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 kayaking Sugar River Wisconsin adventure.
Kayaking Sugar River Wisconsin 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.
Related: Sugar River canoe adventure in southwestern Wisconsin
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 the river’s proximity to corporate America, the view was scenic and rural. Kelly assisted me into the kayak, and I began paddling.
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 nearby civilization.
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 natural. There were low hanging wires and deadfalls. In the kayak both the wires and the logjams were easy to navigate through.
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.
In the video, 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 back paddled until I could see the V in the chute and then went forward. 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 attempting this rapids is to secure your phone in a dry place and lean back when hitting the drop.
The Hop Garden in Paoli
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. It was equally difficult to get in when I put in here the day before.
Whatever the Paoli river access point lacked in ease of entering and getting out of the water, it 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 delicious craft beer and live acoustic music.
As soon I approached the hop garden, I was serenaded with a version of Don McClean’s “American Pie.” I pulled the kayak out of the water and called Kelly to let him know I was finished. Conveniently, my car was already here. 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 took a seat near the music. The beer garden is huge and occupies a large parcel of land adjacent to the river. Kelly informed me that they grow their own top notch hops here and import it to other breweries. They also brew their own beer and tasted awesome after hours paddling the 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 a set of acoustic songs. 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.
Beautiful Kayak Ted! Looks like you had a really good time. Cheers!
It was a great day!
Haha! I agree a beer or two on the river definitely hits the spot. Looks like a great place for kayaking.
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It was a nice paddle. Cheers!
A beautiful day for it! Good that you safely navigated the obstacles…
It was a great day for a paddle.
It’s look like you enjoyed a lot there. I hope this place is safe for kayaking with my kids.
It was a great paddle. The river is safe for kids unless the water is really high. In that case, it is not safe for anyone. The outfitter will let you know if this is the case.
I never would’ve thought to put Wisconsin on my list of places to get in some paddling, but that scenery looks pretty nice. And the best part, not at all busy with other people! Sounds like a great way to work off all the cheese I’d eat on trip there! lol
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I would argue that Wisconsin has the best and most diverse network of rivers of any state in the country. They have shorelines on two great lakes, the Mississippi River runs along most of the western border, The Wisconsin River offers the best river camping of any river in the country, there are whitewater rivers in the north, and plenty of scenic rivers throughout the state.
Such an amazing place makes me want to go kayaking there too!
I highly recommend Jake.
I really enjoyed following along on this adventure and appreciate all of the detailed info and photos.
Sugar River is one of the more prominent streams. I have heard that it starts clear and gurgles with a number of pleasant riffles and has width more reminiscent of a creek. Planning to visit it soon and consult a kayak rental you have mentioned in your blog.
That’s a great story. I would have swum to the Hop Garden in Paoli, Wisconsin and stayed there. I really like to drink beer outdoors ))))
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