Sugar River III

Valley Road to Paoli:
An otherwise pleasant river, this is not a segment of the Sugar I’d recommend. There are just too many wires to slip through, deadfall to negotiate, concrete footbridges to portage, etc.

Sugar RiverRating: ☆
Trip Report Date: July 22, 2011

Class Difficulty:
Class I

Verona: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 54
Brodhead: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 380

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.

Valley Road, Verona, Wisconsin
County PB Bridge, Paoli, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 5:30p. Out at 8:00p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 6.75

Some herons, two mergansers and great big flopping carp.

Shuttle Information:
5.5 miles.


Taking my cue from Capitol Water Trails, I was inspired to explore a couple stretches of the Sugar River not mentioned in the more official paddling books. Well, it turns out there’s a reason why they’re not mentioned, they’re hardly paddleable. I was initially excited to “escape” so close to home, however, I didn’t find its proximity consolable in the least after a number of annoying obstructions (one right after the other). The Sugar here, is narrow and windy and is not altogether unattractive but neither is it so great as to warrant putting up with its frustrations (at least in my opinion).

What we liked:
There are a couple of steep hillsides (which I always like) and there are a few more sweeping vistas of the surrounding landscape (which I like as well). Towards the very end is a one-foot drop that is splashy and fun to go down and/or surf against. There’s usually enough water to run this virtually year round and yes, it is quite close to home (if you live in Madison). Lastly, odds of spotting a heron or two are pretty good as well.

What we didn’t like:
Take your pick: the barbed wires, the deadfall, the concrete footbridges, the mud… it’s just not worth it. None of those obstructions individually or in aggregate dissuade me much, so long as the river itself is worth it (or the surroundings). Neither is the case for this section of the Sugar. I found it much more frustrating than fun.

If we did this trip again:
Very doubtful, unless all the crap is cleared out.

Trip Update:
I ended up doing a shorter clip of this trip on 3/10/13. Perhaps infused with renewed paddle inspiration after Canoecopia, and needing to get out of the house at the time, I went out for a jaunt. Bad idea – very bad, dumb idea!

First off, it was raining/sleeting and about 35 degrees. Second, it had been raining all weekend with warmer temperatures a couple days preceding that, which meant the snow was melting very quickly. Thus the Sugar, which is otherwise painfully plain and pretty slow, was raging. This actually attracted me to it, but it was a poor judgment call on my part. Take it from me, when you see whole logs flow down the river, it ain’t safe!

There was a lot of water this day and it was moving very quickly. All of the obstructions were still there and profoundly more dangerous in high water conditions. I got pinned against one fallen tree and then before I had a second to figure out what to do or how to do it I got dragged by the current underneath the tree and took a rather undesirable swim. I was dressed for such an incident but still the whole thing pretty well spooked me out. A lesson was learned, albeit the hard or at least humiliating way.

Related Information:
Sugar River Overview: Sugar River Paddle Guide
Sugar River II: Paoli to Belleville
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

Miles Paddled/Driftless Kayaker Video:

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  • Reply
    Andy Richardson
    September 14, 2013 at 1:56 am

    I went through this section (before finding this awesome website) on July 20, 2013. I agree, probably not worth doing again.

    Besides the dead falls and the low cement crossings, there was also a cattle gate somewhere near the first red mark on the map above. I could not manage to get under the gate in my kayak (are we supposed to be able to do that?). This gate had a very narrow water passage on the right hand side, yet that narrow passage was lined with barbed wire on the river side. I thought I would certainly end up needing to grab or otherwise scrape off a few layers of skin trying to go down that alley which appeared to be about as wide as my kayak. So I managed to get out in what was a mud bottom. More like quick sand. Almost lost both sandals in the muck. Eventually went barefoot. I was able to walk my boat under the gate, through the muck, to the other side. And move on to the next obstacle.

    If you're going to do this route, bring some decent work gloves with you. It will make dealing with the wires (some are barbed, some are not, some are hard to spot depending on the level of the sun) much easier.

    Putting in a Riverside Road will cut out the cattle gate above.

    • Reply
      Miles Paddled
      August 29, 2016 at 7:52 am

      Hey Andy,

      Thanks for comments and your kind words!

      A lot has changed on this little trip just in the last three years. For one, the low-clearance cement crossings have all been removed, thanks to the Dane County Parks acquisition of lands along the river near the Bruce Tree Company farm.

      As for the cattle gate, that ugly monstrosity is still there, alas. It’s for that reason that we recommend beginning at Riverside Road, one bridge downstream from Valley Road. To be clear, if a gate does not swing forward (downstream), allowing for safe passage, then it is in violation of the law. While this is the case, it’s a rarely/barely enforced law. And we get it: the farm, farmer, and maybe even the cattle have been there before recreational paddling became as popular as it has. As paddlers, we see all navigable waterways as prospects for our canoes and kayaks. But we understand that it takes awhile for the way things always were to catch up with current events and trends. At some point this cattle gate will have to be in compliance, but until such time we should put in at Riverside Road. Thanks again Andy!

  • Reply
    Richard H
    August 28, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    The wife and I did this trip today. Shakedown for our new Kayaks. We paddled upstream for a bit and was stopped by the cattle gate that is still there.

    Nice flow at 65 cfm but a few trees made it a little cautious and one tree is completely blocking the route and needs to be portaged round.

    Thanks guys for all the work you do.

    • Reply
      Miles Paddled
      August 29, 2016 at 7:53 am

      Hey Richard,

      Thanks for chiming in. It sounds like you started at Riverside Road, not Valley Road, which we strongly recommend since the nasty cattle gate remains intact. The Verona to Belleville section of the Upper Sugar is very narrow and tree-lined, making it quite prone to deadfall. It’s a classic example of how conditions on a single stream or section of stream can change after one storm or windy day. Do you recall approximately where the downed tree is located? The good folks at the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association do an outstanding job of clearing out blockages. We’d be happy to report this to them. Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Richard Hollingworth
    September 11, 2016 at 5:49 pm


    Yes, we started on Riverside but paddled upstream until we got to the cattle gate. The tree obstruction is just after you go under the 69 I believe. I should have marked it on my GPS, lesson learned.

    • Reply
      Miles Paddled
      September 11, 2016 at 8:28 pm

      Thanks Richard, we (and I’m sure other readers) appreciate the info!

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