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Paddling the entire Lower Wisconsin River Way

First I’ll introduce ourselves. My name is Jerehmy Griffiths current resident of Spring Green, WI. Im a very avid outdoorsman and spent hundreds of days on the Wisco River. Just recently I’ve started a little YouTube channel called Angry River Outdoors. The goal is to show DIY trips/adventures that I do. You can find a video of this trip on there as well. The guy to my left is my good friend Matt Tomlinson of Oregon, WI. We have been adventuring together for the better part of a decade. Nothings too wild for us at least in our minds. 

I’ve been playing around with this idea for awhile to paddle the whole LWR (Lower Wisconsin River Way) for some time now. We were out walleye fishing up by Mazomanie one afternoon and I mentioned that I would like to do this trip this year. To my surprise he said ya I’m in. Well we set a date and the planning began. 

As far a paddling experience not much besides local duck hunts, slough fishing, and an occasional river section trip. But nothing of this magnitude. I guess I could have spent more time researching gear, routes, etc. But I’m a do it yourself kinda guy. I like to figure out things on my own. Ive backpacked 200 miles in Glacier National Park, Hiked Banff and Jasper National Park, hunted all across the United States so I felt this was a little more small scale than a big  week long trip. With extensive research. So we gathered our gear at least what I thought was needed. Ive spent many, many nights on sandbars so I’ve felt I had a good grip on what to bring. I felt the most important part would be packing as light as possible.


Gear List


Kayak (Native 12ft), Paddle, PFD

Dry bags

Tent, Sleeping Pad, Sleeping bag, Pillow

Food, stove, lighter fluid, lighters, pan, utensils

Water, caffeine (mornings) snacks

Camera gear (lots), chargers

Toiletries, sun screen, bug spray 

A good attitude


So we met Thursday night at my place in Spring Green. The forecast was not looking to good but with water levels were around all time lows in the weeks previous to our trip, I wasn’t too worried on a huge rise in the river. I think it is imperative to keep taps on the flow from the Sauk dam. Figure out what the river looks like at 4000 cfs, 10,000 cfs, 15,000 cfs, etc. Know your limits, and make good decisions.  With that being said we decided it was a go. Maybe a wet one but we were going for it. We pre-cooked all our meals, brats, wings, and pork sandwiches. Of course anticipation was high so a quick 5 hour sleep and we were heading towards Sauk.

As far as logistics I arranged for a pickup on the Mississippi on Sunday at 2 p.m.  And we would leave a truck at the Sauk dam. I told Matt once we were in boats there’s no turning back. Come hell or high water I will be on the Mississippi Sunday. He laughed and we were off paddling by 6a.m.

It was a cloudy drizzly mist all morning. I do remember a sense of overwhelming as we paddled past Sauk City. Isn’t that kinda part of the journey? Uncertainty, doubt, can we do this? I’ve found that these are super natural reactions to new trips. It's like leaving a trail head in the mountains and you're all alone. It's what drives me to finish my goals and never quit. Always push forward.  Ive seen the first 40 miles of the river a lot, and know it like the back of  my hand. It never gets old tho. As you pass under the HWY 12 bridge things get kinda serious. There is a very swift current where the river necks down by the old trestle where McFarlanes was. Have your PFD ready because it get gnarly. One of the worst spots on the whole LWR in my opinion. Once your through there its a nice easy paddle to the Mazo launch. From their epic views of Ferry Bluff await you. I spend a major part of my fall hunting this next 30 miles of the river. Next is the Arena launch which used to be very popular but after floods piled up sand there it's really hard to launch a boat. And when the river is too low launching canoes can be difficult. Great views of the Sauk country bluffs take you too Spring Green where you will find 2 really nice launches. Hwy 14 and 23 3miles further down. For all you day trippers Traders campground has a Tiki Bar you can swing in to. Occasionally they have live music also. It's about a mile before hwy 14. 

After the 23 bridge there Bob’s Riverside Resort which we decided to pull into and have a burger then continue our journey. I believe that around mile 28ish. We left there around 2 p.m. As we stepped outside the sun popped out and our paddle got pretty intense with high humidity and not many clouds. The temp in the upper 80’s was hot. I also should mention that I  brought 500 ounces of water for 2.5 days. Keep hydrated friends. Great views of the bluff country proceed Bob’s as you meander towards Lone Rock. Now when you come around that last corner before the Lone Rock launch be sure to keep left especially if the waters low. There is a second channel that does meet back up but you could be dragging your boat on low water levels. Also noteworthy is the Barn by the launch and the infamous vehicle bridge that crosses the river. After the bridge be sure to check out the sandstone wall on the left. Hundreds of swallows have nests along here. Pretty Awesome. Next stop is the Avoca trestle from here it flattens out to meet the Avoca prairie. By now we were around 40ish miles and starting to feel it. But our goal was a huge first day. With thunder forecasted the next day and a half. We passed the Gotham launch which I want to note is very dangerous. Theres a river that dumps in there and the current is pretty wicked. Take out before the boat launch if you can and line your boat around the corner if you're not a confident paddler. We ended up a couple miles short of Muscoda with 47 miles reeled off, and 13 hours on the water. Heck of a first day in my mind. Set up camp, cooked brats, had a quick fire and off to bed. 

Day 2 we awoke to a moody looking sky. Forecast was thunder all day till sat at midnight and then clearing. We broke camp at 6a.m. to try and get a jump on the weather not knowing if we would be hiding under a bridge most of the day or what. 2 miles had us at the Muscoda bridge where it started down-pouring. Our game plan was to stop at either Blue River or Boscobel to  grab ice for our food. Its was a nice rain most of the morning as we steadily made progress down the river. Now after finishing the whole river I will say that from Muscoda to Blue River is probably my favorite section for sure. It had everything views, sandbars, islands, beautiful. As the River gains more and more popularity it seems. I think I will find myself down here more. Way less people and more wild like it should be.  I feel like we are entering a dangerous time for the river, as its being treated more like a Lake Wisconsin rather than the natural untouched beauty it is being preserved for. Probably why I tend to spend a majority of my time on it in the fall. Just my opinion. Anyways we crashed to the shore at Blue River and hit the gas station which is just a short walk and actually felt good to walk a bit. Got our ice and were back on the river in no time at all. Another  great 9 or 10 miles to Boscobel. I was starting to get a few blisters by now and realized maybe some sort of gloves would not be a bad idea. 

We stopped at Boscobel for a quick lunch in the rain and back after it. We found that after 5-6 miles was just the rite amount of time in-between stops. I had noticed all these white things all over the last couple of sandbars but usually was more focussed on eating snacks on our breaks than exploring the islands. I did discover that they were turtle eggs and lots of them. We even found 2 turtle shells on 1 sandbar we kept as souvenirs. After our break we proceeded toward Woodman. Now we were not really paying much attention to maps and ended up taking a side channel somewhere that took us somewhere by a little trestle by woodman. Also we gathered some wild Golden oyster mushrooms to cook up on our brats that night. By now we were feeling like we were over the hump and it was all down hill from there. After we passed the Wauzeka bottoms we were closing in on the Millville launch which is a few hour paddle to the Mississippi. So we picked a grand sandbar to camp out on for our second night. Towering bluffs all around with an even better sunset proved we had been living rite. Hands down my greatest night spend on the LWR ever. We just looked at each other in amazement of what was around us. We had planned to fish that night but we ended up just chilling taking it all in. Epic sunset, then I had my tent super close to the water I could here the baitfish scatter as predator fish would try to ambush them, the bottoms rang with peepers singing, and the lightening bugs incredible. Ive slept atop of many mountains and this was rite up there. Felt like a National Park experience in my mind.  

As fast as my eyes shut there were open and we were greeted with a great morning cumulus clouds and blue skies. Man we are so lucky, we really had all types of weather this trip. A photographers dream really. We broke camp at 7 a.m. after a brief fishing cession and off to achieve our goal! We really just took our sweet time taking it all in. Couple miles down the river had us at the Millevillle launch and before we knew it we had the last vehicle bridge in our sights. The water quickly changed to chocolate milk from all the rivers dumping in. Which I was not a fan off because you couldn’t see shallows or drops. Bridgeport is a super tall bridge and the gateway to Wyalusing State Park. If you haven’t been there get there. From up top you can see the confluence. 

One more trestle that marks the boundary of the Mississippi (track Iowa to track Wisconsin) couple miles later we could see Iowa on the horizon. Anticipation was high but don’t let your guard down! At the confluence you're greeted by some ugly current stick right and beach there for a great photo opportunity. But we were not done yet. I didn’t research out take out too much so options were up river to Marquette or down 4 miles to the public boat landing in the town of Wyalusing. We choose down of course. So ya there was a brief minute of  we did this at the confluence but not that sense of were done yet. By now it was noon at the sun was beating down again. We were ready to finish. So its Sunday afternoon and everyones out playing on the Mississippi boats everywhere, barges, trains, so loud. The last 4 miles was not my favorite but had to be done. 

Finally we had the launch in site and that sense of accomplishment I was after started taking shape. We rolled in at around 1 p.m. What an incredible trip way more than I ever anticipated that’s for sure. Its was hard, rewarding, beautiful, and full of adventure. Good for the soul. I'll be back and just maybe the next time I cross that line it just might be at the end of a 430 mile journey starting at the headwaters.

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