Bottom of the Yellow
The Wisconsin River travels some 500 miles from the Michigan border until it joins the Mississippi river near Prairie du Chien. Over that distance the river drops about 1000 feet is interrupted by 26 hydro-electric dams. Those 26 dams provide about the same amount of electricity as needed just by the city of Madison each year. Two of these dams sit on the river just north of us and create the Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages which are some of the largest inland lakes in the state. Castle Rock & Petenwell are popular outdoor recreation areas, but they still retain a lot of untouched shoreline making them a great destination for area paddlers.
Yesterday we decided take our kayaks to Castle Rock. The Castle Rock Flowage covers 16,640 acres of which we’ve paddled only a few. Buckhorn state park is located along the shore and provides a variety of boat launches as well as other amenities including a campground and great hiking trails as well. On this visit, we wanted to explore the quiet, marshy area where the Yellow River makes it’s way into the big lake. The hiking trails weren’t gonna do it!
Coming into the state park on county road G, you drive across a long causeway. On your right, you’ll look out over a large open lobe of Castle Rock lake, to the left you’ll see the open water quickly disappear into fallen trees, reedy islands and marshlands. This is where the meandering Yellow river joins Castle Rock after flowing south from the city of Necedah.
There is a perfect little launch for paddlers at the end of the causeway on the right. It’s an easy to miss turn onto a dirt road hidden by trees. Best to go slow at the end of the causeway and look sharp! If you do find it, you’ll have quick access to the water. In fact, you can back down a sandy path and drop your boats directly into the water if you wish. The downside of this little launch is that it is next to a stagnant swamp and the mosquitoes are beyond killer zombie insane. We found that only our super strength bug spray would work.. and only for a few minutes.
From the launch you can follow the shoreline out into Castle Rock proper or paddle about a half mile along the causeway and pass under a small bridge to get to the marshes. Keep in mind that the “big” lake is pretty good sized. Prevailing winds, reflective waves and the shallow constricted area can create some turbulent conditions. If it looks a bit scary when you drive across the causeway, you should probably turn around and launch directly into the slough from the protected Yellow River Ramp. [Castle Rock Recreational Boating Map]
Osprey are everywhere on Castle Rock and seem to always be hanging around the causeway looking for a meal. As we slipped under the bridge we saw a pair come in over a nest, hover and land in turn for just a few moments before they each took off to again hunt over the water. Paddlers should also keep an eye out for cranes (There have been endangered Whooping Cranes nesting in Necedah to the north.), heron, geese, ducks, beaver, otters and every other sort of wildlife you’d expect in central Wisconsin. If you watch the shoreline, it’s possible you could even spot a black bear!
This area is maze of twists and turn, elbows and dead ends, islands and shallow marsh. We felt as if we could have easily gotten lost as we explored deeper into the area, if not for the loud and constant noise of traffic over the causeway. In truth there is really nowhere to go other than into a short dead end, or if we had been real ambitious up into the yellow river itself. Otherwise every twisted liquid pathway eventually lead us back into the wide open water within view of the causeway to the south. (Well, there were a few dead ends!)
We found a small island near the Yellow River boat landing which was dry enough to hold a fire ring, picnic bench, and the grave of someone’s dog. There was a board nailed between two trees that told us that this was, “Bozo’s Island”. Was Bozo the dog? A good guess… One thing is sure, Bozo’s Island is the perfect place for a short break before returning home. BTW, we circumnavigated the island.. maybe there’s a world record in there somewhere.. It took all of about 3 minutes!
After an hour or so we paddled back toward the bridge. The wind was picking up and you could easily envision how the waves could build as water from the larger lake pushed through the small passageway. Luckily, yesterday was hot and sunny and the warm wind was creating nothing but a friendly roll.
Castle Rock is just 30 minutes from our home here in Baraboo. The larger Petenwell flowage is just a few minutes from there. They should be regular local destinations. I’m not sure why we seem to over look these large lakes so near by. There’s so much to open shoreline to explore and the lakes must also produce some fun conditions at times as well. I think I’ve probably said before we need to spend more time exploring this area.. I’m going to try to remember to do that.
Google Map – Centered on Buckhorn State Park