Some outdoor activities can be found just about anywhere. Camping on a Wisconsin River sandbar, however, is not one of them. This experience, unique to the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, is enjoyed by many locals and out-of-towners alike. As the old saying goes, it’s not so much about the destination, but the journey. For those who have yet to embark on a voyage down the river, here’s how to have a successful sandbar camping trip.
Before you get out on the water, it’s helpful to decide on your preferred launch point and pick-up location. There are a few factors to consider when making this decision, such as the time of year and overall length of your trip.
From mid-June to the end of fall, the Lower Wisconsin River generally boasts ideal water and weather conditions for sandbar camping trips.
Weather aside, you can avoid a crowded trip by steering clear of popular travel times and launch points (holiday weekends and Sauk City). Choose Boscobel as your launch point, and experience less traffic on the river.
Next, you’ll need to decide how long you’d like to be on the water. There are plenty of stops downstream from Boscobel. One of our favorite long routes is a Boscobel to Wyalusing State Park trip. This is a 31-mile paddle through incredible, scenic bluffs including great sandbar camping opportunities.
One of the clear advantages of a canoe or kayak trip down the Wisconsin River is that all skill levels are welcome. In fact, it’s actually a lot more fun to bring a mixture of seasoned and rookie paddlers along – the contrast in comfort makes for the best stories!
The most important element in assembling your sandbar camping trip crew is making sure everyone is excited to do it. Put together a group with great attitudes, and you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
If you’ve never camped on sand before, it is slightly different than on solid ground and comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Packing the right gear for your trip is crucial, especially on longer adventures.
First and foremost, you’ll need to consider food and water provisions. Make sure to pack plenty of drinking/cooking water in an air tight container. Food should consist mainly of non-perishable items and packed away in waterproof bags to keep moisture out.
Be advised – sand will get practically everywhere when camping on a sandbar. Normal camping supplies such as a tent, camp chairs, cooking supplies, portable toilets, and other gear will still work fine in the sand, however, be prepared to shake everything out upon your return home.
While paddling along the shallow current of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, you’ll find no shortage of sandbars on which to set up camp. Sandbar camping is completely free and is first-come, first-serve.
Where do you start? Make sure it is, in fact, a sand bar. Although not as common, the river does possess smaller and damper spots called mudbars. These are soft, wet areas that are unsuitable for camping.
Look for a large, dry, unoccupied sandbar with a few trees growing from it. These are perfect sandy campsites because they provide plenty of space to spread out, and the trees act as a makeshift privacy screen for your bathroom breaks.
Although a shallow river like the Wisconsin may seem harmless, it’s important to show it the respect it demands. There are always hazards to be aware of and prepared for on any outdoor expedition.
Further reading – Basic Safety Tips for the Wisconsin River
Respecting the river is key for a successful trip, but enjoying all it has to offer is equally important. The Lower Wisconsin Riverway is called home by gorgeous, scenic landscapes and a majestic assortment of wildlife.
Experience the wild bluffs and ridges that line the banks of the ever flowing water. These lands are publicly held and feature some of the most picturesque hills, sunsets, and sunrises in the state.
There are also plenty of opportunities to spot some of the state’s finest wild animals. From bald eagles, owls, and herons to white-tail deer, beavers, and coyotes, few experiences are more incredible than watching native Wisconsin wildlife in their natural habitat. The memories made on these trips won’t soon be forgotten.
The last step to ensuring a successful sandbar camping adventure is to come back year after year! This one-of-a-kind, laid back excursion is the perfect way to reconnect with old friends, celebrate an upcoming wedding with your bridal party, or have an intimate experience with your significant other.
Whatever the occasion, make sandbar camping on the Wisconsin River your group’s new tradition, and discover the scenic beauty of the driftless region for years to come.