★ ★ ★ ★

Grant River I

Short Cut Road to County Road U:
When it comes to Wisconsin driftless paddles, the Grant is as captivating as they come with its twists, turns, riffles and rock formations. However, there’s currently one big caveat and by big, we mean one big portage around an enormous pile of deadfall that has obstructed this normally free-flowing section. Even still, this river has been a go-to of ours for years and will continue to be, but it’s best paddled in spring when the foliage is less dense to expose more of its stunning features.

Grant River

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: June 12, 2021

Previous Trip Reports:
April 23, 2016
May 23, 2009

Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Riffles + Class I

≈ 6′ per mile

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Burton: ht/ft: 5.58 | cfs: 200

Current Levels:
Burton: ht/ft: 4.85 | cfs: 121

Recommended Levels:
These are bare-minimum levels. In the past we’ve recommended a minimum of 175 cfs but it appears the Burton gauge is anything but a sure thing with regards to levels. This time the reading was numerically higher than our last paddle, but the water was lower which suggests this gauge isn’t all that helpful. We had a bit of scraping but as long as we kept with the current, all was good. In 2019, we paddled this same stretch at what should have been higher/faster levels (ht/ft: 6.83 | cfs: 305) but again, the paddle was almost identical with less scraping (and there still was some).

Short Cut Road, West of Lancaster, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.81228, -90.83308
County Road U bridge, South of Beetown
GPS: 42.76189, -90.86411

Time: Put in at 10:30p. Out at 2:30p.
Total Time: 4h
Miles Paddled: 11.25

Ducks and hawks.

Shuttle Information:
The shuttle is a short seven minutes by car.


We’ve covered this stretch of river numerous times before, but to be honest, we weren’t planning on returning to the Grant on this particular day. The original plan was to dip our paddles in the Blake Fork of the Grant River. Loving small water and being OKish with a challenge, we left Madison with high hopes.

Unfortunately, the Blake Fork had next to no water moving between its banks despite all indicators leading up to the trip. What it did have was cows. After thirty minutes of hemming and hawing, each waiting for the other to pull the plug, we decided the Grant River was the best bet. With a not so silent sigh of relief, we pointed the Subaru south on Slabtown and aimed for the Grant River put-in.

The put-in is just south of the Highway 81 bridge off Short Cut Road. It’s marked but there’s nothing remarkable about it other than it’s a public access point and we’ll take that any day of the week. Later in the season, like say, Mid-July as it were, the put-in on Shortcut Road is overgrown, very overgrown. The area looks like private land and the tall weeds/faded sign double down on that. Still, getting the boats in the water here is doable.

It isn’t immediate but the Grant has a lot in store. It slowly builds in plot for the next 5.25 miles. Small riffles and an old iron bridge mark the beginning of what becomes a delightful trip. Maybe not non-stop delight mind you, but it’s one of those trips where straightaways are brief before it gives way to amazing scenery or something of interest at the very least. With almost crystal clear water, the river is riffly, pretty, with unique rock formations, walls – and on a good day, plentiful wildlife.

The first 5.25 miles are almost perfect, the pacing is just right. There’s stretches of nothing until there’s something. You could then choose to take-out at the Grant River Road bridge but even for a short day trip, that’s pretty meager. Unless you’re living just down the road, we can’t recommend a visit to the Grant without making it worth your while (I mean, that’s like suggesting it’s worth driving two hours for a 3-mile stretch). Exiting early would be premature because it doesn’t give you the complete narrative of what this river has to offer (and it’s the appetizer for the next section downstream which we also recommend).

The enjoyment continues but with what feels like flatter and longer stretches between features or highlights compared to the first half of the trip. Still, there’s plenty in-store, just at a different pace. Twists and turns eventually lead into intimate little canyon-like curves. Slabs of rock, some fallen, some eroded, some white, some green – all just beautiful. Ridges frame the paddle throughout, creating inviting and intimate narrows.

About a mile and a half prior to the takeout is a rather new development since the last time we visited – an amazingly large pile of deadfall clogging the entire river from bank-to-bank. It’s as if an entire collection of dead trees were flushed down the river (and likely were). As for getting around it? It’s a headscratcher at first but there are a couple ways to get past it, neither of which are all that great. Trevor chose to carefully work his way through the branches on river left which required a bit of limb/boat-balance strategery. I chose what felt like the cleanest option. I was partly right. It required climbing up an eroded sandy bank lined with corn, followed by a prickly walk through some dead stalks, finished off by a steep descent back to the water. When/if this portage is cleared, it will surely require a chainsaw, if not dynamite.

The take-out, beneath the County Road U bridge is much improved and less-ambiguous as far as exactly which exit point is public access than it used to be. There’s a staircase with some imbedded logs to help you slide your boat up the steep bank. At the top is a donation box to use (and I assume maintain) the landing. We were happy to donate a few bucks. (Back in the day the staircase was off-limits unless you used the local outfitter or asked their permission. That is no longer the case.) If the staircase isn’t your thing, there are standard erosion-preventing boulders lining the bank below the bridge which make for other exit/entry points.

What we liked:
The reliable riffles and beautiful scenery of the Grant always leave you feeling pretty good about life. The bluffs, tight turns and interesting rock formations make this likable in any condition.

What we didn’t like:
We didn’t like the Blake Fork being a water-trough and lavatory for cows, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the Grant (except it actually has a lot to do with the Grant, being a tributary and all… but anyway…). There wasn’t a whole lot to not like about this trip, save for that one massive field of deadfall causing for a hairy portage which wasn’t all that great. We’re not sure when/if Mother Nature is going to resolve it naturally or if some river angels will swoop in at some point to take care of the situation, but if you can manage that one bump in the road, it’s well worth it.

If we did this trip again:
Overall, the Grant lives up to its reputation as a southwest Wisconsin gem. From experience, the best time to paddle this section is in spring when there’s less foliage. In the middle of summer, it’s still cool but many of the outcrops are obscured. While it was “scrapey” in some areas due to low water, it did not demand Unconditional Surrender (a little Civil War joke for you there). Even in drought conditions, the Grant is a reliable destination as well as a great fall back if your off the beaten path plans goes awry.

Related Information:
Grant River II: County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road
Grant River III: Chaffie Hollow Road to Potosi Point Recreational Area
Camp: Nelson Dewey State Park
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Wikipedia: Grant River

Miles Paddled 2021 Video:

Miles Paddled 2019 Video:

Miles Paddled 2016 Video:

Photo Gallery:


Previous Trip Report:
April 23, 2016
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

You could say that prior to hundreds of miles between our first visit to this river and now, we indeed, took it for granted (pun, sheepishly intended).

Gauge Recorded on this Trip: 
Burton: ht/ft: 5.40 | cfs: 180

Current Levels:
Burton: ht/ft: 4.85 | cfs: 121

Time: Put in at 11:15a. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 4h 15m

Lesson learned: rivers change and so do perspectives. We essentially did the Grant River a disservice with our initial report seven years ago with our lean reporting on this section (mind you, seven years is quite awhile ago and Miles Paddled wasn’t quite what it’s grown into today). So this time, we’re going to “dis” the diservice and service this river the way it was meant to, because the Grant is an excellent paddling destination, deserving of a spotlight.

Back in 2009, my first paddle through the driftless (my paddling “youth”, if you will) was this section of the Grant. My expectation then, was of a non-stop riffly ride surrounded by endless rock outcrops and scenery unparralleled. Those expectations were a bit unreasonable (considering how special that tall order was) and based on nothing but the perspective of others.

Now, “non-stop” may not be true but consistently interesting with riffles and outcrops and amazing wildlife opportunities? Absolutely.

Back then, I came across the recommendation via Paddling Southern Wisconsin by Mike Svob and a now-defunct Rutabaga blog. Its popularity was well documented for good reason. Why? Because it’s excellent and reliable. What’s changed though is our perspective, because after many miles on many rivers and creeks, we have a much deeper bench for which to compare the Grant. And it’s a solid paddle. A special paddle. One that deserves more recognition than it probably gets. And it really is one of the best paddles in our part of the driftess.

This weekend’s forecast had us scrambling for A) non-rainy weather, B) good water levels and C) decent temperatures. It just so happened that the Southwest corner of Wisconsin was willing to provide all three. It was time to revisit the Grant.

What we liked:
If we can recommend one consideration for this trip – it’s all about the time of the year – this being early spring. It was perfect and it was the ideal time of year to paddle this section. There is plenty of agri-paddling through fields of corn and whatnot but the benefit of this time of year is that the crops were down and views of ridges and outcrops were unhidden. Even the farmers were prepped for Spring with huge piles of brush ready to burn on the banks (some dangerously so).

Sometimes the splashyness of the riffles was outdone by the splashing of what we thought were trout spawning on the river bottom. Turns out, it was literally hundreds of big fat carp. It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It was an amazingly fun expectation that everytime we approached an upstream riffle, we’d surprise huge schools of these guys. It was quite fun, almost a riot at times. The wildlife experience only added to the fun we had. In addition, we saw numerous bald eagles, turtles, deer scurrying up the steep bluffs, ducks, some crazy goose, various river critters and while not wild, the sad fate of a cow lying lifeless in the river (not the hairy boulder we thought it was on approach).

The take-out, beneath the County Road U bridge is decent. There’s a staircase which arguably helps the exit, otherwise, there are standard erosion-preventing boulders under the bridge to climb upon. Back in the day, the staircase was offlimits unless you used the local outfitter or asked their permission. That may still be the case but we literally saw no sign or other signs of that being the reality. It could be because we just paddled this before their season started? I asked some fishermen if there was still an outfitter and though they didn’t know his location, they did indeed know a guy by the name of Dick who still shuttled. So do note, while the stairs may be offlimits during the peak season, you still have every right to access this take-out below the bridge.

We camped that night at Nelson Dewey State Park where we essentially had the park to ourselves – save for only 3 other groups – all of us at the walk-in tent sites overlooking the Missisippi. It was a beautiful punctuation to a great day.

What we didn’t like:
The hairy boulder/dead cow but that’s a sad fact of life. And one of us forgot our tent… knowing full well he was camping (chalk that up to early-season unpreparedness?)

If we did this trip again:
Be it perspective or naivety, this new tango with the Grant changed my view of it. It’s as pretty as they come, a solid stretch putting other rivers in the area (looking at you, Platte) on notice. She’s a popular underdog (oxymoron), unfairly overlooked and written off (by yours truly). It was such a delight to paddle this river again with this newfound perspective. We’ve paddled a lot of water but the Grant is truly a gem. Definitely paddle it in spring – you’ll thank us.

If Grant River I is where we were smitten though, Grant II is where we fell for the girl (again).

Photo Gallery:


Previous Trip Report:
May 23, 2009
☆ ☆ ☆

Expectations were high for our first trip to the Grant. While beautiful and scenic, there was an awful lot of flat water paddling but it was still a wonderful day in the driftless.

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Burton: n/a

Time: Put in at 11:15a. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 4h 15m

What we liked:
On our first visit to the Grant, we chose to paddle Grant River 1 following the book Paddling Southern Wisconsin by Mike Svob. It’s a pretty little river with numerous sections of continuous riffly/rapid areas as well as a couple intense curves that push you intimately close to rock walls (and might give the beginning paddler a heart palpitation depending on water levels).

The put-in on this section of the Grant is on Short Cut Road, not Porter-Hill Road as indicated in the book. The take-out is off Blackjack Road which leads down under the County U bridge (A note on the take-out below).

As expected in this driftless area of Wisconsin, the rock bluffs were beautiful and the wildlife was interesting. We surprised some huge fish, one that I almost had to fend off with my paddle (I’m guessing it was a musky) and we saw a Gar for the first time. It was laying lifeless on a shallow rocky shore. Crazy looking guy (at first I thought it was a dead snake).

We camped at Grant River Recreational Area not too far from the charming little city of Potosi (home of that beloved Snake Hollow IPA). It’s a federal campsite, run by the Army Corp., and we were very lucky to get a spot as it’s full 24/7. Get ready for RV campers, kids (lots of them), dogs (even more of them) and a train that runs through the campsite all day and night, every hour blaring its horn.

The camp was so full in fact that we were asked to share our site with a late-arrival on a bike. Her name was Julie and she was making her way from Madison to Denver on her first cross-country bike trip, a sort of post-college expedition. There is evidence of her travels and us crossing paths somewhere on crazyguyonabike. I can’t find her blog anymore but I did follow it for a time afterwards to see if she made it. 18 days later, she did.

What we didn’t like:
There are a few long miles of flat, flat, water. It made for more work than fun which was something we weren’t counting on. Also, the river is entirely surrounded by private property. The local canoe company wasn’t very approachable at first. We were outsiders on their territory (and not spending money with them). Once we greased the wheels, this toothless fellow allowed us to park in their customer parking at the take-out point but wanted $5 to use the stairs. We declined since we could use the rock take-out directly below the bridge.

If we did this trip again:
I think we had much greater expectations for the Grant going in but it really is a beautiful, peaceful little river. We would probably paddle the second part of this section again, which is considerably more riffly but we’d choose a different take-out.

Photo Gallery:

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