Ashippun River
★ ★ ★

Ashippun River

By on November 12, 2016

Ashippun Lake to Ski Slide Road
☆ ☆ ☆

An impromptu trip done on a lark with no prior mapping or intel that ended up being one-third fun, one-third frustrating and one-third disappointing. There were no riffles or rapids to speak of but the wildlife was great as was the clarity of the river itself. Throw in an anonymous “liaison stream” through a labyrinth of cattails and marsh grasses plus the funkiest dam we’ve ever seen for good measure. Countervail those attributes with a lot of strainers and portage-necessary down trees and there you have the Ashippun River.

September 27, 2016

Class Difficulty:

2′ per mile


Recommended Levels:
Not applicable since we can’t really recommend this trip in good conscience.

Ashippun Lake public boat launch, East of Monterey, Wisconsin
Ski Slide Road

Time: Put in at 3:00p. Out at 6:30p.
Total Time: 3h 30m
Miles Paddled: 7.5

Wildlife: Wood ducks, one owl, several great blue herons, deer, unidentified fish and sandhill cranes.
Time worth driving to: 30 minutes.

A friend of ours, aka “the Kayak Guru,” suggested this trip (well, more or less – we’ll get to that momentarily) after driving over several area bridges spanning the Ashippun River the last few months. Timothy happened to be in the area on this particular day and lord knows he’s a romantic sucker to explore the obscure… even if there are not enough daylight hours to do so… even if the forecast is windy and calls for imminent rain. Or, well, forget the forecast, even if it already is windy and raining.

For those who are curious, the Ashippun is a tributary of the Rock River that originates south of Hartford, in Washington County, at the evocatively named Druid Lake. This trip spans only the last few miles of the Ashippun and in no way reflects the character or potential paddling of any upstream segments. We intended on paddling into the confluence at the Rock River and then down to Kanow Park. But given the late start, the bad weather and the total crapshoot of what we’d encounter on the river, we hedged our bet in the end and left a car at Ski Slide Road, about half a mile from the Rock River (but then it still would have been 2-3 additional miles down the Rock to Kanow).

In retrospect, it was a good call to have “emergency exited” at Ski Slide Road, as it would have taken us another 45-60 mins to paddle down to Kanow; and as it was, it was dusk already by the time we very gratefully arrived at Ski Slide Road.

Also, one quick point of reference, since this trip is a bit ambiguous. One, this trip does begin on a body of water named “Ashippun Lake,” yet the Ashippun River does not flow into or out of it. Two, the trickle-stream of water that does drain the lake and eventually flow into the Ashippun River has no name. Yet it is on said anonymous stream where this trip essentially begins for the first mile or so. True, we did put-in on so-called Ashippun Lake but the anonymous stream outlet is only 50 yards away from the public boat launch on the lake.

OK, now that’s all out of the way, let’s begin with the trip itself.

What we liked:
We always like connecting to or fro one body of water to another. When a lake itself is involved, the feeling is even more prominent (let’s face it: more often than not, when it comes to river confluences, the effect is pretty subdued and is hardly discernible from an island splitting the main channel of a single river to one river entering another). What made the very beginning of this trip especially venturesome and fun was following the outlet from Ashippun Lake to… somewhere – somewhere, it was to be hoped, that would eventually connect to the Ashippun River itself.

Did we consult or confirm this on a satellite map first? No! Where’s the adventure in that? But one can see an outlet from the atlas/gazetteer map leading from the lake to the main river itself, which is where we took our lead. Would it work out? Would it be open? It did and it was. It was very narrow and shallow and one has to maneuver around trees but it was totally doable. Not only doable; it was fun! It was fun going on a mini-adventure, fun trying to find something that may or may not have worked out, fun finding that it actually worked out in the end.

There is a need to portage around a private road bridge/culvert while still on the outlet stream before the Ashippun River confluence but it wasn’t difficult.

Once we were on the actual Ashippun River we relaxed. The landscape there is pretty, a mix of marsh and gentle hills. We were greeted by deer, a swooping owl and of course great blue herons. The current will slacken quickly, however, as the effects of the dam in Monterey are felt. And then development sets in as well. But all of this is short-lived. The portage around the dam is safe and easy, although re-entering was a bit less clear (but no big deal). The dam itself is just funky – in a good way! Instead of a straight line or an arc, as most dams have, the dam here is W-shaped. We’ve never seen anything like that before. To be sure, we don’t care much for dams in general; but this one is pretty trippy.

Below the dam lie a tumble of boulders and logs in an unrunnable rapid. After that, attractively clear water and sandy bottoms are the Ashippun’s features as the river meanders around woods and occasional pastures. By and by, the landscape is pretty and intimate and the paddling was fun (disclaimer: there are many obstructions, even though we cleared out a bunch of nasty spots). While there is a bridge at Ski Slide Road, we took out a hundred yards or so upstream of it. Why? Well because the road runs parallel to the river at this spot and there is presumably public grassy area along the banks that is low-lying and simply easier to access than at the bridge.

What we didn’t like:
Quite simply, the obstructions. There are just too many down trees and logjams and too many annoying strainers that need to be portaged to make this trip worthwhile. We paddled 7.5 miles and had to portage twice around human-made structures and at least four other times around natural obstructions. That’s a lot of baggage for little reward. Add to that the slow lake effect of the dam and this trip took on a grumpy tone shortly after its initial charm.

If we did this trip again:
This trip is pretty but not to the degree to A) go out of your way to paddle it or B) justify the nuisances. It would be worth clearing up, especially if one lived closer to it, but it just wasn’t worth it to us. All in all, it felt like the river and weather conspired to whip our Ashippun in shape, but it was a workout whose end did not justify its means. As such, we’re not likely to do this trip again.

Related Information:
Maps: Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use
Ashippun River


Shuttle Information:
5.3 surprisingly scenic and entertaining miles.

Photo Gallery:


November 11, 2016


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