Upper Dells Wisconsin River Paddling Trip

Paddling the Upper Dells is an amazing feast for the eyes of nature lovers.  The sandstone cliff formations created through thousands of years of water action is a highlight of this trip.  This is a good round trip paddle.  Paddle upstream as far you like and ride the current back.  The current isn’t too challenging if the water level isn’t too high.  Watch for boat traffic, especially in the narrows.

Launch:  from shoreline at Illinois Ave or there is a power boat launch at the end of Indiana Ave.


  • 8 miles round trip – Stay to the left and paddle around Blackhawk Island.  (This is the route we paddled in Oct. 2010. in the Flickr set)
  • 7.5 miles round trip to Witches Gulch (staying river right)
  • 2 miles round trip to Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River Natural Area beach

The paddling is great through the Upper Dells.  You paddle in the same areas where the tour boats go and you get to see the Upper Dells at your pace.  The cliff formations are magical.  In a canoe or kayak you can get right up close to all this natural beauty.  I think it’s a very special place to paddle on a quiet day.  Here’s some photos from October 2010.

Boat traffic can be really challenging.  The Oct. 2010 Saturday we picked to paddle the Upper Dells was amazing beautiful weather. The nice day brought a lot of power boaters out on the river along with the tour boats.  The tour boats slowed down pretty well for us but they still push a lot of water.   The power boaters are a bigger challenge because many are not aware of their wakes. Paddling through the narrows with the power boaters wakes is tricky because you get all kinds of reflection waves.  The waves don’t travel far before they reflect off the cliff sides.  I felt like I was paddling in a sloshing bathtub.  If you like that kind of thing go anytime the river conditions are good.  I recommend paddling the narrows on a weekday when you should have less boat traffic to deal with.   Paddling upstream left around Blackhawk Island had a lot less boat traffic for us.  A much quieter 4 mile trip that day would have been paddling upstream left around Blackhawk Island and turning back before Coldwater Canyon (see the yellow marker on the Google map) and paddling back the same way we came.  There is so much to see it’s beautiful both directions!

Before we paddled the Upper Dells we read this information on Paddling the Upper Dells. It’s a great guide.

Here’s a Paddle Map that we followed when we did this trip. This map was put together as a travel guide to the Baraboo, WI area by Skillet Creek Media The yellow markers on the map are paddling tips.

Have you paddled through the Upper Dells?

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