★ ★

Honey Creek (Sauk County)

County Road O to Ferry Bluff Landing:
Honey Creek is a pleasant enough stream that meanders around the Baraboo Range, but unfortunately there are way too many portages to make this a recommendable paddle.

Honey Creek

Rating: ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: July 25, 2014

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater

Gradient:
2.4′ per mile

Gauge:
n/a

Recommended Levels:
This is a paddle we simply don’t recommend regardless of levels.

Put-In:
County Road O, Sauk County, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.27824, -89.8347
Take-Out:
Ferry Bluff public landing, Wisconsin River
GPS: 43.23967, -89.80997

Time: Put in at 1:10p. Out at 3:35p.
Total Time: 2h 25m
Miles Paddled: 5.5

Wildlife: Sandhill cranes, deer, cardinals and geese.

Shuttle Information:
A pretty 4.5-mile bike ride or drive through hilly farms.


Background:

Despite its name, there is nothing sweet about this creek. “Bittersweet” is probably a better way of describing it. If you look at a map and see Honey Creek, how big it is and where it courses through Sauk County, it’s easy to wonder/hope/expect it to hold a lot of promise, particularly the downstream section where it passes past not one but two beautiful bluffs that are designated state natural areas: Lodde’s Mill Bluff and Ferry Bluff.

That said, don’t fall for it, unless portaging a dozen times in 5-ish miles is your idea of fun. Besides, the bluffs are better by boot than boat and there’s nearly no specific detail that can be discerned from the water, just the general idea of “oh, there’s a big hill out of nowhere.” I’ve had this creek on my curiosity list for years now but it’s crossed off, finished and never to be repeated. It ain’t worth the pain in the ass. Not in a kayak but absolutely positively definitely not in a canoe! It’s too narrow and the obstructions, too many.

What we liked:
The water is mostly clear (not crystal clear but clean) with a lovely sandy bottom. Random sand banks and even sand bars are dotted along the trip. Where the creek flows through wooded sections, it’s very intimate and pretty but terribly neglected. Thus, you will run into lots and lots of deadfall.

The open sections provide for a nice break from the ducking, dodging and portaging. It’s in these parts you’ll be rewarded with a handful of views of the lovely rolling landscape. After three miles, the creek rounds the base of Lodde’s Mill Bluff. Maybe the view is better in early spring or late autumn, without leaves on the trees, but I was disappointed. There were no exposed rock outcrops, no discernible features, etc. Cool that it’s there but it’s more of an intellectual appreciation (knowing that it’s there and then confirming it once you see it), rather than an emotional one (seeing it with that jaw-dropping “holy shit, that’s pretty!” kind of feeling).

To be sure, there is a feeling or a reckoning beyond the realm of words that is paddling below a 300’-high bluff that is 500 million years old. Hang on a second, because when figures like those are casually thrown around they’re easy to slide past the mind’s more acute sensibility. Let’s put this in perspective for a second (no pun intended). The scientific consensus is that the Grand Canyon is a wee young thing of 6 million years. Dinosaurs only reared their Jurassic faces around 200 million years ago. Half a billion years is very, very old indeed. Granted, that awe is compromised somewhat when the water is too shallow to float on or there is yet another godforsaken downed tree to portage. But for a paddle lacking in some other choice factors, the dumbstruck awe of geological time is a pretty good standby.

The take-out for this trip is at the base of Ferry Bluff, which is one of the single prettiest hills on the entire lower Wisconsin River. If you have the time, (hint: you should make the time for this!) leave your boats by the launch and hike up the trail to one of two lookout points offering gorgeous views of southwestern Wisconsin. From here you can see Columbia, Dane and Iowa counties, including the bluff at the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, Blue Mounds and even a hint of a rather bare beach in the Mazomanie area… Just don’t try this from November to April, the trail is closed due to bald eagle nesting.

What we didn’t like:
This is a narrow stream tucked in the nooks of the Baraboo Hills serviced by no one, so one can expect a lot of deadfall. A lot a lot. I had anticipated this, so I was not at all surprised to have to get out of my boat and portage only a couple hundred yards after putting in. So it’s gonna be one of those days, I told myself.

But the section in between the put-in and Highway 60 was surprisingly not too bad. So much so, actually, that it lulled me into thinking that the downstream stretch from Highway 60 to the take-out at Ferry Bluff and the confluence with the Wisconsin River would be a piece of cake. It should be wider and deeper, after all, right? Wrong – very wrong. That section was suck city, pure and simple.

Even to the very end, the water is shallow almost to the point of futility. Huh? Why? And here too is where apparently a memo went out long ago telling the trees to just give up, die, and fall into the water bank-to-bank. I stopped counting after 10, no longer amused or in the mood. To put it another way, it took me 80 minutes to paddle the 3.5 miles from County Road O to Highway 60 but 75 mins to paddle/portage the 1.9 miles from O to the take-out.

If we did this trip again:
Hell no! Not only do I not recommend this trip, I’d advise against paddling it. There’s just no point. What fleeting attractions it has can be found in greater abundance without the fuss and frustration on other nearby streams. I’m glad I personally paddled it, since it’s been on the list for years but it’s crossed out and not to be done again.

***************
Related Information:
Wikipedia: Honey Creek

Photo Gallery:

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Aaron Smith
    August 13, 2014 at 1:37 am

    If you think that was bad for logjams, you should see the upper sections of Honey Creek 😉 Quite a shame, as Honey Creek is actually quite nice and would be a great paddle without the jams.

    I've heard stories of people doing the lower Honey Creek with much less dead-fall, so wonder if this creek really got hit by some of the floods we've had these past few years. I might still try a section between Blackhawk and Witwen in the future though which I've scouted somewhat.

    The crown jewel of Honey Creek is of course the state natural area Hemlock Draw (which would be epic to paddle if it had enough water). Terrific stream to hike though. Right up there with Hemlock Draw, Baxtor's Hollow, Durwards Glen and Pewitt's nest when it comes to must do "stream hikes" in Sauk County. The Honey Creek SNA (different branch of the creek from Hemlock draw) is also a great hike.

  • Reply
    Ram bling
    August 14, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Hey Aaron,

    Yeah, this trip was disappointing. I too considered a longer than 5.5 miles trip in the Blackhawk/Witwen area, but I'm glad I kept it short. Shallow water would probably be an issue though, since it's only at Witwen that the North Branch of Honey Creek feeds the mainstream.

    But yes, in my fantasy world paddling the North Branch in the first week of icemelt and spring thaw would be theoretically sublime. I've hiked in both state natural areas (getting lost with a friend on Super Bowl Sunday this past February on one memorable hike in Hemlock Draw, but that's another story), and dreamed about paddling Honey Creek SNA. I doubt it's possible (without being supremely frustrating — shallow, deadfall — but it's a hauntingly gorgeous landscape).

    Happy paddling!

    Tim

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    August 24, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Informative website. I'm a Wisco native but I didn't know all these adventures existed. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    August 24, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks for the comment! Always happy to hear we've helped inspire some new adventures. Take care!

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