Wisconsin River Camping Trips

The majority (close to 85%) of our customers choose to camp out on a sandbar in the river. It’s a popular trip. Seriously. Ask anyone that’s ever tried to book a last minute rental in July or August. That said, you won’t see a million people packed boat to boat. You’ve got 25 miles of sandbars to choose from and the river is often several hundred yards wide or more. And if true solitude is your thing, take a day off of work in the middle of the week. Whether it’s just you, twenty friends, or two hundred boy scouts, there’s room and we’d be happy to get you out there.

First time? Be prepared!

Overnight Options

The most popular 3 day/2 night option (typically done Fri-Sun) that we offer is the 25 mile stretch of river from Prairie Du Sac to Spring Green. This passes through Sauk City, Ferry Bluff, and Arena.

You’ll start out within sight of the last dam on the Wisconsin River and paddle down behind the Prairie Du Sac/Sauk City main streets. After passing an abandoned, half dismantled railroad bridge you’ll only see a few houses for the rest of the trip. You can find a pretty sweet view of the river from the top of Ferry Bluff after a half-mile hike up from the river (this will be on the map we provide you).

In most cases, you’re free to set up camp on any sandbar you come across. The few that aren’t available for camping are near the nude beach and clearly marked as no camping allowed. Most of the best sandbars start to show up in large numbers at or below Arena but the best sandbars are also the first to be taken.

This is where passengers and gear would be dropped off and where you’ll eventually begin the trip downriver (paddling from right to left):

The Mazomanie trip bridges the 2 day/1 night gap between the (sometimes too short) Arena and (sometimes too long) Prairie Du Sac options while keeping access to the short Ferry Bluff hike to the best overlook of the river valley. This 18 mile stretch of river takes about 6 hours of nonstop paddling start to finish which is just about the perfect distance for a Saturday-Sunday canoe trip.

This is where passengers and gear would be dropped off and where you’ll eventually begin the trip downriver (paddling from right to left):

The 10 mile Arena to Spring Green stretch is one of the best on the river. Very little development, tons of sandbars, and an easy finish in Spring Green (you can pack up your car and leave as soon as you arrive) makes this a great option if you’re looking for more of a social trip than a paddling trip. You’ll be able to paddle for a few hours, float with the current, and generally take it easy and have a good time with your friends (the ones you brought and/or the ones you just shared a sandbar with).

Nabbing a sandbar early means you’ll get your pick of them. It also means you’ll have plenty of time to spend the day playing games, drinking beers, and sitting around the campfire. The relatively short distance you’ll need to travel in the morning is usually a welcome relief to those that may have partied a little too hard or are ready to get back to the cars and on the way to a shower.

This is where passengers and gear would be dropped off and where you’ll eventually begin the trip downriver (paddling from right to left):

All drivers will park their vehicles at Peck’s Landing in Spring Green where they will board the shuttle bus for a ride back upriver to the starting point you’ve chosen. Everyone will paddle back to this location where you will drop off your rental equipment and your cars will be waiting for you.

Finishing a canoe camping trip at Peck's Landing with Wisconsin Canoe Company

How long should your trip be?

  • Average non-stop paddle speed of 3-4mph (including current)
  • 3-4 hours of paddling will feel like a solid day
  • Better to be a little short than a little long
  • Erring on the side of less instead of more is generally a good bet
  • Larger groups typically prefer more sandbar socializing, less paddling
  • West winds can pick up early in the afternoon and usually stop at 7pm

When figuring out how far you’ll want to go, know that the average paddler (this includes Wisconsin Canoe staff) travels downriver at 3-4 mph when paddling at a constant rate in normal conditions.  That means 25 miles will take ~7 to 8 hours of nonstop paddling – no wind, no coasting, no breaks, no sandbars.

In our experience, even the most ambitious groups will not want to paddle more than 5 hours in a day (3.5-4 feels like a good, full day) and you’ll want to leave extra time for the prevailing west winds, floating with the current, and sandbar time.  Groups of 4 or more boats tend to move much slower than a smaller group of 1 or 2 boats. West winds typically pick up in the afternoon – morning paddling is best paddling. The winds usually stop in the late afternoon/evening.

If it’s your first time and you’re not sure how far your group will want to go, the best advice I can offer is plan for slightly less distance than you think the group can handle. There’s no rush going downstream, especially since your cars are waiting for you at the end.  It’s better to have the distance be too short rather than too long.  An extra hour on a sandbar is much more desirable (and typical) than an extra unwanted hour in a canoe.  If the trip turns out to be too short, now you know for next time.  If it turns out to be too long, there may not be a next time.

Calm on the Wisconsin River with the Wisconsin Canoe Company

What Happens Now?

Confirm your trip length

Now that you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect for the Arena, Mazomanie, and Prairie Du Sac trips, you’ll want to confirm this option with your group. We can always change your trip length later if you’re having second thoughts but you’ll need to pick an option when you make the reservation.

Decide on a shuttle departure time

Find a departure time from Spring Green that works best for you. Shuttles to Arena, Mazomanie, and Prairie Du Sac typically run everyday at 10am and 12pm. On Fridays we run an additional shuttle at 3pm and on Saturdays during peak season we run additional shuttles at 9am and 11am to all landings. You’ll be able to see exactly what shuttles are available and how many more people can ride them when you book your trip. Groups of 6 or more should drop off passengers and gear at the trip starting point on the way out for convenience (see: driver only shuttles) for more details and landing drop-off locations.

Reserve your boats

At this point, you’re ready to rent your canoes and kayaks. We take our reservations through an automated online booking system. To reserve online, select the date your trip will begin and end to see exactly what’s available. We require reservations at least 36 hours in advance (a Saturday departure typically needs to be booked by 11:59pm Thursday) so don’t wait until the last minute.

On the day of your trip

Plan for your drivers to arrive at the Peck’s Landing (Hwy 23@WI River) canoe launch at least 15 minutes before your shuttle departure. Your vehicle will remain here and if you haven’t dropped your stuff off upriver, you’ll unpack and reload everything onto our shuttle bus. Shuttles leave exactly when scheduled (earlier if everyone with a reservation arrives early) and will not wait for stragglers (stragglers will be put on the next available shuttle and may be responsible for the shuttle fee – $2.50/mile as of 2023). If this will be your first trip with us you might not realize how serious we are about leaving on time – the bus WILL leave without you.

After being dropped off at your start point upstream with your boat rentals you’ll begin your trip downstream back to your vehicle. You’ve got the full length of your rental period to stop at sandbars, play in the river, etc. Because your vehicle is waiting at the end, you’ll be able to pack up and leave as soon as you’re back. There is no set time you’ll need to finish, you just need to be off the water by 6pm on the last day of your rental period. You’ll leave our equipment at the landing where we come through regularly throughout the day to pick it up.