The river tumbles out of the hill-and-valley country of un-glaciated Wisconsin northwest of Reedsburg before flowing lazily through glacial lake Reedsburg and the Baraboo Valley. At Baraboo, the river breaks through the terminal moraine and spills rapidly through the city. Before the last glacier it may have turned south here and flowed through what is now Devil’s Lake. The last glaciation forced the channel to its present mouth at the Wisconsin river near Portage.
At its confluence with the Wisconsin River, one story goes, there was a French trader and trapper, who, in the eighteenth century had a trading post called Baribeau, after himself, and the river came to be referred as such. There are other theories on the origins of the river’s name, but the truth is lost in time.
The Baraboo has always lured people to its shores. The mound-builders chose the river banks for many of their mounds and later indigenous peoples settled along the river in villages, often near these mounds.
The search for food, fuel and water also spurred white settlers to settle first along the river. Every village along the river owes its start to the water power that fueled early commerce. As many as 11 dams powered saw, grist and textile mills and eventually generated power for street lights and other electrical needs. The last remaining dam was removed in October, 2001.