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A popular river for paddling, as well as fly fishing, the Mecan River is a clear, sandy-bottomed and twisty trout stream flowing through the beautiful pines of Central Wisconsin.
May 18, 2013
Water levels are almost always reliable. If the water is high, some of the low-clearance bridges will need to be portaged. Call a local outfitter ahead of time.
County Highway JJ, Dakota, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 12:45p. Out at 3:45p.
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 9.75
Wildlife: Turtles, trout, geese, one crane and many, many deer.
What we liked:
The Mecan, a tributary of the Fox River is clear, clean and pretty. The environs reminded me much of the Badfish but with many more pines. Aside from being much windier than I thought, everything else about this paddle is what I anticipated from the various write-ups and message boards I came across.
This section has been on our radar since our first season of paddling. In fact, I attempted to paddle this another time but water levels were too low. Unfortunately there is no gauge but I've heard there is usually enough water to paddle it throughout the season.
The Mecan paddles like a creek but with the force of a river current, making it quite tricky to navigate and it's sure to test your boat-control skills. While I love a twisty creek, I paddled this in my Tsunami 140 but I would've benefited from a smaller boat. There are countless tight turns and a smaller or creek-sized boat may have made things a little easier.
I would generally consider this a good beginner-paddle for canoers or kayakers but only accompanied by an experienced guide or one who knows how to read the current. It could be too frustrating otherwise.
This was a long paddle and this is definitely a case where the mileage referenced in Mike Svob's writeup (and map) is off by a few miles (and as I assume, referenced here). Both sections, from County Road JJ to Dixie Avenue and Dixie Avenue to Highway 22 (while three-quarters of a mile apart via mapping) are both about a solid hour and a half a piece.
I don't really have a preference for either section, both are very similar and pretty. However, as of this report, if you were looking for a shorter trip, the upper section (County Road JJ to Dixie Avenue) has two solid portages so I'd have to reco the lower (Dixie to Highway 22).
Put-ins and take-outs are well-worn and plentiful. There are many access points which make tailoring your trip easy (which we always love). I chose to put-in just upriver from the County Road JJ bridge because of the appealing nature of the riffles coming out below the bridge. It's the only riffly area on the creek, other than a few spotty areas throughout caused by down trees.
Speaking of downed-trees... There were three unavoidable tree portages. Two of them right before the 14th Avenue bridge. And as shallow as the Mecan appears, it gets awfully deep and especially where these occurred. The first portage was challenging (and probably comical had anyone witnessed it). If I had been in a canoe, I probably could've stood up, climbed over and scooted the canoe under the tree, but standing and trying to balance in a kayak, didn't seem like the best approach. So I waded chest-deep (pushing neck-deep) and guided my boat under the tree. The second one took a similar approach.
The third portage was just after Dixie Avenue but was a more traditional bank-climb. Again, the water was deep straight to the edge of the bank with no forgiving gradation.
To summarize the paddle with current conditions: County JJ to 14th Avenue, you'll encounter one farm bridge and two portages. From 14th Avenue to Dixie Avenue, there is one farm bridge. Running time: 1.5 hours. From Dixie Avenue to Dover Avenue, another farm bridge and another portage. Dover to Duck Creek Avenue, you'll find three more farm bridges and an ATV/bike path bridge. From Duck Creek on, you're home-free and it's a very short paddle to the take-out at Highway 22. Total time: 3 hours.
I didn't continue down to Germania Marsh as referenced in Svob's writeup, instead I took out at Highway 22 which has a designated parking area north of the bridge. The marsh is another four miles which would've extended the trip by another hour and a half, not including the shuttle, which is a lot for a day paddle.
Wildlife encounters were plentiful and amazing. I came across many turtles, trout splashing, one heron and two geese protecting their young but this paddle was all about deer. I came across six deer on the river and heard many more rustling away in the woods. I've never seen so many on a paddle before.
If you count the roadkill in the area, it was an epic day for wildlife encounters. Incidentally, I even tried to prevent another victim when I spotted a giant turtle trying to cross Highway 22. I don't know how many people would stop to help a turtle cross the road and to be honest, I never thought I'd be that guy. But I made quite the scene by putting my flashers on and blocking the road to help scoot the big guy across. He was of the grumpy variety, not too polite nor appreciative of my assistance. He nearly snapped my paddle blade, bite after aggressive bite but I felt good about my good deed and went on my way. I wouldn't be surprised if he got run over after I left, he was very stubborn.
What we didn't like:
The portages were much tougher than expected. With the water being so deep it made for some careful consideration as to how to conquer them. And though this river is sandy, don't let it fool you, it's generally soft-bottomed, not the hard stuff with easy traction.
Semi-related, I headed up to Hartman Creek State Park (one of my favorites) to camp. After coming back to camp from charging my GoPro at one of the shelters, I found my bag of food had been compromised and my Cheddar Kettle Chips (which I was really looking forward to) were gone! It was still daytime, so I hadn't even considered stowing it somewhere safe. I assumed it was a raccoon but it wasn't until evening set in that I could confirm that suspicion. I spotted the eyes of the little bastard casing my campsite (I listened for the sound of crunching, to no avail).
If we did this trip again:
The Mecan is a really pretty river and the deer encounters alone make it a special place but it's not one that I'll have to do annually. I personally like a little more excitement than the Mecan offers but it is a great paddle for the beginner with a little patience.
And overall, it was a beautiful day to be out on the water (and I wasn't alone, there were a few other paddlers enjoying this pretty stream) and I'm glad I finally got to paddle this river.
Mecan River II: Germania to Lock Road
Mecan River III: Mecan River Springs to 11th Road
Mecan River IV: Dover Avenue to Germania
Article: The Mecan River Offers an Appealing Paddling Daytrip
General: Hunt Fish Camp
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Outfitter: Mecan River Outfitters
View Mecan River in a larger map
The bike shuttle was a little over a half-hour. There are a few hills but nothing too strenuous. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed the ride through the shady pines and again, spotting two more deer.
Miles Paddled Video:
The put-in at County Road JJ.
County Road JJ bridge.
One of many farm bridges.
14th Avenue bridge.
Dixie Avenue bridge.
Dover Avenue bridge.
Bike/ATV trail bridge.
Duck Creek Avenue bridge.
15th Drive bridge.
Highway 22 bridge.
The Highway 22 take-out.
I hitched my bike to this post. It was at that point that I decided "miniature horses" is my new favorite description for a bike.