I was asked to teach Upham Woods Summer Camp staff and volunteers canoeing how to teach canoeing to campers that will be coming through the camp this summer and beyond. This paddled trip, as I did it, would have to be done with Upham Woods – you can’t just put in on their property without being on an excursion with them. I thought writing about this route, even though inaccessible as written (unless you volunteer!) would give the full flavor of going around Blackhawk Island. You can find information about Upham Woods here: http://fyi.uwex.edu/uphamwoods/
The circumnavigation of the island brings you through the Narrows that the Wisconsin Dells are famous for. Starting at Upham Woods, we went north, into the current. It wasn’t too strong, but it you stop paddling, you’ll go downstream. As you turn the corner, to the east, you will see the rock walls that the Dells are known for. When the river comes to a ‘T,’ you have arrived at the main channel. During the summer months, this could be the most dangerous part of the trip. There are lots of tour boats and tourists that go through the main channel, and with the narrow walls, the wakes can be large and unpredictable. Some boats do not slow down for smaller watercraft. As you turn right to go down the main channel (the Narrows), make sure to stay right and that you are aware of any other boats in the area.
Through the Narrows, you can check out the tall cliffs and make sure to look for the first ‘billboard’ on a rock face on the island (right). You’ll have to look back at the walls as you pass to find the advertisement carved into the rock for tour boats coming upstream. After the Narrows, the river widens and there is a public beach on the left. Most beaches that are around the island (including all on the island) belong to Upham Woods – please respect the private property signs. You will turn right, past a beach to go upstream in the side-channel; stay in the part of the river closest to the Blackhawk Island to get back to Upham Woods (or loop back to the top to do the Narrows again).
Along this route, there are sugar maple, red and white pine, red and white oak, paper birch and aspen. There wasn’t much fauna, but we did see mallards and tourists! Blackhawk Island is a WI State Natural Area, and you can find more information about it here: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Lands/naturalareas/index.asp?SNA=77
Photos courtesy of Jonathan Ringdahl
Last paddled June 8, 2017