Prairie Du Sac to Arena:
Due to its proximity to Madison (and therefore, denser population) this uppermost section of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway is the most traveled. It’s sometimes overlooked for quiet water enthusiasts for that same reasoning, but it’s definitely a paddle worth consideration, be it for a day trip or the start of a longer journey.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: September 4-5, 2010
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Flatwater
Muscoda: ht/ft: 2.70 | cfs: -999999
This is the recommended maximum level. Sandbars are at a minimum at this height and the current can be incredibly pushy. In general, water levels are almost always reliable on the Wisconsin, however, they can change drastically change at a moments notice.
Day 1: 9.4.10
Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 3:00p.
Miles Paddled: 4.5
Day 2: 9.5.10
Time: Put in at 1:00p. Out at 4:30p.
Miles Paddled: 9.75
Total Time: 6h 30m
Total Miles: 14.25
Eagles, fish and turtles.
What we liked:
We finally finished the Lower 92 (in reverse order of course, in case you hadn’t been following). It took us four trips, which easily could be split up into three 3-day/2-night sections. This last part was a short 14 mile paddle from Prairie Du Sac (near Culver’s home office) to Arena.
We were told we had already seen the best of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway but this is definitely a worthy paddle. It’s incredibly scenic, there is lots of wildlife and plenty of places to camp. The water levels have been unusually high as of late and this was by far, the highest we’ve seen the Wisconsin (it rose the second day too). You could feel the force of the water and the strange currents that would push and pull our boats. The train bridge just a mile into the trip is definitely something to be prepared for (especially in the record-setting depth we’ve had recently). It’s a very forceful little section.
The put-ins and take-outs are fantastic with plenty of parking and easy river access. The clouds were absolutely stunning, the fishing was so-so (but we rarely ever take it too serious) and the nude beach appeared to be hopping (if that’s your sort of thing).
One word on the Mazomanie Nude Beach. The beach is river-left and very recognizable (on this day it, it made for a carnival-like atmosphere with lots of colorful umbrellas) across the river from Ferry Bluff State Natural Area. It’s a wide area in the river so you won’t have any problem steering clear if you’re concerned about it. Just keep looking river-right because the bluffs are gorgeous. Also, apparently you can’t camp one mile upstream or downstream from the beach. The DNR says the islands are posted. We didn’t see any obvious signs but maybe they’re posted in conspicuous places on those surrounding islands. (Update: The State closed the nude beach in 2016).
Normally, three-day weekends on the Wisconsin are really busy. This trip was no exception. The horizon was often dotted with canoes and kayaks but it didn’t feel as crowded as the Gotham to Boscobel trip, which also may have been a result of the high water we’ve had recently.
What we didn’t like:
The wind was a factor both days (15-25mph headwinds in some sections) but we’ll take wind over water that’s too high to paddle any day.
If we did this trip again:
It’s hard to choose our favorite section of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. Every trip was a different experience. The Boscobel to Wyalusing section felt the most remote but we tried to paddle too far in too short of time. Gotham to Boscobel was the busiest but we still a blast. We found our favorite camping area on our Arena to Gotham paddle and we probably enjoyed our best weather on this last journey.
We were stoked to finally finish the Lower 92. As I mentioned earlier, we’d probably make this a three-part river going forward. That’s the great thing about the Wisconsin, river access is plentiful which makes adjusting the route to suit your plans very easy. We can’t wait to visit again. We’re very lucky to be based so close to this beautiful stretch of river and we’ll definitely be paddling the Lower 92 annually.
Wisconsin River Overview: Lower Wisconsin River Paddle Guide
Wisconsin River I: Boscobel to Wyalusing
Wisconsin River II: Gotham to Boscobel
Wisconsin River III: Arena to Gotham
Wisconsin River VIII: Lone Rock to Muscoda
Wisconsin River XV: Spring Green to Lone Rock
Wisconsin River XIX: Prairie Du Sac to Wyalusing Landing
Miles Paddled Maps: Lower Wisconsin Riverway Mileage
Article: Lower Wisconsin River Worth Getaway
Guide: Wisconsin Trail Guide
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Wikipedia: Wisconsin River
Miles Paddled Video: