Maunesha River
★ ★ ★ ★

Maunesha River I

By on April 29, 2013

Waterloo Road to Firemen’s Park
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One of the best paddling experiences of my life! Old railroad bridges, even older oak trees, forest settings, open marsh, doldrum hillsides, a number of exhilarating ledges and a thrilling coast the final mile in Class I-II standing waves into downtown Waterloo.

April 21, 2013

Class Difficulty:
Class I-II

4′ per mile (except for the last 2 miles, where the river drops 10′ per mile).


Recommended Levels:
To get the best out of this trip (the ledges and downtown Waterloo rapids), you’ll want to run it as soon after a decent rain as possible.

Waterloo Road, Marshall, Wisconsin
Firemen’s Park

Time: Not recorded
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 6.75

Wildlife: A herd of deer, including fawns running like rockets across a marsh that actually leapt across the river, some big fish, a couple different hawks (including one that got mugged and then heckled by a cacophony of crows), some sandhill cranes, geese (including a nest with ginormous eggs) and a turtle.
Time worth driving to: 1.5 hrs.

What we liked:
Where to begin? Within a hundred yards of the put-in we happened upon a beautiful and humongous oak tree probably as old as the state of Wisconsin itself. After that, the river hugs the hillside of a small but handsome drumlin for a while. In fact, steep banks flank most of this segment, some as high as 20-feet running beside the river. Occasionally the landscape opens up to sprawling pastureland, clean and pleasing to the eye. Not until Waterloo will you encounter a house but for one or two next to barns.

There is a small marshy area around the 5-mile mark and there are three ledges that can be run (more on those below). The last mile of the trip (and the only time you will hear cars) is like icing on a cake. The river is swift and riffly the whole way down, with Class I-II rapids in a couple spots (…depending on water volume – the water was still high when we did it – the butt of a repeated bad joke considering that the date of the day before was 4/20) and a short run of fun standing waves in between the two bridges downtown. Speaking of downtown, Waterloo is unexpectedly handsome and offers several very pleasant riverside views of rough-hewn buildings and bridges. We didn’t see an actual boat launch at the take-out but it could have existed under all the high water. Nevertheless, Fireman Park is pretty and a nice place to end a great trip.

As for the drops, the first is river-right through a small clearing in deadfall that otherwise straddles the river. I would like to immodestly dub this drop “Tim’s Trim,” as it is only runnable because I climbed onto the damn logjam, inched out onto a thin limb, (hovering five feet above the drop where the water is running quite fast and frothy) wrapped my legs around whatever branches I could like a possum’s tail and handsawed off the two limbs that stabbed into the river and blocked passage. Of course you don’t have to run this and shouldn’t if you don’t think you’re up for it.

The second drop is definitely the most difficult and potentially dangerous. Underneath a huge old railroad bridge (seriously, the pilings must be about 40-feet high) is a 2-3-foot ledge. Deadfall and logjams block passage through all the pilings but for one narrow slot, roughly 3.5-feet wide toward river-left. What’s a little tricky here is there are some old piling remains just below and just above the water surface, so you must be able to line up perfectly straight and run the drop straight as an arrow. I did it in part because I felt like I had to, for myself, as part of the continual process of coming to terms with whitewater, both its successes and its lessons in failing. I had a spray skirt, the right type of clothing and a crossover kayak. Plus I had a friend there too, incase a mishap occurred. I managed it clean and true and felt like a million bucks after it. But don’t do it unless you are confident and safe.

The third drop is toward the end, where it looks like a bridge (or a dam) had been removed some time ago. The drop is only about a foot high but there are nasty concrete chunks strewn about to keep a wide berth of. I recommend running the slot all the way to river-left as it seemed the most unobstructed route. There is a slot all the way to the right that looked splashier and maybe more challenging for some but it didn’t appeal to me or my friend. Caution is prudent but it’s an easy ledge to run. I highly recommend that you scout this before you even put in at the beginning because it’s a little difficult to get out in this section and even more so to get back into your boat. The current is strong and swift and the banks are high and not easily accessible. It can be safely done (we got out to scout where to run the drop) but we both agreed that we should have first scouted it during the shuttle. It’s very conspicuous, off the main road into town (Highway 19) behind what looks to have once been a former Burger King.

What we didn’t like:
You will need to portage around logjams at least twice and this is not counting the three drops further downstream, which you may want to portage also. There is some deadfall that can be paddled through, under, or over but there are approximately two, a mile downstream of the put-in that were awkward and shaky. They required precise boat control and the ability to a) dodge tree limbs quickly, with a fair amount of flexibility and b) turn your boat on the dime with a power stroke, lest you get pinned or snagged.

So I do not recommend this trip for beginners or kayaks much longer than 11-feet in length. Even though the Maunesha is classified as a river, it behooves a paddler to have an agile creek boat or something akin. As my friend and I delighted in saying several times, (when not remarking about how high the river was) “numerous maneuvers” were required. (I still maintain that Numerous Maneuvers would make a fine name for an acid jazz album.) In lower water some of these spots would probably be easier and less potentially dangerous.

The Maunesha is mostly muddy (there were some exceptions to this, where the water was clear and lined by a sandy bottom and yes, we also said “sandy bottom” a lot). We did spot a couple of clams here and there, all of them meaty and big as a man’s fist. The put-in was fine but by no means great with roadside parking and a mostly mucky access to the water.

If we did this trip again:
I will for sure but I’ll look for a better put-in. Due to the recent flood watches and warnings, the river was very (say it with me) high, so neither below the dam at Marshall nor the next two bridges (one on Highway 19, the other on Koch Road) were terribly feasible options. I look forward to exploring the segment further downstream of Fireman Park to the confluence with the Crawfish River, as a couple miles of it runs through a state wildlife area.

Related Information:
Maunesha River II: Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
Maunesha River III: Waterloo to Portland
Maunesha River IV: Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
Maunesha River V: County Road TT to Canal Road
Maunesha River VI: Marshall to Firemen’s Park
Good People: Capitol Water Trails
Good People: Maunesha River Alliance
Maps: Capitol Water Trails
Wiki: Maunesha River


Shuttle Information:

4.3 miles. Not only is Jefferson County very bicycle-friendly, the world headquarters of Trek is in Waterloo.

Photo Gallery:


  • Has anyone run this at lower levels, will the drops still be doable?

  • Sorry for the long delay! The same friend of mine who ran this with me back two years ago just did it again two weekends ago, 4/26/15. Water levels were very low and portages were frequent. So-called "Tim's trim" was several feet high, seemingly inconceivable to those for whom this was their first time on the Maunesha. The RR trestle bridge was doable though, as was the middle and right channels of the former dam behind the old Burger King. All this said, after this week's rain, the levels should be properly runnable again. Let us know if you do this! Cheers!


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