Mecan River Paddle Guide
Paddle Guide

Mecan River Paddle Guide

By on August 1, 2016

If there’s one stream in southern Wisconsin that is a paddler’s paradise, it’s the Mecan River. Starting at a pretty lake fed by natural springs, the river meanders for some 40 miles through a mixed landscape of hardwoods, oak savannas, boggy fen wetlands and oh so many glorious pines.

Oh, and did we mention that the water is crystal clear? And that almost all of the land surrounding the river is public? And that it’s loaded with riffles and light rapids, especially in its first 10 miles (it’s average gradient is roughly 3 feet per mile)? On top of all that, water levels are almost always adequate, since it’s a spring-fed stream (that said, after recent rains the river can be particularly pushy, the water clouded, and some of the low-clearance bridges will require portaging around). The icing on the cake is the plethora of put-in/take-out options at the many bridges, allowing paddlers to custom-tailor the length and variety of trip. A couple of local outfitters do a commendable job of clearing out obstructions while remaining good stewards of the landscape by leaving as light a footprint as possible. By and by, the Mecan has the look and feel of a northwoods river, but without the drive.

If this sounds too good to be true, let it come with a couple caveats. First, the Mecan River is not friendly to newbies. It meanders like crazy – think of it as the “Mecander” River. Together with that, there are lots of obstacles in the water to avoid – to paddle around, under, or ride over. And since the current is always reputable, particularly around obstacles and bends, solid boat control, confidence, and calm are required to prevent untoward capsizing or at least frustrating mishaps. But as long as you have basic skills and also allow for enough time to paddle your trip, you’ll fall in love with this gem.


Mecan River Springs State Natural Area to Highway 21

Miles: 5.25 | 2016 Trip Report

Beginning at the very beginning, this section starts at the headwaters of the Mecan River, where natural springs feed a pretty kettle lake left behind by the receding glaciers of yesteryear. Surrounded by steep hills and almost no development, the setting is here is quite picturesque. The river proper is found at the southeastern outlet of the lake, below the County Road GG bridge. There is no dam here or any barrier whatsoever. In other words, on one side of the bridge is a lake, while on the other is a creek-like river. Very cool.

Below the bridge the river is all riffles and steep banks, with an occasional hill or two. The river is narrow and shallow, and maneuvering will be required at all times to avoid obstructions and also find the deepest channel of water. Expect a downed tree or two, not to mention two barbed wire fences, but you may not need to portage until after the 9th Avenue bridge. Unfortunately, from 9th Avenue to Highway 21 there are many portages. In addition, because this far upstream stretch is so narrow and shallow, catching it with enough water to avoid scraping or outright walking will be tricky. The surrounding landscape is exquisite, so putting up with the obstructions can be justified. A segment of the Ice Age Trail will parallel the river on the west bank (river-right) in the final mile to Highway 21. There’s no official launch to put in or take out at Highway 21, but there is a designated parking area right at the stream.

Mecan River Paddle Guide

Highway 21 to 11th Road
Miles: 5.5 | 2016 Trip Report

The best thing one could say about this segment is that it’s really fun and possibly the prettiest – definitely the riffliest – stretch anywhere on the Mecan. The caveat, however, is all the nasty obstructions in between County Road B and Cumberland Road. As in the previous segment upstream, whether putting up with these impediments is worth it to take in the solitude, riffles, and beautiful environs is up to you. This stretch is for the adventuresome paddler, not the casual kind. After Cumberland Road the obstructions will become much easier, thanks to volunteers (including our own sweat equity). You can put in at Cumberland, but the access is difficult due to steep, slippery banks. There is a small parking area immediately east of the bridge. This section is quintessential Mecan River: a narrow, meandering stream with swift crystal-clear water underlined by a rocky/sandy bottom, surrounded by public land. Throw in some steep banks and a mix of boulders, spongy bogs, and glorious pine trees. It’s utterly diverse and captivating. The riffles peter out a mile downstream from Cumberland. What handful of houses you’ll see are literally few and far between, all of them attractive and unobtrusive.

Mecan River Paddle Guide

11th Avenue to County Road JJ
Miles: 4

Very pretty and only slightly more developed than the preceding segment (here too the few houses there are tend to be nice cabins – or modern day homes masquerading as cabins, what I like to “rustic chic”). There’s a fun little ledge on the upstream side of the left culvert at the 11th Avenue bridge. Accesses here are excellent, and both 11th and JJ have designated parking areas by the bridges. The river here is slower than upstream, but still the current is reputable. And since it meanders and has an obstruction or two, paddlers will need to be able to maneuver with fluidity and spontaneity. It’s worth the “work”: this segment of the Mecan is awfully aesthetic – in autumn especially; the crisp colors of yellow and red in foliage will knock your socks off. Along this segment, too, you’ll find hints of the marshland found further downstream; but here it’s pleasantly mixed with conifers and oaks, steep banks and gravelly bottoms. There’s a fun light rapid through and leading out of the culvert at the JJ bridge.

(Nota bene: The official Mecan River trip in Timothy’s book, Canoeing & Kayaking South Central Wisconsin, begins at 11th Avenue and ends at Dixie Avenue.)

County Road JJ to Highway 22

Miles: 9.75 | 2013 Trip Report

Many paddlers will be familiar with this segment, as it’s the first of the two Mecan River trips written about (and thus popularized) by Mike Svob in his vaunted guidebook, Paddling Southern Wisconsin. On a summertime weekend you should expect to encounter others paddlers on the water. Understandably, as this segment is a great daytrip. Several road bridges along the way allow for alternate accesses to shorten this trip: 14th Avenue, Dixie Avenue, Dover Avenue and County Road E. The landscape remains mostly undeveloped, the streambed is lush and sandy, the banks pine-lined and 10’ tall. The hints of marsh grass, in conjunction with the width of the river, become more pronounced as well (below Dover Avenue everything flattens out and gets less engaging). There’s a riffle here or there, and the meandering is as incessant as ever. But the obstructions will be mostly cleaned up, as local outfitters do a commendable job clearing these out. The natural ones, that is. There are half a dozen low-clearance bridges to be mindful of and watch out for. If the river is high, some of these will require portaging around.

Highway 22 to County Road N

Miles: 6 | 2016 Trip Report

In our humble opinion, this is the most boring segment of the Mecan River. It’s flat, slow, and feels monotonous. It’s scrubby and open. And then there’s Germania Marsh itself. Only inches deep, it’s a fake lake created by a dam downtown. Before you even enter the marsh you’ll have to portage around an electric fence fish barrier. It’s easy and well-marked but it’s a little muddy and uninspired. Germania is neither prettier nor uglier than any other garden-variety dam-created marsh. Is it worth paddling? Probably not, unless you’re into that. Maybe in spring or autumn during the bird migrations. A second portage is required around the dam. Less than half a mile downstream from the dam is the single-best rapid on the Mecan River at the County Road N (aka Eagle Road) bridge. A classic inverted-v slot of water precedes a ridiculously fun Class I-II rapid with two drops. It‘s a simple, safe splash of whitewater, but expect to get wet!

Mecan River Paddle Guide

County Road N to Fox River Confluence
Miles: 14.25 | 2015 Trip Report

This is a long segment and not recommended unless you intend on being on the river for the whole day. One can begin by running the fun rapid under the bridge at County Road N or by putting in on the downstream side of the bridge. From this County Road N bridge to the next County Road N bridge lies 4.75 miles. It has its pretty moments, but it’s pretty monotonous too. It’s scarcely developed, however, which is always nice. The steep banks and gentle hills are a thing of the past, but here and there are landscape flashes that will continue to capture your attention: undercut sandbanks, quaint footbridges, islands braiding the main stream into separate channels, a tunnel-like canopy of trees. A rarity anywhere on the Mecan is found in this segment too: a straightaway. Only approaching the second County Road N bridge will you see a house.

It’s 3.75 miles from the second County Road N bridge to Highway 23 (where between there is yet one more County Road N bridge). The surroundings begin to feel a bit wilder here as the landscape morphs from the oaks, pines, and shrubs to a floodplain hardwood forest. Obstacles in the river are more numerous here, and since the river is back to its meandering tricks, you’ll need to have solid boat control to avoid running into a tree stump here or log cluster there. This section is cool in its own regard, but it can be tiring if by now you’ve been on the water for a few hours; it’s better to tackle this segment on its own and take-out at County Road C.

Downstream of Highway 23 the river widens and opens up more, making for less of a workout. Exposed sandbanks reappear as well. From here to the next bridge at County Road C – which also is the last bridge on the Mecan before its mouth at the Fox River – are 2.5 miles. On the river right, aka west of the river, the landscape is flat and marshy, while on the left a line of trees continues. The feeling here is of blissful isolation, as there’s really no development anywhere. The Mecan will become slow and wide since you’re close to the confluence. It’s less than a mile from the County Road C bridge to the Fox River. If you don’t take out here, you will have to continue onto the Fox, where the next take-out option is 3 miles downstream. Here, the Fox is relatively huge – a good five times wider than the Mecan. In its original state, this portion of the Fox was rather pretty; a small hill on the right and tall sandbanks on the left are its prominent features. Today, alas, there are houses on the right for the entire stretch, and Highway 23 runs parallel to the left bank. There’s a boat launch making for easy take-out access at the lock and dam on river-left, off Lock Road, where there’s a small park as well.

Mecan River Paddle Guide


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

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
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