Sugar River: Belleville to County Road X—Flat Water Paddling

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The Sugar River appeals to paddlers looking for a leisurely paddle in an environment that at times, feels wild and remote.

Written by

Barry Kalpinski


10.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

16.1 miles


2 of 5 diamonds

The Sugar is an easy paddle as it's mostly flatwater but do be aware of deadfall and strainers which can choke certain sections.

Time To Complete

0 hours


Spring, Summer, and Fall

Dog Friendly


Land Website



This is a fine introduction to what the Sugar River is all about. While there’s nothing notably spectacular about this section, it’s semi-remote, generally wide enough to avoid deadfall and an overall pleasant paddle.

What Makes It Great

A paddle on a muddy-bottomed river without a riffle to be had isn’t normally the kind of paddle I’d find appealing (nor would we normally recommend). Yet, the Sugar has a quiet appeal. 

It alternates between heavily-wooded areas to natural prairie openings. The water is brown (think: Baraboo River-brown). Yet, despite the coloring from farm run-off and erosion from the muddy banks, you’ll find an occasional sandy/rocky area to stop and break on.

Throughout the journey you’re bound to scare up fish, turtles, heron, cranes, ducks and numerous other critters. The river bottom is also dotted with huge clams. 

This ten-mile section is on the longer end for day trips despite the swift-moving current which can get pushy at times. The first 4.25 miles to the Highway 92 bridge offers ample opportunities to relax, lunch, beer, etc. with numerous sandbars and ledges. However, the next couple miles, they become much more sparse. The last 3 miles are very windy and more congested with deadfall requiring plenty of maneuvering and could be taxing for amateur paddlers but in general, it’s all very manageable.

Post-Paddle Diversions: The Dam Bar is the kind of establishment I love to visit from time to time. It’s a hole in the wall, er, floor. It’s essentially a basement bar with a small but solid selection of cheap micros and traditional greasy bar food. It’s near the put-in at Belleville Community Park just across the newly-built pedestrian bridge.

Who is Going to Love It

Paddlers looking for an easy-going day trip not too far from Madison will appreciate what the Sugar has to offer. The environment is shaggy and sometimes feels wild, making for an ideal setting for wildlife sightings.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Put-In at Belleville Community Park, Belleville, Wisconsin: The put-in at Belleville Community Park is a wonderful place to start the trip. There’s a dam holding back Lake Belleville with a spillway where you’ll find many a fisherman casting into the waters below.

Take-Out at County Highway X: The take-out at Highway X is very accessible although the sign is a bit hidden. You'll find a parking lot entrance on the northeast corner of the bridge. 

Extended Trips: Downriver, the Sugar gets even less exciting, muddier and more remote. County Road X to County Road EE, forgoing the Albany lake Section (because we’re not fans of lake paddling) was pretty ho-hum. Albany to Brodhead is popular with tubers and again, involves a bit of lake paddling.

Upriver, our experiences have historically been difficult endeavors but Dane County recently purchased acres of land to develop Sugar River Recreation Area for a variety of recreational purposes, including canoeing and kayaking. Heading towards Paoli is a stretch of fun riffles and one Class I drop. Then, recent cleanup has kept the Paoli section open by the great folks of the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association and Capital Water Trails. Then back to a short and mostly unremarkable stretch on the approach to Belleville.

Related Links: 2012 Trip Report | Video

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Sugar River: Belleville to County Road X

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