White River III (Walworth)
Sheridan Springs Road to Lyons
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
A delightful jaunt on a very pretty river with two distinct temperaments – placid and slow, frisky and fun – surrounded by a predominantly unspoiled landscape. The only deterrents are this trip often is too shallow to paddle (at least the rapids section) and the drive seems to take forever (unless you’re already in the area). But this stretch of the White is definitely worth the while!
March 12, 2016
≈ 2′ per mile (10′ per mile in the first 1.5 miles downstream of the second Sheridan Springs Road bridge).
Lake Geneva: ht/ft: 8.5 | cfs: 35
Spring Grove: ht/ft: 4.8 | cfs: 220
Gauge note: We’re not entirely certain about the accuracy or correlative relevance of the Lake Geneva gauge. You may want to reference the gauge for Nippersink Creek, which is a similar stream located just over the border.
This is the recommended minimum level. You could run this slightly lower but you’ll definitely scrape a lot.
Sheridan Springs Road (the one further south, closer to Lake Geneva, next to the golf course), Walworth County, Lyons, Wisconsin
Riverside Park, Lyons, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 2:35p. Out at 4:15p.
Total Time: 1h 40m
Miles Paddled: 6.5
Wildlife: Sandhill cranes, mink, great blue heron and beaver.
Ever since paddling the White a couple years ago I’ve wanted to return to run it below flood level when it isn’t so dangerous. But I’ve also been curious about the section of the river upstream from where we’ve started in the past, the “other” Sheridan Springs Road. That’s how this trip came about.
I hadn’t really considered beginning further upstream, in the actual town of Lake Geneva, because I didn’t think it was even doable (too narrow and shallow), much less desirable (it goes through at least one golf course). But I came across two separate groups of paddlers while on the water, and both answered that they’d started in Lake Geneva when I asked where they’d put in. Not a park or bridge or road, just “Lake Geneva.” Oh well. Maybe that will be a future trip, as the satellite map looks like it could be paddled.
I had started late in the day and really had no desire to go into the gaudy “escape to Wisconsin” trap for Illinois tourists that is Lake Geneva. Besides, the drive (from Madison) is long and boring enough without adding to my time to get back home. That’s why I didn’t scout the options from the lake itself to this trip’s put-in. But if anyone out there has light to shine on this section, we’d love to hear about it!
What we liked:
The access at the put-in is fantastic. There’s ample room for shoulder parking and there’s an obvious path leading to the water on the downstream side of the bridge on river-left. Launching a boat from here is flat and mud-free, easy as cake. It’s wonderful. The other nice benefit to beginning here is the golf course is on the other side of the road (in other words, just upstream), making this bridge the point closest to accessing the White River without having to “play through” the links. Incidentally, if you’re looking for free golf balls, you’ll totally score, as they’re dotted haphazardly (emphasis on the hazard) in the first mile. It must be the current, gentle as it is, that has moved these balls from upstream – unless some amateur golfer has a really bad hook – in which case duck if you hear “Four!”
The first 2.5 miles are quite pretty and pacific, as the river (re: creek) meanders back and forth around a savanna and marsh. A gentle ridge and hill here and there add to what might otherwise feel monotonous after awhile. This stretch is perfect for beginners. The current is slack (except for one little half-foot ledge) and the water is clear. The river is narrow here, about 25’ wide. There are few trees in this section too, meaning fewer downed trees to have to negotiate. Now and again you’ll see large houses off to the right but they don’t really detract. More houses will appear as you approach “town” and the other Sheridan Springs Road bridge, but all of this passes in a handful of minutes, after which you won’t see any houses for another 2.5 miles.
Everything changes quick as a finger snap in the next section. The gradient drops and the current picks up. Fast. To be fair, we’re talking only riffles and Class I rapids but the feeling is distinctly different from the previous section. And it’s super-fun. The former sand/gravel bottom of the stream has now been superseded by rocks and small boulders (I saw at least two barely submerged rocks with fresh tell-tale scrapes of aluminum at their tops, presumably from a canoe).
Not surprisingly, the landscape here changes too. The banks rise and the river runs through steep hillsides. Most of this fun stretch also lies along public land, so there’s really no development. The setting has a wild feel to it. However, you’ll be paying attention more to the water itself, as the pace is brisk, there are obstacles to dodge and there are few places to slow down and stop. You’ll pass under two attractive pedestrian bridges as part of a new Walworth County park, the aptly (if not imaginatively) named White River Park. In this brief 1.5-mile segment the river drops some ten feet but this too shall come to pass. And even when the current slows down, the landscape remains pretty, even hilly in parts.
Eventually you’ll enter a flat marsh area that leads up to the adrenaline-driven Class I-II drop at the Spring Valley Road bridge. It’s wise to scout this beforehand, as it comprises two drops. It’s not technically difficult, but you should portage around this if you don’t really know what you’re doing or have solid boat control in powerful current. This is generally run center-left, and it’s intuitive where to turn and pivot after the first drop. But still, scout before you run. The water was much lower than when I did this a couple years ago, making this fun drop much easier and less intimidating.
Below the drop, riffles will whisk you along for another half-mile as you enter the hamlet of Lyons. There’s not a whole lot to take in here, as the section is mostly residential. I’m happy to report that the occasional deadfall and strainers of years past have been cleaned up and cleared out. So enjoy the riffles together with the occasional sandy banks and pine trees. As you see the next bridge come into view, Riverside Park will be on your right. There’s no designated launch, dock, or pier, but there’s a convenient and tidy cleft in the right bank about 10’ upstream of the bridge itself. It’s easy to wedge your bow into this and then get out onto the grass (and avoid getting slicked up in mud). There are facilities in the park, about 100 yards away from the parking area.
What we didn’t like:
At the time of this writing there were two obstacles, both totally negotiable. The first is between the two Sheridan Springs bridges. There’s a tree down in the stream but it’s easy (even at this water level) to ride over it, and the current is calm. The second one is a little trickier and requires caution. It’s a low-hanging tree with strainer branches dipping into the water but here the current is frisky brisk. The only thing to do is approach it carefully and plod through it. Again, it isn’t dangerous but you do need to be cautious.
The only matter I found objectionable was the surprising amount of garbage on the water or snagged on the banks – plastic bottles and beer cans mostly. The White is a short river, and this section itself is notably upstream, so I don’t know where all this trash is coming from. Lake Geneva itself, I guess. The golf course? I don’t want to blow this out of proportion. (Please, I’m from New Jersey; if anyone knows trash, it’s me!) The stream and the surrounding landscape are still very pretty. I was just surprised to happen upon what I did.
If we did this trip again:
I’d definitely do this again, ideally at a little higher water. This is a great trip all around. Actually, it’s just about perfect in that the length is great for most folks, the scenery is pretty, the rapids are a lot of fun, the accesses are excellent and the shuttle is short. There are only a couple obstructions (as of this writing; we did just have 50-mph winds only a few days after this trip) and none of them dangerous; just enough to keep you engaged.
Next time I’ll probably tack on extra miles next time and explore the Lake Geneva stretch. Unfortunately, the next access downstream is not for many miles, closer to Burlington.
White River I (Walworth): Sheridan Springs Road to Riverside Park
White River II (Walworth): Sheridan Springs Road to Wagner Park
General: American Whitewater
Video: Tom Lindblade