Baraboo River - Wisconsin

Date: August 1, 2020; Length: 8.5 miles; Duration: 3 hours

Put In: Highway 33 Bridge (Union Center)

Side of the road parking just off the bridge. A walk through high grass leads to a manageable put in near the bridge.

Takeout: Strawbridge Rd Bridge

Small parking lot with a restroom and map is located a little ways down from Strawbridge Rd. Access at the bridge isn't great and makes for a steep climb.

Paddling Experience = 3/5

This section of the Baraboo had an okay current to but also lots of downed trees to avoid, especially in the final mile or so. And in the end consistently paddling left me with less than a 3 miles per hour pace, which is unusual.

Natural Scenery = 3/5

It had mud banks with a mix of high grass and deciduous trees, but also one big unexpected rock formation. And aside from one stretch of houses, it was pretty undeveloped, yet didn't feel all that special scenery-wise.

Wildlife = 3/5

Wildlife consisted of birds (bald eagle, hawk, 2 Sandhill cranes) and a muskrat. Towards the end of the section a group of cows were also spotted just off the river on a grassy bank.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~2 feet per mile. Some current to it.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
Paddling at this water level was alright. The current was decent at times and the water level was a good in between. There were just numerous downed trees to avoid, especially towards the end of this stretch which would be an issue at other levels as well.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Hwy X bridge, located just east of Baraboo, a ways (about 55 miles) downriver of the takeout to this section):

  • USGS Number = 05405000
  • Discharge Rate = 420 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 8.4 ft

Overall Experience

The Baraboo is a river I was looking to paddle on and pair with the Kickapoo over a weekend. These two rivers get closer the farther upriver they are, while eventually both flow into the Wisconsin river. I was planning to paddle on the Baraboo from Union Center to Hwy 33 Wayside Park, which is a section I found in Mike Svob’s Paddling Southern Wisconsin book, with his trip ending earlier but his map showing further possibilities downriver. And what stood out to me about this section was the state trail running parallel to the river, making for a quick hike from takeout to put in. So when the weekend came and after paddling some of the Kickapoo, I camped just off it at Wildcat Mountain State Park the night before. The next morning I parked at my intended takeout of a wayside park off Hwy 33 just south of Wonewoc and started hiking with my packed packraft on the 400 state trail. After just over an hour I arrived at my put in off of Hwy 33 in Union Center. It just had side of the road parking and carry in access just off the bridge, not making for the easiest put in, but I got on the river without issue.
Right away the Baraboo was narrow and winded a lot, with downed trees a common sight. But about a mile into paddling the west branch merged with the north branch I was already on and the river immediately felt a little less congested. A couple creeks came in after the west branch merging, but nothing to the same effect, while consistent paddling left me under a 3 MPH paddling rate, to say something about the current. The water had decent clarity, with a light brown color to it. Downed trees were also still prevalent especially in the last couple miles, which may be what Mike Svob was hinting at avoiding with his earlier takeout recommendation. None required full on portage but some a lot of maneuvering and tight squeezes. As for the surroundings, the river was lined with a mixture of deciduous trees and high grass above the already high mud banks. A lone rock formation broke up this pattern somewhere in the middle of this section, with it seeming out of place and one that would have fit right into the Kickapoo River surroundings. As for human constructions, there was just one stretch of houses around Wonewoc, with a handful of bridges in the 8-mile section that I ended up paddling. Most of these bridges were difficult to access whether getting on or off the water, requiring some steep climbs. While out on the river, I came across no other paddlers or even people by the bridges. What I did see was a small amount but variety of wildlife from birds (bald eagle, hawk, Sandhill cranes) to cows and a lone muskrat swimming in the water.
After three hours on the water, I ended up taking out earlier than I meant to at Strawbridge road bridge. This was another improvised takeout on some rocks under the bridge, making for a balancing act of deflating and putting away my packraft on uneven rocks and then climbing back up to the road. From here it was about a half mile walk back to the Wayside Park and my car, thus ending my trip on this section of the Baraboo River. Looking back on this trip, the main highlights were the convenience of the state trail and that lone rock formation. At some point I’ll be back to check out more of the Baraboo further downriver, but it’s not the highest priority.