Albany to Brodhead:
Knowing full well that this stretch of the Sugar River is most popular with the tubing contingent, we caught it before tubing season officially began, so as to avoid the crazies. It’s wide and quite unspectacular all the way down and through Decatur Lake.
Rating: ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: May 18, 2014
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Verona: ht/ft: 3.14 | cfs: 59
Brodhead: ht/ft: 1.64 | cfs: 496
Verona: ht/ft: 3.10 | cfs: 53.2
Brodhead: ht/ft: 1.25 | cfs: 354
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.
Bowman Park, South Water Street, Albany, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.70709, -89.43801
Head Gates Park, Brodhead, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.64437, -89.39743
Time: Put in at 11:30a. Out at 1:30p.
Total Time: 2h
Miles Paddled: 7.25
Two blue heron, 3-5 dozen turtles and four terror-inducing snakes.
After a delightful section from Belleville to County Road X, then a so-so section from to County Road X to EE, I had my suspicions that this was going to be anything but awesome as we continued our journey down the Sugar, something we are seemingly (and unspokenly) committed to, if only because we like to finish what we start. It’s part stubborn and part stupid. It’s starting to feel like a chore to notch these sections off of our belt. This latest installment is the third part of this sequential trilogy and as trilogies go, well, they rarely live up to the first one.
The put-in was partly confusing. It appeared as though it was the private put-in for S&B Tubing because they had their buses and whatnot parked/sitting in the lot of Bowman Park but the concrete ramp leading down to the water just happens to butt up against their property according to some friendly locals (who had just landed their fishing canoe ashore). It is indeed public.
I’d actually called S&B prior to inquire about the put-in but got their voicemail which said they were a week away from opening weekend. This tipped me off that it would be a good time to get this paddle done so we wouldn’t have to compete with the tubers.
It’s a short section with very little to speak of. Just some trees, not even really interesting trees. Occasionally, you’ll spot a sandy bar. The lake is as to be expected, a lake. And there was nothing that came remotely close to resembling a riffle.
Just past Sweet Minihaha Campground (also the private take-out for tubing), you’ll paddle for a mile or so and soon come upon some alternate routes into Decatur Lake. Just keep looking for moving water and you should be fine. There were two distinct routes (right and left) at a fork in the water as indicated on the map. It’s pretty easy to figure out and is less labyrinth looking than it appears on the map.
The take-out was a busy place with lots of fishermen, canoers and kayakers putting-in, taking-out, hiking biking, etc.
What we liked:
The best part of the trip was when it was all said and done and we enjoyed a beer at the cleverly-named Dam Near Home. The folks there were nice and they had a surprisingly large micro selection (something often rare in small towns like this).
The put-ins and take-outs were great and easily accessible. There were no facilities (although their apparently are when tubing season is in full swing).
Aside from the river-terrorism we encountered that was not one, not two, not three but four snakes, (more on this below in “what we didn’t like”) we spotted a couple blue heron and the biggest turtle community I had ever seen. I fact, I paddled back towards a bunch of logs near the Decatur Dam just to see them up close. Of course they scattered but there were none fewer than three dozen, possible five, all neatly lined up on logs sunning themselves.
The only other thing I liked was the the fact that curiosity has been served and I never have to do this section again.
What we didn’t like:
By now, it’s well documented that I hate snakes. Just despise the little creatures. Unfortunately, my choice in past-times puts me right in the heart of their habitat. One snake is too many but four? Four snakes? Really? Somebody up above was having a field day with this.
Coincidentally, the day before, I was at Menards and happened upon this product. I’m thinking I’ll sprinkle some into my kayak hatches before my next adventure down the Sugar River. If the picture on the front is any indication, this should scare off an Anaconda.
And so, it goes without saying, I would never in a million years tube this section of the Sugar or as I prefer to call it, Snake River. Not only is there nothing interesting about it, just some mud and sand with very few places for sandbar time but I just don’t see the appeal in it. I can think of dozens of floatable rivers that are cleaner and just more interesting to spend a day in a tube in.
It’s worth noting that there is one interesting rock wall near the Brodhead Dam but it’s even more important to note (and head-scratching) that there isn’t one buoy or marker or any sort of attention-grabbing sign to tell you that there is a dam at the South end of the lake. The dam itself is a thing of beauty as far as dams go but I can’t believe there is nothing, save for the tiniest sign, about 12×12” that simply says DAM on it in about 200 point type. If you could read it, you’d already be on your way over the dam. Of course, most level-headed people would know the environment they were planning to paddle but still, it’s surprising.
Anyway, enough about the damn dam.
If we did this trip again:
Our quest down the Sugar River is getting harder to want to do. We keep hearing great things about Avon Bottoms but if swamp-like is the selling point, it’s going to be hard to buy.
Specific to this section, we’d skip it and opt for the Belleville to County Road X paddle instead. There just isn’t anything unique, interesting or exciting about it whatsoever. The tubers can continue to lay claim to this section.
Sugar River Overview: Sugar River Paddle Guide
Sugar River I: Belleville to County Road X
Sugar River IV: County Road X to County Road EE
Good People: Upper Sugar River Watershed Association
Good People: Lower Sugar River Watershed Association
Map: Upper Sugar River Trail
Wikipedia: Sugar River
Miles Paddled Video:
SummerAugust 24, 2016 at 11:57 am
Omg, this is my worst nightmare ~ snakes in the water! I can’t believe you saw four!! *shivers*
Thanks for a great paddle report. Love your site, it’s quickly becoming my paddle bible.
Miles PaddledAugust 26, 2016 at 7:24 am
Thanks so much Summer, that’s really nice of you! Glad you like the site. And yes, I’m (Barry) 100% in your camp. The snakes, I could live without. Yeesh…
Allen PenticoffDecember 14, 2016 at 12:54 pm
Great book, well written, enjoy reading it as well as needing the information. We have paddled Decatur Lake for years because it is a river experience without the shuttle. We find it quite pretty and recently bought a home on a river backwater that has stunning scenery – and can go paddling in canoe or kayak each calm morn or eve so simply (usually a lap around the big island). There is a signed portage on the north side of the dam now, but the river put in is unimproved. Still, I’d launch at Headgates Park with its excellent gravel sand ramp and new dock and paddle out to the portage to do the river below the big dam. The headgate itself has been repaired and you can’t paddle through it any longer. But there is a portage dock on the downstream side in the race. Bit of a schlep from the parking area though. Hope to have an upstream takeout at the headgates someday. The park itself has been improved with a new toilet and picnic shelter and added parking. Side trips up Norwegian Creek will get you to the faux Covered Bridge – it is a nice little creek to paddle, start out right across from the launch ramp or Searles Creek is on the south side of the river where it splits coming into the lake. When clear of algae, it is a splendid short paddle up into a deep ravine that is very wooded and remote. Since the river current is generally slow, one can paddle upstream quite a ways too – perhaps to Camp Upchuck. The estuary is fun to play about in too, but we often run aground, usually deepest near the islands rather than between them. The lake is silting in. Other than fishermen, few powerboats to be seen. Most homeowners have removed their boats. No jet skis. I’d like to add that there is a walking/biking path along the length of the race from downtown Brodhead, were there is a new dock/portage all the way to the dam, and that there are many nice trails on Pearl Island to walk about if spending the day – also at hand is the state bike trail. We’ve biked it and paddled the same day all from Headgates Park. Makes a great destination. That said, we are looking forward to many of the trips in your book. Thanks for writing it.
Miles PaddledDecember 15, 2016 at 3:16 pm
Thanks so much for your warm praise, it really means a lot to us!
And thanks too for all the great updated info you included. It sounds like you’ve found yourself a slice of heaven, which is about as great as life gets! There’s something so intimate about living that close to water and learning from it, the day-to-day as well as season-to-season relationship year in, year out. You’re a lucky man!
We definitely recommend paddling the main channel of the Sugar, as it truly has a wild feel for a few miles. And the section from Highway 81 to Avon is truly serene. Fun things to think about for next year’s trips!
Thanks again for reaching out to us, and we’re so glad that you’ve enjoyed the site and the book!