Billy and I just went on an 25-mile, overnight kayaking and camping trip on the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, just west of Madison, WI. It was such an amazing trip, we can’t wait to go back!
The Wisconsin River is a wide, shallow river with a pretty strong current and lots of sandbars. The Lower Wisconsin Riverway is ideal for a multi-day paddling trip, especially because there are no dams in the 92.3 mile stretch from Prairie du Sac, WI to the Mississippi River.
We always try to take a weekend camping trip for my birthday. This year Billy planned a trip to Yatesville Lake State Park in Kentucky. We were going to camp at a boat-in site, so I dehydrated a bunch of meals in preparation for the trip. On the Thursday before our trip, I checked the weather. The forecast said rain, and flood warnings to boot. So we scrapped those plans and decided to kayak the Wisconsin River instead.
On Friday, we loaded up the car and headed out. I wasn’t able to find a campsite, most of the state parks in the area were booked up. We decided to try Tower Hill State Park, just outside of Spring Green. Tower Hill has a handful of sites, all of which are first come, first served. Luckily, we were able to get a nice campsite and set up camp.
We headed into Spring Green and had a great lunch at Freddy Valentine’s, a historic bank building that is now a bar restaurant. Then we drove around trying to find an outfitter that would be able to shuttle us and our kayaks. Wisconsin Canoe Company was able to help us out. They charged us about $60 to shuttle us and our kayaks from Peck’s Landing to Prairie du Sac. We planned to kayak 25 miles down the Wisconsin River and return to our car at Peck’s Landing.
We returned to camp and Billy figured out how to fit all our gear into the kayaks. Here’s a complete list of what we brought. Most of our food did not require a cooler. The only things in our small, soft-sided cooler were a few beers and some sharp cheddar (American Cheese is a good alternative, since it does not require refrigeration).
This was our menu for the weekend:
- Friday Dinner: Tortellini with Dehydrated Tomato Basil Sauce
- Saturday Breakfast: Oatmeal with Dehydrated Peaches, Blueberries and Bananas
- Saturday Lunch: Dehydrated Chili, Pita Chips and Dehydrated Hummus
- Saturday Dinner: Broccoli Noodle Salad and Pie Iron Grilled Cheese
- Sunday Breakfast: AlpineAire Bandito Scramble, Cheddar and Dehydrated Hash Browns
- Sunday Lunch: Leftovers (I had planned a Dehydrated Feta Dip, but it didn’t turn out. I won’t be dehydrating feta again)
I’ll link to recipes as I post them. It’s not necessary to dehydrate foods for a trip like this, but I found it convenient since I didn’t have to worry about food spoiling. Dehydrating food does save some weight, but without a reliable source of water (see cow below), you have to pack water anyway. Canned food would work just as well.
On Saturday morning Amy from Wisconsin Canoe Company shuttled us up to Prairie du Sac. On the drive up, she gave us a lot of information about the river. We unloaded our gear, packed up our kayaks and we were off.
Right after we left Prairie du Sac, we started seeing wildlife.
We spotted a Bald Eagle flying, and then landing in a tree off in the distance. We’ve seen a few Bald Eagles this summer. It’s great that they have made such a comeback.
We knew we were in Wisconsin when we spotted this cow chillin’ in the river.
We stopped for lunch on a little island. The river is really shallow, only 5′ on average. Our kayaks bottomed out a few times trying to get to the island. By the end of the trip, we got better at avoiding shallow areas.
I sat on the beach and made lunch, while Billy hiked to the end of the island to check out a bird on the shoreline. It was an Osprey. We ate pita chips, hummus and veggie chili for lunch.
After lunch, we set back out. A little ways downriver, we stopped off at Ferry Bluff State Natural Area for a hike to a lookout point that Amy had recommended. She said that the hike would take about ten minutes, but the bugs were so bad I think we did it in five.
Bugs aside, the view was well worth it. Breathtaking!!
We hopped back in our kayaks. Shortly after, we came across Wisconsin’s only nude beach. Did you think I was going to get closer for a photo?
As the sun started to set, we found a nice little island with a sandy beach to set up camp. We had the whole island to ourselves!
Billy started a fire, and we got dinner started.
We had Broccoli Noodle Slaw and pie iron grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner.
After dinner we relaxed on a blanket by the fire. The sunset was gorgeous, and once it got dark, you wouldn’t believe how many stars were in the sky. I used the Sky Guide App on my iPhone to locate stars and constellations.
When we woke up the next morning, it was raining. We made some tea and coffee and hung out in the tent waiting for it to stop.
Around ten o’clock it cleared up, and we made a breakfast of freeze-dried eggs, hash browns & cheddar. It was cloudy with a chill in the air. It felt like fall day. We packed up and headed out to complete our last nine miles.
We paddled along the shoreline, checking out the wildlife on the shore. We stopped off at a few sandbars along the way.
Shortly after lunch, we saw Peck’s Landing and our journey was complete. I’ll definitely be back someday, and maybe I’ll even paddle all 92.3 miles of the free-flowing Lower Wisconsin Riverway.
Some tips if you’re headed out to the Lower Wisconsin Riverway:
- You can’t bring any glass – no glass containers, beer bottles, jars, etc.
- Bring 1 gallon of water per person, per day. You may want to bring more if it’s really hot.
- If you can fit a bundle of firewood in your kayak or canoe, bring it. By the end of the summer there isn’t much wood to collect for campfires.
- You can camp on islands and sandbars in the Wisconsin River for free, but you can’t camp on the shore.
- Select a sandbar that is 18″ above the river. A rainstorm upriver can quickly flood low lying areas.
- Mark the shoreline of your sandbar with a stick. That way, you’ll know if the water is rising.
- I don’t want to sound like your mom or anything, but wear your life jacket. Especially if you’re drinking.
- Check out our packing list from this trip.