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.

Lower Nemahbin 2018 (new dam, high water)

Somehow we didn’t get to the Lower Nemahbin in 2017 so we were twice as delighted to go back there on a weekday before the multitudes arrive for Labor Day.

The floods of this summer of 2018 made choosing paddling destinations require extra care. On this day we chose well, the water was high but not too remarkably so on this lake. The place the high water was most noticeable was near the dam, which was reconstructed since our last paddle.

Parking and choice of launch

There is a well-marked DNR parking lot on Sugar Island Rd in Summit, WI. There must be some turf wars going on in this town regarding the boat launch. The nice sandy launch is “private” and you get a strong sense that they want you to launch off the tiny dock in the reeds.  Instead we use the beach, taking much care not to be there any longer than necessary. We take a back seat to anyone using the area and are ready to apologize if we ever do get called out. Usually everyone is very friendly.

The paddle & the new dam

The water is still nice and clear. We paddled into the reeds which is actually the Bark River making its way through the lake. The current pulls you along; not much paddling required. The water took our boat right to the dam. Just before the bridge, the current was pretty strong. I had the idea that it would pull us right over the dam so I grabbed onto the reeds until we turned around.

We didn’t want to go to the upper lake and we didn’t want to spend time going around the entire Sugar Island, so we followed the western shore to see what there is to see. We had not done that before. There are some nice houses / cottages along there with neatly-tended gardens and sloping lawns that we are glad we don’t have to mow. The end of the lake was a stand of reeds. We just turned back around and meandered back to the take out.


Afterward the paddle we parked along the street and walked to the bridge to see what the newly-configured dam looks like – as in, did we miss anything? The dam used to be more of a chute or had a chute along side it that brave boats could go down. Now it is reconstructed to more of a traditional dam. The water was  actually higher than the dam so the current COULD have sucked us through. Glad we trusted our instincts and turned around!

Many people paddle under or portage over the bridge to cross the street in order to take a spin on the Bark River, so we were surprised and disappointed that they made a kind of a reluctant path to portage around it. Maybe the people that do have plastic or aluminum boats.

The other side of the bridge from the dam, the flow looks great – calm enough for the likes of us, but the boulder put-in would be hard for our kevlar canoe. I’m really not sure how we would enter there except to walk in up to our thighs and scramble into our craft.

Future recon

We had a very nice conversation with a fisherman at the bridge/ dam. We watched him exit and crawl into The Bark in his big boots and waders. He gave us complicated directions to another place to paddle close by … in the end we remembered ” go past Walgreens…”  We’ll have to look it up on a map in search of clues… oh, and “Folgers” lake or “Fowler” lake maybe?

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.


Rock River at Harnischfeger was lousy with heron

It was a windy day but the Rock River is pretty protected due to high banks. We went to put in at Kaul park (sometimes say “fisherman launch” since usually at least one person is fishing there). Since the wind was ruffling the water, the water was low for the launch, and the put-in was sort of scummy, we decided to go north to Harnischfeger Park which we had not used in awhile. Continue reading Rock River at Harnischfeger was lousy with heron

Fox River- in/out at O bridge

Weekday afternoon paddle on a humid mid-70’s mostly cloudy day with minimal wind. On the way, we checked out Neenah Creek and evaluated several landings.

Flow at Fox River Berlin gauge: 1130 cfs (median ~700 cfs)

Put in/take out: County Rd O bridge, which has an off-road parking area for several cars and a concrete ramp. No bathrooms.

The river is considered boring by some, but we find it quiet and mostly scenic, with great reflections that day.  Nothing wrong with peace and quiet. We went upstream past some cabins and deteriorating docks on the right, then a few houses before the surroundings become isolated as the river bends away from County Rd F. Houses and cabins appear further upstream along Fox River Rd.

The trip: in at 5:00, out at 7:15. There are often fishermen here, but we had the landing to ourselves when we put in. We turned around at 6:15 at the point where Fox River Rd comes within a hundred feet or so of the river. There is a quirky quonset-hut-like building here and some other interesting structures which seem more or less permanent and we assume are used for weekend visits.  There were no other boats on the river until the takeout, where we encountered a couple of friendly fishermen loading their boat.

Wildlife: hawk, herons, swallows, muskrat, red-winged blackbirds, fish jumping. Heard cranes nearby.  Saw some interesting blue berries in clusters which we have yet to identify and bamboo-like grasses on the banks (probably invasive).

Rock River – Ixonia

With water levels being quite high after all the rainfall this summer, we weren’t sure we could do our usual up-and-back trip on this segment of the Rock River. We hadn’t paddled here for several years, but we consulted past notes and decided to take a chance.  We put in at Wayside Park off Highway 16 at 2:30 on a sunny afternoon with temp in the low 80’s. It is a great oxbow park with restrooms and plenty of parking and a nice concrete ramp at the put-in. The last time we tried to launch here a couple of years ago, the water was too low and there were too many large exposed rocks which blocked our access to the water.

Flow at Rock River Watertown gage 05425500: 1100 cfs (median 162, mean 337).

The river level was visibly high but not scary swift.  It didn’t seem too difficult to paddle upstream, but we got tired sooner than we thought we should have; so we were probably working harder than we realized. We had no trouble getting under the Rock River Road bridge, just had to duck slightly.  The part of the river between Wayside Park and Kanow Park is pretty, so we were glad to paddle this segment.  Kanow Park is also quite nice and has a bank landing which can be muddy in high water levels.  There were several families fishing here.  We met a family coming downstream in a canoe having started at Kaul Park. They said they had encountered no obstructions between Kaul Park and Kanow Park.

Just before the row of houses about a mile beyond Kanow Park, we saw an eagle in flight! And, incidentally, a hornets nest hanging from a branch.

We turned around at 4:00 pm, at the beautiful green hill near the intersection of River Valley Road and Rock River Road.  Heading downstream, we scanned the trees in the area where we had seen the eagle before and saw a pair of eagles sitting side by side watching us as we passed!

Other wildlife: great blue heron in flight, a great blue heron and a pair of sandhill cranes close to each other along the river bank, many kingfisher and swallows, a few jumping fish and another hornets next close to Kanow Park.  We also saw a few fresh water clams.

Take out: 5:00 pm.

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.

Starkweather farther than ever

This paddle started out as usual on Starkweather Creek. We took some friends there who had not had the pleasure yet. The day was great for it, perfect water level and no scum issue.

When we got passed under East Washington St and got to the area where we usually turn around due to deadfall we were delighted that the obstacles have been removed. We got to paddle farther than we ever have! We suppose we have Friends of Starkweather Creek to thank for that.

The route took us passed Bridges Golf Course where we interacted with a few golfers and it went on from there. It was very pretty. We turned around due to time instead of obstacles but later recognizance proved there really was not much farther to go – we were almost at the airport!