Portage Canal

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

The Portage Canal was dug to connect the Fox River with the Wisconsin River and thereby provide a connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. In the maps below the Wisconsin River is highlighted in light green and the Fox River in light blue.

The canal (shown below in light blue) was an easy short dig over flat terrain and in soft material. It was the Fox River that doomed the project. The upper Fox River is just too shallow and winding for traffic.


Portage gets its name because, long before the canal was here, it was a well known portage for traders. Below are views of the Wisconsin River where State Highway 33 crosses the river.
The canal actually ends now at a culvert through the levee on the Wisconsin River. At left is a view looking up the canal at the lock

Below are views of the lock gates that handled the small elevation difference between the canal and the Wisconsin River.

View of the Wisconsin River from the levee.
Left and below: views of the canal in the city of Portage
A segment of the Ice Age Trail runs along the canal. North of Highway 33, a rustic road parallels the canal for a kilometer or so. Views of the canal are at left and below.
Near the end of the road is the 1832 Indian Agency House.
Beyond the road, the Ice Age Trail follows the upper Fox River.
Left: the Fox River connects with the canal just right of the large tree on the opposite bank

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Created 15 June 2004, Last Update 11 Jan 2020