Yahara River Paddle Guide
Paddle Guide

Yahara River Paddle Guide

By on December 16, 2014

Clocking in at 62 miles long, the Yahara River has three identities: the upper, the chain of lakes and the lower. Most paddlers will only want to spend time on the lower, from the Dunkirk dam to the Rock River confluence. The Deforest-area section of the upper Yahara is a real gem but catching it with adequate volume is difficult. Below Windsor Road, the river meanders through a golf course, underneath the interstate, blows up into Cherokee Marsh, then feeds and connects Lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa, from Madison’s north side to Stoughton.

After the dams in Stoughton and then again in Dunkirk, the Yahara reawakens, takes up its slack, and dances with pizzazz as a wonderful and at times wild-feeling river that the Ojibwa named for catfish. We in the Madison area surrounded by lakes are very lucky to have it so close to our home.


Veteran’s Memorial Park (Deforest) to Windsor Road

Miles: 5.5 | 2013 Trip Report | 2013 Trip Report

This is a delightful section of the Yahara River that looks and feels more like a creek than the 100’-wide river downstream. It’s a super-fun and surprisingly scenic trip with a natural feel and superb wildlife despite being surrounded by sub-developments. The only catch is it needs enough water to paddle – and it usually doesn’t. You can paddle below 2’ at the gauge but you’ll scrape a lot and at times, take your boat for a walk. It’s best at 2’ and above but this is a rarity, for even after a hard rain this section drains quickly.

Yahara River Paddle Guide

Windsor Road to Cherokee Marsh

Miles: 9 | 2016 Trip Report

We strongly discourage paddling this section of the Yahara River (aka “Yahorror Show”). Immediately downstream from Windsor Rd the Yahara snakes through a golf course. There’s at least one low bridge that will require portaging around – the first of several dozen portages between Windsor Road and Cherokee Marsh. Then of course there’s the rather undesirable possibility of being struck upside the head by a golf ball. The golf course section actually does feature beautiful crystal clear water, riffles and is home to countless trout (at least in spring), but there’s just no compelling reason to paddle this, especially in light of the horrendous amount of down trees and impenetrable logjams between the interstate, Highway 19 and the opening of Cherokee Marsh.

There are moments where it’s pretty but the bad vastly outweighs the good. The only reason to consider this trip is if, like us, you are a little OCD about completely paddling rivers. But trust us, this section is just way too frustrating to waste your day on.

Yahara River Paddle Guide

Cherokee Marsh to Tenney Locks

Miles: 5.75

This is all lake paddling – and a long trek at that. Along the shore of Governor’s Island (which is a peninsula, not an island) is a brief but pretty exposed rock outcrop of sandstone, one of two such geological features around the lake (the other being at Maple Bluff). Otherwise, the northeast shore of Lake Mendota offers a few scenic passes, especially if you like McMansions. Lake Mendota can be fun on a windy day, as there will be choppy waves. In our opinion, that’s the best that can be said about paddling one of Madison’s lakes. Otherwise, there’s development along most/all the shoreline, and motor boats are ubiquitous.

Tenney Locks to Lottes Lane on Upper Mud Lake

Miles: 4.75

This is 99% more lake paddling. For roughly one mile the Yahara is basically a canal between lakes Mendota and Monona. It’s no-wake and you’ll pass under a number of bridges and a backyard or two through the boulevards of Madison’s near-east side. Take a break and stop at Mickey’s at the “Willy Street” bridge (great food, decent beer, awesome ambiance). The opening to Lake Monona is pretty. If you turn left (southeast), the shoreline is less developed and has a modest incline. If you turn right (southwest), you head towards downtown. You may simply wish to make a beeline towards the opposite shore, where an outlet leads you through an attractive neighborhood, a small bay, (very close to Rutabaga, incidentally) under the beltline and finally into a bay leading to Upper Mud Lake.

Upper Mud Lake to Mud Lake (Babcock County Park)

Miles: 3.25

As the name suggests, you’re in lake country here. Upper Mud Lake is a pretty wetlands complex. Expect to encounter partiers on a sunny weekend (I’ve even seen a restaurant/bar barge out just south of the belt line). You can escape all that, if the water is high enough, by turning right (west) into the channelized stream called Nine Springs Creek. The paddling itself is uneventful but the surrounding scenery is gorgeous. Lake Waubesa comes after you paddle past the railroad bridge (soon to be a new bike trail – and the longest bike trail bridge in Wisconsin). Virtually all of Waubesa on the east shore is developed, up to and including Babcock County Park, where there is another lock to portage around or go through, if you’re patient. The western shore of the lake is a little less developed. In the far southwest corner is a pretty state natural area called Swan Creek that’s protected and navigable to a point. The Green Lantern on the northeastern shore at the end of Sigglekow Road is a popular supper club, while Christy’s Landing on the western shore above Goodland County Park is a solid bar/restaurant too (and less busy).

Mud Lake (Babcock County Park) to Lake Kegonsa (Lafollette County Park)

Miles: 6.5 | 2015 Trip Report

Consider this 90% lake paddling. There’s a brief mile or so where the Yahara flows like a river between Lower Mud Lake and Lake Kegonsa. There’s even a riffle or two, a short boulder garden, the remains of a Native American fish weir and an attractive old truss bridge at Dyreson Road. But it slows down fast (so to speak) as it enters the next but last big lake of Dane County’s chain. Stick to the northern shore, as it’s less developed and eventually becomes public land at Kegonsa State Park. Springer’s restaurant on the north shore just west of the state park offers a fine fish fry and an attractive patio to stop off and enjoy a beverage or snack. There’s a boat landing at the park itself (where you’ll need a State Parks pass) on the left or carefully thread through the pylons of a small railroad bridge (the current can be surprisingly brisk at this outlet of the lake), after which there’s a nondescript access point on the right.

Yahara River Paddle Guide

Lake Kegonsa (Lafollette County Park) to Stoughton (Riverside Park)

Miles: 5.25 | 2014 Trip Report

While the Yahara at this point begins to resemble a river again, it’s wide and slow – more like a marsh. It’s pretty in sections, but residential development tends to distract the view though. The width alternates kind of like a bellows in that it’s either wide or lake-like wide, back and forth a couple times just in this section. Coming into downtown Stoughton is pleasant, if brief.

Yahara River Paddle Guide

Stoughton (Riverside Park) to Dunkirk Dam

Miles: 3 | 2014 Trip Report

This short section offers little interest to paddlers, as it’s all a flatwater impoundment from the dam in Dunkirk. Shoreline development is constant. It’s best just to skip this section. The best than can be said about this is a possibility of running some whitewater ledges underneath the bridge at 4th Street. What causes these standing waves is anyone’s guess – and it might be an unwelcome surprise in the event of dumping! The bridge itself is divided into four slots, so if one tries to run this one needs to choose carefully and avoid scraping into the pylons.

Yahara River Paddle Guide

Dunkirk Dam to Stebbinsville Road

Miles: 4.75

Below the dam the Yahara has a born-again awakening and becomes a river once more. This section has a few houses and farms, but riffles, clear water and a couple tall banks with attractive oak trees helps lend a wild feel to this fun section.

Yahara River Paddle Guide

Stebbinsville Road to County Road H (Rock River)

Miles: 9.5 | 2013 Trip Report | 2012 Trip Report | 2010 Trip Report | 2008 Trip Report | 2008 Trip Report

This is the “classic” Yahara River trip about which we (and others) have written much already. The riffles continue together with the clear water mile after mile. There’s only one boring stretch, just below Highway 59, where everything is flat and you’re always against the wind no matter what. Otherwise, this is just a great trip with everything a wonderful river has to offer.


December 11, 2014

December 27, 2014


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

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Ahnapee River

Apple River (IL)

    Apple River
    4.20.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East Canyon Road to South Apple River Road

Ashippun River

    Ashippun River
    9.27.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Ashippun Lake to Ski Slide Road

Badfish Creek

Baraboo River

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    Bark River III
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Beaver Dam River

Big Bureau Creek (IL)

    Big Bureau Creek
    6.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Big Rib River

    Big Rib River
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Black Earth Creek

Black River

Black River: East Fork

Bois Brule River

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Cannon River (MN)

    Cannon River
    5.31.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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    Carroll Creek II
    6.21.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

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    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

Catfish Creek (IA)

    Catfish Creek
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    Mines of Spain to Massey Marina Park

Cedar Creek

    Cedar Creek
    9.28.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road M to Cedarburg

Coon Fork Creek

Covel Creek (IL)

    Covel Creek
    6.18.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East 18th Road to Highway 71

Crawfish River

Crawfish River: North Branch

Crystal River

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    Dell Creek
    3.15.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    South Avenue to Dellwood

Door Creek

    Door Creek
    4.1.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆
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Duck Creek

    Duck Creek
    3.23.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road G to Duck Creek Road

Eau Claire River

Eau Galle River

Embarrass River

Flambeau River: North Fork

Fox River

    Fox River II
    4.30.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Fox River (IL)

Galena/Fever River

Grand River

Grant River

    Grant River IV
    4.24.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road

    Grant River III
    4.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

    Grant River II
    11.21.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road

    Grant River I
    5.23.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

Halls Creek

    Halls Creek II
    8.9.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Garage Road to Halls Creek Landing

    Halls Creek I
    6.28.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing

Honey Creek

Jump River

    Jump River
    8.30.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Luke’s Heights Lane to Big Falls County Park

Kickapoo River

Kickapoo River: West Fork

Kinnickinnic River

Kishwaukee River (IL)

Koshkonong Creek

La Crosse River

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Milwaukee River

Milwaukee River: East Branch

Mink River

Mirror Lake

    Mirror Lake II
    10.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

    Mirror Lake I
    5.24.08 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

Montello River

    Montello River
    11.8.16-11.10.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Harrisville to 11th Road

Mormon Creek

    Mormon Creek
    8.3.14 | ☆ ☆
    Mormon Coulee Park to Goose Island County Park

Morrison Creek

Mukwonago River

Mullet River

    Mullet River
    10.20.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Plymouth to County Road M

Namekagon River

    Namekagon River
    7.16-7.19.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road K to Riverside

Neenah Creek

Nippersink Creek (IL)

Oconomowoc River

Old Pearl River (LA)

    Old Pearl River
    4.3.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Crawford Landing Road to Indian Village Road

Onion River

    Onion River II
    10.11.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road A to County Road V

    Onion River I
    9.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road V to Sheboygan Falls

Pecatonica River

Pecatonica River: East Branch

Peshekee River (MI)

Peshtigo River

    Peshtigo River
    9.2.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Burnt Bridge to Goodman Park

Pigeon River

    Pigeon River
    12.5.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Lake Michigan

Pine River

Piscasaw Creek (IL)

Platte River

Plover River

    Plover River
    5.19.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Jordan Park to Iverson Park

Prairie River

    Prairie River II
    5.27.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road C to Stange’s Park

    Prairie River I
    11.17.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Haymeadow Creek to Prairie Road

Puchyan River

    Puchyan River
    04.19.15 | ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Huckleberry Road

Red River

    Red River
    12.9.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Gresham to County Road A

Red Cedar River

Robinson Creek

    Robinson Creek
    7.8.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old County Road I to Kelly Road

Rock Creek

    Rock Creek
    3.26.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Lake Mills to Millford

Rock River

Root River

    Root River
    8.2.13 | ☆ ☆
    5 Mile Road to Horlick Dam

Root River: South Branch (MN)

Rubicon River

Seeley Creek

    Seeley Creek
    5.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Seeley Lake to Hatchery Road

Six Mile Creek

    Six Mile Creek
    6.7.14 | ☆
    Waunakee Village Park to South Woodland Drive

Spring Creek

    Spring Creek
    4.20.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Fair Street to County Road V

St. Croix River

Starkweather Creek

Sugar Creek

Sugar River

Token Creek

    Token Creek III
    5.22.11 | ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek II
    8.22.09 | ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek I
    5.2.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

Tomorrow River

    Tomorrow River
    7.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Rolling Hills Road to Amherst

Trappe River

    Trappe River
    8.2.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road WW to Wisconsin River Road

Trempealeau River

Turtle Creek

Upper Iowa River (IA)

    Upper Iowa River
    5.24.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Chimney Rock Road to Bluffton Road

Waupaca River

    Waupaca River V
    10.24.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Amherst to Durrant Road

    Waupaca River IV
    4.12.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River III
    9.22.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway DD to County Highway Q

    Waupaca River II
    7.7.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River I
    7.9.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

Wausau Whitewater Park

Wedges Creek

    Wedges Creek
    9.20.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Middle Road to Black River Lodge Resort

White River

Wisconsin River

Wolf River

Yahara River

Yellow Creek (IL)

    Yellow Creek
    4.19.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Bolton Road to Krape Park

Yellow River

Yellow River (IA)

    Yellow River II
    5.6.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old Sixteen Road to Highway 76

    Yellow River I
    5.5.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Highway X16 to Old Sixteen Road

Zumbro River (MN)

    Zumbro River
    6.1.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Zumbro Falls to Millville
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