Maunesha River
★ ★

Maunesha River III

By on May 25, 2013

Waterloo to Portland
☆ ☆

The final leg of the underscored but surprisingly impressive Maunesha River, this trip is unfortunately too deterred by logjams and deadfall to recommend to the weekend paddler.

May 18, 2013

Class Difficulty:


Recommended Levels:
Water levels are fine for this segment but the many obstructions (unless since cleared up) do not lead us to recommend this trip.

Highway 19, Waterloo, Wisconsin
County Road BB, Portland, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 2:00p. Out at 5:10p.
Total Time: 3h 10m
Miles Paddled: 8

Wildlife: Tricolored Heron (a first for me, if correctly identified) or maybe a kind of grebe, a great blue heron, a couple phonebook-big turtles, four muskrats, flopping carp, two photogenic frogs and goslings galore.
Time worth driving to: 1.5 hours.

One of my paddling pals and I explored the Maunesha River last month, knowing nothing of the river downstream of Marshall but were wholly won over by the unexpected prettiness, pleasure and enjoyable challenges of it.

A couple years ago I did a separate portion of the Maunesha that began at the Deansville State Wildlife Area and finished in Marshall, a trip that I have not written about and did not have a camera with me at the time but one I don’t recommend, as it is frankly boring and painfully slow-moving (plus it concludes with a large section of lake paddling, which isn’t much my thing).

And a couple weeks ago I did a wonderful and weirdly wild segment of the Maunesha further upstream of Deansville. So it seemed only fair to find out what the last stretch of this beguiling river has in store. Alas, it was underwhelming.

What we liked:
This trip begins immediately with a splashy Class I drop at the site of a removed dam, after which riffles and then a short section of Class II rapids follow for the next mile and a half. The downtown Waterloo section is quite attractive and thoroughly fun. After the last bridge at Fireman’s Park, however, everything changes. As though on cue, after the last bridge in the park there is a nasty, snaggletoothed bit of strainers where two fallen trees on each bank have left only a narrow, shallow slot to run through. Other strainers await after this slot. It’s a bit tricky and potentially dangerous if you don’t have good boat control. This will be the first of umpteen more hazards (most of them logjams and impassable deadfall requiring portaging).

Were there fewer of these hazards, the section in-between the two Highway 19 bridges in the town of Portland would be actually quite lovely, as it diverges into a hidden sylvan of forest marked by lushly green leaf-shade, no sight of the sun for a couple of miles. But of course, all that tree canopy, together with a narrow river with lots of twists and tight turns, makes the likelihood of deadfall and logjams all the more probable.

After the second Highway 19 bridge, the whole environment changes. The river widens, the trees clear and the sun is awash over a landscape to the west where no pocks of development can be seen, just a state wildlife area of marsh for miles. In my head I kept chanting, “Out of the darkness, into the light!” The contrast is truly remarkable.

From here, there are about two more river miles before the takeout. It’s pretty, but by no means spectacular. One point of interest, however, is a ginormous quarry on the river-right the likes of “Holy Quarry, Batman!” If you didn’t know better, the hills of crushed stone, gleaming white and beige, could be mistaken for cliffs of clay.

The last notable is the confluence at the Crawfish River, whose width alone after all the narrowness and confines of the Maunesha seems like a small Mississippi. Needless to say, the current is slow going.

All in all, this trip offers considerable variety, from splashy whitewater to flat bottomlands, an urban downtown to a canopied forest to wide-open marshland and creek-like intimacy to the confluence with a much wider, more major river.

What we didn’t like:
There are too many logjams and need-to-portage deadfall for this trip to leave much of a favorable memory. I sawed off quite a bit of limbs, to the point of losing my trusty handsaw to the river after I accidentally dropped it (note to self: tie a piece of nylon rope around the handle next time!). And it took time to toss/clear lots of those logs gumming up the works so that I (and future paddlers) could navigate through these jams without having to portage (which I know is futile, as all of that debris, tossed off to the banks, will eventually find its way back into the river and invariably cluster together and clog everything again).

I like doing this so long as A) I don’t offer my handsaw to the gods of the Maunesha and B) its effect is permanent and purposeful. I didn’t suspect that it would. For this section to be truly clear would require a concerted effort of chainsaws and muscle. It would definitely be worth the while though, as the bottomland section in between the two Highway 19 bridges would otherwise make for a very pleasurable escape.

If we did this trip again:
It’s doubtful. This paddle satisfied my curious itch, I scratched it, found it unremarkable and frustrating and will move on to other waterways. I don’t personally recommend paddling it but I won’t go so far as saying “don’t do it.” Just know what you’re likely to encounter.

Related Information:
Maunesha River I: Waterloo Road to Firemen’s Park
Maunesha River II: Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
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:

6.4 miles and a pretty bike ride at that.

Photo Gallery:


  • There are lots of rivers like this, but how do you know unless you paddle it? At least you can say you have gone where few others have.


Miles Paddled documents canoe and kayak trips on rivers and creeks throughout Wisconsin.

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