★ ★ ★

Sugar River XI

Attica to Albany:
A tranquil trip on the middle segment of the Sugar River with steady current, clear water and no obstructions. The landscape is a little bland for the majority of this trip but it does become more interesting in the final couple miles.

Sugar River

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: November 15, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater

Gradient:
2.5′ per mile

Gauge:
Verona: ht/ft: 3.38 | cfs: 56
Brodhead: ht/ft: 1.5 | cfs: 440

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.

Put-In:
County Road C, Green County, Attica, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Public boat launch off Madison Street, Albany, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 11:40a. Out at 2:45p.
Total Time: 3h 5m
Miles Paddled: 9

Wildlife:
One deer and that was it! (But we were a group of five very chatty people…)

Shuttle Information:
6.7 miles. Add half a mile for a bike shuttle, if you ride the Sugar River Trail, which is quite pretty and recommended.


Background:

This was my third time paddling this section, the two previous occasions being back in that pre-dawn dark before Miles Paddled. I must’ve taken my cue from Mike Svob’s Paddling Southern Wisconsin, in which this is the first of two listed Sugar River trips (which is notable considering how long the Sugar River itself is). Back then I knew hardly anything about paddling. I was on the water and that was enough. (Those were innocent days back then, before I became something of a paddling snob. From Svob to Snob?)

What we liked:
There’s a designated launch at a pull-off with tons of parking room off County Road C (immediately east of the County Road X intersection in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hamlet of Attica). The river here is attractive with mostly clear water, a sandy bottom, a noticeable current and a meandering nature. Alas, what you see is what you get, for the landscape really won’t change at all in the first 6.4 miles.

The last leg of this trip, the 2.5 miles from the County Road EE bridge to the boat launch in Albany, is pretty and mostly public, comprising parcels of the Albany Wildlife Area on both banks of the river. The landscape begins to change here too, becoming woodsier and dotted with various islands that divide the mainstream into many side channels. Actually, there’s a point where all the side channels become disorienting. Just discern where the current goes and you’ll be fine.

Two feeder streams will enter the Sugar at this point: Allen Creek from the east and the Little Sugar from the west. Allen Creek enters just upstream from the County EE bridge. It’s a hell of a deadfall mess and not at all recommended. Earlier this year I put-in on Allen Creek at the County Road E bridge and paddled down into the Sugar and took out at County Road EE. The distance itself is less than a mile but it took me over an hour due to the 5+ portages around deadfall. It’s a pretty stream with crystal clear water, sandy banks and a wild-feeling environment, but so much deadfall in less than one mile of a stream does not a happy paddler make.

The Little Sugar is a different story. If you can find its mouth (good luck, it’s a labyrinth here) it’s worth paddling half-a-mile or so upstream to see some cool sandstone rock outcroppings (otherwise unheard of in the Sugar River environs) and a former hermit cave. Located about a mile downstream from the County Road EE bridge, it’s a whole lot easier to find the Sugar from the Little Sugar than vice versa. There are so many oxbows and sloughs – dead ends, in other words – that it’s basically a guess as to which is actually a tributary and which leads to dry land.

This will sound a bit counterintuitive, but the “lake” section caused by the impoundment from the dam in Albany is probably the most interesting on this trip. The current does diminish to a standstill but both left and right banks rise some 30-40 feet. For a trip that otherwise is tediously flat and monotonously agricultural, the rise of land feels almost monumental.

Also, the flatwater finish is pretty short and unless you’re against a formidable wind, it’s not a hassle the way that some impoundments can be. While it’s called a lake, it’s only 300’ wide – narrower than some sections of the Wisconsin, Fox or Rock Rivers by comparison. The takeout in Albany is easy and accessible as well. That’s a good way to describe this trip: easy and accessible.

What we didn’t like:
It’s just boring after a while. I think that my friend Jeff, aka “Kayak Guru,” summed it up pretty well: “this has got to be the most boring trip ever.” He said it with a laugh but not without a certain truth to it. It is monotonous to the point of redundant. Fortunately, there was a group of five of us, which makes even the dullest adventure fun by dint of company (and beer).

But every bend looks like one you’ve already passed. The mind starts compensating in such times. You’ll find an exposed sandy bank or a cool knotted tree or a distant farmhouse separated from the water by a windswept prairie, and you (try to) tell yourself, “wow, that’s cool.” But really it’s nothing to write home about – you just want it to seem better or prettier than it is.

The absence of wildlife was disappointing, especially since so little else was there to entertain the eye but this probably was on account of us paddling in a group (re: a little horseplay on the water).

If we did this trip again:
I think three times on this section of the Sugar is enough for me personally. It isn’t that interesting, but there are prettier sections of the Sugar worthier of paddling, both up- and downstream of this trip.

This run would be perfectly fine for beginners and really, any trip on a river with friends and no obstructions is a great experience. Paddle this in summer, as the leaf shade will provide welcome relief from the sun.

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Related Information:
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
Sugar River VI: Albany to Brodhead
Good People: Upper Sugar River Watershed Association
Good People: Lower Sugar River Watershed Association
Map: Upper Sugar River Trail
Wikipedia: Sugar River

Photo Gallery:

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