This very short trip down the muddy waters of the Baraboo holds a bit of excitement with its countless riffles and brisk current as it passes through its historic downtown and legendary museum grounds.
What Makes It Great
This section is a great little paddle, being a short 4.25 miles but it’s exhilarating in the right conditions and quite manageable for even slightly-experienced paddlers. With bike shuttle, it can be conquered in an hour-and-a-half.
The fun starts immediately after the put-in at Haskins Park. Before approaching the Shaw Street bridge, you'll be greeted by the sounds of riffles and rapids making their way around a large horseshoe bend. After the easy rapids, you'll come sporadic riffles as you wind your way through downtown Baraboo.
Water levels are everything on this trip. If it’s too high, the excitement and riffles are ratcheted down a bit but at the right levels, you can expect yards and yards of riffly sections until just past Circus World Museum. After the museum, they almost disappear but it's still quite a pretty paddle.
The highlight of this trip lies between the Highway 123 and Ash Street bridge on the channel river-left of the island. There’s a Class I drop which isn't overly dramatic but it’s a lot of fun.
Paddling through downtown Baraboo and between the Circus World Museum is one of the more unique aspects to this paddle, especially since canoers and kayakers become part of the spectacle for the kids (and adults, I guess) looking down at the river from the circus grounds.
Having seen it from the bridge many times as a kid, I now enjoy seeing the grounds from a different perspective. The train cars and buildings are a pretty cool site and the sound of calliope music adds to the charm.
For being so short and flowing through the city, you wouldn’t expect to see much wildlife but I’ve come across deer, heron, ducks, geese, muskrat, bald eagles and raccoons.
This is about an hour paddle and it’s one of those perfect bike-shuttle paddles. There’s some short highway biking but most of it’s through town and on a bike trail that nears the river's edge.
I really enjoy this trip. It's a wonderful way to spend a couple hours and a great excuse to visit the beautiful Baraboo area. And since this paddle is so short and bike-shuttle, convenient, it’s one worth paddling a couple of times in a day.
Post-Paddle Diversions: The Baraboo area offers plenty of opportunities for exploration. The aforementioned Circus World Museum is kind of a trip if you have the slightest interest in circus history. Also, Devil’s Lake State Park isn't too far away, which offers some excellent day hiking (I’ve always been partial to the East bluff but they’re both wonderful). And one of my favorite places to hike, Parfrey’s Glen, is just down the road from that. The walkway that once lead to the waterfall at the end of the gorge is no longer kept up due to the rising cost of rebuilding it after constant floods and erosion but you can still hike off-road and check it out.
Who is Going to Love It
Paddlers who like a little (emphasis on little) excitement will find it on this section. There’s riffles throughout with a great little rapids section. Plus, paddling through downtown Baraboo adds a charming touch and despite being so close to civilization, you still might encounter some wildlife.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Put-In at Haskins Park, Baraboo, Wisconsin: The put-in at Haskins Park offers many access options. Watch out for geese droppings though, they're everywhere.
Take-Out at Highway 113 Boat Landing, Baraboo, Wisconsin: The take-out at Highway 113 isn't too far past the museum and is easily accessible with plenty of parking. It can be muddy but that’s to be expected on the Baraboo.
Extended Trips: This short section of the Baraboo is really the highlight of an otherwise ho-hum river (although, admittedly, I haven’t paddled the entire 70 miles of it).
The upstream North Freedom to Haskins Park section is 10.5 miles and it’s a slow and muddy stretch at that. The river, or more specifically, the smell of farm run-off is rather unpleasant and because of the muddy banks, there are very few places to stop and relax. It’s rather uneventful and I don’t recommend it.
From Highway 113 to Highway 33, is an 8-mile stretch that’s also rather uneventful because unfortunately, you’re too far from the Baraboo Range to enjoy the beauty from the water.
Further upstream is a run north of Reedsburg which is initially fun and interesting but eventually become monotonous.