Canoe & Kayak Camping Wisconsin: Buckhorn State Park
Flatwater paddlers are sure to love Buckhorn for the easy lake access right from their secluded shoreline campsite. Located south of Necedah, the sprawling Buckhorn State Park is a peninsula on Castle Rock Lake, Wisconsin’s fourth largest lake. It’s one of the many flowages on the Wisconsin River in what’s known as the Central Sands region. One unique diversion in terms of paddling is a self-guided canoe trail where paddlers can learn about the park’s unique wetlands. With abundant wildlife, excellent fishing, and a couple-dozen lakeside sites, Buckhorn is an attractive paddle-camping option.
Paddling Style: Flatwater Paddling
Best Suited For: Canoes + Kayaks
Camping Location: Riverside
Availability: Reservable Designated Campground Sites
Paddle-in: Yes | Walk-in: Yes
Camping Fee: Yes | Camping Permit: No
In addition to 68 family campsites, there are 25 hike-in/cart-in options. The park provides carts to help get your gear to these sites (some locations have shared carts) so that campers can “enjoy nature in a secluded wilderness setting without the effort and weight limitations of backpack camping.” While Buckhorn is not the only park in Wisconsin to offer this convenience, it’s rather unique within the State Park system. However, since these sites are also shoreline accessible, paddlers also have the option to paddle-in from any of the boat landings.
All of the cart-in sites are clustered in small groups but are secluded and spread further apart than traditional campsites. They are all located near the water and while some have sandy beaches, others have a traditional lake shoreline where the land abruptly meets the water. Each site is equipped with a picnic table, fire ring and bench. A portable toilet is also on standby (sit-by?) for each cluster of sites (except for a pit toilet for sites 26-29).
Campground: Buckhorn State Park | Reserve a Site
68 Family Sites (plus 3 group). Most reservable. 7 with electric.
Facilities: Flush toilets, vault toilets, shower building, water and firewood.
25 Backpack/Hike-in/Paddle-in Sites. All reservable.
Facilities: Portable toilet or pit toilet, water and firewood.
Paddling Buckhorn State Park:
Buckhorn is entirely flatwater paddling, but in addition to paddling along the shores of the flowage, there are many nooks and crannies to explore, including a self-guided interpretive trail. The trail is a 1.75 mile round-trip tour located on the east side of the park, intended to teach how our wetlands are one of nature’s most productive and important ecosystems. Along the way, you’ll learn about the diversity in plants and animals that make their home in these specific wetlands; frogs, ducks, osprey, geese, beaver, muskrat and of course, carp, to name a few. From the furthest cart-in sites on the southwestern edge of the Buckhorn peninsula, it’s a 1.75 mile (one-way) paddle to the eastern side. Or you can simply use the canoe landing at the east end of 36th street within the park to put-in and take-out.
For those willing to put in the extra effort (and miles), paddlers could also explore the marshy maze of backwaters of the Yellow River State Wildlife Area that flows into the northern end of the flowage on the western side of the peninsula.
Fishing on Castle Rock is wonderful too – this is the Wisconsin River, afterall. Anglers can and will hook anything from musky, pike, smallmouth, largemouth, walleye, crappie, sturgeon, catfish to all kinds of panfish. Probably a carp here or there, too. And definitely a bullhead.
Lastly, there are two things to keep in mind about paddling a large lake like Castle Rock. One, it can get very busy during the summer months from a variety of watersport traffic – fishing, jet skiing, water skiing, pontooning, etc., so be prepared for some wake and noise. And two, a windy day can make things a bit more daunting on a broad lake such as this (unless wind is your jam).
Seasonal canoe and kayak rentals are available within the park which are provided by the Friends of Buckhorn State Park. That convenience makes Buckhorn especially appealing to novice paddlers who are curious about paddle-camping.
Buckhorn State Park Map