Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Wisconsin River like?
The Wisconsin is a slow, meandering river with plenty of sandy beaches and sandbars. It is perfect for beginners or families with children that want a relaxing ride without having prior canoe knowledge or skill. The river is about 4-5 feet deep on average; however, there are spots that are much deeper and also some spots that are much shallower. Because Federal law requires a minimum amount of water for ecosystem health, the river will always be runnable.
Is there cell phone coverage in case of emergency?
Yes, most (but not all) of the river has cell phone coverage IF you have a carrier on the CDMA network (i.e. Verizon, US Cellular). Currently, US Cellular has 3g/4g coverage on 90% of the area we cover.
GSM carriers like AT&T will have trouble (though they've been getting better since 2011). If your carrier runs on GSM, text messages are typically the most reliable way to get through to someone.
Can I bring my own canoe or kayak?
Absolutely! We will transport personal canoes and kayaks for a fee. This fee includes transportation for all people and gear from Spring Green to Arena, Mazomanie, or Prairie Du Sac. More details on "Transport Only" here.
Are we allowed to bring food and beverages?
It’s arguably not a real canoe trip if you can’t have a beer while watching the sunset from your private island. Yes, food and beverages (including alcohol) are perfectly acceptable, BUT NO GLASS whatsoever (bottles, pickle jars, etc.). This is strictly enforced by the WI DNR and is punishable by a fine of up to $739. They will ask to check your coolers.
Are campfires allowed?
Yes, you are allowed to build fires on the islands. After the first week of June, wood becomes scarce on most of the popular camping spots so you'll want to purchase wood ahead of time. Because we're in a quarantine zone, state law requires firewood to be purchased within 25 miles of where it will be burned.
Are we allowed to bring coolers?
Yes, there is plenty of space for your coolers just make sure they aren't more than 33" wide.
Are we allowed to bring pets on the river trips?
Yes, pets are welcome to on the river though be aware that your pets will be riding in crowded vans to the river put-in and must get along with other people and possibly other pets. Once pets are out on the river, they do not need to be leashed. In fact, leashes should not be used while in a canoe in case the boat capsizes.
What is the maximum number of people that you can put in a canoe?
We recommend no more than 2 adults and 1 child up to 90 pounds however you are welcome to squeeze as many people in as you'd like so long as you remain under the stated weight capacity. (More than 3 adults will be nearly impossible). In some cases, 2 adults and 2 very small children (5 years old or less) have fit in one canoe. There is an additional $10 fee if a 3rd adult is put into a canoe.
What is your refund policy?
You can find our refund policy here.
Keep in mind our philosophy is that there is no such thing as poor weather, only poor preparation. However, we will issue a full refund if thunderstorms are in the area and are expected to continue throughout the day.
Are there bathrooms along the river?
There are portable bathrooms at Prairie Du Sac, Mazomanie, Arena, and Spring Green. Your next option is to pick a sand bar with a lot of trees and leaves.
What should I know about fishing on the river?
Do we need to make a reservation?
Reservations are required at least 24 hours in advance however we typically sell out July and August weekends up to a month in advance. Keep this in mind when planning your trip.
Do I have to put down a deposit?
Yes, we require full payment at the time of reservation in order to minimize paperwork and wait times on the day of your arrival. Please see our full refund policy for more details.
What does our rental include?
Your rental includes a canoe or kayak, life jacket for each person, paddles for each person, and transportation upriver.
How long does the trip last?
Anywhere from 3 hours to 7 days depending on how long you’d like to go. The typical trip lasts 3-8 hours over 1-2 days of paddling. Arena to Spring Green - 3 hours (1 day); Prairie Du Sac to Spring Green - 8 hours (2/3 days)
What time do we need to be finished?
Since you're paddling back to your car, there is no specific finish time. We only ask (okay, this is more of a requirement) that you be off the water by 6pm. If you're not ready to be done, there is usually a large sandbar attached to the landing where you'll finish. You can return the canoes by 6pm and head back out to the beach.
Can we start our trip anytime?
We have scheduled shuttle runs upriver leaving at 8am, 10am, 12pm, and 2pm. You will have to start your trip on one of these shuttles unless special arrangements have been made.
How long does high water last?
Generally speaking, the more water there is, the faster it will drain. Expect most heavy rainfalls to make their way through the river system in 4-6 days.
What is the best way to get touch with you?
Typically email is the most efficient. Even if we’re in the middle of a shuttle run, it’s pretty likely someone is able to take a look at the inbox and if it’s time sensitive, we can get back to you. If it’s extremely time sensitive, calling our office is generally a good bet - if you’re not able to get through, leave a message but also call again and we’ll know it’s probably important.
What is there's an emergency on the river?
If it’s a true emergency, call 911. Both Spring Green and Prairie Du Sac (the start and end point of our stretch of river) offer emergency river search and rescue services (this includes a hovercraft). There is no charge for these services in an emergency. This is the best way to get help as soon as possible.
The Wisconsin River is normally a calm river, but rapidly changing weather conditions and the sometimes rapidly rising water levels can lead to dangerous situations on the river.
Bringing a cell phone for emergency use is highly recommended. If you do bring a phone, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure help will be able to find you. Parts of the Riverway have no cell phone service depending on your provider (US Cellular and Verizon are best, AT&T and Sprint less so).
The Lower Wisconsin Riverway is 93 miles long and borders 6 counties, so it may be difficult for emergency services to determine exactly where you are without your help. Make sure to always have a good idea of where you are by following along on a map or using GPS. Each landing along the river has a sign identifying that landing, and telling you the distance downstream to the next landing. This can help reaffirm your position on a map.
What if I need to adjust my reservation?
You can either reply to your email confirmation or call us at 608-432-5058 at least 24 hours in advance of your trip. If you need to drop boats, there is a $10 fee per boat but otherwise there is no penalty for changing your shuttle departure or length of trip.
Why are no refunds given within 4 days?
Basically, we aren't able to easily re-rent the boats which is a serious hit when the rental season is only 4 months long. The vast majority of our customers have booked their trips by now, either with us or elsewhere (we're serious about selling out up to three weeks in advance). On the bright side, if there is proof of a legitimate reason for needing to cancel a trip outright (death in the family, serious injury, etc.) we will make an exception but keep in mind that this situation very rarely happens.
Our group arrived 1 minute early, why didn't you let us on?
I'm sorry guys but unless you've got your crap together and you know what's going on, you're not going to be able to organize and load your stuff into the vehicles fast enough for us to leave on time. It really isn't fair to everyone else that showed up early and is already loaded and on the bus. More than that, the length of our shuttle route does not leave a large margin for lateness in order to get back in time for the next departure.
Is there a fee for cancelling a boat?
Yes, we charge a $10 cancellation fee for each dropped boat regardless of circumstances. It's an inconvenience, one that usually ends up costing a lot of money. For example, someone will book out 20 canoes 4 months in advance. Then they'll call back two weeks before the trip and say they actually only need 5 canoes now. We'll refund the difference, that's not a problem. The problem is that while you've had 15 unneeded canoes locked up that no one else can rent, a group trying to rent 12 canoes had to go somewhere else. Meanwhile, now that there are suddenly 15 extra canoes available only two weeks ahead of time (two weeks if we're lucky) all of our typical large, overnight groups have gone elsewhere and it's harder to re-rent the boats. Thus, that $10 for each unneeded boat serves as a disincentive to taking more boats than you think you should. It also helps contribute towards the lost revenue. But here's the important part - we're not out to nickle and dime people. We really don't charge this fee unless it's an egregious or ongoing act. If two or three friends drop out of your trip and you let us know right away, you're not going to be charged.
Why is there a $10 fee to make a reservation over the phone?
In short, it's another inconvenience fee. More specifically, it's very common to enter information incorrectly on our part which means confirmation emails and trip details don't make it out, information is constantly repeated, and a lot of questions are asked that could be answered in 10 seconds on the website (pricing/availability for different days and number of boats is a big one). Consider saving $10 an incentive to use our automated online system.
Do you offer service downriver of Spring Green?
The short answer - No. The longer answer - we could feasibly build this into our system and make this happen but it would be expensive for not a lot of gain. As it is, we have trouble keeping up with the demand for our upriver trips. I haven't met a single person that prefers to be picked up at the end of their trip rather than get shuttled upriver at the beginning. Really, not a single one. Logistically, going downriver to get people at a specific time is tough and would require us to, at a minimum, double the number of shuttle vehicles we have. At this point in time, we really can't afford the cost of adding downriver service.
Why do you charge to transport my personal canoe when you’re going there anyway?
This is a tough one. I don't like it, but at the same time, it's a necessity. The problem isn't when the shuttle is going to the same place anyway, it's when there's no one else on the shuttle or no one at all going to the same place. This happens more often than you'd think and we actually lose a little bit of money in this situation. When the shuttle IS going to the same place, you're actually kind of subsidizing those other weekday private transports. Beyond that, even when you're going to the same place (like on a busy Saturday morning), we incur some indirect costs associated with transporting your boat. Our trailers only have so much room for canoes and on a busy morning, we've got every vehicle and trailer packed trying to get people upriver. Because we may have to push off a rental customer's canoe in order to accommodate yours, a 2nd trip will have to be made to that destination just to get all of the required boats to the landing which in effect makes your private boat the only boat on a shuttle.
The weather looks bad, why won't you refund my trip until the day of?
Weather forecasts absolutely cannot be trusted out here. 95% of the days in July and August are forecasted with a 20-30% chance of rain; 90% of the days in July and August, it doesn't happen. I don't know if it's the microclimate created by the river valley or something else but unless it's a large storm system, weak fronts almost always break right around the valley leaving us dry and even sunny. If there IS severe weather actually happening on the day of your trip, you'll be refunded and you'll be able to call before you leave your house to know if the trip has been cancelled.
How detailed are the maps you provide?
The map we provide is one of the most detailed river maps publicly available. However, it's impossible to mark individual sandbars as they really do shift on a regular basis. More than that, water level changes of just a few inches makes the layout completely different. You can take solace in the fact that people have been complaining about sandbar locations since the first European explorers came down the river over 300 years ago.
Why is a reservation required at least 24 hours in advance?
We get very few people trying to walk in the door on the day of and no one wants to sit around the office for no reason. If we don't have a reservation, no one is going to be there. We can do just about everything remotely and very rarely do people just happen to 'walk in' in rural Wisconsin. We also need to set all of our trailers and vehicles the night before so we're ready for the morning rush. If you walk in on a Saturday morning, we have to try and rearrange trailers to accommodate you while also handling up to 200 other people trying to check-in. It makes our lives pretty stressful on an otherwise already hectic day and it's just easier for us to say we're not going to do it.
I don't have a reservation, will you really turn me away?
Quite possibly. On the rare occasion that we have both time and space available, we'll do it, but you really can't count on it.
Why are you weekend day trip prices so high?
We run into a couple different conflicts with supply and demand that have steered us towards this policy. 85% of our canoes go out overnight. If we have too many day trips going out for a single day, those canoes are out of inventory and the overnight trip can't happen leaving them unused the next day. With only 4 months of warm weather to pay 12 months of bills, this can be a significant hit to revenue. By increasing the price for a day trip on a Saturday, there is an incentive to take a day trip on a less crucial day without getting rid of them completely. Likewise, if you really, really want or need to go on a Saturday, you can still get one.
Do you have any deals or specials? (voucher codes)
We offer significant discounts for large groups, overnight trips, and paddling during the middle of the week. These discounts are applied automatically through our reservation system. We also have a few gift certificates floating around in the world. These gift certificates can be purchased from us at any time and will provide you with a voucher code to be used with an online reservation.
We want to do a slightly different trip than you offer, why won't you do it?
Following the theme in some of the answers above, we're either hopelessly busy, or hopelessly slow. If it happens we're pretty slow, we will try to accommodate you. More likely, someone wants to do a 'customization' on those busy Saturday mornings and we just can't handle it. The one little special exception tends to get lost or forgotten because we're not used to it. That makes our customer unhappy and it makes us look sloppy so it was decided that we simply won't put ourselves into that situation. On the flip side, if you're adamant about wanting to do something we don't offer, we're happy to recommend another outfitter that might have what you're looking for.
I have a credit that expired last year, can I still use it?
Unfortunately, once these expire, that’s the end of it. In order to keep accurate accounting, we must enforce an expiration date so we can properly balance the books at the end of the year.
Why should I shuttle my group's drivers only?
Beginning with the 2013 season, Wisconsin Canoe now recommends groups of 6 or more people drive to their trip start point first to drop off all passengers and gear. From there, the drivers only will continue on to Spring Green where cars will be parked at the finish point and Wisconsin Canoe will shuttle them back upriver to the waiting group.
In our experience, the extra 15 minutes of driving to the start point is more than made up for by the faster shuttle times because drivers are able to park and immediately jump in our vehicles and get back to start the trip rather than wait for everyone to unload and reload their gear. The downside is that your passengers waiting at the landing may not want to sit around waiting. Even though it's about the same amount of time, it does feel longer when you're just sitting.
And because everyone asks - yes, you are allowed to crack open your beers and pull out the camp chairs while waiting at landings.
Do I need to sign a liability waiver?
Yes. The person named on the reservation is liable for all equipment until a liability waiver is signed and submitted online. There are certain risks associated with canoeing the Wisconsin River and we want everyone to be informed of these risks before coming out.
What if I'm late to my shuttle, will you really leave me?
Yes. Shuttle departures are probably the single most important thing we enforce. It’s not fair to everyone else that showed up on time. We absolutely will not make 40 people wait for you because *insert excuse here*. We make every effort to leave on time and if you’re not onboard, you’ll have to wait for the next one.
I really screwed up my reservation and need to talk to someone as soon as possible, what's the best way?
Your best bet is typically email as you’re more likely to catch someone after hours (versus the phones that can’t be answered after hours). As soon as we have your email in the system, we’ll base any time sensitive decisions like they were received with that first email.
Can I go overnight in a kayak?
Absolutely. But! You’ve gotta know how to pack light. Kayak camping is more akin to backpacking with the limited amount of space you’ve got whereas canoe camping gives you a lot more flexibility. If you have experience packing light, you’ll be fine. If you’ve only ever gone car camping, you should really take a good hard look at what’s necessary vs what’s a luxury.
I think I brought too much stuff - there's no way it'll fit in the canoe.
It’s possible, but more often than not, you’ll be surprised at how much will fit into these canoes. In some cases it can take a little bit of jerry rigging but you’ll usually make it fit. Worst case, you can leave the non-essentials (because if it doesn’t all fit, there WILL be non-essentials) with your shuttle driver and we will store it at the shop until you finish your trip.
I am requiring everyone to reserve their own boats. Some will be bringing their own and only need a shuttle. Would the group still qualify for a discount?
Group discounts are automatic and only apply to boats on a single reservation otherwise we're processing 8 different reservations for 8 different people with 8 different credit card transactions.
What happens if I don't return my boat on time?
We guarantee that your reserved boat will be there, and as such, if one isn’t returned on time, we’ve got a problem, particularly on sold out weekends. If your boat isn’t returned on the date we’re expecting it back and we’ve all left for the night, a late fee of $75/boat will be charged to your reservation. If you’re just getting back at 7pm instead of 6pm, you’ll probably be fine.
Can I switch my reservation to another day and avoid any fees?
Yes, usually there is no penalty for moving your reservation to another day provided it’s at least 4 days ahead of time. You may need to pay the balance on any additional rental fees if you were to move from a Wednesday to a Saturday. Like wise, moving from a weekend to a weekday would result in a refund of the difference in rental fees.
Do I need to reserve firewood and dry bags in advance or can I do so on site?
Yes, this should be reserved ahead of time. You are welcome to rent them on site but you must arrive to our shop location at least 40 minutes in advance of your shuttle. You can also email or call us up to 24 hours ahead of time and we can add these items to your reservation so they’re on the trailer when you arrive at the landing.
I need to add one more canoe to my reservation.
Not a problem! Just reply to your confirmation email or give us a call. There is no penalty for adding a boat to your reservation though any additions are still subject to availability.
Myself or someone in my family has cancer/was in an accident/needs to attend a funeral and I have to cancel my trip.
I’m sorry to hear that! If a significant event has occurred and you or your family is unable to go on the trip, please get in touch with us to find out your options. In most cases, we will issue a full refund with no penalties or cancellation fees. Please keep in mind that we offer this policy in good faith and rely on people to be honest in these situations.
You were sold out of Discovery canoes so we rented an additional aluminum. Can we swap it out if another Discovery becomes available?
Absolutely. If something comes available and you’ve let us know you’d prefer another boat, we will swap this out on your reservation. Pricing will also be adjusted to reflect normal rates.
Can I change my shuttle departure time?
Yes. Please reply to your confirmation email with your new preferred shuttle departure at least 24 hours in advance and we will update your reservation.
Our coleman lanterns have glass around the mantles. Will we be fined for this?
No. While this is a little bit of a gray area, no one has ever been fined for a lantern, eye glasses, or other necessary equipment that may contain a minor amount of glass. However, fines will still apply to bottles, food jars, and other objects that are mostly made of glass.
What happens if I bring glass on the river?
DNR wardens and county sheriffs regularly patrol the Wisconsin River, especially on weekends. Bringing glass on the river can result in a fine of over $700. Typically, a warden will approach your boat and identify themselves as DNR officers. They may ask to look in your cooler, check for life jackets, and see how everyone is doing.
They are very much just out to make sure everyone is safe and following the rules. We are extremely proud to have some of the best wardens in the state on this stretch of river. If you do happen to have a glass jar that was overlooked (pickle jars are the worst offenders), it’s likely the warden will choose to confiscate the glass rather than issue a ticket if it was an honest mistake.
Are fireworks allowed?
No. Fireworks are not allowed on the riverway do to noise pollution as well as the unavoidable firework garbage left floating in the river and on sandbars.
I've seen people bring kegs on the river, is this actually allowed?
Yes. In fact, this is arguably preferable to cans and plastic bottles as there is very little trash associated with using a keg and your cost per drink is also significantly cheaper. Of course you should still drink responsibly and if you’re going to go in the water after a lot of drinking, please wear your life jacket. No one ever died on the river while wearing a life jacket.
Is there a place nearby where we can get ice and beer?
Our shop is co-located with Prem Meats. They offer ice and a large selection of beer, wine, and liquor.
I sent an email/left a voicemail at 1am to cancel my trip but you won't get the message until tomorrow just after the 4 day cutoff. Will I still get a refund?
Yes. We will base all refunds on the timestamp of your message. If it was a shortly after the deadline, we’ll allow it.
How long does each trip take?
Check out the overnight trips page for a detailed answer.
We have kids, will you have the correct size life jackets for them?
Yes, we will have the proper size life jackets for as many children as indicated on your reservation. We also try to carry a couple extras just in case but it’s better for you to confirm with us ahead of time if you need to make changes.
Do I really need to bring sunscreen?
This is a surprisingly wide river with very little shade. You will definitely want sunscreen if it’s a remotely sunny day.
We rented backrests/dry bags/cupholders but forgot to grab them at the drop off. Can we get a refund on these?
Yes. Usually these are handed out right away but sometimes things can be overlooked on a particularly hectic shuttle. If a mistake was made, we will absolutely refund you for whatever items you did not receive.
I made a reservation but didn't receive an email confirmation. Did my reservation go through?
Probably, but you should let us know regardless. If you submitted your payment information, it is in our system but occasionally a confirmation gets lost. Email confirmations contain important check-in information that we need you to know. If you didn’t get a confirmation, it may have fallen through the cracks (yes, even our electronic system is not 100% fool proof). We will be happy to resend the confirmation.
I just booked a trip but and realized we can't actually go on those dates. What can I do?
All is not lost! We will issue a 100% refund, no fees attached if you cancel your reservation within 24 hours.
Do you rent tents, sleeping bags, and other camping gear?
Because of the do it yourself nature of these trips, we rarely get requests for this kind of gear. As such, we do not offer tents, sleeping bags, or most other kinds of camping gear. You may want to check with a local REI or friends and family if you do not possess the required camping gear.
I looked at the route on google maps satellite and am a little concerned about the lack of sandbars on the river.
Don’t worry, the current image used on Google Maps was taken during a high water event. We’ve found that Bing Maps offers the best satellite image of river sandbars (believe it or not).
How deep is the river?
On average, it’s about 5 feet deep. However, there is significant variance from a few inches to as much as 30 feet (this is extremely rare). You can usually walk across 90% of the river in normal conditions though high water can mean an extra 2-4 feet of water depth.
Should I be worried about collapsing sandbars and getting sucked underneath (I heard a lot of bad stories)?
This would be an interesting study in sociology as stories like this have been passed down from parents, probably since forever ago (Ryan grew up near the river and never stepped foot in it until 23 years later because of these stories). This river is no more or less dangerous than most other bodies of water. You will not fall through a sandbar. Most drownings and serious injuries are directly related to alcohol use. It is possible to get caught underneath a downed tree or find yourself in a little bit of ‘quicksand’ on the downstream side of a sand bar, but generally speaking, the river is not going to kill you. There is about 1 death in 300,000 river users. To put this in comparison, someone is 32x more likely to die in a vehicle over the same period of time.
Is the Wisconsin River a good place to bring my family?
Yes. We have had a child as young as 6 months come out on the river (the parents figured potential crying might as well happen on a sandbar away from other campers rather than a typical campground). Young kids especially like to run around and play on sandbars. For peace of mind, you should require life jackets be worn while they’re in the water. You’ll also want to plan on doing half the distance normal adults might do as kids will tire quickly and leave the bulk of the paddling to mom and dad.
What kind of animals can I expect to see?
On a warm day you can expect to see hundreds of turtles sunning themselves along the shoreline. The record for number of turtles on one log is 57 (photo to prove it). There are also a significant number of bald eagles, herons, cranes, and deer. You may also see river otters, beaver, black bears, and a (non-poisonous) water snake at certain times of the year.
Is it possible to get drinking water along the way or do we need to bring it with us?
While it is possible to filter river water, we strongly suggest you bring enough water to last the entire trip. This works out to about 1-1.5 gallons per person per day for drinking, cooking, and washing. Water is available at the VFW canoe launch and Tower Hill State Park but again, it will be much easier to bring it with you. Stores like Walmart often have 5 gallon water bags in the camping department that are inexpensive and durable.
The weather forecast looks a little sketchy tomorrow morning, can we push back our departure time?
Yes. If the weather looks a little uncertain, feel free to let us know you would like to push back your departure time, preferably as soon as possible. If thunderstorms and severe weather remain in the area throughout the day of your trip, we will fully refund your trip.
What if there's high water and our trip is cancelled?
We will be in touch via email and text message to keep you up to date on adverse river conditions. Since water levels are out of everyone’s control, we will issue a full refund regardless of whether you’d like to reschedule. We’d love to have you come back but we’d rather give you the option than the requirement.
If you absolutely want to get out on the river, it may be possible depending on how severe the water levels are. There are a handful of sandbars/islands that remain above most high water but this space is very limited and not always guaranteed. We will inform your group of the available options if it’s requested.
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End of FAQ