Route 90 passes through the southern portion of the state of Wisconsin. This area is more populated and developed than the northern region of the state but it offers a range of excellent kayaking opportunities. Beautiful scenery, wildlife, unique geological structures, and historic sites all add up to many superior kayaking stops.
A very useful resource is the Wisconsin Atlas and Gazetteer (published by the DeLorme Mapping Company), which provides 81 quadrangular maps of the state. This book is especially useful in locating back roads, state parks, campgrounds, etc.
Wherever there is a known provider of kayak rentals and shuttle service, that information has been included. These service providers are also an excellent source of local paddling information. If you are paddling alone as I was you can drive your vehicle to the take-out location and leave a bicycle (securely locked). You can then drive back to the put-in area, launch and paddle to the take-out area. There you can secure your kayak (I lock mine to a tree), ride your bicycle back to the put-in area and pick up your vehicle.
You can purchase an annual Wisconsin State Park sticker at the Visitor Information Office of any state park. You may also order your annual vehicle admission stickers and trail passes from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources directly by sending a check or money order to DNR Parks and Recreation, P.O. Box 7921, Madison WI 53707-7921, or by phone at (608) 266-2181 between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. MasterCard or Visa accepted.
Map of Route in Wisconsin
Directions: right off I-90 at Newville, Wisconsin
I drove past the Lake Koshkonong near Newville, Wisconsin (Highway 59 and I-90 bridge), and wished that I had had time to stop to kayak there. The lake was an easy exit off I-90 and looked very inviting but I had to make it to Lake Kegonsa, Wisconsin that night because I had reserved a campsite there. This is a definite kayak stop and should be on everyone's list for Wisconsin stops. On my next trip through Wisconsin I will definitely make this a kayak stop. This is a large lake that is known for fine boating and fishing. There is an active Wetland Association working to protect the Lake Koshkonong Wetlands. The group formed in 2003 in an effort to protect the existing wetlands on Lake Koshkonong and Rock River and to promote the life of natural plants, fish, birds, and other forms of wildlife in the basin. Their website can be found at: http://www.koshwetlands.org
Directions: Exit 147 off I-90, Hwy N, then turn west on Koshkonong Road, turn south on Door Creek Road. Approximately 4 miles from freeway exit to the park.
Lake Kegonsa State Park
2405 Door Creek Road
Stroughton, WI 53589
Lake Kegonsa State Park, south of Wisconsin's state capital, Madison, 342 acres of oak woods, prairies and wetland marses. The lake itself covers 3,209 acres and is 30 feet deep. Kegonsa means "lake of many fishes." It is one of southern Wisconsin's most beautiful lakes and state parks. The park contains woodlands, prairies and wetlands and offers camping, hiking and boating.
Grass and Sandy Beach at Lake Kegonsa
Other activities in the park include naturalist activities, fishing, and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding in the winter.
I made it to Lake Kegonsa State Park in the early evening and went for a brief kayak on Lake Kegonsa before setting up camp in the very large group campsite "A" that I had booked online. There is a concrete boat ramp next to the beach at Lake Kegonsa. A small floating dock sits next to the boat ramp, so there are essentially three ways of entering the water by kayak.
Boat Dock at Lake Kegonsa
A sandy area next to the boat ramp and dock makes the best entry point for a kayak. I launched easily from this spot. The water was smooth as there was not much wind and the shoreline was nice for exploring. There were other kayakers and motor boats out on the lake but I found a quiet area to myself and enjoyed the early evening paddle.
Kayak launch area at Lake Kegonsa
Before launching my kayak I noticed a sign posted next to the launch site displaying an "Exotic Species Advisory." Lake Kegonsa contains a species of plant that should not be transmitted by boat to other waters. It is always a good idea to wash down a kayak after kayaking in all waters. This particular warning asked all boaters to do the following:
á remove all aquatic plants from all parts of your boat
á drain all water from your boat before leaving the water access area
á do not transfer water from one water body to another or release live bait into any waters
á wash your boat thoroughly with regular rap water
á dry your boat for three days in a sunny location before transferring it to a new body of water
"Exotic Species Advisory" at Lake Kegonsa
I reserved my campsite online at reserveamerica.com and I accidentally reserved a group campsite instead of a standard tent site. As there were no other group campers and the group campsite is separated from the main campgrounds, I had the entire group area to myself. However, a park ranger came by and checked on me periodically and I found I enjoyed the solitude at the end of a long kayak on Lake Kegonsa.
Group Campsite"A" at Lake Kegonsa State Park
The campgrounds and entire park were extremely clean and well maintained. I settled into my campsite for the evening and cooked my meal on my Coleman stove. Behind my campsite was a lovely open field with a hiking trail through a meadow to the lake. I walked out at dusk and enjoyed the meadow and wildflowers near the lakeshore. I slept well with the clear sky and bright stars above me.
Cooking dinner on my Coleman stove at campsite
Lake Kegonsa State Park makes a great kayak stop along Route 90 because it offers a large lake for kayaking and excellent camping facilities for staying over after a long kayak.
Directions: Exit 106 off Route 90, Route 12 towards Baraboo, WI, Devil's Lake State Park (3.5 miles S on Wis. 123)
Devil's Lake State Park
S5975 Park Road
Baraboo, Wisconsin 53913
Park Office: 608-356-8301
Devil's Lake State Park located near Baraboo, Wisconsin, consists of approximately 9,117 acres. The lake was created by the glaciers and is surrounded on three sides by 500-foot-high bluffs which make for spectacular views while kayaking. It was so quiet that while kayaking I was able to hear the hikers on the old railway trail above the bluffs as they conversed.
Launch area at Devil's Lake (Northern Entrance)
According to Wisconsin County Maps: Guide to Fun in Wisconsin, 1979, by the Clarkson Map Company in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, the lake got its name in the following way:
The clear water of Devil's Lake
Federal National Park Service Passports (Golden Age, Golden Access, and Golden Eagle) are honored for entry at Devil's Lake State Park as part of the Federal Ice Age Trail. Devil's Lake State Park has three public camping areas located on the north shore of the lake, and six group campsites on the south shore. There is no direct camping on the lake's shoreline. Devil's Lake State Park has swimming, boating, fishing, camp and picnic facilities. Early in this century visitors could take a train to Devil's Lake. If you were staying at the Cliff House the train would drop you off right at the front door. Hiking trails now run along the rail lines.
Boats on the south shore beach of Devil's Lake
Gasoline motors are not allowed on Devil's Lake which makes it a perfect destination for kayakers. Kayakers can launch from both the north and south ends of the Lake. The first boat launch you come across is the north launch just to the right of the visitor's center as you enter the park. I launched from the north end beach and landed on the south end beach picnic area to have my lunch.
Unloading my kayak at Devil's Lake using my Thule Kayak Loading bar
The south end of Devil's Lake has excellent picnic facilities, a long, sandy beach, and a full concession stand in case you haven't packed anything for lunch. The views from this beach were quite lovely.
Beach on the south shore of Devil's Lake
It takes about an hour to leisurely paddle the circumference of the lake. It interesting colorations on the rocks along shore make exploring the shoreline very interesting.
View of Devil's Lake from my kayak cockpit
I couldn't have asked for a bluer sky or nicer day for paddling Devil's Lake.
There is a large swimming area near the north launch site at Devil's Lake.
Launch site near beach at Devil's Lake
Rocky shoreline of Devil's Lake
There are over 29 miles of hiking trails in Devil's Lake State Park. Descriptions of these trails appears on the Devil's Lake State park website at: http://www.devilslakewisconsin.com/trailmap.html
When you are leaving the park be sure to take Route 123 North back to Route 90 (which is a left turn instead of a right turn) to save yourself a lot of backtracking.
Landing on the south beach at Devil's Lake
The south beach offers a sunny area to rest after paddling for a while. You can land your kayak on the sandy beach then use the bathroom facilities and stretch out on the grass. There are picnic tables and large shaded areas for eating your lunch.
Large turtle basking on a rock along the shore of Devil's Lake
While kayaking on Devil's Lake I saw a bald eagle, several ducks and other waterfowl and this large turtle basking in the sun on the rocky shoreline. A good pair of binoculars is a nice thing to have with you as you kayak so you can simply float in the middle of the lake and watch the wildlife at a distance.
South shore beach of Devil's Lake
This view along the south shore beach shows some of the bluffs along the shoreline of Devil's Lake. Devil's Lake State Park has three public camping areas located on the north shore of the lake, and six group campsites on the south shore. The Quartzite Campground is open year-round. The Nature Center hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily in season. With the great hiking trails and lake for peaceful kayaking, Devil's Lake State Park ranks high in my choices for kayaking stops along Route 90.
Directions: Exit 108 off I-90
The Wisconsin River is the largest river in Wisconsin. It runs 430 miles from Lac Vieux Desert on the boundary of Wisconsin and Michigan in the north, to Prairie du Chien in southwestern Wisconsin, where it empties into the Mississippi River. If you travel ten miles past Madison, Wisconsin on I-90 and turn west on Rt. 19 you will connect with Rt. 12 just north of Madison. There are public access points where you can easily launch a kayak.
Many outfitters rent canoes and kayaks in the Sauk City area. Two of the most popular are Blackhawk River Runs and Sauk Prairie Canoes. You can see the sign for Sauk Prairie Canoes from the Rt. 12 bridge as you cross the Wisconsin River going into Sauk City. Turn left just west of the bridge to get to Sauk Prairie Canoes. Their ramp goes down to the water so you can unload and launch easily. You can also park in the back of their lot after unloading and arrange for pick-ups as necessary. There is an approximately 20-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River from Sauk City down to Spring Green which is perfect for kayakers. The banks are lined with trees and and you can spot wildlife as you paddle down river.
There are some terrific outfitters who provided guided camping excursions on the Wisonsin River. This link will get you started: http://www.paddling.net/trips/showCompany.html?1597. The leisurely pace of the lower Wisconsin River makes it a great kayak stop.
Directions: Exit at Mauston from Route 90, go north about 12 miles
Buckhorn State Park
W8450 Buckhorn Park Ave.
Necedah, WI 54646-7338
I exited Route 90 at Mauston, Wisconsin and headed north to Castle Rock Lake and Buckhorn State Park. Mauston is about 12 miles from Route 90 but it is well worth the trip. Buckhorn State Park is a 4,500-acre park and wildlife area and is located on a peninsula in the Castle Rock flowage of the Wisconsin River.
The Buckhorn State Park Canoe Launch area on Castle Rock Lake is a great spot to view birds and provides some excellent kayaking. There were lots of cattails and bugs along the way. The canoe and kayak launch is located on the peninsula's east side in a quiet area that leads to the main part of the flowage. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the park office.
The 1.8-mile canoe interpretive trail at Buckhorn State Park was designed to provide a unique learning experience while paddling through wetlands. The trail begins and ends at the canoe launch site. A large map at the launch shows a detailed layout of the trail. There are ten numbered posts along the shoreline that mark the trail. The route is easy and provides a view of the open part of the flowage. You will most likely some wildlife while you paddle. Deer, herons, ducks, geese and many species of songbirds are common sights along the trail. You could also spot osprey, sandhill cranes, egrets, or even a bald eagle. The trip can take 60 to 90 minutes, but you may want to explore further.
The canoe and kayak launch is located on the peninsula's east side in a quiet slough that leads to the main part of the flowage. Canoeists should remain near shore to avoid rough water when the wind is blowing. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the park office.
A brochure gives the interpretive descriptions for each site. The route is easy, and at one point, provides a view of the open part of the flowage. Resting for a while may allow you to see some wildlife.
The trip usually requires 60 to 90 minutes, but plan for more time. You may want to explore further.
Descriptions of the ten stops along the trail as they appear in the brochure at the launch site are well-written and excerpted here:
Look around at the diversity of life found in wetlands. Water-loving plants and animals, from cattails and willows to turtles and muskrats, make their homes here. Although only a quarter of Wisconsin's original 10 million wetland acres remain, these valuable areas filter pollutants from water, store water as natural "sponges," and provide year-round recreational opportunities. Wetlands have historically been seen as places without much value. They were often filled or drained to be converted to more "useful" areas, such as farmlands, home sites, or even cities. Fortunately, we know better today, and now see wetlands for what they are - natural wonderlands. Follow the trail south along this shoreline to your next stop.
In spring, these wetlands are alive with the sounds of frogs. You may recognize the high-pitched peep of the spring peeper, a small tree frog. Other tree frogs include chorus frogs, gray tree frogs, and cricket frogs. All tree frogs have suction cups on their toes to help them climb trees. Bullfrogs, green frogs and leopard frogs live at the water's edge; wood frogs and toads live on land. Frogs are important because they eat large numbers of insects and serve as food for many fish, snakes, birds and mammals.
3. Nest Box
Do you see the large nest box high on the post straight ahead? Wood ducks make nests in these special boxes. The day after her 10-15 eggs hatch, the female calls the young from below, while one by one the ducklings jump from as high as 50 feet. Male wood ducks have feathers of red, yellow, white, blue and green, while females are gray and white.
4. Underwater Life
Underwater lurk thousands of fierce predators! Mosquito larvae, hatched from eggs, live underwater until becoming adults. Dragonflies also deposit eggs in water. The emerging nymphs eat other insects and even small fish. Adult dragonflies eat flying insects, especially mosquitoes, which they catch in flight. Other underwater residents include crayfish, clams and snails.
Would you like to stand in muddy water all the time? Cattails have adapted to their soggy lifestyle by having hollow leaves to move oxygen from air to soil. Muskrats build lodges with cattail stems, while pheasants and rabbits find winter cover among the dried stalks. Follow the trail across the river to the island's shoreline.
Can you spot fish from the air? The osprey, with its five-foot wing span and keen eyesight, spots fish as it hovers above and dives straight down to snatch the fish with its sharp claws (called talons). Look for the osprey's large stick nests in dead trees or utility poles as you travel through the park.
7. Canada Geese
Canada geese - common park visitors - are recognized by their distinctive V-shaped flocks and loud honking. They mate for life and build nests on raised areas like small islands and muskrat houses. As the downy, yellow goslings hatch, they feed, like adults, on insects, wild rice and other aquatic plants.
At 45-60 pounds, the beaver is North America's largest rodent. Beavers use their webbed hind feet for swimming and flat tails for balance, communication, and fat storage. They prefer aspen, alder and willow, using branches to build dams and lodges (like the one you see here). Dams help maintain water depths under the ice, allowing the beavers to stay active all winter.
Carp, the largest of the minnows, can be over three feet long and weigh more than 50 pounds. Introduced from Europe as a game fish around 1877, they have become common in many areas. Carp are bottom feeders, often uprooting aquatic plants and clouding the water with silt, resulting in declines of some native fish which need clear water to spawn.
This mound of cattails is a muskrat house. The muskrat's eyes, nose and breathing system help it adapt to life underwater. The muskrat uses its long, hairless tail like an outboard motor, swimming rapidly against the current. Mink, foxes, wolves, and hawks feed on muskrats which are also commonly trapped by humans. This is your last stop. Go back across the river to the canoe launch.
Buckhorn State Park includes a peninsula in the Castle Rock flowage of the Wisconsin River, and land along the Yellow River. This is a paradise for water recreationists, hunters, hikers and nature lovers. It has an outdoor group camp, 29 cart-in campsites, two-level accessible wildlife blinds, accessible cabin, accessible fishing pier and waterfowl hunting blinds. This was some of the best kayaking in Wisconsin.
Directions: Exit 89 off Route 90 towards Dellwood, Lake Delton, Mirror Lake State Park
Mirror Lake State Park
E 10320 Fern Dell Road
Baraboo, WI 53913
Exit 89 off Route 90 takes you towards Dellwood, Lake Delton and Mirror Lake State Park. Mirror Lake State Park has a self-guiding canoe and kayak trail. The three-mile route takes around three to four hours to complete. The boat ramp is well marked. After launching my kayak west I paddled toward the narrowing channel directly across from the boat ramp. I passed a beach and fishing pier. There is abundant wildlife on Mirror Lake (mallard ducks, painted turtles, chickadees, nuthatches, warblers, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, muskrats, beaver and otters). Tall pine and oak trees surround the lake. Wild rice grows along this quiet backwater.
Mirror Lake Rentals, located at the boat landing of Mirror Lake State Park, rents kayaks for $8.00 per hour. The Town of Delton boat landing is on the West side and the Mirror Lake State Park boat landing is located in Mirror Lake State Park.
Directions: Exit 5 off Route 90 at La Crosse, north through the town of Trempealeau, WI then 2 miles along the Mississippi River
Perrot State Park
Route 1 P. O. Box 407
Trempealeau, WI 54661
From the bluffs of Perrot State Park in southwest Wisconsin you can see the confluence of the Trempealeau and Mississippi Rivers. Only a few miles from the charming river town of Trempealeau the 1,434-acre park offers hiking, cross-country skiing, biking, camping, birdwatching and kayaking.
The Mississippi River north of Trempealeau, WI at sunset along the road to Perrot State Park
Trempealeau is derived from the French nickname la montagne qui trempe a l'eau or roughly the "mountain whose foot is bathed by water."
Perrot State Park was named for Nicholas Perrot, an early French explorer who established one of the first European encampments in the Upper Mississippi Valley. It is an excellent state park with fine camping facilities, very secluded and private areas and one of the nicest state parks I've camped. Small grey rabbits jumped around everywhere and birdsongs were heard until late in the evening, and then again first thing in the morning. This made for very pleasant camping.
The Voyageurs Canoe Trail is a well-marked 3.4-mile loop through Trempealeau Bay and past Trempealeau Mountain. Kayaks can be rented at Perrot State Park for $10.00 for four hours of kayaking. These can be launched directly into Trempealeau Bay at the Nature Center. I kayaked the Voyageurs Canoe Trail in Trempealeau Bay around 7 p.m. on a summer's evening while the air was thick and very humid. While attempting to launch I learned the true meaning of the words "muddy Mississippi." It was slippery going but fortunately two parallel logs were installed along the water's edge for just this purpose. There was only the slightest movement of air as I passed through the Bay. While coasting along with the gentle current, at least a half a dozen beavers swam directly in front of my bow crossing from side to side. I was amazed at how unconcerned they were about me and my kayak. There was a gentle stillness with only the sound of the drops of water falling from my paddle and the occasional beaver crossing from one side of the bay to the other. The river and bluffs really put one in mind of a Mark Twain novel.
Unfortunately I didn't get too many photographs while kayaking in Trempealeau Bay because my digital camera batteries managed to die just prior to launch. As I was tent camping and had no electricity it was difficult for me to keep my rechargeable digital camera batteries charged. The park ranger on duty was kind enough to offer to charge them for me while I kayaked. I kayaked until the sun set below the Mississippi River and went back to my campsite to enjoy the rest of the evening by my campfire. It took me a while to get my kayak cleaned up afterwards, but the Trempealeau Bay canoe and kayaking trail was amazing and worth every effort it took to launch from the muddy banks. The birds were so numerous in the area that I bought a State of Wisconsin Peterson Guide book in order to make better identifications in the future.
The sun setting over Trempealeau Bay as seen from Perrot State Park
The park is open year-round and is idyllic for hiking, cross-country skiing, biking, camping, birdwatching and boating. There is excellent hiking in the park and from the bluffs hikers can view the confluence of the Trempealeau and Mississippi rivers and watch Mississippi riverboats steer barges through twisting channels.
While driving through the town of Trempealeau, Wisconsin and heading along the Mississippi River on the Great River Road towards Perrot State Park, I was lucky enough to see the Julia Belle Swain riverboat going upriver. This put me in mind of the song John Hartford had written for her - The Julia Belle Swain. The late singer/songwriter John Hartford (of "Gentle On My Mind" fame) immortalized the Julia Belle Swain in several of his numerous songs about riverboats. Hartford himself had begun working on the river at a young age, obtaining his pilot's license, and working on his favorite boat, the Julia Belle Swain.
The Julia Belle Swain (http://www.juliabelle.com) was built in 1971 in Dubuque, Iowa, and is one of only five authentic steam-powered passenger vessels still in operation on the Mississippi River. It runs regular overnight trips from its home port of La Crosse to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and Winona, Minnesota. The Julia Belle Swain docks at Riverside Park in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The "first" Julia Belle Swain, built in 1913, ran for many years on the Illinois, Ohio, and Monongahela rivers. The original was named after Julia Belle [Swain] Shelton, granddaughter of David Swain, the founder of the D.M. Swain Co. of Stillwater, MN. The Swains were noted boat builders since soon after the Civil War, designing and building many distinctive steamboats that ran mainly on the Upper Mississippi, St. Croix and Illinois rivers.
Below are a few Mississippi River terms to help make you feel part of the great Mississippi River tradition as you paddle along:
Main channel: this is the commercial navigation channel used by towboats and barges. It is marked by red and green buoys. Avoid the shipping lanes and hug the shores when using the Main Channel.
Slough: In the Mississippi River, a slough is not necessarily a swamp. Often it is a smaller channel through the backwaters that may be connected to swamps.
Lakes: This usually refers to large areas of open water in a back channel with little or no current.
Wingdams: Wingdams are underwater structures that channel the flow of the river away from the shore. There were installed prior to the lock-and-dam system. They are made of long piles of rocks perpendicular to the shore. You may see or scrape them in low water conditions.
Snag: An underwater obstacle, usually a submerged tree of branch. Keep a lookout for snags in a strong current as they can damage or capsize a canoe or kayak.
After reluctantly leaving Perrot State Park, I started my drive across the Mississippi River and on to Minnesota. I would like to have had more time to explore the Great River State Bike Trail along the Mississippi, and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge both of which I passed. The refuge provides an important habitat for a variety of migratory birds including bald eagles, osprey, black terns, American white pelicans, sora rails, several species of ducks and warblers. There was also the Trempealeau River with a boat launch right off the highway. Next time. I drove up Route 35 North to Route 54 from Perrot State Park to Winona to cross the Mississippi River. Along the way I crossed the Black River, another spot to remember for the next trip.
I crossed the Mississippi on the Winona Bridge at Winona, Minnesota. The city was founded by a steamboat captain in 1851. Its location on an island in the Mississippi made it a transportation hub and one of the nation's richest cities by 1900. After crossing the Mississippi River, I stayed on Route 43 South through Winona, Minnesota and went back to Route 90 for a few miles before heading off to Root River Valley.
For some reason my GPS unit did not receive good satellite signals throughout Wisconsin. I'm not sure why. It worked well everywhere else. There were no clouds in the sky so I remain puzzled.
Permits are required in Wisconsin for kayaks over 15 feet in length. You can download a boating application online or call the Department of Natural Resources: 608-266-2621.
 Wisconsin County Maps: Guide to Fun in Wisconsin, 1979, by the Clarkson Map Company in Kaukauna, Wisconsin
Table of Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 |
Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 - Part A | Chapter 13 - Part B | Appendices |
© 2013 Diana Schwartz
This book is copyrighted material.