wisconsin dells

Can anyone tell me of some gentle rivers to paddle near or in the Wisconsin dells? Taking young kids so need something easy. Will only paddle for a day or so.

Lemonweir River
Small river just a bit North of Wisconsin Dells. From 19 Ave to Wisc. River. The Baraboo might also be an option just a bit south of the Dells.

Some Options
The Lemonwier River would be a good choice. To get to the landing on 19th Avenue mentioned by the previous poster, go almost two miles east of I-90/94 at Mauston, and 19th Avenue goes to the south. Go half a mile to the bridge. You can go all the way to the Wisconsin River, but going to the Highway HH bridge might be better with kids along. That will cut two miles as the crow flies, and probably four river miles, off your trip. 19th Avenue to Highway HH is plenty of paddling in one day for most people (figure at least four or five hours).

The Baraboo River is quiet, secluded, and very beautiful in its own way (it’s all in the woods, and there are absolutely NO houses), but a lot of people wouldn’t like it due to the steep muddy banks which can make launching and landing tough. Also, recent high water has created a lot of new blockages at the locations of downed trees on some parts of this river, and I’d be reluctant to take kids on this river without prior knowlege about blockages on your chosen stretch (unless your kids are unusually upbeat about such challenges).

My highest recommendation for paddling in this area is the Mecan River. A good stretch on the upper part of this river is from the little town of Dakota to any of several highway bridges a few miles downstream. I think you can go from Dakota to Highway E in four or five hours. Another good stretch is from just below the dam at the Germania Marsh to Highway 23. To get to the dam, go north on the little road just west of where Eagle Road crosses two channels of the Mecan River, 8 miles north-northeast of Montello. This river is crystal clear, has almost no signs of civilization along its banks (there are a handful of homes and some occasional trout-habitat projects which don’t look very natural), and a nice steady current. It has a bit of a northwoodsy look too, with occasional tamarack groves along the way. There are outfitters along the Mecan which can help you arrange a shuttle if you need help with that part.

The Wisconsin River is always a good option, as there are numerous different stretchs for daytrips. A popular stretch for daytrips is from Wisconsin Dells to Portage. This part is not as wild as what can be found downstream of Sauk City, and especially downstream of Spring Green, but it should be good, and you can see the Lower Dells from your own boat instead of taking a tourboat ride.

If you can’t to a river shuttle, you can launch on the back channel of Blackhawk Island, on Highway N, just north of Wisconsin Dells. Go upstream on the back channel, and when you join the main channel, you can continue upstream a few miles (keep your eyes peeled for a VERY tiny entrance to a little dead-end channel inside a deep canyon to your right) until you reach the main lake (there’s a lak because this section of river is dammed-up), maybe stopping at Witch’s Gulch before turning around. On your way downstream, take the main channel around Blackhawk island so you can check out “The Narrows” and “Devil’s Elbow”. You’ll then have a very short paddle upstream on the back channel to return to your starting point. One word of caution though: You may want to avoid this area right now because if you capsize, there is almost NO place to get out (there’s almost nothing but sheer cliffs the whole way), and the water is very cold by now. With kids along, you might want to pass this up unless you are very sure of your skills (both boat-handling and emergency warm-up).

I suggest also trying the “Getting
Together and Going Paddling” forum. The Wisconsin Dells don’t call to mind the concept of wilderness tripping.

I understand it’s not wilderness, but I figured some of you who are knowledgable about the wilderness have also paddled around Wisconsin. I am very grateful for the responses so far.

Here’s One More
Here’s a suggestion you won’t find in ANY paddling guide. In fact, I just got back from hunting wood ducks there a couple of minutes ago. It’s called Seely Pond, and it’s a restored millpond (the dam was re-built sometime around the mid- to late-50s, I believe), which is known only to the locals. I’ve been going there since the early '70s (I fished there with my dad as a kid), and still think it’s a wonderful place. The creek flowing into the pond is small, but very pretty, and the hillsides of the Baraboo Bluffs are at peak color right now. If you launch by the dam, you can go the length of the pond and be going up the creek at the upper end in about 15 or 20 minutes. I don’t know how far upstream you can go, but late this afternoon I made about a three-hour round trip (upstream and back), and there was no sign of the creek getting too small or too tree-blocked to negotiate. I did have to drag over one fairly substantial beaver dam, but that crossing can be made on a grassy shoreline too, so it’s an easy crossing that could easily be done with kids along. You will have to watch out for dead-end channels, since with the water being higher due to the dam, some old abandoned channels have plenty of water in them, and could be mistaken for the correct route, for a short while, as you go upstream. Watch for unusual shallows or lack of current to avoid turning into any of the dead-ends.

From the south side of Baraboo, take Highway W to the west (zig-zagging for about 6 miles), turn left on Highway PF, and immediately turn left on Freedom Road where PF veers to the right. Look for an immediate right turn onto Seely Lane. Take Seely Lane all the way to the end.

Thank you so much for the information. I’ve been looking over maps. Our trip will be next summer and we are wanting to plan ahead. Hey, since you are local, where would be a good place to stay like a camping cabin or motel very near the Wisconsin river. Our kids are on special diets and we must avoid eating out and therefore must cook for ourselves. Don’t want something expensive.

Can’t help with that part
I can’t give any advice about where to stay. Now that I know you are talking about a summer trip, I’ll say forget Seely Pond. It’s pretty clean right now, but in summer, the algae growth on the surface is awfully thick. Not a good place for paddling that time of year.

Upper Dells
If you opt for Guideboatguy’s excellent suggestion for the Upper Dells, here’s a preview of what you might see, taken last year about this time, just after our first snowfall:


While the Dells is hardly ‘wilderness’, if you paddle them during the off season you CAN find quiet and solitude there. In the early spring and late fall, exploring the abovementioned canyons and small coves via your own canoe, you will be transported seemingly many miles from the garish hustle and noise of the streets above:


As you’ll be visiting in the summer, choose your days and hours wisely to avoid the numerous tour and jet-boats, and the famous Ducks. Their wakes can be something to deal with in the confines of the steep-walled Dells.