Lake Waubesa Wetlands
★ ★ ★

Lake Waubesa Wetlands

By on June 11, 2016

Touring the Lake Waubesa Wetlands in Dane County
☆ ☆ ☆

A pretty network of backwater sloughs and spring-fed streams to explore, the Lake Waubesa Wetlands are an interesting local diversion, conveniently located just fifteen minutes from downtown Madison.

May 13, 2016

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater + Lake Paddling



Recommended Levels:
Being a lake with spring-fed streams, water levels should be always reliable.

Put-In + Take-Out:
Goodland County Park off Waubesa Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin

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

Wildlife: Turtles, ducks, geese, owl, green and blue herons, muskrat and two deer.
Time worth driving to: 30 minutes.

I’ve known of and been curious about these wetlands for awhile now. In fact, I half-remember tooling around back here once many years ago, before I really knew anything about paddling. On a rainy Friday the 13th, paddling a spooky wetlands seemed like a cool idea, particularly as it meant a 10-minute drive and no bike shuttle.

The wetlands complex comprises three area features of interest: Swan Creek, Deep Spring and Murphy Creek. Paddling southwest from the put-in at Goodland County Park lines you up with these, respectively. Of the three, Murphy Creek is the prominent, allowing one to paddle up it farther than the other two. The navigable section of Swan Creek is mostly straight and very narrow. Deadfall and silty shallow water will prevent any significant exploration of it but poking around takes only a few minutes. Deep Spring is definitely worth the minimal time and negligible effort of paddling up and exploring. One slough after another lie back here in a setting that feels very far away from settlement or civilization, considering how close you are both to Madison itself and McFarland. Murphy Creek feels more like a tributary stream. The current is slight, so paddling upstream it is easy and rewards you with good wildlife opportunities and more quaint cranny-nooks.

What we liked:
Lake Waubesa is a rather pretty body of water. It’s kind of like the George Harrison of Madison’s four lakes in that it’s the unassuming, self-effacing lake that receives the least attention, after the hugeness of Lake Mendota (John), the cuteness of Lake Monona (Paul) and the exception-to-the-rule Lake Wingra (Ringo). (I realize this analogy could rival Talmudic scholars in its interpretation. Shouldn’t George be Wingra and Ringo Monona? Or John be Waubesa and Paul Mendota? Maybe. Whatever. Let’s move on.)

Compared to Mendota and Monona, Lake Waubesa has very little shoreline development. Indeed, its northwestern and southwestern corners are all public land. So even though we’re little enthused about most lake paddling prospects, Waubesa has a lot to like, the designated wetlands in particular (so does Wingra, by the way, as it’s almost all enveloped within the UW-Arboretum, but that’s another story). The water is very clear, even on an overcast, rainy day, and on shore there’s an attractive mix of cattails, shrub-carr, and fens. There’s even a gentle knoll here and there to stand out from the otherwise flat horizon of a lake environment.

Most sensible people probably don’t think of paddling when it’s already drizzling outside, but I’ve seldom considered myself to be most or sensible. Indeed, with the right clothing and attitude, there’s a real novelty to it, in a quiet backwater wetlands in particular. Everything already is saturated and literally bogged down – when in Rome… I would even go so far as to recommend paddling an easy there-and-back trip like this (a wetlands, a swamp, a floodplains, etc) specifically on a rainy day. For one, you’ll have the whole place to yourself. Secondly, fog, drizzle and spongy seeps all kind of go hand in hand. If atmospherics matter to your paddling druthers, then a wetlands on a rainy day is a great outing.

I liked Deep Spring and Murphy Creek the best. Deep Spring has a series of seemingly endless sloughs and back channels. Most don’t lead or connect anywhere, but they’re still cool back alleys into the natural environment; who knows what secrets lurk there until you happen upon them?! And Murphy Creek itself is a fun sidetrack in that it allows you to escape the lake proper for a spell and feel like you’re creek paddling.

What we didn’t like:
To be brutally honest, I wasn’t expecting much of this trip. Saying nothing of the cool, rainy weather, this last-minute trip was all about just being on the water and making the most of it, as it was my only time to paddle that weekend. It ended up being much more pleasant than I had expected. The only disappointment was not finding any bubbling springs in the Deep Spring section. This could have been due to a couple things – the gray skies causing the water to look darker than it would in sunlight; the fact that it was drizzling for half of this trip; and that I have no real idea if there are actual springs one could visibly see (and if so, where they’re located specifically).

It would have been nice to paddle upstream further on either Swan or Murphy Creeks, but deadfall precludes that option (incidentally, neither of the creeks can be accessed at the nearest road bridge west of the lake. Both are more like bubbling brooks that far upstream).

Fee or free? Then there’s the ambiguity of whether paddlers have to pay to use the boat launch at Goodland County Park. If you’re operating a boat, then yes. But if you’re paddling? I don’t know. Or perhaps it’s to park a vehicle in the lot (more on this here). I’m a better-to-ask-forgiveness-than-permission kind of guy and there’s something inherently flawed in my own worldview about paying money to paddle a lake unless we’re talking Great Lakes or really good ones like the Boundary Waters or Sylvania. But it would be a real bummer to come back to your vehicle with a ticket on the windshield, so it’s best to resolve this ahead of time.

If we did this trip again:
Sure, I’d revisit this trip another time, although maybe not if I’m actually required to pay money to do so.

Related Information:
General: Wisconsin DNR
General: Wisconsin State Natural Areas
Guide: Waubesa Wetlands in Scientific Context
Overview: Wisconsin Wetlands Association


Shuttle Information:


Photo Gallery:


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 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!