Bark River - Wisconsin

Date: August 14, 2021; Length: 6 miles; Duration: 4 hours

Put In: Highway 83 Bridge

Side of the road parking with a steep walk through tall grass down to the water's edge, where it was a challenging put in off some rocks on the upstream right side of the river.

Takeout: Sawyer Rd Landing

Side of the road parking with an easy takeout at a clear landing spot on the upstream right side of the bridge where a dam is also.

Paddling Experience = 3/5

This stretch of the Bark was mostly connected lakes, while the trying part of the trip came in the briefer river portions due to lower than ideal water levels. This trip has the makings of a nice paddling experience with higher water for both the lake and river portions.

Natural Scenery = 4/5

The river parts felt more intimate and natural with trees or tall grass surrounding the narrow water. The lake portions were much more open and developed, especially on Nagawicka lake, with people more frequent. Still, the combination of river and lake surroundings were enjoyable while paddling.

Accessibility = 4/5

The takeout has side of the road parking but a nice landing space before and after the bridge dam, while the two dams before this point are similarly easy to access or portage. The main challenge came with the put in off Hwy 83, with not a great other closeby option if you are looking to paddle the whole Nagawicka lake while taking the river.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~1 foot per mile. Not much of a current to the river portions of this section.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
The water level was too low for most of the river portions of this section. There was a lot of scraping and getting up to walk through shallow rock beds.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: located at Nagawicka Rd bridge, about a mile after this trip's put in.):

  • USGS Number =05426067
  • Discharge Rate = 19 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 12.44 ft

Overall Experience

Planning: The Bark River is a narrow river in southeastern Wisconsin that flows southwest before entering the Rock River.  Mike Svob has the last 12 miles of the Bark outlined in his book Paddling Southern Wisconsin, while I chose to plan for a section farther upstream.  I ended up deciding on paddling the roughly six mile section from highway 83 bridge to Sawyer road, which passes through two lakes and two easy to portage dams.

Paddling: This river trip is mostly lake paddling on Nagawicka Lake and then Upper and Lower Nemahbin Lakes.  Nagawicka Lake was a long occasion of paddling with close to as long of river entry and exit locations possible to the lake, while the other two lakes were pretty brief passing through.  But starting out and in between these lakes are connecting river portions of the Bark, also where water level came into play.  The water was definitely lower than ideal for paddling as shallow rock beds were routinely walked instead of paddled over.  To go with the low water level, there wasn’t much of a current to the river portions, but understandably so since they connect lakes.  On a positive note though, this route of connecting lakes could be paddled in either direction.

Observations: The lakes were pretty developed compared to the connecting river portions, while both still had a good amount of trees along the way.  Other boaters and paddlers were a common sight to go with it.  In between Nagawicka Lake and Upper Nemahbin Lake are two dams as well, which were easy to portage with routes around right next to dams.

Reflecting: This is a popular stretch of river and connected lakes, where you have stand up paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes to fishing boats, jet skis, and pontoons, with all the people to go with it.  So don’t expect solitude or the most natural of surroundings.  It does have a variety of trip possibilities though with its lakes and connecting rivers that really could be paddled either way like lakes.  The key thing for any paddlers looking to go beyond the lakes is to check out some of the river portions upstream of Nagawicka Lake and between Nagawicka and Upper Nemahbin Lake to see if the water is deep enough to avoid scraping and having to walk the rock bed areas.