Token Creek
★ ★ ★

Token Creek I

By on May 3, 2009

Token Creek to Cherokee Park
☆ ☆ ☆

A curiosity located close to home, Token Creek is narrow and woodsy and therefore deadfall-prone until it gets to the open waters of Cherokee Marsh where it’s wide, shallow and slow.

May 2, 2009

Class Difficulty:


Recommended Levels:
Water levels are almost always reliable.

Token Creek County Park, Token Creek, Wisconsin
Cherokee Marsh Boat Landing, Madison, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 10:30a. Out at 12:45p.
Total Time: 2h 15m
Miles Paddled: 6.5

What we liked:
This was our first trip down Token Creek. It’s a spring-fed creek originating near Sun Prairie and winding its way to the Upper Yahara River (also called Cherokee Marsh). It’s location, just on the outskirts of Madison, makes it an appealing creek to paddle since it’s so close to home. Recently, Mad City Paddlers and Capitol Water Trails have done a great job clearing the creek and making it canoe and kayak friendly.

The put-in is at Token Creek County Park which has a semi-convenient landing right at the first bridge near the entrance of the park. A couple hundred feet after putting in is a rock ledge that you have to portage (or run if the water is high enough and you don’t care about a few scratches on your boat). Just past that are two long bridge tunnels, one under Highway 51 and the other, Interstate 90. Be prepared for a noisy and somewhat eerie paddle through the tunnels (and watch out for birds). Just after Interstate 90 you’ll encounter Daentl Road bridge which is a good alternate put-in if you want to forgo the noise of the highways and portaging of the rock ledge (but you’ll also miss the natural beauty of the giant Shell sign). From here on out, things quiet down and reminders of the city are less obvious.

This is a very narrow and twisty little creek. There are a lot of sharp turns and deadfall to keep you on your toes and your paddling skills sharp. The water was shallow, clear and quite cool but of course it was only early May.

There comes a point past the train trestle near the airport where you’ll come to some “forks in the water”. If you look real hard you may find a sign with an arrow and canoer-graphic helping to guide your way but they were challenging to spot. Regardless, we somehow made our way out into the open waters of Cherokee Marsh. From here until the take-out, it’s quite wide-open and surprisingly shallow for a body of water this large.

The take-out is the Cherokee Marsh boat landing. It’s more of a traditional boat-landing with a concrete landing and dock, making the exit really easy. There is also plenty of parking.

What we didn’t like:
The first four miles are fun but once you hit the mouth of the Yahara/Cherokee Marsh, it’s open water. On a windy day, that could be quite a drag. We would recommend finding an earlier take-out to avoid the open water if it’s not your type of thing.

If we did this trip again:
We’ll definitely make a return visit to Token Creek but we’ll bring a garbage bag to pick up some litter.

Related Information:
Token Creek II: Token Creek to Cherokee Marsh
Token Creek III: Token Creek to Cherokee Marsh
Article: A Glimpse of the Token Creek Water Trail
Article: Token of Appreciation
Good People: Capitol Water Trails
Good People: Mad City Paddlers
Map: Yahara Headwaters Trail

Miles Paddled Video:



  • I took this route yesterday and I had a very hard time with the amount of logjams. My kayak was filled with spiders as well from all of the trees. It only became easier when I got to Yahara and ran into a thunderstorm. It took me about 4 hours to complete. I would try it again…just not anytime soon.

  • Friends of ours did Token Creek from Portage Rd to Daentl during a rare warm spell the last weekend in January and reported the obstructions to be pretty bad. We're sorry to hear that little has changed in the last 4 months! It is to be hoped that sometime in summer volunteers will tend to Token Creek. Being so narrow and lined with trees, Token often is subject to deadfall, unfortunately. As for the spiders, ugh! We hear you though. Timothy counted 13 bits on his arms and legs during one recent 5-mile trip on a clogged section of the Mecan River. Regardless, we're glad it has dampened your paddling spirits! And thanks for chiming in with us! It's always appreciated!

  • Paddled from Token Creek park to dog park off of 113. The downed trees were maneuverable and no portaging necessary.The spiders were out with a vengeance. Excellent adventure besides the lily pads. Cherokee Marsh was a sea of menacing lily pads. Bushwhacking necessary.

  • Hello! Did you start at the county park off Highway 51 or at Portage Road? Just wondering in terms of the downed trees. As for the spiders, sigh… We feel you. Arachnids and snakes, why?!? And we hear you about the Marsh. This time of year in particular it gets pretty overgrown, which makes the paddling sluggish. Glad you had a great adventure though! Thanks for letting us know. Cheers!

  • We started at the county park off highway 51. Most of the tricky downed trees were a mile before the Cherokee marsh opening. I should note we did this with a tandem inflatable kayak and it handled like a champion! Also, realized paddywhacking was a more appropriate term.

  • We like "bushyaking" ourselves. Thanks for the response. Downed trees are always a problem downstream of Daentl Road, approaching the Marsh. But we've heard too that there are some clusters between Portage Road and Token Creek Co. Park too, which is why we wondered which section you did. Thanks Samantha!


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