Date: May 2, 2021; Length: 9.5 miles; Duration: 3 hours
The Sugar is a river in southern Wisconsin that flows south, crossing into Illinois before merging with the Pecatonica river. A year ago I paddled a 14-mile section that ended just before coming to Illinois. The section that I planned to do this time around covered much of the Illinois portion. Mike Svob’s Paddling Illinois was my source here, with a 9.5-mile trip from Colored Sands Forest Preserve to North Meridian road on the Pecatonica outlined.
When the day came, his intended takeout of the campground off on the left just before the bridge seemed questionable in whether a non camper could park their car there and use a landing, so I parked just off the North Meridian bridge instead. My new takeout would be a challenging one, with a somewhat shallow mud bank the best option to get off the water and up to the grass leading back up to the road. But before I could face that, I had to hike to the put in at Colored Sands Forest Preserve. After a couple hours I arrived at a parking lot for the preserve and followed the signs for water access, which took me down a short trail following the parking lot. The trail ended with an area with big wood beams on each side to put in, but I chose to use a spot just next to it due to how muddy it seemed.
Once on the river I saw a guy fishing with waders just up river from me. He wouldn’t be the last of the fishermen though as I passed three other groups at different times later on too. And thanks to the warm Spring weekend day, I also came by other paddlers from one canoe early on to a big group of canoes and a kayak around the middle of this trip. It’s a popular section of river for a reason too with forest preserves surrounding you on both sides for several miles. But even after passing the preserves, trees were still a common sight, with some open grass banks mixed in there as well. Three pretty evenly spaced out bridges also occurred between this put in and takeout, the last of which was where the Sugar officially ended and flowed into the Pecatonica river. Houses became more common around this time, while they were seldom seen before that point. But where bridges and houses were limited, two campgrounds produced plenty of activity on their own. The first was smaller, with a handful of people fishing off the grass bank, while the second came after North St bridge and was a long line of RVs and campers just off the river. This second campground was well stocked but had less people out and about than the first when I passed by. Wildlife encounters on the other hand were limited but still produced some variety. I spotted the more typical ducks, geese, and hawks flying, but also spooked a frog at my put in and saw a snake swimming in the water not far from me later on. The river itself was brown but with good clarity, showing off its sandy bottom much of the way. The Sugar’s width was typically moderately narrow, especially where it really winded a lot, but widened out some here and there. The current was decent and the water level high enough to not have any scraping concerns or serious flooding. Small bays were more of the norm. Some islands occurred in this stretch of river as well as a few downed trees to squeeze past. After about two and a half hours I came to Harrison bridge, where the Sugar ends. Knowing how unorthodox my takeout was going to be at the next bridge, the takeout possibilities around Harrison seemed much more doable. But I was already set up to take out by North Meridian on the Pecatonica so I continued on another half hour before reaching my takeout just before the bridge.
It wasn’t an easy one and I wouldn’t recommend it, but I managed and got off the water and on the mud bank and then up to the grass and back to my vehicle up by the road. Looking back this was a cool and smooth trip aside from that takeout, which I would have just changed to the Harrison bridge if I were to do it again. I’m glad to have paddled a second portion of this river and look forward to connecting those two trips next year with a third trip, making one long connected portion from three river trips on the Sugar.