Sugar River - Wisconsin

Date: August 27, 2020; Length: 13.5 miles; Duration: 4 hours

Put In: Decatur Park (below dam)

Small park with the river a ways down the hill, but a winding trail (tricky carrying hardshells) leads down there to the bottom of the dam. Put in from here is easy enough with a shallow bank and calm water.

Takeout: Avon Bottoms Landing

Landing on river left after the bridge makes for an easy takeout. This leads right to the parking lot.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

This section of the Sugar was a good paddling experience. The river provided no obstacles in terms of downed trees or scraping. And it had a solid current, ending up with a nice paddling time for its length.

Natural Scenery = 3/5

The surroundings to this section were a mixture of deciduous trees and tall grass, while the banks were mud or small rocks. It had some houses but mostly off the river a ways, plus some camping areas and bridges located in clusters.

Accessibility = 4/5

Accessibility on this section of the Sugar varied in location, quantity and quality. Early on there were a handful of bridges with a few solid access spots (typically parks). And then after a 6-mile lapse of accessibility, there were a few more solid options.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~2 feet per mile. Some current.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: Paddling at this water level was good. The river seemed shallow at times but never caused me to scrape or need to portage. It stayed pretty wide with a decent current. And there were some downed trees but nothing difficult to get past.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Hwy 11/81 gauge, located 6 miles into paddling this section):

  • USGS Number = 05436500
  • Discharge Rate = 400 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 1.36 ft

Overall Experience

The Sugar is a river in Southern Wisconsin that flows southeast into Illinois before merging with the Rock. Mike Svob has two sections of it in Wisconsin and one in Illinois in his Paddling Southern Wisconsin and Paddling Illinois books, writing up about and mapping out each. Staying in Wisconsin, I chose to paddle his Brodhead to Avon Bottoms section, with a put in further upriver leaving me with about 13.5 miles of river to paddle. With that decided, the day came and I drove over to my intended takeout of Avon Bottoms, where there is a lot to park at. With my packraft packed in my backpack, I headed on about an 11-mile hike up to my put in at Decatur Park. After about three hours I was there and realized I was in store for a steep descent down from the park to the dam and access to the river. A narrow winding trail took me down there, as I did my best to keep myself balanced, which is easier done with my deflated and packed watercraft compared to what I imagine it’d be like carrying some hardshell kayaks or canoes.
Anyways, I made it down there and found a clear open spot to set my stuff down and work at inflating my packraft and getting on the river. A short while later I was putting in off some rocks just below the dam where the water was calm. Getting some paddling in and away from the dam, I noticed the water had a decent current to it and stayed that way pretty consistently. It also had a moderate width to it, while widening out at times and remaining shallow throughout. I could feel the presence of the bottom often when paddling, but it was just deep enough to never be an issue. Downed trees were also somewhat common, yet never required a portage or even a tight pass either, while the water itself had a grayish brown color to it and decent clarity. The river bottom had more of a sand than mud look to it, with instances of little rocks as well, likely contributing to the less murky water than I have often come across in other southern Wisconsin rivers. The water also split and formed islands at times and had moments of tight winding in its route. As for the surroundings, the banks of the Sugar were lined with a mix of deciduous trees, long grass, and more open areas, with some small rocks or higher mud banks in there as well. Bridges came every mile or two for the first six miles, with an absence in the following 5-6 miles until County T, the one before Avon Bottoms came. Houses were also about just as frequent, usually off the water a ways, while a few outfitted camping areas also occurred right off the river in this stretch. Even with these opportunities for fellow paddlers, I only came across one other group of kayakers and then a boat going upriver towards the end of my trip. Wildlife was a little more of an uptick, as I spotted a hawk, eagle, and three blue herons, along with a thick brown snake on the hike there.
So after four hours of paddling I came to my Avon Bottoms takeout. It had a nice landing on river left just beyond the Beloit-Newark bridge. With a smooth transition back onto land, I finished up by deflating my packraft and packing it away with my other gear. This ended my Sugar River hike-paddle and my last river trip of the year. It was a good one to go out on. I never had any paddling issues and enjoyed the look of the water, it’s surroundings, and some of the solitude that it generated. I see myself returning in the near future to get on other sections of the Sugar to see how the experiences compare.