★ ★

Lemonweir River

Lemonweir to Cliff House Road:
More a maze than amazing, this winding, kinky river nonetheless offers a beautiful sandy bottom and clear water, lots of sandbars, some good wildlife, a few impressive rock formations and a genuine hardwood river bottoms area you can get lost in for hours.

Lemonweir River

Rating: ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: August 17, 2013

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
New Lisbon: ht/ft: 2.3 | cfs: 110

Current Levels:
New Lisbon: ht/ft: 2.90 | cfs: 134

Recommended Levels:
These levels are too low. Instead, we recommend a minimum of 170 cfs. Between 200-300 cfs is ideal.

19th Avenue, Lemonweir Mills Canoe Launch, Lemonweir, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.78723, -90.0168
Cliff House Road, Two Rivers Boat Launch, Wisconsin River
GPS: 43.76149, -89.85258

Time: Put in at 10:40a. Out at 4:00p.
Total Time: 5h 20m
Miles Paddled: 15.25

Blue herons, turtles, clams and plovers.


A month ago someone wrote milespaddled.com asking about paddling up the Lemonweir from the mouth at the Wisconsin River. The only portion of the Lemonweir I had done was the final four miles or so, beginning at the County HH bridge and continuing towards the Dells. So the occasion struck me as a good time to check out a more prominent stretch of the Lemonweir.

A buddy of mine who describes himself as an “old fart” is a member of a sometime pickup band called Moldy Jam, whose byline is “it doesn’t get much better than this.” It’s a clever phrase with two meanings: this is so good it can’t get any better, or sorry folks but this is as good as we’re gonna do. The Lemonweir is like this. If you are looking for that quintessential summer paddle with your friends on a hot day with cold beer lazily going down an intimate river, then the Lemonweir is this and not much gets better than that. But if you are hoping that the Lemonweir offers something hidden and unordinary, some secret gem if only due to its proximity to the Dells of the Wisconsin River, then I’m sorry but it doesn’t get any better than sandbars and some wildlife.

And perhaps fittingly, the whole long day I had the song “Lemonworld” by The National in my head.

What we liked:
The water is clear and has decent current (in spite of being pretty low when I paddled it). There is sand virtually everywhere, which does make the landscape kind of cool. Sandbanks, sandbars, sandy bottom. There’s a lot to like. Clam shells are in abundance, too. There is little in the way of development during this long slog of a trip, although the noise from relatively nearby Highway 82 is distinctly present.

The put-in is at the site of a former mill. I could not detect much evidence of that but there is an odd pond right there. You can either paddle across the sandy pond, portage about three feet, then hit the river from there or you can walk down a path some 75’ or so.

If you take out at the County HH bridge (which technically is not at the bridge itself but just a spit further downstream by a snowmobile bridge but it’s very easy to see where to get out) or the Two Rivers access, both provide great access. If you use the Two Rivers access, take a moment to mark the spot in your memory. The end of the Lemonweir is a messy maze of mostly navigable options, so depending on how you traverse, you may end up well away from the actual takeout. The rule of thumb here is look for the gorgeous rock bluffs, and then you’ll see the small concrete boat ramp tucked away.

What we didn’t like:
There simply are no ways of shortening this trip. You either take out at HH or at the mouth of the Wisconsin River, that’s it. To do the latter requires a fair amount of stamina and patience. The Lemonweir is kinky to the point of perverted. Really, it should be called “Lemonweird.” Trust me, you will get lost… at least once, probably twice. So while a 15-mile paddle is a healthy jaunt in any occasion, on this crooked river of many dead-ends, sloughs, backwater blockages and who knows what else, prepare for a long day. The trick is just to allow yourself to be mislead and disoriented, laugh/shrug it off and use your commonsense. I personally am rarely known for my commonsense and I did fine. But it was a long day.

The Lemonweir is certainly interesting and not without mention. But it’s so close to what I personally consider one of the absolute best paddles in the entire state, the Wisconsin River beginning at the Two Rivers access all the way to the dam downtown. For my gas money, that’s where I’ll be paddling if I have driven that way. The Lemonweir, in my humble opinion, is exactly what I had hoped it would be more than: undramatic, a bit frustrating at times, disorienting and redundant after awhile.

If we did this trip again:
Like I said, if I’m this close to the Dells area of the river, then I’m just gonna paddle that and go whole hog, why compromise? I am glad I finally did the segment of the Lemonweir that’s been on my to-do list for years but I doubt I’d revisit it.

Related Information:
Video: Lemonweir River Canoeing July 3, 2010
Wikipedia: Lemonweir River

Photo Gallery:

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  • Reply
    October 31, 2013 at 1:10 am

    October 26-27 we ran the Lemonweir putting in at the mills and continuing on down the Wisconsin River through the Dells. Total distance covered was around 26 miles, possibly a bit too much for a two day paddle on such slow portions of these two rivers although we did get a very late start on the first day which didn't help.

    I get why the Lemonweir receives such a bad rap, but we really enjoyed the "remote" feeling much of the River provides as you float through the forest. Water levels were pretty average and I did have to get out and push twice. Downed trees weren't too big of an issue but do require some attention.

    Overall this was a classic trip that I've been meaning to do for years. Fall ended up being a perfect time(temps were in the high 40's-50's during the day and dropped just below freezing at night) with beautiful fall foliage. Camping options are numerous with many sandbars on both the Lemonweir and Wisconsin. Perhaps the best spot is a sand island situated shortly after the confluence with the Wisconsin on river right; we had planned on camping here but fell short and had no problem finding a nice sandbar on the Lemonweir instead.

    The six miles leading up to the Dells were quiet brutal due to a stiff headwind; but once you see Sunset Point signaling the start of the narrows it all becomes worth it. Even on a weekend we practically had the Dells to ourselves and the fall colors just enhanced the already beautiful area.

    Highly recommend this trip; although I would make sure to get an early morning start next time or just plan on spending two nights on the river.

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    November 1, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Thanks for sharing! That's a sizable section of the Lemonweir. Sounds like an overnighter is definitely the way to go. Appreciate the info!

  • Reply
    Ram bling
    November 6, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Hey Derek,
    You and your pal(s) sound like kindred spirits to be paddling/camping that kind of distance in this kind of weather! Folks like y'all keep up the paddling tradition that this website is all about. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Drop us a line anytime!

  • Reply
    steve smith
    August 21, 2023 at 8:47 am

    I am glad you made it out of there alive… I have heard rumors and reports of unsuspecting novices wandering the oxbows and backwaters for days with no idea of what bend in the river they should follow! LOL!

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