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Local Trip: Baraboo River

Posted by Rutabaga Staff on 6/10/2013 to Where We Paddle

Union Center to Wonewoc


Take Hwy 33 west from Reedsburg to Wonewoc. The 400 Trail is one block south of downtown Wonewoc, so ditch your shuttle bike at the shelter and continue west on 33 for about four miles, or until it crosses the Baraboo (just past Union Center where 80/82 breaks north to Elroy). There’s no sign on the bridge, but the river runs underneath it. Park and put-in on the southwest side of the bridge.

The Baraboo is narrow (less than 20 feet), muddy, and very twisty on this run. There’s a fair amount of downfall, but locals keep a channel open–you might have to work your way around logjams and strainers, but I’ve never had to get out of my boat. Be aware: the Baraboo drains a large and steep area from its headwaters above Elroy, and strong storms in Juneau County can result in challenging conditions. As you paddle, note the debris seven feet up in the trees!

The river twists and twists and twists through pasture, wetland, and woodland. Keep still, and you’ll see tons of songbirds, wood ducks, owls (what’s up with that–they’re supposed to be nocturnal), hawks, and possibly even airborne bunnies (who don’t like heights, considering their screams). About three miles downriver, you’ll pass under an old rail bridge (circa 1898), and half a mile later you’ll pass under another. They’re double track bridges, as this is the former C&NW main line from Chicago to Minneapolis. The trains ran 400 miles in 400 minutes; that’s why it’s now the “400″ bike trail.

At the four-mile mark, you’ll come up to a grand sandstone wall on river right and then another. A mile later, you’ll pass under a concrete bridge and your take-out is on the left. Ditch your boat, walk one block to the bike trail (or two blocks to the Wonewoc Bakery or Degner’s Tavern–air conditioning, plus root beer on tap!), get your bike, and head back to Union Center for your car.

If this wasn’t enough for one day, the river trip south to Lavalle is great, as is the 400 Trail. If you bike north, the 400 hits the Omaha Trail (to Camp Douglas) at Elroy. Or you can continue on the Elroy Sparta trail to Sparta, hook up with the LaCrosse River trail to Onalaska, and connect to the Great River trail north along the Mississippi, past Trempeleau.

Oh yeah… paddling. The river portion of the Baraboo trip is about two hours, longer if you take time to enjoy your surroundings. The bike shuttle takes about twenty minutes. The trail goes through a school nature tract, and several signs explain the natural and social history of the area. It’s well worth taking the time to read these informative bits. There’s free camping at the Legion Park in Wonewoc (and a public pool), so it’s a great base for weekend goofing around. Material Disclosure: I like the area so much that I bought the mill in Wonewoc after I sold Rutabaga so I’d have a project and an excuse not to go paddling or biking.

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