Mukwonago River
★ ★

Mukwonago River

By on December 17, 2015

Mukwonago to Big Bend
☆ ☆

To be honest, this is a fairly boring trip. It has a pleasant beginning but it gets dull and monotonous soon after… and then all the way to the take-out.

November 3, 2015

Class Difficulty:

1.5′ per mile

Mukwonago: ht/ft: 2.5 | cfs: 64
Waukesha: ht/ft: 3.1 | cfs: 90

Recommended Levels:
This is the recommended minimal level. Paddling below this level, at least on the Mukwonago, will be miserable and/or simply not doable.

Below the dam, off Front Street, Waukesha County, Mukwonago, Wisconsin
Big Bend Village Park, Big Bend, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 12:30p. Out at 3:15p.
Total Time: 2h 45m
Miles Paddled: 9

Wildlife: Great blue herons, mussels, wood ducks, hawks, fish, painted turtles and bald eagles.
Time worth driving to: 30 minutes

Disclaimer: this trip does not include the exciting and beautiful section of the Mukwonago River through the Kettle Moraine State Forest upstream of Upper and Lower Phantom Lakes (that trip will appear on our site at a future time). No, this section highlights the last couple miles of the Mukwonago as it feeds the Fox River and the rest (most) of this trip is a float down the lazy brown Fox.

This trip has been a curious itch of mine to scratch for a couple years now, why, I’m not really sure. It’s nowhere near where I live, it’s a mostly urban trip in none other than Waukesha County and it’s a pretty flat and unremarkable landscape. But this section of the Mukwonago River is a designated State Natural Area – despite the interstate being right next to it. Plus most of this trip’s portion of the Fox River is in Mike Svob’s Paddling Southern Wisconsin, so one could infer that it’s a preferential stretch.

(In retrospect, this is not the case, in my opinion. The segment of the Fox upstream of this trip – between Waukesha and Mukwonago through the pretty and protected Vernon Wildlife Area, is a much more pleasant paddle than this trip.)

What we liked:
While brief, the last two miles of the Mukwonago River are indeed pretty. The water is crystal clear and the riverbed is that wonderful mix of sand and gravel brought to you by the last glacier of the Ice Age. To be sure, there’s an interstate highway that runs parallel to the river but the environment is otherwise undeveloped. And once you merge onto the Fox River there’s hardly any development but for an occasional farm or powerline until you approach Big Bend.

The landscape is hardly wild but it is pleasantly natural. The Fox is mostly brown – in stark contrast to the Mukwonago – but there should be no problems with shallow water. On either river there were no obstructions.

What we didn’t like:
To begin, accessing the Mukwonago is not the easiest feat. There is no designated put-in per se, but it’s not difficult to launch a boat from a low-gradient bank below the dam. The trouble is you have to park and then schlep your boat and gear some 650′ to the water. If this were a great paddling prospect, then such an inconvenience is minor. But here it’s just a pointless nuisance.

As alluring as a State Natural Area that itself is a river is, the Mukwonago River SNA is kind of blasé and what natural beauty it arguably has is entirely compromised by the reality of I-43 directly on your right (once you reach the Fox River, you turn right, and there are the two interstate bridges. Once you pass them, the noise does diminish).

The Fox River itself is pretty dull, frankly, at least the section on this trip. The current is tediously slow and the river is turbid. Just to the west are hills but the landscape is painfully flat – like flapjacks flat. It’s nearly 7 miles of slow, dark water in long straightaways of mostly flatland marshes. It’s a little reminiscent of the Rock River, with an hour more of driving from Madison.

Lastly, once you arrive at Big Bend Village Park there’s an associated $5 fee to use the boat launch, courtesy of Waukesha County. In my experience, this always is the case for boat launches in Waukesha County. (This is why you pay taxes, people! There, I said it – the “t’ word. Oooh!) This felt like a clumsy way to end a dumb trip. On a better river or lake I’d be fine with coughing up five bucks. But here? For this? Nah.

If we did this trip again:
You’re kidding, right? No, I won’t bother with this trip again. The main section of the Mukwonago River is gorgeous and wonderful and absolutely worth doing (although you must paddle it at a minimum of 70 cfs to avoid abject scraping). And the segment of the Fox through the Vernon Wildlife Area is truly lovely, but this trip is too boring and presents too many unjustified hassles to warrant paddling again.

Related Information:
Good People: Friends of the Mukwonago River
Wikipedia: Mukwonago


Shuttle Information:

7.4 miles, mostly fine for bicycles (you’ll want to ride on the sidewalk along Highway 83).

Photo Gallery:

  • Laura

    The upper part of the Mukwonago River is (in my mind) is the nicer part to do. However, it is a spring only section. The cat-tails and marsh grass get to think in the summer and fall. I know the local fire department has had to go rescue people who have gotten lost out there due to impassible waterways. The first part is wooded. The launch is muddy and always wet. Put in at the bridge off Beulah Road. The take out is a little better. It is at the next bridge on Hwy I. But again, IT IS ONLY A SPRING PADDLE.

    • Hey Laura,

      Thanks for chiming in! We definitely agree that the upper part of the Mukwonago is much better than this trip. In fact, that section is in Timothy’s “60 Miles” guidebook that just came out. We love the section from County Road LO to County Road I. Beulah Road bridge is a good halfway point (although the rapids are upstream of there). That some folks had to be rescued is not surprising, as the section between CR I and the Phantom lakes can be a real labyrinth. We agree that the upstream section is doable only in high water, whether that’s in spring after snowmelt or anytime after a hard rain. Thanks for sharing your two cents!


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

Say Hello or Contribute

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

Bark River

    Bark River III
    4.7.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Highway 83 to Delafield Road

    Bark River II
    4.15.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Merton to Highway 83

    Bark River I
    7.15.10 | ☆ ☆
    Burnt Village County Park to Fort Atkinson

Beaver Dam River

Big Bureau Creek (IL)

    Big Bureau Creek
    6.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Red Covered Bridge Park to County Road 1150

Big Rib River

    Big Rib River
    5.10.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Goodrich to County Road A

Billings Creek

    Billings Creek
    8.13.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road F to Landing 10

Black Earth Creek

Black River

Black River: East Fork

Bois Brule River

Boundary Waters (MN)

Cannon River (MN)

    Cannon River
    5.31.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Faribault to Dundas

Carroll Creek (IL)

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

    Carroll Creek I
    4.26.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

Catfish Creek (IA)

    Catfish Creek
    5.7.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    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

Dell Creek

    Dell Creek
    3.15.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    South Avenue to Dellwood

Door Creek

    Door Creek
    4.1.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Femrite Drive to Fish Camp County Park

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 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road O to Endeavor

    Fox River I
    5.14.14 | ☆ ☆
    Swan Lake to Portage Canal

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 III
    5.6.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing

    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

Lake Columbia

Lake Mendota

Lake Michigan

Lake Superior

Lake Waubesa

Lemonweir River

Little Platte River

Little Wolf River

Maunesha River

Mecan River

Mill Creek

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
Support the Cause
Timothy's guidebook is out! Order on

Support Miles Paddled and visit our Spreadshirt shop!