Sugar River II

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.

Sugar RiverRating: ☆
Trip Report Date: July 3, 2011

Class Difficulty:

Verona: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 58
Brodhead: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 362

Recommended Levels:
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

Just geese.

Shuttle Information:
6.5 miles.


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!

Related Information:
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

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  • Reply
    Tandem Paddler
    July 15, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    The impoundment (Lake Belle View) above the dam at Belleville has been improved over the last couple of years, so the take-out should be improved. We put in downstream of the dam yesterday (7-14-13) and paddled to the Hwy X take-out, so we did not get to try the landing above the dam, but it appeared there has been a small swimming beach constructed near the southeast corner of the lake, North of Bross Circle and West of Hwy 69(no swimming bouys or signage, but folks were swimming there both at put in and when we retreived our car).

  • Reply
    Andy Richardson
    September 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I've paddled this stretch too. The cattle "gate": WTF!! I was not able to get under it in the kayak or on foot. I portaged around by climbing up the steep bank on the left, through weeds 4-5 feet high, and then putting in on the back side of the "gate". There was not any fencing to deal with this way but the bank was very steep. Throw the boat up first. There were two other dead falls to portage, but besides that I actually really enjoyed this stretch of river. Saw three bald eagles about 2 miles up river from Belleville. My trip was 8/21/2013.

  • Reply
    Ram bling
    September 18, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Hey Andy,

    Thanks for the comment. What the 'f' indeed! I don't know how this can be legal… I agree though that this section of the Sugar is otherwise quite pretty and fun. Paddle on!


  • Reply
    Wade Moder
    August 6, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    I can tell you that the ferocious cattle gate in question had a section of it removed on the east side of the river, and is now easily passable. Thanks to the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association and DNR for working with the land owner to physically remove that section of fencing.

  • Reply
    Colet Cook
    October 31, 2016 at 12:09 am

    I have read your information on the Paoli to Belleville section of the Sugar River a few times over the past 5 years and always wonder why you had such a bad experience. I must say that I’m glad you gave it such a poor rating because I usually get to enjoy this section of the river all by myself! I paddle this part of the Sugar at least 4 times every year between April and October. I think that this section is about 45% wooded and 35% farm crops (mostly corn) and the other 20% is marsh or natural prairie.

    Today, the fall colors were beautiful. The river was at least 12 inches higher than average and fast. It took me 3 and 1/2 hours but that included about 1/2 hour of stops to talk to a home owner, snack/stretch break and watch and photograph wildlife plus another 30-45 minutes exploring backwater areas. My kayak is faster than the average kayak and I steadily paddle unless I’m looking at wildlife.

    Today, I only had trouble with 3 obstacles. Two farmer fences were a challenge because the water was so high and I didn’t know if I could bend over far enough to get under one but managed it, and the other one I had to lift up the barbed wire line to get under it. One tree was down and the area that had been sawed off was blocked by other debris. I managed to get 1/2 way over the trunk and had to wiggle my kayak over the rest of the way, it was a little precarious. There were many trees that had fallen on the river but there was always a way through. I enjoy the challenge of having to figure out the best spot to squeeze through and maneuver around trees. The farmer just south of Paoli who used to have plywood boards hanging across the river where a portage was required has removed one section of board which is easy to get through.

    I almost always see bald eagles and saw 2 today and discovered an eagle’s nest I’d never seen before in a backwater area close to Belleville. Today, I also saw, for the very first time, 2 river otters! I saw great blue herons over 14 times, hawks 8 times (3 were red tailed hawks), heard sandhill cranes, saw belted kingfishers, blue jay, red bellied woodpecker, American black capped chickadees, hundreds of red winged blackbirds, barred owl, wood ducks, mallard ducks, Canadian geese, muskrat, 6-point buck and a doe. There were lots of other birds that I couldn’t ID their appearance or birdcalls.

    Other times, on this section of the river, I have seen northern flickers, various warblers, orioles, green herons, red breasted grosbeaks, northern shovelers, great horned owls, blue winged teals, double crested cormorants, various woodpeckers, nesting sandhill cranes, mink and hundreds of cedar waxwings.

    I enter by the Paoli Mill Terrace and Park and take out by the little boat landing in Belleville. I have no problems, except when weddings are taking place in the park and they have the parking blocked off, then I just go upstream to the next put in spot where there is a parking lot. The boat landing in Belleville is before you go around the corner to the dam. They had a boat dock a few years ago but haven’t put it in the last 2 years so I just get out on a large flat rock next to the landing.

    Just thought you might want to give this section another chance someday and, if you do, I hope you have a better experience.

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