About the River
An Ice Age-Old Tale. At 435 miles, the mighty Wisconsin River flows from edge to edge in the state. A tributary of the Mississippi, the Wisconsin flows out of the Lac Vieux Desert, a spring-fed lake in the north near the boarder with the UP. The river you see today was formed in several stages due to glaciation during the last ice age; the upper river was formed from glacial meltwater runoffs, which slowly carved out the river as the glaciers retreated northward. Retreating glaciers also left in their wake what was known as Glacial Lake Wisconsin: a prehistoric body of water held in place by a dam made of ice. When this damn broke due to temperature rise, a great flood that emptied the lake in two weeks carved out the Wisconsin Dells and the Lower Wisconsin River. Our stretch of the river – the 92 miles spanning from Sauk City to the Mississippi – runs through the Driftless Area: an expanse of land through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and a small corner of Illinois that was completely free of glacial influence. This makes it the newest formed span of the river. Because of this, our river winds through rolling sandstone hills and exposed cliff overhangs, dense wooded lowlands and wide open prairies.
A Native Name. The great Wisconsin River is the namesake of our midwestern state, and its name took a rather winding path not unlike the one that the river itself flows today. The name Wisconsin can be traced back through French explorers and even further to the Natives of the area, who referred to it as Meskousing, meaning, roughly, “river running through a red place.” The red place, of course, referring to the red sandstone bluffs of the Wisconsin Dells. From Meskousing, it became “Misconsing,” and then, through a misinterpretation of a cursive letter, became “Ouisconsing,” and occasionally “Ouriconsing,” “Ouiscousen,” or “Ouiskonche.” Eventually, the word fell into the hands of American soldiers and thus, Wisconsin was born.
A Protected River. In 1989 the last 92 miles of the Wisconsin River was protected from development by the State of Wisconsin and is now managed by the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board. Because of this forethought, you’ll see very few houses along the tree lined shore during your trip and views of bluffs in the distance are unspoiled. The Wisconsin River is on the migratory route of many birds that fly between Canada and points south. We are lucky enough to have large populations of Bald Eagles, Sand Hill Cranes, Blue Herons, King Fishers, and many other water oriented birds make the Wisconsin River their summer home. You’ll also see turtles sunning themselves on logs along the rivers edge, raccoons, beaver, and even otters.
We are blessed on the Wisconsin River with the fact that we have boat landings roughly every 8 miles. While we don’t run trips between all of the boat landings, we have the trip that will be perfect for you within a few miles. Check out Google Maps to familiarize yourself with the Lower Wisconsin River and our put-ins and take outs. We’ve worked hard to provide tons of information about distances from each of our 2 locations as well as what kind of facilities each boat landing has available. If you have any issues, or need help, feel free to call us at 608.375.5300 or email us with your questions.
History says that once we get through May the river tends to drop in flow, sand bars appear and life is great! However, because the river is draining more than half the state of Wisconsin there are times when rain that falls 200 miles north of us will have to flow by us at some point. This is a wilderness experience, and we don’t have control over the rain that falls, the water released from dams up river, or other natural factors we have yet to tame, so you must be prepared and informed. A few days before your trip it’s always a good idea to look at the weather (Boscobel) and water levels.
Refer to the graphs below for current water level information. This data is updated every 15 minutes to 3 hours by the US Geological Survey (your tax dollars at work!). When we talk about water levels on the WI River we talk about them in cf/s (Cubic Feet per Second) – picture a cube of water that’s 1 foot tall, 1 foot wide and 1 foot deep. Here’s a break down of what you can expect regarding water levels and river conditions:
>17,000 cf/s there are NO sand bars to camp on, per our Cancellation Policy – we will cancel your trip and provide you with a credit to be used in the future, unless you purchased Trip Cancellation Protection (we’ll reach out to you).
15,000-17,000 cf/s there are VERY limited sand bars to camp on, we recommend having experience at this water level, especially if the wind is blowing out of the southwest, upriver. ALWAYS wear your life vest!
10,000-15,000 cf/s there are limited sand bars available to camp on, you can’t be picky, if you find a sand bar — TAKE IT!
<10,000 cf/s, Life is Good!
3,500-8,000 cf/s are PERFECT conditions with a huge selection of sand bars to choose from – be a picky as you’d like.
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What are the current Scout/Nonprofit rates?
We do everything we can to keep our nonprofit rates to a minimum, while still providing a great value. Take time to check out our reviews on TripAdvisor, Google and our Facebook page – we work hard on our reputation. Don’t hesitate to send us an email or give us a call, 608.375.5300, if you have any questions. Download our pdf price sheet.
I’m planning on having a large group trip, do you have any tips to help me organize the trip?
We sure do! First, thank you for taking on the responsibility of organizing the group – you make us happy:-)
We’ve put together a pdf doc of our 15 years of experience in watching these groups come together. Let us know if we’ve missed anything!
How far can a group of 12+ aged kids get in a day at a leisurely pace?
Barring issues like a head wind, we’d suggest 12-16 miles. We’ve seen as high as 23 miles, cracking the whip with short stops and average river height conditions. We’ve also had a couple of groups that struggled to get 8 miles in a day…but we have our suspensions that they were an outlier for several reasons.
Is camping 3 days/2 nights too much for a first time trip?
Absolutely not! If you have any camping experience, and plan accordingly, it’s not at all unrealistic for you to do a 3 day for your first time. As long as everyone has the correct mindset (it only takes one person to infect a group to want to paddle through and finish early), 3 days is a magical experience!
How does the reservation and payment process work?
We require a 100% deposit with your reservation. Until your deposit is received, your trip is not confirmed. You have up to 7 days before the start of your reservation to make changes or cancel for a full refund, minus a 7.5% credit card processing fee. If you must cancel within 7 days of your reservation we provide a WRO Gift Card that you may use, or gift to someone else, at any time in the future, based on availability.
You can either book online or give us a call at 608.375.5300 and we’ll get your reservation set up.
If we paddle from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday, is that a one day rental?
We’re sorry, it’s not. Our rentals are based on calendar days – Saturday would be day 1, Sunday would be day 2. By dropping in your dates into our reservation system it will provide you with the cost of your trip.
How many miles should we expect to cover? Where should we put in and take out at?
First, be sure the use the Tripinator for a suggested trip.
In general, you’ll cover 3 miles per hour for the time you’re on the water (not sitting on a sand bar), this of course doesn’t factor in the day that you have a steady 12 mph headwind. So, if you’re thinking you want to paddle for 6 total hours over 2 days, times 3 mph…you’re looking at roughly an 18 mile trip. We have two options, a 16 mile (Muscoda to Boscobel) and 23 mile (Gotham to Boscobel) trip for you to choose from.
If this is your first trip with us we suggest you look at trips that terminate in Boscobel. Also, we highly recommend that if you’re torn between two trips, choose the one with a lessor distance – you’re better off finishing and wishing you’d done more than think it was never going to end. Also, if you’re going with a group of folks who’ve never canoe camped – go with a shorter distance as they may not be as enthusiastic as you are:-)
I want to fish during my trip, where can I purchase a fishing licenses and what can I catch?
In “normal” water levels in July and August, fishing in the early morning and evening should be pretty…dare we say, “easy.” Look for a sand bar drop off and work it. If you can find some structure, like a downed tree, even better. We’re big fans of Mepp’s (or single blade spinners) for small mouth and jigs for walleye and sauger – live bait is also an option. You’ll also find catfish, strippers, musky, northern, sturgeon and a whole bunch of others. Here are some additional tips.
Unless you are an accomplished fisherperson, we HIGHLY recommend you bring other food options with you and if you catch any fish you
Right across the street from our shop is Tall Tails, they
sell fishing/hunting licenses as well as adult beverages (no glass on the river). Remember, the person buying the license needs to be present to purchase a license which may not be the case if you drop your people off at your put in upriver.
Buy online, will be the best option for most folks. it’s a simple process and you can print or keep the proof of purchase on your cellphone, if you bring it with.
Fishing Tips and a Special Offer from Tall Tails
It is YOUR responsibility to be sure you’re complying with all fishing laws and regulations, insure you understand what size fish must be to keep. Our stretch of the river is patrolled by the DNR.
What’s the interior dimensions of the canoes? What’s the largest cooler we can bring?
Download the pdf (check your download folder).
What’s earliest/latest we can start/finish our trip?
We open at 9 AM daily with our first vehicle heading upriver is 9:30 AM.
Keeping in mind that we need to get you on the water with enough time for you to find a sand bar and hopefully get your tent up before dark…our cut-off time to drive you upriver is generally 5 PM.
Staying in touch with us on the day of your trip will help us provide you with as quick a turnaround from the time you arrive at our shop to when we get you on the road heading upriver to your putin.
NOTE: Long distance trips (Sauk City and Arena) have specific departure times and must leave on time, call for additional information.
Assuming you’re finishing in Boscobel, you can finish as early as you like. However, we ask that finish your trip by 6 PM so if there’s some sort of an issue we still have daylight to help in guiding you to the finish. If you’re finishing downriver from Boscobel, arrangements will have been made prior to your departure.
PRO TIP: For the fastest turnaround time on Saturdays in July and August, AVOID arriving at our shop between 10:30 AM and 12:30 PM – this is when the bulk of our weekend paddlers arrive for their ride upriver. Remember, we handle transport on a first come first served basis.
Do you have other gear for rent that will make our trip more comfortable?
Yepper! PLEASE, if you rent nothing else from us, at least rent a dry bag! See our video on why you should rent a dry bag. NO ONE wants to sleep in a wet sleeping bag. Trash bags have a HUGE failure rate – don’t be a victim!
Here’s the entire list of items we have available for rent to make your paddle trip more comfortable.
Do you have a “packing tips” video I can watch?
Do you have any menu suggestions?
This is a tough and broad question. You can keep things really simple: cereal (or granola and yogurt) for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and dinner and snacks to fill you over the course of the day – no stove needed. Or, you can go hog wild: omelets (or eggs Benedict) for breakfast, deli sandwiches with all the fixin’s for lunch and steak and lobster with local sweet corn for dinner.
It all comes down to what gear you have and your desired efforts.
PRO TIP: Cook as much of your meal at home and simply warm it up on the river. Sloppy Joes, fajitas and pasta sauce are all great examples of “easy warmups” on the river.
Really? We get to camp in the middle of the river, on a sandbar? Do we need a permit?
Yes, really! When water levels are right, you’ll camp on a sand bar in the middle of the river. You are prohibited from camping on the shoreline – sand bars on the river only. The river is State land and, at present, you do not need a permit to camp on the sand bars. However, you do need to arrive by watercraft in order to be permitted to camp on the sand bars. Sand bars are first come, first served. While we operate on a MUCH less traveled portion of the river, you may find that you need to share a sand bar on occasion – get to know your neighbors, respect each other and enjoy.
If I own my own canoe/kayak, will you transport it for me?
Absolutely! In general, we’ll ask you to drop off your boat(s) at your desired put-in, the driver will come to our shop and we’ll run him/her back up river on our next available shuttle. We charge $2 per river mile for the first boat and $20 for each additional boat. See the complete price list here.
Will you transport my inflatable watercraft/paddle board?
We’d be happy to transport any watercraft, however we will not transport inflated watercraft. You will either need to drop your inflated watercraft at your desired put-in before coming to our shop for your ride or arrive with it deflated and inflate it at the put in after we drop you off.
How should we handle water during our trip?
We HIGHLY discourage you from filtering/boiling/using tablets with the water from the Wisconsin River – keep in mind it’s draining 1/3 of the Dairy State. We also believe purchasing single serving plastic water bottles produces too much trash. We’re big proponents of Jerry Cans. We’re lucky enough to have a few options for filling water jugs during your trip. By having enough cans and filling them when you have an opportunity – this is the safest way to go about providing drinking and cooking water for your group. See our list of boat landings and their amenities.
How can I reduce the amount of trash I have to deal with on the river?
It’s happening everywhere, due to cost cutting measures, safety and abusive dumping; parks, cities and even businesses are removing trash cans for public use. The Boscobel landing is a perfect example. It was roughly 2014 when the city decided it would no longer provide trash cans at the boat landing. If you do any camping, hiking or paddling on state or federal land you’re familiar with “pack in/pack out” and it’s understood that you’ll adhere to “Leave No Trace” principles and pack out what you packed in and “take only pictures and leave only footprints.”
So, the decision has been made, there’re no trash cans at the landing, here’s how you can reduce the volume of trash that you need to pack out.
- PLEASE, recycle what you can!
- If you’re passing the Muscoda or Blue River landing – they still provide trash cans. Lighten your load along the way ditch what you’ve got there.
- We see it all the time, a customer shows up with their brand-new do-hickie and it’s still in the retail packaging. Recycle the packaging at home, otherwise you just added to the amount of trash you’re hauling around.
- If it came in a cardboard box…burn it. PLEASE don’t burn plastic packaging – you will be ticketed for burning trash/littering if the DNR rolls up on your campsite and they find residue in your fire.
- Water bottles – Don’t buy the 24 pack of individual water bottles, buy two 1-gallon jugs. Better yet, the ultimate recycle/reuse, buy a Jerry Can and fill it up and dispense into smaller individual bottles like a Nalgene. WRO also rents Jerry Cans.
- Food Prep
- We’re big believers in preparing meals at home and simply warming them up on the river – this will eliminate a HUGE amount of trash by not going through the prep process while on the river.
- Avoid individually wrapped food/snacks inside a box…and bringing the box on the trip. Not only does it take up space at the start of your trip, you also end up adding to your trash heap at the end of your trip.
- Adult Beverages – NOTE: we’re not advocating alcohol consumption on the river, but we’re not naïve enough to think it doesn’t happen or suggest you stop doing it – so here’s some practical suggestions.
- Create a recycling bag of JUST aluminum – there are several organizations within Boscobel that would love to have them.
- Reduce the volume you bring on the river in the first place – your objective should not be about getting PLOWED, it’s unsafe. Our opinion, it should be about a wee buzz, not getting tanked.
- Consider liquor instead of the volume of space needed for beer (this will save cooler space as well as trash). Remember – NO GLASS!
- Final tip – bring a high-quality trash bag! Generally, an inexpensive trash bag means thin plastic that can easily be punctured. A punctured bag is a leaky bag! If you can, go with a heavy-duty contractor 3 mil bag and you won’t be dripping all over the place.
Take some time and prepare for how you’re going to reduce the volume of trash you bring off the river. Just like our philosophy regarding the gear you bring – you’re only out there for a short period of time, it should be about what you can live without, pack light! It will be easier to drop off that small bag of trash at a gas station on the way home than a HUGE trash bag you can’t even fit in your car.
How does transportation work? How do we get back to our car?
Because we realize a canoe rental doesn’t have the consequences missing a flight has, we handle transport upriver on a first come first served basis. Yes, you did provide an arrival time when you booked, but 15+ years of experience tells us only about 30% of our customers arrive at our shop at the time they provided. Because of this, we move our customers upriver on a first come, first served basis. On Saturdays in July and August, if you want to reduce your possible wait time, we HIGHLY recommend avoiding arriving at our shop between 10:30 and noon – this will create your longest wait.
Transport is handled on the front end of your trip (for all trips finishing in Boscobel), which allows most of our customers no-wait to: finish their trip, load up and head home (Land-Load-Leave). Follow these easy steps and we’ll efficiently get you on the river.
If there are:
- 2 or more canoes in your group
- Or, you’re paddling with a dog on the weekend
- Go directly to your put in (boat landing, launch, starting point), directions are in your email confirmation or click here for access to website directions pdf.
- Drop off ALL people and gear – be sure not to miss anything.
- ONLY the driver (this helps us move as many canoes as possible with as few people) will continue downriver to Boscobel (715 Wisconsin Ave, Boscobel, WI 53805, 608.375.5300) – included in directions.
- We’ll get you checked in at the shop and get you up river as shuttles become available.
- We’ll drop your car at the boat landing in Boscobel on our way upriver so it will be waiting for you at the end of your trip.
If your group consists of 1 canoe or 1 canoe and it’s a weekday and you have a dog:
- Come directly to our shop at 715 Wisconsin Ave, Boscobel, WI 53805.
- We’ll get you checked in.
- We’ll move your gear to our vehicle and get you on the next available shuttle.
- We’ll drop your car at the boat landing in Boscobel on our way upriver, so it will be waiting for you at the end of your trip.
To help reduce the time between dropping off your paddle partners and you and the canoe(s) getting back to the landing, here are some tips to get you on the water with the fewest delays.
- Arriving at our shop at 9 AM will get you on the first shuttle up river up river at 9:30 AM.
- Having ONLY the driver arrive, saving space in our vehicle, will get people up river faster.
- This can change from one Saturday to the next but be aware – arrival between 10:30 and noon will cause delays in getting you upriver because that’s the time that the bulk of our customers tend to arrive (and we’ve already got vehicles that are upriver and need to wait for their return).
- Arrive at the shop ready to go…trips to the store, bait shop, etc. will delay you and possibly a vehicle ready to leave the shop.
- Double check your car…a lot of people forget their tents or other small gear.
- PLEASE, carpool. Again, it will help in getting you on the water faster…and saves fuel.
If you have any questions, give us a call at 608.375.5300. If it’s a weekend, be patient…the phone will be ringing off the hook.
What are your Top 5 Tips if I’m a new canoe-camper?
WRO Top 5 Tips for New Canoe Campers
We’re bringing 15 years of experience and thousands of paddlers to bear with these suggestions.
- If you’ve never canoe camped before, choose a shorter trip than you might otherwise. Especially if you’re planning for a group, you’d rather finish the trip wishing you’d done more than thinking it would never end.
- Don’t over pack! Take some time to plan the packing for your trip and watch our Packing Video and see our Packing List.
- Bring jugs of water (1-7 gallons) rather than a bunch of small plastic bottles. Water jugs:
- reduce the amount of trash you produce
- can act as ballast in your canoe
- it’s the right thing for the environment
- Remember, the Wisconsin River is a Pack In, Pack Out river. You will need to take your trash with you at the end of your trip as there are no trash cans at the boat landings – get some tips.
- Be sure to understand our transportation process. We’ll be able to get you on the water more efficiently if you follow our process.
BONUS #6. Many paddlers have the objective of canoeing the bulk of their trip so on the last day they’re within 5 miles of the Boscobel boat landing. This means competition in those last few miles is high, especially on Saturday evenings in July and August.
Avoid the chaos – camp upriver from the Blue River bridge on Saturdays and increase the odds of having your own private sand bar to yourself. If you need to be off the river early on Sunday, rise early, when it’s cooler, and enjoy the peace of the river rolling by while you pack up and get an early start. Most likely:
- It will be quiet except for the birds chirping
- Little to no wind first thing in the morning
- The colors can be amazing in the morning sun
- Beat the heat!
Do you have a packing list available for overnight trips?
Absolutely, here you go:
A canoe camping trip on the Wisconsin River is a wilderness experience; the Wisconsin River is NOT Six Flags. It’s important you approach your trip in the correct frame of mind. Keep in mind; most people are on the river for 24 hours. There’s no need to over pack and you don’t need “the kitchen sink.” The objective is NOT to see how much you can bring…but how little and still meet your needs.
Watch our Canoe Packing video.
The #1 item that customers don’t pack and wish they would have – Rain Gear! Please, please, please…bring rain gear! You are expected to finish the trip you booked. Rain is not a reason to end your trip early.
Italics = available for rent or sale from WRO
- Sunscreen and lip balm w/ SPF
- Sunglasses, polarized
- Insect repellant and itch relief
- Book, cards, game
- Toiletries – toothpaste and brush, deodorant, etc
- Head lamp, flashlight
- Fire starter
- Toilet paper
- Baby wipes
- First aid kit and prescription meds
- Water bottle
- Hand sanitizer
- Saw – PLEASE leave the hatchet at home
- Ball, frisbee, whiffle ball/bat, sand toys
- Camera, binoculars
- Fishing gear, license
- Trowel or shovel
Clothing (typical 2 day/1 night trip) Packing for July is significantly different that packing for early May/October
- Rain gear
- Wide brim hat
- Swim suit
- 2 t-shirts
- Something dry to wear to sleep
- Long sleeve lightweight shirt and pants to keep the sun off you
- Lightweight jacket and stocking cap
- Sandals or wet shoes
- Tent w/ drop cloth (if it’s dry when you put up your tent we recommend you NOT put a drop cloth down also, insure you have your rainfly and stakes)
- Sleeping bag & pillow – if possible a 32 degree plus bag
- Sleeping mat
- Camp chair/Crazy Creek stadium chair
- Shade fly – tarp, canopy
- Rope or line
Cooking Gear – cooking on the river can be as complicated as you’d like
- Stove and fuel
- Matches or lighter
- Water jugs
- Pots and pans
- Cooking utensils, can opener
- Eating utensils
- Plates, bowls, insulated mugs
- Coffee pot or French Press
- Bowls and strainer
- Cutting board
- Trash bags
- Biodegradable soap
- Paper towels
- Collapsible table
- Hot pad(s)
- Trail mix
- Granola bars
- Dried and fresh fruit
- Beef jerky
We want to stage a car along our trip, can you help us with that?
We HIGHLY discourage staging vehicles along the way of your trip. We put thousands of people on the river every year and only a handful request staging vehicles along their route. Completing your trip unsupported is the goal. If you feel you have no other way to make your trip work without a staged vehicle along the way, please make all arrangements to have this done before you arrive at our shop for your transport upriver – this avoid delays for our other customers. Again, good planning will eliminate the need for a vehicle to be staged along your route and makes the end of your trip less muddled figuring how to get the staged vehicle picked u
What’s the deal with firewood, do you have it available for sale?
With all of the creepy crawlies this days, state law prohibits the transport of firewood for more than 25 miles. Here are your options:
- We sell firewood for $7 per bundle – a bundle will last 45-60 minutes. Most customers purchase 2 bundles per night on the river. Pyromaniacs…buy more:-)
- Gather wood from sandbars as you see it – staying out of the trees. The further into the season you get, the less of an option this is.
- Harvest firewood from the islands – why this isn’t a great idea:
- Poison ivy – found on just about every sand bar island and the shoreline
- Ticks – no one wants Lyme Disease!
TIP: Leave the hatchet at home! If you’d seen the shins, feet and fingers we’ve seen – you’d bring a saw and not a hatchet.
Purchasing firewood is the path of least resistance. Please – be careful out there!
A TripAdvisor Member
September 7, 2017
Overnight canoe trip on the WI River
“We have used WI River Outings for 3 different trips on the WI River and they have been an excellent partner and resource every time. Highly recommend both the outfitter and the canoe trips on this river. ”
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