Paoli to Belleville:
A lengthy stretch of the Sugar River with far too many obstructions to warrant paddling – one being quite dangerous. Add to that, the poor take-out options, and this becomes one we can’t recommend.
Trip Report Date: July 3, 2011
We recommended this level. Please note that anything below 50 cfs will be extremely shallow and frustrating. We recommend a minimum of 60 cfs on the Verona gauge.
County PB Bridge, Paoli, Wisconsin
North Grant Street, Belleville, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 12:45p. Out at 4:00p.
Total Time: 3h 15m
Miles Paddled: 10.25
Having already paddled the more written-about sections of the Sugar River – Attica to Albany and Brodhead to Avon – I, of course, had to try to do something different. I want to like the Sugar River, I really do. It’s close to home, runs near hilly parts of the state and along two separate bike trails. Plus it’s named “Sugar” and that’s pretty dang cute, particularly for someone with as sweet a tooth as mine! But dang if Sugar keeps disappointing me. It’s muddy and altogether not that intimate or interesting. There are pleasant stretches to be sure but for me personally, they are too infrequent or far away to warrant coming back to.
If you take one thing away from this write-up, let it be this: Don’t paddle this section of the Sugar River! There is a weird cattle gate (for lack of a better term) that absolutely obstructs the entire width of the river at one spot. The banks are too steep on each side of it to portage around and the only way through is to get out of your boat and carefully try to slip through one of the open “tabs” of the wooden gate. A friend of mine and I did this during mid-summer so the water was low enough for it not to be a real issue (then again, I’m a skinny guy who’s 6’ tall…).
I’ve never seen a structure like this on any river, nor am I sure that it’s even legal for a farmer to put one up. It’s so weird and random and preposterous that I have often wanted to return just to take a photo of it. But I don’t ever want to do this paddle again so I haven’t. Unless your boat has a kind of “Knight Rider” option of leaping over the cattle gate, you’re going to run into trouble here. If you get pinned against the gate, remember to lean into the gate, so that your bottom acts as a buttress against the current. This will at least protect you from being dragged under, which is awful and scary and one surefire way of ruining what is supposed to be a wonderful day on the water.
What we liked:
There were some riffles, which are always fun, including one stretch at the end for about 100 yards of what probably would constitute as Class I. Beyond that, not too much.
What we didn’t like:
The damn cattle gate! It’s terrible. Plus, the takeout was a choice between two undesirables: either shin-deep mud on private land or dragging your boat a ¼ mile up a muddy, stench-ridden gulch. You do have to take out, because there’s a dam in Belleville.
If we did this trip again:
No way will I ever do this again!
Sugar River Overview: Sugar River Paddle Guide
Sugar River III: Valley Road to Paoli
Sugar River VII: Riverside Road to Paoli
Sugar River IX: County Road A to Belleville
Sugar River X: Highway 69 to County Road A
Sugar River XII: White Crossing Road to Valley Road
Good People: Upper Sugar River Watershed Association
Good People: Lower Sugar River Watershed Association
Map: Upper Sugar River Trail
Outfitter: Sugar River Outfitters
Wikipedia: Sugar River