Canoe camping on the Lower Wisconsin River

I love camping and paddling, but until last month, I had never combined the two sports. The Wisconsin River was the perfect introduction to canoe camping.

After about a 3.5-hour drive from Chicago, we were greeted warmly at Wisconsin River Outings in Boscobel, which provided our canoe and transport. We piled our gear into their shuttle and headed to the Muscoda put-in. Our planned route was a 16-mile section from Muscoda to Boscobel with an overnight stay along the way.

Paddlers wait for a shuttle to their put in.

The Lower Wisconsin River is wide and sandy with numerous sandbars and islands ideal for camping and lounging. The Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board protects the last 92 miles (from Sauk City to the Mississippi) of the river from development, so the views remain unspoiled and the wildlife is abundant. Turtles, otters, eagles, cranes, hawks, herons and deer are among the wildlife that frequent the river and shoreline.

We were fortunate that a high overcast and a few refreshing showers thwarted the forecasted 100-degree day. We had the assistance of a roughly 3-MPH current so the paddling was easy, or perhaps my partner was taking on a greater share of the work. I’m a big kid when it comes to wildlife so I found myself frequently distracted from my efforts by the birds, turtles, jumping fish…

I’m easily distracted by wildlife and pretty scenery.

Part way through the day we pulled the canoe up on one of the many sandbar islands for some swimming, lounging and lunch. The pale gold sand squeaked under my feet as I walked, a phenomenon I had never encountered before. I felt incredibly fortunate to experience such a beautiful place that previously had been off my radar.

Lots and lots of squeaky gold sand allowed for beautiful views, easy pull-offs and plentiful campsites. It also made wading and swimming a pleasure.

Refreshed and fed we continued our paddle to Coumbe Island just west of Blue River. The island is three miles long with some excellent sandy beaches for camping. Beach camping was another first for me and I found it a challenge to keep the sand from permeating everything we brought. In the end, I quit fussing over it and chilled. A distant rain shower produced a rainbow and we watched the sunset from our chairs on the riverbank. The cliché “life is good” was penned for moments like that one.

Sunset over the Wisconsin River

The next day provided even more wildlife viewing and a bit of a headwind, which required me to step-up my paddling and earn my keep. The takeout at Boscobel was convenient and quick. Our car had been staged there the day before and Wisconsin River Outings instructed us to simply leave the canoe and give them a call to pick it up. In Less than 15 minutes, we were on our way to find lunch and cold drinks. Unquestionably, I enjoyed my first canoe-camping trip and look forward to returning to the Wisconsin River soon.

I’d like to extend a big thanks to Wisconsin River Outings for their hospitality and to Ted Nelson for introducing me to the area. For more details on our route and the river, check out these two articles:  Muscoda to Boscobel: The perfect day trip on the Wisconsin River and Paddle the Wisconsin River for the best river camping in the Midwest.

The view from our camp along the Wisconsin River shore.

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