Rock Creek
★ ★ ★

Rock Creek

By on April 10, 2016

Lake Mills to Millford
☆ ☆ ☆

An obscure little stream that you’ve probably passed countless times on I-94 without knowing it, this trip has a couple of genuinely redeeming features, (up to and including the strangest but most thrilling Class II rapids concrete ramp slide at a former dam) though its imperfect accesses, urban environment and strange hazards will disabuse most paddlers of exploring it.

Date:
March 26, 2016

Class Difficulty:
Class I

Gradient:
3′ per mile

Gauge:
n/a

Recommended Levels:
While there is no gauge, this little creek keeps its water surprisingly well, even in summer dry spells (perhaps coming out of Rock Lake).

Put-In:
Water Street (behind the police department), Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
County Road, Millford, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 3:05p. Out at 5:35p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 6.5

Wildlife: Wood ducks, woodchuck, cranes and geese.
Time worth driving to: 45 minutes

So, say you’re driving on I-94 eastbound and you just passed the exit for Lake Mills. Did you ever notice the little creek that you drive over, mainly the alluring rapids underneath the westbound bridge? Well, we certainly have – and have wondered about this creek for years (if you’re heading westbound you won’t see the rapids and even the creek itself is hard to discern due to the angle.)

Rock Creek originates south of Rock Lake, then drains into the lake in downtown Lake Mills in such a fashion as mysterious and shadowy as the putative pyramids said to lie at the bottom of the lakebed. From the dam itself to where I put-in, the creek is buried underground or at least a bunch of buildings for some 400’. (Now that would be an adrenaline ride, paddling rapids through a pitch-dark tunnel with no light on the other side until the very end!) It then snakes through meadows and steep plains before feeding the Crawfish River upstream of the tiny town of Millford.

While this trip is a skimpy 6.5 miles, it can be separated into three sections: town, rural and floodplain. The town section is the second longest clip, where the creek is little more than an artificially straightened canal quietly going through backyards and a light industrial corridor alike. You’ll pass through half a dozen culverts at least in the first 1.5 miles. The water clarity was delightfully clear, typically a sand-gravel bottom. And while it was shallow, there was just enough water to float a kayak without really scraping. One of these culverts is very low-clearance and would have to be portaged in higher water.

The landscape changes after the County Road V bridge (incidentally one block east of Tyranena Brewing Company), where it feels more rural. For the next mile and change the landscape is essentially undisturbed (minus the whole superhighway thing). The creek begins to meander the way it wants to and there’s a brief woodsy section with a gentle hill on the right. The twin interstate bridges come next. It’s a little surreal to be between the two, because on the one hand you feel totally exposed and vulnerable. On the other hand, you’re hidden in plain sight since everything whizzes past you at 70+ mph (and chances are they’re not bothering to look out on a blink-and-it’s-gone creek). So you feel like you can kind of do anything right there in this veritable no man’s land between the two bridges. Anyway, finally you’re at that rapid below the westbound bridge that first tipped you off about this obscure creek in the first place. It’s actually two little drops, both super fun, even livelier than I thought they’d be.

The creek slowly meanders around a meadow that is still recovering from having been underwater where downstream there used to be a dam at a mill (the backwater pond still shows up on Google maps and is even mentioned on the DNR’s website. I believe the dam was removed sometime between 2013-14). The mill is there still, an attractive tall building that comes out of nowhere. When you see it, be aware that some very active water lies ahead. Take-out on the left bank where it’s easy to get out. The current becomes brisk here as it begins to drop beneath the Hoopers Mill Lane bridge, so be careful. Beneath the small bridge lies a solid Class I drop that leads to a concrete spillway of maybe 10’ wide with an intense Class II rapid/backroller at its base. Also interesting, the spillway is composed of an angled slope, a 45-degree 18” ledge and then another slope leading to the splashy finish at the base.

It’s runnable as long as there’s enough water so you don’t get stuck or scrape so badly that it slows you down to the point of not having enough forward momentum to shoot past the backroller at the bottom. It’s probably not the safest thing to do – especially alone. But holy cow is it uniquely cool.

At the bottom of the spillway is a deep wide pool (a popular fishing spot for locals) where the banks surround you like a kind of earthen amphitheater. You’ll see a strewn pile of huge concrete blocks on one side, presumably remnants of the dam. Light rapids continue just below this interesting spot, petering off to riffles through the next culvert bridge at County Road A. This is the last culvert you’ll go through, so claustrophobes rejoice!

The creek passes through an attractive woodsy area for another mile or so. Soak it up, because this will give way to an open marsh/agricultural area, where good lord, the creek meanders like it’s nobody’s business. The area is pretty in its own right and the meandering isn’t necessarily bad, but it does take its time and feels somewhat redundant after the 400th turn. The current will slow to a crawl as you approach the Crawfish River. The good news is this stretch of the Crawfish is attractive, with tall banks lined by pine and oak trees. After another mile or so of slow progress on the ginormously wide Crawfish, you’ll come upon County Road A, where you’ll want to take-out on the upstream side of the bridge on river-left.

Speaking of take-out, (or perhaps you’ll want to dine in) there’s a fabulous restaurant footsteps away from the bridge called Crawfish Junction. The secret about this place has been out for a while now, after it was voted Madison’s best fish fry. And they don’t always have Abita beer on tap like they used to. But the Cajun menu is still intact, with andouille sausage and gator. There’s almost always a packed house on weekends, but it’s worth the wait.

What we liked:
What I found most shocking is how few obstructions there were. Sure, you have to maneuver around some objects, ducking or riding over others, but throughout this entire trip, (which was a total shot-in-the-dark lark) I only had to portage once and that was only toward the end. I was expecting this to be potentially horrendous and it turned out to be anything but. The clarity of the water was outstanding and helped make the channelized canal/residential nature of the first couple miles feel more alluring than had it been murky muck (which would have caused me to wonder “why in the world am I wasting my time here?”). The many riffles and unexpected ledges added a lot of fun and also made the beginning of this trip more engaging than mere placid water.

The inspiration for this trip – the beguiling rapids at the interstate bridge – was more fun and complex than I had imagined, consisting of two drops spaced maybe 8’ apart for a total drop of maybe 2-3’. But this pales in comparison to the double-dog dare at Hoopers Mill. I had known about this unusual spot for a year or so, having scouted it on a whim. I returned there while doing the bike shuttle and ruled out running it. Why? It seemed unsafe. For one, I measured at best 5” of water coming down the spillway, which seemed like a very thin cushion for a 60-pound boat plus a 150-pound body (and let’s be real, it’s not like my broken and leaky boat needs more damage to its underbelly). But I was more concerned about the backroller at the bottom of the drop. What if you didn’t have enough speed to coast into and through it? You’d be stuck – and kind of screwed. Besides, I’d resigned to myself, if I were to run this, I should do so when someone else was there to A) take pictures and B) rescue my stupid ass in case I flipped.

But I decided to run it anyway. Probably a dumb idea, I get that. But here’s why I decided to do it in the end. First, I encountered no real problems up to this point (which really surprised me, as I’d anticipated tons of deadfall and annoying portages) and I had been expecting to be grumpy up to this point, with no interest in adding more drama to the day by running this crazy spillway. Second, it was an opportunity to face a fear and meet something that challenged my comfort level. This is quite possibly why I enjoy rapids so much. It’s not a brody-bro thing or trying to be all “dude man, that was killer sick”. To be sure, there’s an adrenaline rush to it, but I believe the bigger reward is challenging your comfort level. It’s more a mental thing than a physical one and it’s as personal a relationship with one’s own self as it gets. I’m really glad I did it for my own sake and it really doesn’t matter that there was no one there to see it.

That definitely is the highlight of the trip, even though there are pretty segments downstream, which I liked as well. There’s nothing spectacular per se but the landscape is pretty between County Road A and Manske Road.

What we didn’t like:
The section going through town is hardly exotic and I could have done without all the cobweb-filled (re: spider-strewn) culverts. But none of this was a big deal, plus it’s a pretty short section. The only thing I didn’t really like was the constant switchback meandering between County Road A and Manske Road. Again, not really a big deal, but something worth mentioning. And then of course there’s merging onto the Crawfish River. There are some lovely stretches of the Crawfish further upstream, but from Mud Lake and where the Beaver Dam River joins it, this river is just so damn boring. It’s big, wide, flat and slow. I considered taking out at Aztalan State Park, which actually would have made for a shorter bike shuttle, since the Crawfish flows south back to Lake Mills, but that would have added a few more miles on the “crawl fish.” No thanks!

If we did this trip again:
I wouldn’t do the whole thing again but I’d definitely run the Hoopers Mill spillway a second, third or fourth time.

***************
Related Information:
General: Jefferson County
Map: Jefferson County

Map:


Shuttle Information:

3.8 miles.

Photo Gallery:

TAGS
RELATED POSTS
  • Thanks. I live in Lake Mills and should try this out when the weather is warmer.

  • You should indeed. Just be mindful of the water levels, and be prepared either to portage here and there or get a little dirty. Other great getaways in your neck of the woods are the Maunesha River from Marshall to Waterloo; Koshkonong Creek from Cambridge to Rockdale; and the Crawfish River from CR I to CR G. You're pretty close to the beloved Bark River as well — Rome to Hebron is the best section. You're in a good spot in Lake Mills! Thanks for leaving us a note. We're glad you liked this post. Cheers!

MILES TO DATE:

2386.00
HELLO
Miles Paddled documents canoe and kayak trips on rivers and creeks throughout Wisconsin.

Say Hello or Contribute
PADDLE REPORTS

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 Amazon.com.



Support Miles Paddled and visit our Spreadshirt shop!