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.
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.
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 will want to purchase wood ahead of time.
Yes, there is plenty of space for your coolers just make sure they aren’t more than 29″ on the longest side to ensure they’ll fit in the canoes. Distance between thwarts is about 22″ in both ‘storage’ sections. Kayaks can handle a small 12-pack cooler (soft sided coolers are best here).
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. It’s worth doing some research in advance so you know what to expect when trying to paddle with a pet for the first time.
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 overnight. All of our canoes only have seats for 2 people so any more than that will have to figure out an alternative seat.
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 (depending on water levels) 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.
If it’s a true emergency, call 911. Spring Green, Arena, and Prairie Du Sac (the start, middle, and end point of our stretch of river) offer emergency river search and rescue services. In a life threatening emergency there is no charge for a rescue though your equipment will almost certainly be left behind on the islands. 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. 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.
I’m sorry guys but unless you’ve got your act together and you know what’s going on, you’re not going to be able to organize and load your stuff into the shuttle vehicles fast enough for us to leave on time. It isn’t fair to everyone else that showed up early and already 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.
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 an annual 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 documented complaining about sandbar locations since the first European explorers came down the river over 300 years ago.
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 may try to accommodate you. More likely, someone wants to do a ‘customization’ on those busy Saturday mornings and we just can’t handle it. Also, the one special exception we made 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.
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 and their canoes 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 if you’re just sitting and not organizing your stuff before the boats arrive.
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.
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.
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.
We guarantee that your reserved boat will be there, and as such, if one isn’t returned on time, we’ve got a problem for the next person, 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, an extra day will be charged to your reservation at the single day rental rate. If you’re just getting back at 7pm instead of 6pm, you’ll probably be fine.
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.
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.
Don’t worry, the image used on Google Maps was likely taken during a high water event. If there is likely to be a lack of sandbars, we’ll tell you about it, usually on the front page.
Yes. We have had a child as young as 3 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.
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.
It’s fine by us! Generally you’ll have a better idea of what the kids are capable of than we are. In our experience, kids that age seem to be pretty competent on their own. Worst case, if they (or any other pair) is struggling, you can always swap partners.
Yes, in almost all cases we can add extra buses if necessary. A better alternative is to drop off your passengers and gear ahead of time so you’ll only need a few seats on the bus.
Camping is only allowed on sandbars/islands. A large percentage of the riverbank is private land and we have a few infamous locals that can get pretty protective of it. Besides, the vast majority of shoreline is infested with poison ivy and mosquitoes. You’ll definitely want to stick to the sand.
The most accurate/recent version will be on your reservation, but generally:
Refund Policy – Initial reservations can be canceled without penalty if done within 24 hours of making the reservation. Full refunds are issued for any reason (minus a $10 admin fee per canceled boat) until 7 days before your scheduled departure. If a trip is canceled within 7 days, a gift certificate will be issued. This certificate expires one year from the date of issue. No refunds or credits are allowed within 24 hours of departure or after check-in (this includes ending your trip early for any reason). We strongly recommend holding off on a reservation until your group is 100% ready and purchasing travel insurance.
Weather Policy – Full refunds are offered for day trips if a severe weather watch or warning is issued by the NWS and is scheduled to occur anytime between 8am and 3pm on the day of your trip (this is not an automatic cancellation, we’ll still put you out if the weather doesn’t concern you). This does not apply to overnight groups as this is a wilderness environment and campers are expected to be prepared for inclement weather while camping on the river. In cases of high water (>4′ deep), all trips will be cancelled automatically due to a lack of sandbars. Refunds will be issued on original form of payment.
Refunds are not based on weather forecasts and will only be issued on the day of the trip. We do not cancel for small storms and rain! If you’re afraid of less than ideal weather, do not make a reservation until you have a reliable forecast. In all seriousness, we do not take kindly to people that call because their weather app says it’s gonna storm in three days. If high water or severe weather is predicted during your trip, we’ll keep you updated via email and SMS.
Reservations are required at least 48 hours in advance however we typically sell out July and August weekends up to a couple weeks in advance. Keep this in mind when planning your trip.
Basically, we aren’t able to easily re-rent the boats which is a serious hit when the peak rental season is only 2 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.
Yes, we charge a $10 cancellation fee for each dropped boat regardless of circumstances. Consider it an inconvenience fee. 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.
In short, it’s another inconvenience fee. More specifically, it’s very common to mishear information over the phone 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.
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 day before so we’re ready for the morning rush. If you walk in on a Saturday morning, we likely 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.
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.
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.
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 someone with a voucher code to be used with an online reservation.
Send us a message. The expiration dates allow us to maintain accurate accounting but we’ll almost always extend the expiration date another year or two if you ask.
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.
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.
Group discounts are automatic and only apply to boats on a single reservation.
Yes, there is no penalty for moving your reservation to another day provided the change is made at least a day 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.
This needs to be reserved ahead of time. Alternatively, just about every gas station in the area sells firewood for $5-6/bundle.
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.
I’m sorry to hear that! If a significant event has occurred and you or your family are 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.
Yes. Please reply to your confirmation email with your new preferred shuttle departure at least 48 hours in advance and we will update your reservation.
Yes. We will base all refunds on the timestamp of your message. If it was a shortly after the deadline, we’ll allow it.
Probably, but you should let us know regardless (and check your SPAM folder!). 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 we will be happy to resend the confirmation.
All is not lost! We will issue a 100% refund, no fees attached if you cancel your reservation within 24 hours.
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.
Refunds are not based on weather forecasts. We do not cancel for small storms and rain! If you’re afraid of less than ideal weather, do not make a reservation until you have a reliable forecast. In all seriousness, we do not take kindly to people that call because their weather app says it’s gonna storm in three days. Cancelling a trip within 7 days of departure will allow you to reschedule your trip for another date. Cancelling within 24 hours of departure will not result in a refund or credit.
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, sending a text message is generally a good bet.
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.
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.
Yes, fishing is allowed everywhere on the river. A fishing license is required and can be purchased online through the Wisconsin. The lower Wisconsin River is popular with local fishermen, especially right below the dam in Prairie Du Sac. Because it is connected to the Mississippi River, southern and western species of fish are able to move through the lower Wisconsin River resulting in 84 known species of fish in the basin.
The main channel has a lot of game fish including walleye, sauger, catfish, smallmouth bass and northern pike while the backwater sloughs typically have bluegill, bullhead, crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike and dogfish. There are significant numbers of panfish including bluegills, crappie, white bass and rock bass.
It’s not uncommon to also find suckers, freshwater drum (sheepshead), American eel, longnose gar, carp, musky, sturgeon, and paddlefish. The 3.5 miles stretch of the river immediately downstream of the dam at Prairie du Sac is heavily influenced by the dam and is not typical of the rest of the river. The fish population in this stretch below the dam is typical of tail water areas below dams on major rivers where seasonal migration upstream is blocked.
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.
Trying to hide your glass bottle of Fireball will not go well.
No. Fireworks are not allowed on the riverway due to noise pollution as well as the unavoidable firework garbage left floating in the river and on sandbars.
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.
This is a surprisingly wide river with very little shade. You will definitely want sunscreen if it’s a remotely sunny day.
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.
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.
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 Wisconsin River and never stepped foot in it until he was 23 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.
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.