Bark River - Wisconsin

Date: August 13, 2020; Length: 7 miles; Duration: 2 hours 30 min

Put In: N Sawyer Rd Landing

Side of the road parking. Small area with rocks and shallow water by the bridge makes for easy access.

Takeout: Hwy 18 Bridge (2nd Crossing)

Side of the road parking off the middle Hwy 18 bridge. Not the easiest takeout due to muddy banks, but this leads to a grassy walk back up to the road. I'd recommend taking out at the next Hwy 18 bridge (also a park).

Paddling Experience = 4/5

Add in some rapids and this paddling experience would be amazing. It is a narrow intimate river that is super clear with a decent current. It did a good amount of winding and was clear of downed trees until the last mile or so.

Natural Scenery = 4/5

Banks to this section of the Bark were typically high grass or deciduous trees, with some more open areas. There were some houses off the river and several bridges (private/foot travel or actual roads) but they didn't take a lot away from the feel of the water and its surroundings.

Wildlife = 4/5

Some of the more typical wildlife were spotted on this trip. A hawk, blue heron, an unknown bird, and a turtle, while what stood out was all the fish thanks to the clear water. I consistently saw fish around me, with some over a foot long.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~3 feet per mile. Good current with some riffles.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
Paddling at this water level was great. I wasn't at risk of scraping throughout this section, while it was far from flooded. The only issue level-wise was a low backroad bridge that I had to really work at squeezing under (I'd recommend portaging the few feet). Otherwise, the river had a solid current to it and stayed clear of downed trees until the final stretch in Dousman.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Delafield gauge, located off the Nagawicka Rd bridge about 5 miles upriver of the put in to this section):

  • USGS Number =05426067
  • Discharge Rate = 26 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 12.57 ft

Overall Experience

The Bark is a local river to me and one that I needed to paddle at least a portion of. Mike Svob’s Paddling Southern Wisconsin has a 13-mile section of the Bark in his book, but I chose to paddle farther upriver. After looking at Google Maps and other paddling accounts of the Bark River, I settled on paddling about a 7-mile section from N Sawyer road bridge just after Lower Nemahbin Lake to Atkins Olson Memorial Park, near Dousman. Following a short day of work, I drove over to my intended takeout of the park, just off the third Hwy 18 bridge. It had a handful of parking spots and nice carry in access. From here was about an hour and a half walk with my packed packraft over to my put in. N Sawyer road is limited for parking but has a nice cleared and shallow area just off the bridge making for an easy put in. After inflating my packraft and strapping down my backpack, I got on the Bark for the first time and the water immediately impressed me. It was super clear, showing rocks and sand for a bottom, along with sections of vegetation. The current or flow of the water made it feel like I was gliding by while just lightly paddling. The Bark also winded a good amount and remained narrow in the range of 15-50 feet much of the way, opening up once early on where a lake formed off of it. Islands occasionally occurred as well, with a couple ones later on blocked off in one of the river paths around them. These blocked off areas were from downed trees in a section of Dousman where they were a common sight, while the rest of the river remained consistently clear of them. Beyond the water, the banks were typically lined with deciduous trees or high grass stalks in the more open areas. Houses were just off the river at times and bridges just as common if not more. There were a handful between my put in and intended takeout, with a few smaller possibly private ones in there as well. One of these bridges was super low and left me with a literal tight squeeze passing under it, when I should have just made the quick portage. As for people, I was the only paddler, but did pass a variety of river users in a small family swimming, a diver type guy checking out the river bottom, and one person fishing off a bank towards the end. Wildlife came in the form of tons of fish in the ultra clear water, with some over a foot in length, plus a turtle, a blue heron, and a couple birds I wasn’t sure of.
My intended takeout was that park off the third Hwy 18 bridge, as the highway crosses over the river three times in about a two mile span. I must have lost count or thought an additional bridge in that span was one of the highway ones, because I mistakenly took out a bridge too soon. The second Hwy 18 bridge is where I took out, which didn’t seem right at the time for how it looked and how limited my options were in actually taking out here. But with some improvising I was off the river, deflating my packraft, and hiking back to my car at the park. Eventually I got back to my car and finished my trip on the Bark. It was a great experience on a hidden gem of a small but clear river. I will definitely be back to check out more sections to it, most likely looking further downriver.