Exploring Wisconsin: Baraboo River’s a unique spot for kayaking & canoeing

Paddlers on the Baraboo rewarded with scenery, wildlife, and even small sets of rapids
Published: Jun. 18, 2021 at 2:30 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 5:38 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -In a world of fast-moving highways, there’s something to be said for taking things at the pace of a paddle. A great way to do just that is by paddling the Baraboo River.

As I prepared to take my kayak down a section of the river as it enters Baraboo, Ray Wilk with Baraboo River Canoe & Kayak Rentals said, “Get a group of friends, or just yourself. If you want to escape for a minute and quiet down there are plenty of corridors along here you can do that. Lots of shaded woodlands, we have lots of animals. We’re seeing a lot more softshell turtles and painted turtles; wildlife, like deer.” Wilk added, you’re likely to see a lot of birds, and even curious cows that occasionally come down from pastures to check out the paddlers.

John Stofflet kayaks along the Baraboo River near Haskins park in Baraboo.
John Stofflet kayaks along the Baraboo River near Haskins park in Baraboo.(WMTV)

Roughly 120 miles long, the Baraboo River begins near Kendall in Monroe County, and meanders through scenic forests and farmland, as well as the city of Baraboo, before emptying into the Wisconsin River near Portage. According to a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, when several dams blocking the Baraboo River were removed beginning in the 1990s, “it became one of the longest stretches of open river” in America.

John Stofflet paddles down the Baraboo River near Baraboo's Haskins Park
John Stofflet paddles down the Baraboo River near Baraboo's Haskins Park(WMTV)

One feature rivers in our part of the state don’t typically have? Rapids. Wilk said, “We’re the only ones with rapids in the area, so that’s definitely gonna draw some folks our way. The elevation dropping through town gives it those rapids, and it’s a pretty town to go through. The adventure of the rapids, experiencing the different water levels of the high current, it’s got everything you want.”

When I paddled through this week, the water levels near Haskins Park were good, and the current manageable for me as an experienced kayaker. However, as I turned the bend and headed into the rapids under the Shaw Street bridge, the water level was quite low. My boat bumped into rocks and got turned sideways at one point. I had to exit my boat, wade the few feet to shore and portage around the rapids because there were too many rocks for my boat with the water level so low. That’s something that changes, depending on Mother Nature...and a smaller boat, or one designed more for rapids might have been a better choice than my 14.5 foot sea kayak. I should have used the smaller boat Wilk had offered me. Lesson learned.

Guides/outfitters like Wilk at Baraboo River Canoe & Kayak Rentals would be a good resource to turn to for rental boats and for insight on the best stretches to paddle, based on your experience and the current water levels.

During the pandemic, I found kayaking to be a terrific way to relieve stress. Based on how extremely busy Wilk’s company was last summer renting out canoes and kayaks I clearly wasn’t alone. Wilk said, ”I’m glad we were there. People definitely needed something else to do other than feeling down and cooped up in their own homes. It’s probably what we needed anyway, pandemic or not, to get out and experience nature a little bit more...put down the tablets and pick up a paddle.”

Wilk said he’s seeing even more kayaks around Baraboo this summer. “It’s been great to see. I smile all the time now, picking out cars with kayaks and canoes. I’ve never seen so many vehicles with kayak racks ever.”

Even more people getting away...on a waterway. Wilk said, ”I think that’s just part of that peace I was talking about. You escape and you’re on a whole another level.”

The peace that comes from taking things at the pace of a paddle.

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