this last 90 miles, lots of wilderness and you have a choice of camping on sandbars or at designated campsites with facilities.

It took a little while to find the channel off the Mississippi River to Wyalusing Park, but eventually I made. As I pulled into the landing, a guy, a little older than I, was just getting out of his kayak. Being a little proud of finishing I told him what I just did. He said, “Really, that must have been fun” and went on his way to load up his kayak.

We did have a nice talk, but I mentioned that statement simply because once a trip is over, it is over. You realize it’s your adventure and now it’s time to get on to something else.