Wisconsin River is the longest river in the state
of Wisconsin in the United States. Its total length is measured at
430 miles (692 km). Pristine majestic shores of Wisconsin River
invite thousands of people for fishing, kayaking, rafting and other
The name of the river was mentioned for the first
time in 1673 by the French explorer Jacques Marquette as
"Meskousing" It is based on the Algonquian languages used in the
region by Indian tribes, but its original meaning is not known. The
French explorers who later followed the path of Marquette changed
the name to "Ouisconsin". The name was simplified at the beginning
of the 19th century as "Wisconsin", before being applied to the
Territory of Wisconsin and, finally, to the same state of Wisconsin.
The first documentary news of the exploration of the Wisconsin
River by Europeans dates from 1673, when the French Jacques
Marquette (1637-1675) and Louis Jolliet (born in Canada, 1645-1700),
traveling by canoe from Lake Michigan upstream to The Fox River,
arrived at the present site of Portage at the beginning of June. In
this place the Wisconsin and Fox rivers are only about 3.2 km away,
so the explorers could make the portage of the Fox River to the
Wisconsin River. Then they followed the 320 km to the mouth of the
Wisconsin and reached the Mississippi River on June 17. Other
explorers and traders followed the same path and for the next 150
years, the Wisconsin and Fox Rivers, collectively known as the
Fox-Wisconsin Waterway, formed an important transportation route
between the Great Lakes and the river Mississippi.
industry began to form in Wisconsin at the beginning of the 19th
century, when loggers began to use the log ponds downstream from the
northern forests to the sawmills of the new cities such as Wausau.
In the 1880s, logging companies dammed the river to ensure it had
enough capacity for the logs to float downstream. Later, at the
beginning of the 20th century, more dams were built to provide for
the control of floods and hydroelectric power. The dams also boosted
tourism, creating dams such as Lake Wisconsin, popular areas for
recreational navigation and fishing. Today, the Wisconsin River is
impounded in 26 places.
Despite this, about 150 km of the
stretch between the mouth and the hydroelectric dam in Prairie du
Sac are free of any dam or barrier and the waters flow with relative
fluidity. In the late 1980s, this part of the river was designated
as a "state waterway", and development along the river has been
limited to preserve its landscape integrity. The Lower Wisconin
Riverway Project is a state-funded project designed to protect that
stretch. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources manages more
than 75,000 acres of protected land, including the river itself,
islands, and some nearby land.
This long stretch of free
river provides important natural habitats for a wide variety of
wildlife, including white-tailed deer, otter, beaver, turtle, sand
cranes, eagles, hawks, and a wide variety of fish species.
The Lower Wisconsin River State Riverway is a
state-funded project designed to protect the southern portion of the
Wisconsin River. It extends 93 miles (150 km) from Sauk City to the
point where the Wisconsin River empties into the Mississippi, about
3 miles (4.8 km) south of the city of Prairie du Chien. The
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources manages protected lands of
over 75,000 acres (300 km2), including the river itself, islands,
and some lands adjacent to the river.
opportunities on the lower Wisconsin River range from fishing and
canoeing to tubing and camping. Canoe camping is particularly
popular because of the abundance of suitable sandbars along the
riverway and because no permits are required. On summer weekends,
naturists can be found on Mazo Beach which is north of the village
of Mazomanie. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources, two thirds of river users can be found on the stretch
between Prairie du Sac and Spring Green.