11/28/2015 0 comments

Rock River III

Kanow Park to County Road P
☆ ☆ ☆

Often wide, always slow, muddy and usually surrounded by agriculture, the big old Rock River is hardly a glamorous destination. But it does provide for some pretty, undeveloped moments, abound in wildlife and it's reliable when other streams are too shallow.

Riffles leading up to and under the County Road P bridge.

September 27, 2015

Class Difficulty:

1' per mile (at best)

Watertown: ht/ft: 1.5 | cfs: 230

Recommended Levels:
Water levels are almost always reliable, although this was particularly low for the Rock River.

Kanow Park, Jefferson County, Ixonia, WI
County Road P, Pipersville, WI

Time: Put in at 2:35p. Out at 5:55p.
Total Time: 3h 20m
Miles Paddled: 10.75

Wildlife: Bald eagles galore, well over a dozen great blue herons, lots of hawks, many muskrats, teams of turtles, ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and a gazillion frisky fish jumping out of the water.
Time worth driving to: 45 minutes

Let’s face it: if you live anywhere near Madison or Milwaukee, you’ve driven over the Rock River on I-94, probably hundreds of times, but never thought “oh baby, I gotta get me some of that!” It’s big, muddy and slow, and typically either too agricultural (Dodge-Jefferson counties) or too industrial (Watertown-Janesville). But embedded in the monotonous bland of cornfields and processing plants are quiet moments of real wild. They catch you by surprise and when they do, you’re given something to think about.

Why this section of the Rock River and not say the 30+ miles upstream from the Horicon area? Oh for a couple of reasons, mainly logistics. The day was getting ahead of me as it was without driving more than was necessary, plus most of this trip is part of Mike Svob’s Rock River 1 trip, so I reasoned that there must be a reason that he didn’t include anything below Horicon (this last point is debatable, as the resourceful Rock River Trail Guide describes the stretch between Hustisford and Kanow Park as beautiful and even “wilderness” - think swamps).

What also may be debatable is whether one should paddle the additional five miles Svob writes about by putting in upstream at Krape Park. I’d say that 8-10 miles on the Rock is plenty, since unless you’re paddling, you’re really not going anywhere (and really, how many fields of soybeans and corn next to muddy banks does the eye need to take in?). Sixteen miles on any river is a long day, to say nothing of one with hardly any current. On the Rock, that’s a lot of work with little reward. So instead I opted for the cute Kanow Park (rhymes with “Hey now”) and took out at the riffles at the County Road P bridge.

What we liked:
Kanow Park is an adorable little gem you’d never know existed unless you looked for it. The river gently bends around the alluring woods of the park clockwise. Here and elsewhere (but not always) the river is not as hugely wide as one normally thinks of the Rock. Indeed, for most of this trip the river rarely is wider than 100 feet. The wildlife was outstanding on this trip – not an uncommon feature while on the Rock in my experiences. So even though the trip is not spectacularly scenic, the critters do keep things interesting.

There’s an attractive railroad bridge randomly bisecting the landscape and even a brief but engaging set of riffles. There is also only one hill to speak of during this trip, on your left, on top of which is a farm and a house. The river wends itself around the hill so eventually you’ll see the “back” side of it, too. It’s really only notable in that the land rises any in the otherwise flat environment. There are countless clusters of really cool old, gnarled oaks, which I’m a sucker for. The swift riffles leading to the County Road P bridge in Pipersville are fun and the landing itself is convenient and appreciated (off-road parking).

What we didn't like:
Leaving aside the given mentioned above about the Rock River being wide and slow and kind of boring, the water was shockingly shallow. At several different times my paddle scraped the bottom. This is the Rock River! I didn’t think it could ever get shallow, frankly. It wasn’t a problem but it A) surprised the heck out of me and B) slowed me down some.

The bike shuttle is so-so. A surprising amount of modest hills for a river with next to no gradient combined with little shoulder-room on County P and sharing Highway 16 with fast traffic for a mile (plenty of shoulder room on the road there but the whir of vehicles is less than ideal).

If we did this trip again:
Um, neh. Out of curiosity I will likely explore the “wilderness” area below Hustisford and I am curious about the Watertown to Johnson Creek stretch. But there simply isn’t anything terribly memorable about this trip.

That said, I know some paddlers who would never paddle the Rock if it were the last river on Earth. I like the Rock – some sections, at least. It’s not particularly beautiful or exciting but it does have pretty segments and is always reliable when everywhere else is parched. This is a fine stream for beginners or anyone looking for a slow, relaxing day on the water when you don’t have to worry about water levels or obstructions.

Related Information
Rock River I: Oregon to Dixon
Rock River II: Janesville to Beloit
Overview: WisconsinGuides.net
Wikipedia: Rock River


Shuttle Information:
5 miles, pretty much due east.

Photo Gallery:

Basic put-in at Kanow Park.

An attractive bend around the park.

Low water levels!

Bushy and bending.

Where's Waldo, the great blue heron?

Lots of herons on this trip.

Railroad bridge.


Muskrat trap markers.

There is a lot of floodplain areas without development.

Rusticated bridge abutments.


Cool-looking old dead tree.

Some of a hundred.


A rare lush scene with an actual hill!

Big, wide, slow - but sometimes still pretty.

The backside of the one hill on this trip.

Still water makes for aesthetic reflections.

Often there are undeveloped stretches.

And then the sun came out!

Riffles leading up to and under the County Road P bridge.

Basic take-out at County Road P.
11/25/2015 0 comments

Wedges Creek

Middle Road to Black River Lodge Resort
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wedges is yet another Black River Falls creek that you’ll want to add to your bucket list. This brief 4.25-mile run makes for a great half-day adventure or add another few miles of Black River paddling for the additional payoff of outstanding whitewater, beautiful boulder gardens and rock outcrops.

Rocky on Wedges.

September 20, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Class I(II)

7.6' per mile

Neillsville: ht/ft: 3.32 | cfs: 172
East Fork Black River: ht/ft: 892.09 | cfs: 89.40
Gauge note: The Neilsville gauge doesn't directly correlate to the creek. It does, however, give a good idea if there has been recent water in the Black River Falls area. The East Fork gauge is geographically closer than Neillsville while measuring a more comparable watershed.

Recommended Levels:
This is below the recommended minimum level – anything below this simply wouldn't be worth it. The best way to determine whether Wedges is runnable is to check the visual gauge on the upstream side of Middle Road. Look for the large rock in the middle of the creek. Ideally, you don’t even want to see the rock. If just the tip is exposed, you’ll be in good shape. If it looks like the photo we took, you’ll scrape quite a bit but it'll still be doable. Less than the photo, put on your walking shoes.

Middle Road, Black River Falls, WI
Black River Lodge Resort (formerly Lake Arbutus Resort) boat landing off Riviera Drive

Time: Put in at 12:05p. Out at 3:45p.
Total Time: 3h 40m
Miles Paddled: 6.75

Wildlife: Fish, Ducks and Turtles.
Time worth driving to: 1-2 hours.

The Black River Falls area is brimming with an abundance of great paddling. Not just the Black itself or the East Fork but the contributor creeks that feed the main stem. This gives creek fans an abundance of options and paddling that ranges all levels, from flat to whitewater and all classes in-between.

There are four popular (using the term "popular" loosely here) creeks that feed the Black River; Halls, Morrison, Robinson and Wedges.

To compare and contrast the four is an interesting task and an obvious curiosity for the uninitiated. If we’re playing favorites, Halls is our winner. It’s the most dramatic with more whitewater drops and more amazing outcrops and scenery on an endless run from beginning to end, all in a canyon-like setting. From there, the lines blur a bit and ranking them is difficult because they’re all unique unto themselves.

Morrison has one exhilarating drop with many beautiful outcrops, just less of them than Halls and the last third of the trip's surroundings eventually transform into a bottomlands paddle. Robinson is altogether different because it’s much more intimate and feels more like what one would expect of a traditional creek with low sandstone banks and riffles. And then there’s Wedges with few dramatic bluffs, but endless boulder and rock gardens and many small drops and riffles throughout.

Come to think of it, your best bet is to just plan on paddling them all at some point and draw your own conclusions.

Now, it should be noted that these were less-than-ideal water levels. We knew what we were getting into, having paddled Morrison the day before (and even that plan was ill-conceived with a leaky boat on a rocky-bottomed creek) so we knew we’d be in for even more scraping on this day.

You’ll have a more ideal run at higher levels than what our visual gauge indicates, located upstream of Middle Road bridge. If it’s at or below this, you’ll scrape throughout. Ideally, it’s barely there. Otherwise, you’ll indeed find yourself fittingly wedged throughout at water levels like these.

Back in 2000, Mr. Rick Kark, author of the West Central Wisconsin Rivers and Streams guide, paddled two sections of Wedges in one day because he enjoyed it so much. First, this section, Middle Road to the Black River and then an upstream section, Highway 10 to Middle Road. He found no whitewater on that upper stretch but he did say it was pretty and unobstructed. We, of course, love a little whitewater, so we chose Middle Road as our starting point.

What we liked:
The put-in off Middle Road is OK, certainly not ideal but we’ve dealt with much worse. Late in the year, the weeds were up and with the water being so low, there was quite a height-differential from the edge of the bank to the boat, which makes for an awkward entrance. But aesthetically, it’s an inviting setting with a tressel that spans the creek just a few hundred feet from the put-in.

Almost immediately, you’ll be running the riffles just under the train trestle. And that's just the beginning of what makes Wedges so fun, there’s always something to keep your interest. There’s countless riffles and little drops including a Class I (II in higher water) and the scenery is incredible. Granite outcrops, slabs and shards are scattered throughout a landscape of oak and pine trees. Chunky boulder gardens are plentiful and there's an abundance of small sandstone walls. Add to that, the modest sand and gravel bars that tend to frame the curves and corners - it all makes for a very pretty trip.

The highlight is a back-and-forth Mouse Trap-style drop (ya know that game, kind of like a Rube Goldberg machine, where the marble must make its way through the game? Well, it's just like the stair piece in that game). It's a great little stair-step back-and-forth (and back-and-forth) run and a helluva lot of fun.

Wedges is generally narrow (narrower than Halls and Morrison but not as narrow as Robinson) and it feels wild and remote throughout (rather surprising we didn't encounter more wildlife, come to think of it). In fact, there are no bridges or signs of development along this short stretch. The water is clear but with that root-beer tinge we’ve come to love and it alternates between a sandy and rocky bottom.

So we’ve established that these water levels were too low but there is certainly something to be said for too high of water levels on Wedges - and what they are, we can’t say for sure but there was evidence everywhere that this creek takes on a completely different complexion when the water gets high.

Honestly, it was hard to comprehend what it might look like but there were tell-tale signs of much, much higher water, potentially 10-feet higher than the surface we were currently paddling as evidenced by the grass and tree-swept banks laying down-river from whatever direction we were headed. Whether it was recent is despite the fact, it was certainly for a sustained period that these surroundings were under an extreme force of water. What this creek actually looks like in high water must be astonishing.

The variety of contours and scenery keeps up until you reach the Black River. And there, it’s decision time. You could easily take-out at the landing at the Black River Confluence and end this trip at 4.25 miles or you could consider extending the trip further down the Black. There’s upside and downside to this decision. The upside? Well, river-paddling parts of the Black is just like lake paddling and if it were terribly windy, it could make for a tedious trek to get to the good stuff. The downside, is that you’ll be missing the good stuff; some exhilarating whitewater (but of course, not everyone is looking for whitewater).

Us, we made this a Black-Wedge salad and continued further downstream to hit some highlights on this section of the Black River (well, after we patched Timothy's boat for the umpteenth time that day - Wedges wasn't kind to his boat). There is some open and flat water paddling but it’s all worth the extra time and effort for the rapids, boulder gardens and scenery that reside downstream.

After a sizable amount of flat water river paddling, you'll come upon what appears to be a half-dam (maybe not even half, it spans maybe a quarter of the river). This is a lasting remnant of Dells dam which once spanned the river to help regulate water levels for the logging industry. In 1911, a historic flood destroyed the dam as well as homes and businesses in the area. It was never rebuilt and stands as an eerie reminder of that devastating event.

Now, the Black River is obviously much wider so the flat water sections are much flatter and slower. But... the rapids are much pushier and in turn, more fun. Some are class II (although on the lower-end during our low-water circumstance) and that's what makes the extra straightaways worthwhile, for the elongated and consecutive sections of awesome whitewater are about to begin.

Soon after the dam, you’ll come upon the Highway 95 bridge. Here is where the fun whitewater begins at Red Granite Rapids. The rapids are fun, splashy and the run is lengthy with hundreds of feet of boulder gardens on a gradual dogleg right. As the river narrows, there are even more impressive boulder gardens to dodge and weave. After that, there’s a few more sections of easy whitewater with some nominal drops in an amazingly rugged setting of rocks. It's a perplexing run - maybe the best kind - because A) it's too pretty to not want to stop and take pictures but B) It's too fun to want to stop and take pictures.

After all the fun dies down, you’ll find yourself doing some more flat water river paddling on the approach to Lake Arbutus. We took out at the boat landing at Black River Lodge Resort (formerly Lake Arbutus Resort). It’s a private resort. They just ask that you check-in at the bar before launching (we didn't - nobody was around - maybe because it was late in the vacation season). But I was really hoping to have a post-paddle Piña Colada at the tiki bar that overlooks the launch but alas, it was already closed for the season.

What we didn't like:
Low water - but that was basically our fault - we knew what we were getting ourselves into.

And then there was the issue of a cracked boat. This was our second day dealing with maintenance every couple miles to bail water or patch the bottom. Who takes a cracked boat on Morrison and Wedges creek at low water levels? These guys.

Lastly, while the Black is an excellent addition to the Wedges paddle, the flat water paddling on the river and then river/lake paddling while heading into Lake Arbitus is a lengthy stretch (but the excitement of Red Granite Rapids and the scenery outweigh the monotony).

Oh wait, the Tiki bar! Definitely bummed it was closed (after Cabo, I'm a sucker for Piña Coladas).

If we did this trip again:
Absolutely, but of course, only in higher water. And if you're considering this trip, we definitely recommend doing the additional section of the Black River.

Halls, Morrison, Robinson and Wedges are all pretty spectacular and unique in their own way. If you have a 3-day weekend and you want the best cross-section of Black River creeks, hit Halls, Wedges and Robinson if the water is up. It’ll probably give you the best variety. If you have a whole week, check out our recommendations in our Morrison Creek write-up.

There’s so much to love, explore or revisit in Black River Falls that we don’t think there’s a better place in Central Wisconsin for creek paddling. And as far as Wedges is concerned, creeking fans will love this one.

Related Information
Halls Creek I: Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing
Halls Creek II: Garage Road to Halls Creek Landing
Black River I: Black River Falls to Melrose
Black River II: Hatfield to Black River Falls
Black River: East Fork: Overguard Road to East Fork Campground
Morrison Creek: Cemetery Road to Morrison Landing
Robinson Creek: Old County Road I to Kelly Road
Camp: Black River State Forest
General: American Whitewater
General: Riverfacts.com
Good People: Friends of the Black River
Map: Friends of the Black River
Map: Wisconsin DNR
Wikipedia: Black River


Photo Gallery:

Visual gauge off Middle Road.

The put-in at Middle Road.

A train trestle makes for an idyllic setting at the put-in.

Rocky riffles begin right away.

Granite, granite everywhere.

A very pretty environment.

Looking upstream at a very easy drop (there are numerous drops like these).


Looking upstream at the footbridge reveals debris caught from high-water (real high water).

Beautiful rock-cuts.


Random riffly drops continue the entire stretch.

A moment for reflection.

Horizon line marking shallows downstream.

Remnants of an old bridge.

The wedges of Wedges Creek.

Swervy and curvy.

Chunky boulders are a common feature.

Banks show the effect of high water.


Black River confluence (Wedges Creek take-out immediately river-left by the tree).

Wedges took its toll on the boat. Brief stop to patch.

And now on the Black.

Remants of Dells Dam.

One helluva gate.

Downstream side.

Approaching Highway 95.

Riffly and rocky on the approach to the bridge.

Boulder gardens and class I(II) rapids begin at Red Granite Rapids.

Running the rapids.

More curiosities to behold on the Black.

Fun little encore of some easy rapids.

A friendly little guy.

The last of the Black.

Entering Lake Arbutus. The take-out is immediately on river-right.

The take-out at Black River Lodge Resort.