★ ★ ★

Wisconsin River VIII

Lone Rock to Muscoda:
A normally beautiful stretch of the lower Wisconsin River with tons of sandbar islands, rolling bluffs and a couple of rock outcroppings, that in high water is a bit adulterated.

Wisconsin RiverRating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: June 22-23, 2013

Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Flatwater

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Muscoda: ht/ft: 5.70 | cfs: 25000

Current Levels:
Muscoda: ht/ft: 1.05 | cfs: 5110

Recommended Levels:
This is too high to paddle. Instead, we recommend between 5,000 – 10,000 cfs on the Muscoda gauge. Water levels are almost always reliable on the Wisconsin, however, they can change drastically change at a moments notice.

Highway 130, Lone Rock, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.17307, -90.19183
Victoria Park, River Road, Muscoda, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.19751, -90.43947

Day 1: 6.22.13
Time: Put in at 2:15p. Out at 6:30p.
Miles Paddled: 11.5

Day 2: 6.23.13
Time: n/a (about 45 minutes)
Miles Paddled: 2.25

Total Time: 5h
Total Miles: 13.75

Several bald eagles, a couple blue herons, a flopping carp, a baby sturgeon (the little guy looked like a tiny shark), a disgusting wolf spider (still gives me the creeps thinking ‘bout him!), a handful of turtles and a peacock (unseen but too many times heard, an exotic pet no doubt on somebody’s property).

Shuttle Information:
15 miles, a very pretty trip.

What we liked:

Any time spent on the lower Wisconsin River is wonderful. The scenery could not be more soothing to the soul. You’re on “river time” and you feel like you’re on an adventure (at least when camping on a sandbar island) and have a mission. It really is one of my favorite things to do.

What we didn’t like:
High water! Sure, it helps you move faster but the tradeoff is vanished scenery. Worse, it leaves you with pretty slim pickins for places to stop and have lunch, hang out or set up camp.

Flood for thought: Heed the warnings of your weather radio! In retrospect, we really shouldn’t have been on the water this weekend. The forecast was dicey in general with a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms for Saturday and 10 percent for Sunday but the real issue was the huge rain dump we got the night before (as in 9 inches). We were warned by some helpful locals that the boat launch parking area where we wanted to put-in (on the Iowa County side of the river off of Highway 130 at the mouth of Otter Creek) would be underwater by nighttime. Well, let me tell you, that leaves an impression on even an unimaginative mind! So we thought it most prudent to leave the car elsewhere, which meant for practical purposes using a different put-in (Spoiler alert: the parking area did not flood over but the creek sure did rise a couple of feet).

As a casual reader of my trips would know, I have something of an unintentional penchant for getting myself into sticky situations, at least when paddling alone. This one-night camping jaunt involved four total people, two of whom are inexperienced paddlers and not necessarily “tough-it-out” folks. I personally thought that the weather was too risky to warrant camping out, well, anywhere, much less a small sandbar island on a huge river. But my friends thought my misgivings exaggerated. And lord knows I love camping on the river, so I don’t require too much commonsense about when not to do it.

But we shouldn’t have done it. True, all we lost was a good night sleep, which, given the other alternative running through our minds – the river rising so quickly that we’d have to make an emergency evacuation in the dead of night during pouring rain, thunder, and lightning – didn’t seem like too bad a deal. But a nice time of camping it was not. Though what it lacked in lazing around a campfire drinking a couple beers and hanging out was more than made up for in dazzling adrenaline and trepidation. The funny thing was we only found one single sandbar to camp on, the rest were underwater. But that sandbar ended up being less than a mile from our take-out in Muscoda, where it’s worth pointing out that there’s a riverside public park where you can camp. Granted, it looks like lackluster camping, but at least it’s on high, dry ground.

Not so funny: About fifty canoeists were rescued on the river that same night we were on it. I have no idea what their circumstances were but I can easily imagine that they too could not find anywhere safe to stay the night. At the time of this writing, Boscobel, only sixteen river miles from Muscoda (and fewer in land miles) still has roads closed due to flash flooding and mudslides. In fact, all of southwestern Wisconsin is in a state of emergency, with current estimates higher than $6 million in damage. So again, pay attention to the forecast and don’t be dumb about it. You can always camp and paddle another time. Besides, don’t let the experience of high water and storms take away from the normally unimpeachable beauty of this part of the state or the captivating experience of being on this wonderful river.

If we did this trip again:
I would put in upstream of the Highway 130 bridge (southern shore of the river, aka the Iowa County side) because there’s a long attractive rock wall that you miss if you put-in where we did. Plus the otherwise stately bridge is better appreciated. And needless to say I will not do this trip in high water after a crazy-ass thunderstorm the night before (or one during the night I camp, preferably).

Related Information:
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 IV: Prairie Du Sac to Arena
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
Wikipedia: Wisconsin River

Photo Gallery:

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  • Reply
    Andrew Henry Ford
    June 19, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Any parking regulations or fees at Muscoda Landing?

    • Reply
      Miles Paddled
      June 19, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      Not that we are aware of (but things change from time to time).

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