Over Mother’s Day weekend in May, I enjoyed two days of paddling the Sugar River in southern Wisconsin with Sugar River Outfitters. On day one I paddled from Paoli, Wisconsin to Belleville in a canoe. On day two, I enjoyed a Sugar River kayaking adventure. I began near the source of the river in Verona, Wisconsin and finished in Paoli. In speaking with Kelly from the outfitter, we agreed the stretch farther north would be better suited for a kayak since it was narrower.
Sugar River kayaking adventure
Putting in near Verona
Kelly dropped me off in his bus along a road near Verona. The put in was in view of the Epic Corporate Office. Despite being adjacent to corporate America, the view was scenic and rural. Kelly assisted me into the kayak, and I began paddling. I immediately regretted not bringing any beer since the kayak had a perfect beer holder right between my legs. I do not recommend drinking in excess when paddling, but a beer or two really does hit the spot.
The first part of the stretch went through the Sugar River Wetlands State Natural Area. The day before I paddled through forest and farm areas, but this scenery was a little different. The wetland flora was high enough to hide any evidence of the nearby corporate area and any houses or farms in the vicinity. I could hear the distant roar of cars, but other than that it was amazingly peaceful. There was not a soul on the river today. It was Mother’s Day, so perhaps all other adventurers were spending time with family. The only person I saw all day was a dude sunbathing by the river.
There were several obstacles on the river through this section just like the day before. They were both man and nature made. There were low hanging wires and deadfalls. The wires were easy to navigate under since a kayak is pretty low to the water. The deadfalls all had an area I could navigate through. There were no portages.
The gate was the most difficult obstacle to navigate. There is a fence across the river at one section. There are swinging gates in the middle of the gate. One needs to push the gate up and then proceed through. It sounds easy, but it was not. In the video above, I included the part of me getting through the fence. I did not include the three minutes of stumbling to get through. There are holes in the gate, so it was awkward to push the gate up with the kayak paddle. My paddle kept slipping through the gate. On one attempt the gate got stuck on my kayak, and I was momentarily trapped.
Fortunately, the water was not too strong here, so I was able to eventually free myself and back paddle away from the gate to try again. I think the third or perhaps the fourth time was the charm, and I successfully pushed the gate up and slid through. Kelly is working with local farmers to make the river more accessible for all including an easier gate. Hope to see that in the future. Kelly also routinely clears the deadfalls, so a lot of the obstructions included in the video above are no more. It is nice to have a clear river, but the logjams make it more of an adventure.
I saw several wood ducks, herons, and hawks. I saw no deer on this day although I saw a few the day before. At one point, I was thinking to myself that I had not seen any Baltimore orioles. About two minutes later, I came across three in the trees in a forested section.
Class I Rapids
At a bridge towards the end at Paoli, I came across the roaring sound of rapids. I quickly turned my GoPro on and cautiously approached the chute. I was surprised to hear such a roar and see such a drop on the peaceful Sugar River. This rapids was close to being a class II. I backpaddled until I could see the V in the chute and then went forward. It was fun, but pretty straightforward. When I hit the bottom, the front of my canoe slightly submerged into the water causing a small wave to splash into the canoe and slapped over my phone. My tip for kayakers taking this rapids is to secure your phone in a dry place, but no harm done.
The Hop Garden in Paoli
A frequent topic of conversation with my dad is the best and worst put ins and take outs. The put-in/take out at Paoli is in general a somewhat poor one, especially for a solo kayaker. There is high ground and no landing place. I braced myself by planting my kayak paddle into the water and stuck it in the ground to my left and then shimmied up the bank out of the kayak while making sure to hold on to the craft, so it would not float away. It was equally tough to get in when I put in there the day before; however, Kelly was there to assist.
Whatever the Paoli river access area was lacking as far as suitability to get in and out of the craft was more than made up for by the fact that there is a beer garden there. I have taken out at a few places with a bar or tavern close by, but never an outdoor beer garden with a place that sells amazing craft beer and has live music.
As soon as I was out of the boat, I was serenaded by a solo acoustic guitarist singing “American Pie.” I pulled the kayak out of the water and called Kelly to let him know I was finished. My car was already here, so I simply walked to my car and put all of my items in it, and I was ready to drive home. I contemplated taking off, but I had to have a beer or two at this beautiful outdoor tavern.
Enjoying the Paoli Hop Garden after my Sugar River kayaking adventure
I walked inside and ordered a pint and returned outside to have a seat. The beer garden is huge and occupies a large parcel of land adjacent to the river. Kelly informed me that they grow their own hops here and import it to other breweries and that the quality is top notch. They also brew their own beer and it was some of the best I have had. It tasted even better after an amazing adventure kayaking the Sugar River.
Kelly soon picked up my kayak and joined me for a couple of beers. We talked kayaking, paddling, and outdoor adventure in the Midwest while listening to one acoustic cover song after another. The beer garden is open only on Thursday through Sunday and on many weekends it is booked for weddings.
The beer garden does not have food; however, there is a little restaurant that sells sandwiches and ice cream right next door that will deliver to your table in the beer garden. I had a sandwich and an amazing couple scoops of ice cream before calling it a day and weekend and headed back south to Chicago.
Kelly from Sugar River Outfitters set me up with a complimentary kayak and livery service for this day on the river. This does not impact this post as I am only chronicling my adventure kayaking and drinking beer in Paoli, Wisconsin. Check out his website here for more information.
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