By Kevin Revolinski | Photos Courtesy Travel Wisconsin
While the Ice Age Trail gets Wisconsin hikers up-close and personal with some fascinating rock outcroppings, paddlers too can enjoy the state’s geological wonders. The “sea caves” of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore along Lake Superior often steal the show, but check out these other amazing options as well.
THE UPPER AND LOWER DELLS
Wisconsin’s most popular tourist destination also works for silent sports. The long gorge called The Narrows of the Upper Dells is best early in the morning or during shoulder seasons when paddlers won’t contend with boat traffic. But the Lower Dells south of the tour boat routes has slower current and sandstone columns you can paddle all the way around.
MIRROR LAKE STATE PARK
Not far from the Dells, this lake paddle won’t require a shuttle. The gorges are gorgeous; to the southwest the exposed rock and trees rise up to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Seth Peterson cottage, and the northeast gorge gets shaded and narrowest closer to the dam that created the lake. Eagles often perch in the trees and along the forest bluff tops. Camp within the park and get up early to have the lake practically to yourself.
Often billed as the crookedest river in the world, the Kickapoo winds among cliffs and outcrops of sculpted sandstone and the undercuts glow green with moss where you can fit your whole kayak under them as you pass. Occasional riffles rather than rapids make it exciting yet beginner-friendly. The section from Ontario to Wildcat Mountain State Park is popular for day trips, but numerous other takeouts and campsites all the way downriver to La Farge make longer trips possible.
DOOR BLUFF HEADLANDS
Best done with sea kayaks and an outfitter’s tour, this trip ventures off the tip of the Door County Peninsula at Garrett Bay and follows over a mile of coastline with rocky beaches beneath vertical limestone cliffs and a bluff rising more than 200 feet. Native American pictographs on the rock are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in the shallow bay you can paddle over the 1888 shipwreck of the schooner Fleetwing.
This Door County paddle on the Lake Michigan side follows the rocky edges of the shore which rise about 20 feet and show the wear and tear of centuries of waves. The area along the namesake county park features shallow caves otherwise invisible to landlubbers.
A gentle tributary of the Wisconsin, the Baraboo flows through its namesake city. But upstream, between Union Center and Wonewoc, paddlers can see the 300-foot-tall pine-crowned outcrop known as the Third Castle. The river runs right into its bluff and takes a left turn. A quarter mile farther and the sandstone appears riverside.
THE LOWER ST. CROIX
Forming the Wisconsin-Minnesota border at Interstate State Park, this National Scenic Riverway passes over an impressive waterfall in the Dalles of the St. Croix. Paddlers can get up close to it from downriver and then head back south along more rocky bluffs, including one that still bears a navigation mark for the steamboats of yesteryear. There are multiple takeouts on both banks, but the Osceola Landing at the 6-mile mark completes an easy day trip.