Paddle The Baraboo River

[Back to ‘Canoe & Kayak’]Paddling The Baraboo River

At one time the Baraboo River was blocked by 4 dams.  Today the dams have been all removed making the Baraboo river one of the longest stretches of open river in the country.  However for this trip we’re going to look at a day trip directly through the city of Baraboo taking you no more than just a few miles from Devil’s Lake State park.

My favorite half-day on the Baraboo river begins at a small park on Hatchery Rd., west of Baraboo and heads downstream until to a takeout point on Highway 113 on the east side of the city of Baraboo. There is an outhouse, picnic table and grill at the small wayside launching point and you are almost guaranteed to have it to yourself. Launching can be tricky on the steep banks but is doable. From there, the route takes 3-5 hours depending on the current and how much time you spend exploring. Along the way you can expect to see heron, geese, ducks and an occasional bald eagle if you are lucky.  Some enjoy trying a bit of fishing along the route as well. There are a few interesting rock formations just west of the city and a small waterfall for the observant among you. The route then takes you through the city of Baraboo where you will have opportunities to stop at local parks or walk into town for lunch. You’ll also paddle directly past Circus World and if you are lucky you may have elephants sharing the water with you!

The Baraboo River at most times is a slow shallow river with areas of shallow rapids. Under normal conditions the Baraboo is a fairly easy river to paddle by canoe or kayak. The small rapids are just enough to make the trip exciting for inexperienced paddlers but not scary. If the water is too low you can find yourself getting hung up often and needing to get out and walk around shallows (Most often in late summer). That said, during floods the river can be quite swift and should not be paddled by anyone other than experienced paddlers. Luckily the river is rarely running high.

Baraboo River

A wall of debris attests to the dangers of the Baraboo in flood.

On the Google map below begin with the first blue canoe (furthest left) icon and slide the map to move right and follow the route. You can of course zoom to take it all in at once as well. Each blue canoe icon along the route can be clicked for more details about that spot. Sadly there are no outfitters in town so you’ll have to bring your own gear and arrange your own shuttle.

What to paddle all day?  If you’d like to make a day of it, begin your paddle from Fireman’s Park in North Freedom!  Plan a good 5-7 hours for this trip.

A word of caution! Currently no one is keeping the river clear of fallen trees (Which is a point of discussion locally). There may be impassable sections, especially in rural areas east and west of the Baraboo city limits. The river from Hwy 113, east to the Wisconsin river while a potentially beautiful paddle can be dangerous due to downed trees and steep riverbanks. Over the last couple of years there have been reports of folks having close calls when running into fallen trees across the river. Be careful out there.

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