Devils Lake (First and probably last time)

Most residents in Wisconsin have a fond enthusiasm for Devils Lake State Park. Maybe since we didn’t grow up here in the dairy state we don’t have the same dreamy associations. So to start getting to know this area a bit, we decided to paddle the circumference of the lake.  The summer of 2018 was a time of flooding and high water that made many of our lovely rivers inadvisable to be upon.

One thing you will love – no gas motor boats are allowed!

The term, devil’s lake is a misinterpretaion of the Ho-Chunk name Tawacunchukdah or Da-wa-kah-char-gra, which better translates to “Sacred Lake” or “Spirit Lake.” Spirit Lake is highly significant in Ho-Chunk oral history, and voices of spirits were often heard during the celebrations. –  Wikipedia

The Put-in

There are two boat ramps marked on the state park map. The signage is pretty bad for the south boat landing. If that is where you want to launch, pull in where the sign says “pet swim area” because the pet swim area and the boat launch are one and the same. There is parking across the street.

The north boat landing has great parking and is easier to find. Once there, your choice is to launch from a nice ramp or from a sandy beach. We put in from the beach and took out in the official boat ramp just to try it out. You do have to navigate around some sandbars to disembark. At this location, canoes, kayaks and small sailboats are available for rent.

The Lake

The paddle is about 3 miles. Watch out for rocks along the shore. Luckily they are easy to to see because the lake is quite clear, and the bottom is clearly visible along the shallow edges. The maximum depth is 47 feet.

The lake is a seepage lake, situated in a deep chasm with no visible inlet or outlet; it has no spring and no feeding river. The sunny side has rocks exposed. There are trails around the lake to walk – some of which are segments of the Ice Age Trail which follows the where the glaciers stopped.

There were a few other paddlers and many dogs, some riding in the kayaks.

We saw a gaggle of geese hunting for fish. It was fun to watch them bloop under, butts up!

There is a little stream and the water was high enough to explore but it ends in a culvert. At this point, we don’t know where that goes.  There is some vegetation in the water. Some seemed healthy and some seemed invasive. Very little algae at this point and quite clear compared to other waterways we paddle.

On the Southeast side of the lake there is a row of houses / cottages. These properties were grandfathered in when the WI law prevented new developments at Devils Lake. Mary had a little conversation with a cat in one of the windows.

There were rocks on the “shady” side of the lake that had a definite dividing line of mossed vs not-mossed rocks. Probably the water level was much higher a week or so ago. Also on this side is “Balanced Rock” which looked really small from where we were sitting, but it is a hiking destination for many.

We used the boat ramp to exit. Had a nice chat with this guy and his dog who relentlessly fetches. All in all, it was great exercise on one of the last beautiful sunny days of the summer and a nice pick of waterway to canoe once. Why only once? Because we do like more of the feeling of “going somewhere” and uncovering what is around the next bend. On a lake “it is what it is” – you can see pretty much all of it from the launch.

Red Cedar Lake 2018 (first time)

This lake is probably quite pretty, but we really couldn’t see much of the water surface. We got to it too late in the season – it was just packed with vegetation. The canoe did ok in this thick plant material, but kayak paddles would probably get tangled due to the different pattern of paddle strokes. We heard about Red Cedar Lake in one of the paddling books, and it sounded idyllic; we guess they must have gone in the spring. We probably will not try again this year.

It wasn’t a total fail – there were tons and tons of frogs on the lily pads! We startled them as we floated passed, and we heard “squeak-splash” continuously as they blip-blip-blipped back into the water. It was impossible not to laugh. No motors of any kind are allowed(!) and, if you are a forager, there are a lot of cattails to harvest. Did you know that almost every part of the cattail is edible at some point in the year? We did take two to turn into a ‘barbecue’ but didn’t use them soon enough.

What we liked least were the gunshots as we were unloading the canoe. We were relieved not to hear any shooting while we were on the water.

Red Cedar Lake is a 370 acre “water seepage” lake located in the town of Oakland which is just east of Cambridge, WI. (Turn onto Brosig Lane from US-12) For a State Natural Area, the entrance to Leonard Brosig memorial landing is not at all well-marked; we must have passed it by 100 times and never saw it.

We couldn’t paddle the route we planned, but there is an island in the middle of the lake that we set as a destination and circumnavigated it.


Frogs galore, great blue heron, red wing blackbird, saw yellow-headed blackbird which we see less frequently on WI waterways.

Skokie Lagoons (First time!)

Deb’s sister-in-law declared a goal to paddle the Skokie Lagoons which is north of Chicago. Our friends Jeanne and Katia live close by and the weekend we were driving through we decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, my sister-in-law could not join us but we are determined to help her achieve this achievable goal.

The Skokie Lagoons are not in Skokie. Skokie is a native american word by the way. We didn’t have our canoe but we brought our own paddles and pfd’s – we rented. At first the canoe felt tippy but we adjusted to it and although we missed our own boat, we settled in for a fine afternoon.

Our time was limited but we paddled 2+ hours around the first island where there were loads of heron. Next time we hope to paddle all the way to the botanic gardens; this would be helping Jeanne reach an achievable goal and we are into that.


The heron on the island are so used to people that they don’t move away when approaching. We saw great blue heron but the thrill was black-crowned night heron which is pictured at the top of this post. There was also a lot of cormorants and in picture you will see five or more in a tree. Another tree had 10+ pigeons and we were joking that that is where they go when they are not pooping on sculptures downtown.


Wingra Creek on the Fourth of July

Wingra Creek is a pleasant urban paddle in Madison. We usually try it once a year. If the water is too high, it can be difficult to get through the first railroad bridge; the water is too strong and fast and there is always deadfall to contend with. Sometimes the water is too low and the boat hits the creek bottom which causes an abandoned trip. The waterway can also suffer from invasive plants and algae making the experience extremely unpleasant. This year we were hoping that it would be “just right.” To be sure of our hunch, we walked along the Wingra Bike Path the day before, We found it “all clear” to take our friends Gene and Susan on an Independence Day journey.

Weather: Sunny, temp around 80 but uncomfortably high dew point.

Put in/take out: Olin-Turville Park’s non-motorized boat ramp. Everyone wants to know “Do canoes and kayaks have to pay the same $8 per day fee that big noisy polluting boats pay?” It is not specified on the sign, but a DNR staffer we ran into a few years ago told us that canoes did not have to pay the fee.

Timing: In at 11:30, out at 2:00 at a very leisurely pace.

The Trip: Pleasant urban paddle to the small dam at the end of Lake Wingra near the Arboreteum and St.Mary’s Hospital. The creek parallels the bike path, goes past Quann Park, Goodman Pool and several industrial-looking sites, and passes under many bridges for pedestrians, bikes, cars and trains. After Fish Hatchery Rd, the creek flows past marshy areas of the Arboretum on one side and a residential neighborhood on the other. There was not much trash, probably due to efforts of Friends of Lake Wingra. We saw lots of walkers and bikers and quite a few bank fisherman on this holiday. We met several other canoes and kayaks on the creek and one stand-up paddleboard. To make the route longer, there is a portage at the dam but we find the creek more interesting than the lake, not to mention less crowded.

Wildlife: swallows, ducks, a turtle, red-winged blackbirds, and a yellow-footed bird that we haven’t identified yet. Lots of flowers along the banks, including some beautiful spikey purple flowers with large arrow-shaped leaves growing in the water in two clusters near the Fish Hatchery bridge.

Take-away: Suggest paddling in spring or early summer when the creek is more likely to have plenty of water. Later in the summer when the water levels are lower, it gets sluggish and scummy and not too pleasant to paddle in.

Mississippi River with a guide

We bid and won an auction item from the River Alliance – a guided Mississippi River paddle with John Sullivan! Since up to four paddlers could go, we gave it to our friends for a Xmas present. We enjoyed our stay in Alma, WI the night prior to the paddle.

… a one-of-a-kind trip that will give you insights about America’s River that you can’t get anywhere else.  John will lead a group by canoe or kayak, into the fascinating world of the back waters and sloughs of the Mississippi River. Paddle through braided rivers of grass, towering floodplain forests, and backwater river channels. Take in the wonder of the flora and fauna that inhabit this unique ecosystem.

John has amazing knowledge of the Mississippi and has paddled quite a bit of it. Read more at his website

A nice bed and breakfast in Alma, WI

Illinois Fox River at Big Bend, WI

This trip is a segment of Illinois Fox River 1 in Mike Svob’s book.
Flow at Waukesha gauge 05543830: 101 csf (median for this date 43csf)
Left at 4pm. 1.5 hour drive from Madison to Big Bend Village Park which has a nice concrete boat ramp and plenty of parking.
1 hour to unload boats, find bathroom. Floyd E Swayze Memorial Center(Lions Club) is next to the landing, but it is unclear if it is public or private. Mobil Gas Station is 0.5 miles.
In water 6:20. Turned around just past golf course, approx 2 mi from put-in. Slow current, no blockages or grounding. Water clear but lots of duckweed.
Saw ducks and swallows-not much else. Heard cranes. Pretty and quiet. Encountered family of kids and dad and fishing boat. Very cloudy. Dewpoint 72. Out at 8 o’clock in darkness.

with J&K.

Illinois and Michigan Canal (Illinois)

Setting: We picked this location because it was close to the Farnsworth House, which we toured beforehand, and Oswego, where we saw a program of short films (Luna Fest) after canoeing. It was a cloudy, cool, breezy day in the 60’s.

Water level: none available (Paddling Illinois book says there is always enough water)

Put-in: 4:15 pm at a nice sandy landing with a large parking lot at Bridge St. access near Channahon State Park in Channahon, IL.

The paddle: Downstream approx 2 mi (45 min) where we could see a marina to our left on the DesPlaines River which runs very close to the canal.  A bike trail, the old tow path, runs along the canal. The canal was a little trashy at the start. The water was clearer at the start than farther downstream. Current was minimal. The surroundings were fairly isolated except for a few houses, one of which had a herd of goats. Our turnaround point was at the site of a scenic wooded bluff.

Take-out: 6:15 pm

Wildlife: doe and faun drinking at the edge of the canal and 2 other adult deer, kingfishers, orange and black bird (?oriole), muskrats, goats.

Other possible put-ins in the area: There is a nice sandy landing at Silver Springs State Park in a lake off the Fox River. The water was a clear blue-green color like a glacial lake. There is another (concrete) landing nearby on the river bank. We heard good reports on the canoeing, but there might be too much current to paddle upstream (or too shallow). We also saw a nice picnic area in the park across from the Farnsworth House, which is downstream from the canoe landings.


Kickapoo River (not the crazy section)

This was a Saturday, and we really don’t enjoy the upper section of the Kickapoo with the raucous weekend boaters. We sought out a lower section, not as popular which is fine with us. This trip is a section of Kickapoo River 5 in Paddling Southern Wisconsin.

Flow at Kickapoo River Steuben gauge 05410490: 425 cfs (median ~450 cfs)

Put-in/take-out: Highway 60 landing about 300 feet west of Highway 131. This has a concrete ramp and a nice parking lot. No bathrooms.

The trip: We left Madison at 12:30 and were on the water at 2:45, turned around at 5:00, out at 6:00. M recalls the upstream paddle as difficult and tiring (as evidenced by 2 hr 15 min upstream, 1 hr downstream)

Wildlife: kingfisher, plover, goldfinch, cardinal, muskrat, frogs

We scouted out other landings after the paddle. Another landing on Highway 60 about 1 mile before the Wisconsin River looks good.  Plum Creek Canoe Landing on Plum Creek Road was washed out when we were there.

Baraboo River Wonewoc


Put-in to Baraboo River at Wonewoc (state road 33 near state road FF) – seem to remember it was a city boat ramp. Paddled upstream 2.5 miles. On river 4pm, off 7pm Home 9pm

The Paddle:

Left Madison at 2:00. On river at 4:00. Upstream approx 2.5 mi. Off river at 7:00.

Lots of maneuvering but OK. Tricky passage under County Rd FF bridge with riffles-stay west. Deb recalls quite a bit of dead-fall and being nervous about the return trip downstream and that we did OK but it would have been scarier if the water had been any higher.

The river was narrow and especially pretty at the point where we turned around. There were some nice sandstone cliff formations after halfway point. Especially pretty on the turn around so it was sad to end there.

We wrote this note: “tricky under bridge/ riffles – stay west”


Lots of heron, evidence of beaver. saw frog and bird with crown and also a large black bird.


521 csf. Median for this day 245 cfs

Info resources:

This trip is a segment of Baraboo River I in Paddling Southern Wisconsin