We get quite a few people that consider themselves regular pros when it comes to canoeing or kayaking the Wisconsin River (we’ve got our doubts about a couple of these guys but that’s another story) and every year we get a ton more that have never done a canoe trip like this before. Being well prepared for your trip will give you the best experience possible so we’ve put together some of our best resources to make sure you set off on the right foot, whether you think you’re an expert or you’re perfectly happy to admit this is your first time. Check out the tabs below to get pointed in the right direction.
Picking up a paddle and learning by doing will certainly get you down the river. You may not be the most efficient paddler, but you’ll get where you’re going. If you’d prefer to go in knowing which end of the paddle to hold, the videos below will give you some solid pointers. The most important strokes are the forward stroke for the person in front and the J-stroke for the person in back. FYI, it’s always the back person’s fault. You’ll understand what that means when you’re on the river.
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. Almost 30 years ago, the last 92 miles of river were preserved from further development in what is now called the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. The result is that the views from the river look much the same now as they did 300 years ago with tree covered bluffs down to the waters edge and tons of wildlife. Expect to spend the day floating along with the river watching for turtles, bald eagles, and other animals or stretching your legs on the sandbars, playing games, grilling out, etc. The river is 95% sand bottom and averages only 5 feet deep despite being several hundred yards wide. In fact, you could mostly walk the entire length of it (one guy actually did this the first year we opened). Tens of thousands of people head out on the river every summer.
For more information specific to the Wisconsin River, check out our pages on:
This is why people come here. The sandbars are big, the river is wide, and you’re free to set up camp anywhere that looks good. The river has been protected from development for so long that it looks much the same now as it did a hundred years ago. This is legit backcountry camping – no site numbers, no permits, no picnic tables, no nothing. Whether you’re planning the first trip or the fiftieth, the following pages have all of the information you’ll need:
Canoe Camping Guide
Kayak Camping Guide
Day Trip Booking Process
Overnight Trip Process
Easy Camping Food Ideas
Canoe, Camp, Climb
Frequently Asked Questions
Choosing a canoe or a kayak is the age old question in river trips. Each have their benefits and drawbacks and luckily, the answer is usually pretty easy depending on what you want to do.
- Tons of space for gear. In some cases, canoes will hold a literal ton (ours top out at about 1,000lbs).
- Great stability, relatively hard to tip over
- Split costs between two people
- It’s like paddling a tub. Canoes are pretty slow.
- If you do tip, most of your stuff will go into the river if you haven’t tied it down.
- Canoes are the red-headed step children of the water sports world.
- Fast. While you wouldn’t compare out boats to a Ferrari, they’ll blow a canoe out of the water. Figuratively.
- Kayaks are pretty self contained in that the dry hatches will keep your stuff relatively dry even if you go over.
- It’s possible to look downright sexy slicing through the water in your kayak.
- It’s pretty easy to tip over in the middle of the river. Our kayaks have been purchased with primary stability in mind but it still happens.
- You better be prepared to go without a lot of the essentials on a kayak trip, like a full cooler of beer.
- Kayaks tend to be a bit more expensive.
The quick and easy answer is:
- If you’re on a day trip, choose whatever your heart fancies.
- If you’re going overnight and you know how to pack well and don’t much care what you bring along, choose whatever your heart fancies.
- If you tend to be the kind of people that bring a ton of stuff, go with the canoes.
- If you’re totally into the backpacking and want to travel in a kayak, get a kayak.
- If your group is in the middle of the road and someone really wants to do a kayak or two, do a mix of canoes and kayaks.
The following information is just about everything you’ll want to be aware of when it comes to staying safe on the river. For those of you that tend to get worked up about this kind of stuff, just keep in mind that for each serious incident, tens of thousands more people camp out on this section of river every year without any issues. The drive here will be more dangerous than anything you do on the river. And if it’s any consolation, no one has ever died while wearing a life jacket out here.