Paddling on the Wisconsin Great River Road

River Travel Media/La Crosse Local

Paddling on the Wisconsin Great River Road

There is nothing like paddling through the Mississippi backwaters and tributaries to get right into the middle of nature and to see parts of the river that most people don’t get the chance to appreciate.

Kayaking and canoeing are great activities to get in some sightseeing. Also, the stress-relieving benefits are so commonly cited that it’s well worth getting out onto the water if you’re looking to come home from your trip relaxed and refreshed.

You will find canoe trails up and down the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, along with canoe areas and plenty of places to slip into the backwaters where the current isn’t strong and the wildlife is plentiful.

Perrot State Park – Trempealeau, WI

In the mid-1600’s this area was being settled by French Canadian fur traders, whose primary mode of transportation was the canoe. Take a 2 to 3 hour looping canoe trail to explore Trempealeau Bay. It’s a little bit different than when the fur traders were here, but paddling under a railroad bridge adds to the fun. An added benefit of the park is the specially adapted kayak that is available for those with disabilities. The adjustable outriggers on these kayaks offer incredible stability and hand braces make it easier to paddle for those with limited grip.

Lytles Landing – Onalaska, WI

Lytles is a great choice for putting the kayak or canoe into the water for a multitude of reasons.  First, at the landing you have a choice of paddling adventures.  When you put your boat in and go right you will enter Brown’s Marsh.  No motorized boating allowed and the serene smooth waters are perfect for a first time paddler.  Or, you can take a left and enter the Lake Onalaska Canoe Trail, a well marked trail through what would otherwise be a confusing backwater. The trail allows visitors the opportunity to see untouched areas of the Mississippi. A state bike trail and an old truss railroad bridge add to the ways  to explore the area. 

Ambro Slough Canoe Area, near Prairie du Chien, WI

North of Prairie du Chien lies the Ambro SloughCanoe Area.  You’re on the Mississippi, but these backwaters give you the feel of paddling on a shallow lake.  It is possible to do a loop, paddling up the slough and then coming down stream on the channel if you are a more experienced paddler. The Ambro Slough is also known for being a panfish hot spot, so maybe grab the fishing pole before you head out.  Bass fishermen will concur that it’s a great place to put in a pole.

Grant River – Cassville, WI

If you find the Mississippi to be daunting, you might want to give the Grant River a try.  It’s a small river that flows entirely within Grant County.  It’s not a long river, but it’s a fun one.  And only a short distance from the Great River Road.  For those of you who are looking for an outfitter that will rent you the boat and then pick you up when you’re done, the Grant River has options.  The river has beautiful scenery, clear water, rock formations, and views of bluffs and Wisconsin farms.  Early spring is a good time to give this paddle a try.