Wisconsin a Diverse River System
Wisconsin has one of the most diverse river systems in the United States. There are whitewater rivers, there are lazy muddy rivers that meander through the dairyland, there are northwoods rivers with clear water that flow through pine forests, and then there are the majestic Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers – the confluence of which meets in southwest Wisconsin.
Lately, it seems I have been stuck on the Wisconsin River. I first canoed this wonderful river when I was 10 and have continued to enjoy it at least once every year since. I have dabbled on a few other rivers including the Kickapoo and the Brule, but a majority of my paddling has been on the Wisconsin.
Plotting a Black River Wisconsin Canoe Adventure
I plan on changing that this year. The first river on my list is the Black River. The most popular stretch of the Black River is between Black River Falls and LaCrosse where it flows into the Mississippi in God’s Country.
Similarities and Differences Between Wisconsin River and Black River
The Black River is very similar to the Wisconsin River. In fact, it used to be called the Little Wisconsin River. The river is the same color and it flows through the sand country in the state’s Driftless Region. The area gets this name because it is the only section of the state untouched by the glaciers, so its terrain is a little different than the rest of the state and the rest of the upper Midwest. The bluffs and hills are a little more interesting here as they are craggier and less smooth for they have not been scrubbed by giant sheets of ice.
The difference between the Black River and the Wisconsin River is the Black is a little farther north and there are pine trees along the stretch as this river marks the beginning of the Wisconsin northwoods. The Black is also smaller with less channels. The Black is equally beautiful, but just not as impressive as the Wisconsin as far as water volume.
Arriving at the Black River and Canoe Plans
After a night camping in Mirror Lake State Park, I drove up the hour and a half to the small town of Black River Falls right off I-94. 15 minutes and miles later I entered the Lost Falls Campground. I was greeted by Rose and the friendly crew at the campground, where I got my things together and was shuttled back to Black River Falls to start my two day adventure.
My plan was to canoe for two days from Black River Falls and stay one night out on the river. I rented a solo Old Town Canoe and loaded it down with the kitchen sink. Since there are no rapids and no portages, weight and space were not a big issue, so I brought a large cooler full of beer and food as well as a big overnight pack. Camping on the river is free, but the canoe rental cost me $94.00 for two days. At Lost Falls they charge by the duration of the trip, but the shuttle service is included in the fee. They also rent kayaks, tubes, and SUPs.
Black River Wisconsin Canoe Adventure
The river was up thanks to snow melt and spring rains, but the river was receding. I put a stick out at the sandbar I camped at to mark where the water’s edge. The next morning the water line was 10 feet down the sandbar and had virtually erased the channel between my campground and the island in front of me.
I was expecting a ton of people on the river since it was Memorial Day, but I had the river to myself for most of the weekend. I saw only 6 other canoes, and only a handful of people along the shore fishing. I did not see one motorboat.
I did see plenty of birds: mainly several beautiful bald eagles. I also saw kingfishers, many Baltimore orioles, woodpeckers, and a couple of white-tailed deer. I also saw many gnats and mosquitoes, but thankfully no ticks. Wisconsin is infamous for bad insects after the spring rains, but perhaps the cold winter staved off the usual spring tick infestation.
Lost Falls provided me with an amazing map. It had the mile markers and several landmarks like canoe put-ins, parks, bluffs, and islands along the way that made navigation easy. My fear when canoeing a new stretch of river is finding the take out. As much as I love canoeing, when the trip is over, I am ready to get off the river. On this stretch, the only bridge across the river is at Highway 108, which is the take out near Melrose, Wisconsin. Overall, I canoed 24 miles.
This was the first time I have canoed and camped on the Black River since doing the lower stretch into LaCrosse over 10 years ago. It was great to be reunited with a lovely northwoods river that rivals the Wisconsin in beauty. I definitely will be back soon to check out other stretches.