Merrimac Ferry a Great Way to Reach Devil's Lake

A car exits the Merrimac Ferry in Okee, WI
A car exits the Merrimac Ferry in Okee, WI

Most folks visiting Devils Lake from Milwaukee, Chicago, or other points south take zippy I-90/I-94 or Highway 12 to get there. But if you're looking for a more scenic way to drive to or from the Devils Lake/Baraboo area, consider taking Hwy. 113 across the Wisconsin River via the Merrimac Ferry for a fun, off-beat way to spice up the trip. When I'm not tight on time - often after a climbing day at the Lake - I love taking the ferry route down 113 back home to Madison. Taking the ferry is usually a little slower (especially on busy weekends), but it gives me a chance to slow down, enjoy the river, and get an ice cream cone at the Merrimac Ferry concession stand.

What is the Merrimac Ferry?

The Merrimac Ferry carries cars, cyclists, and passengers back and forth across the Wisconsin River between Merrimac and Okee, Wisconsin. The stalwart Colsac III is the current ferryboat; it is named after its duty, connecting COLumbia and SAUK counties via Highway 113. The Colsac III can hold 15 cars/trucks on board, in addition to motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians. In addition to connecting the state highway over the river, the Merrimac Ferry also helps Ice Age Trail hikers cross the water.

The Colsac II moves along three strong cables to get across the river.
The Colsac II moves along three strong cables to get across the river.
Merrimac Ferry History

Once a fairly common transportation vehicle, ferries are pretty rare these days. Built by Chester Mattson and George Grant in 1844, the Merrimac Ferry began operation in 1848, charging $0.25 for each horse and $0.40 for oxen teams. Many years later, the ferry is now Wisconsin's only free ferry, as well as the only one connecting a major state trunk highway. The Merrimac Ferry has inadvertently become a tourist attraction in modern times, bringing over 250,000 vehicles through the small town of Merrimac annually, but it's also a practical time-saver for folks from the Merrimac area headed for Madison or the interstate. Merrimac citizens have fought for the right to keep the ferry, and thankfully they have prevailed thus far. Read more about the history of Merrimac Ferry.

Where is the Merrimac Ferry?

The Merrimac Ferry crosses Lake Wisconsin (a dammed portion of the Wisconsin River) between the village of Merrimac and the township of Okee. The ferry is halfway between state highway 12 and interstate highway 90/94. Use the map below to help you find the best route to the ferry.

View Merrimac Ferry in a larger map

Merrimac Ferry Logistics

Taking the Merrimac Ferry route will add time to your trip, but not too much. If you're coming from I-90/94, a ferry detour adds about 18 minutes; if you're coming via Hwy. 12, it adds maybe half an hour. The ferry trip itself lasts about 7 minutes, though you sometimes have to wait in line to get aboard. The Merrimac Ferry only holds about 15 cars (motorcycles and bikes often squeeze in the gaps), so during busy summer weekends, it CAN take 2 or even three ferry trips to get on board, making for a long wait. This is when the ice cream stand becomes critical. I recommend the ferry during the week, or on early in the morning busy weekends, when looking for an efficient experience. And if you happen to be leaving Devils Lake extra late, don't worry... the ferry runs 24 hour/day, 7 days a week!