Me and a buddy started up south of the castle rock dam, then scooted through Wisconsin dells, before ending near downtown Portage. We split off 43 miles into 12, 13, and 17-ish mile days. The temperature never broke 60, and hung out in the 40s most of the overcast weekend. When it was dry out, it was fine. However, we had a good 12 hours of rain across the weekend.
We made great progress for the first leg. The current and water level was up, and we pressed through 8 miles in under 3 hours, while paddling lightly. We then stopped for lunch by the Rt. 82 bridge. After lunch we pressed on until we got to the dutchman islands. We did stop for a mini hike halfway through the afternoon on a big rock face.
For the evening, we found a non-swampy dutchman island to camp on. It wasn't terribly overgrown or sandy, and had plenty of dried driftwood for use in fire. We stopped about 2 miles upstream from where the river enters into the dells (a big lakelike area). It wasn't the perfect campsite, but it worked with minimal effort.
Once you pass the lake, you enter the narrow canyons on Wisconsin dells. This was the most scenic portion of the trip. We passed around the primitive blackhawk island, seeing tons of cliffs and trees. Eventually it opens back up as you enter the downtown area. After a couple of docks and twists, we approached the downtown dam
The portage in downtown WI dells is rough. It's only about a mile, but features 3 hills up, then a sharp narrow path back down to the beach. It takes some muscle getting up, but then tight precision getting back down. It probably took us an hour and a half for our overloaded boat. We hit the beach to put back in, had a quick lunch, and then came the rain. Go figure. We pressed on for a few more miles through some otherwise scenic canyons.
By 3pm, the rain was coming down hard enough to soak us, so we had to stop. I quickly pitched a tarp shelter to cover us from the rain and wind. We tried to dry off, and got our gear organized. By 4pm, we realized the rain was not going to subside anytime soon, so we called it a day. We were able to finagle a wet stick fire by using dried stick we had stashed from the day before. Thank goodness too, because we were in hypothermic risk weather.
Eventually, the rain slowed enough for us to quickly pitch tents, change and go to bed early. We spent about 7 hours on that beach, just trying to withstand the weather and elements. That was the worst of times. I'm just thankful we were able to warm up, get some kind of shelter, and get a hot meal. It was rough, but really could have been much worse.
While the morning was cold and windy, we kept at it and knocked out 10 miles in 3 hours. We had decent current again once we got away from the dam. While we hit a few sandbars that required me to get out and pull over, it wasn't anything too daunting.
Eventually, we hit the route 39 bridge, and entered portage. We took out at riverside park, by a pizza place. I ran and got my car from the downtown portage lot ($5 parking permit from police station for the weekend), and we loaded up.
Overall, it was a good and challenging trip. The scenic views were worth the awful weather and portage. While it was the most physically intensive thing I've ever done, I pushed boundaries much further than I ever thought I could handle. It might have been rough, but we made it through!
Some facts to note:
The put in for castle rock dam is $3, and supposedly has free overnight parking.
The portage at WI dells is about a mile long, but steep up and down.
The exit point at Portage isn't a dock. You can park in downtown Portage, WI. (adams and 33 has a lot for $5).
The river current is about 2 MPH average. It's usually stronger, but slows around the wider portions and dam. Paddling hard at those stronger currents will get you up to 4 MPH. Just remember, you will be slowed later on.
Campsites are easy-ish to find. There's a lot of islands and sandbars that can be taken. While things weren't too overgrown because of the time of year we went at, there should be ample sites for a late summer trip.