On the occasion of having to retrieve a forgotten jacket from the Ice House and on the occasion of Pat’s first week of retirement, we paddled an area in the Dells that we had checked out a few days before thinking we would explore it “some day.”
When we did recon the previous weekend, we noticed that the launch is near Sandstone Bar and Grill, which advertises that they have kayak rentals. So does that mean they also have a launch, a better one than the Highway N pull-off?
Unclear which if any gauge reading is useful to indicate water levels on this paddle. For what it’s worth, the flow at gauge #05404000 WI River near WI Dells was approx 4000 cfs, which is the median flow for this date. This gauge is below the dam. The flow at gauge #05403500 Lemonweir River at New Lisbon was approx 130 cfs (median~ 190 cfs for this date). The water level was fine for paddling. The current was slow.
The pull-off area on the shoulder of Highway N has room for 4-5 cars. The boats have to be carried around a fence, but our understanding is that it is legal to do so as this launch is on public land. There are no “No Trespassing” signs here (in contrast to just about everywhere else on this paddle). But one does wonder why the fence was erected. This put-in is unimproved and was muddier than when we checked it out the previous weekend but not a “sink in up to your ankles” mud, so we launched the canoe and kayak without much difficulty.
We decided to go left around the island which would be upstream, but there was essentially no perceptible current. The surroundings are very peaceful and isolated (except for the “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs). Most of Blackhawk Island and even the land along the river banks seems to be the property of Upham Woods.
We checked out the Sandstone Bar and Grill dock a few hundred feet upstream. It was high and did not seem small-boat friendly. There is a long winding stairway up the steep banks, and it is difficult to imagine how they would get rental kayaks down to the dock by way of those stairs. So we still don’t know where the Sandstone rental boats would launch.
The banks are wooded and dotted with spectacular sandstone outcroppings. The leaves had just started to turn, so there was not much color. We paddled upstream to the where the Wisconsin River divides around Blackhawk Island. We turned right to go downstream into the area called The Narrows. According to Paddling Southern Wisconsin, this is a dangerous area to paddle in high water or when the Dells boats are running, but it seemed quite tame the day we were there.
After the Narrows, we paddled around the southern tip of the island around a long sandbar. Looking downstream, the river is wide as it approaches the dam in the Dells. It doesn’t look very enticing to continue downstream, and there could be many big boats especially on weekends. We would probably not be inclined to launch in the Dells at Illinois Ave and paddle upstream to Blackhawk Island.
The segment between the tip of island and the put-in/take-out is not as interesting or attractive. We paddled past a noisy camp and headed for the take-out after a paddle of a little less than 2 hours. We would do this trip again, in the Dells boat off season and preferably on a weekday. It would be fun to try paddling upstream from the island into the Coldwater Canyon area.