Little Platte River III
Crosscut Road to Quarry Road
Only if you’re a local with time on your hands, intermediate paddle skills, and are just curious enough about what’s north of Quarry Road should you paddle this section. With two-thirds of the paddle in cow pasture or cornfields, the trip offers a lot of meandering and downed trees, with only a few short rock ledges or other excitement. For an experienced paddler, it’s not bad, it’s just not all that good.
July 5, 2020
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class I
≈2 feet per mile
Rockville: ht/ft: 4.3 | cfs: 163
Gauge note: The Platte River is a correlational gauge.
We recommend this level. This section has a tremendous number of twists, turns and downed trees. At higher levels, boat control would be extremely challenging and the deadfall would become increasingly dangerous. Surprisingly, we feel that it could be run at lower levels; maybe above 3.75′.
Crosscut Road, Lima, Wisconsin
Quarry Road, Platteville, Wisconsin (behind McFall Motors off Highway 81)
Time: Put in at 11:30a. Out at 2:15p.
Total Time: 2h 45m
Miles Paddled: 6.25
Three leaping beavers, two snapping turtles, one blue heron, a hawk, songbirds, a lot of signs of additional muskrat or beaver and a whole lot of cows.
Have you ever intentionally watched one movie in a series knowing that the previews were unimpressive? As a diehard Blues Brothers fan, I feel that way about Blues Brothers 2000. Yeah, it’s terrible, but as a fan you have to watch it. Going into this section of the Little Platte, a bad river review was clearly the expectation. I figured this would be a 1- maybe 2-star paddle at best. Fortunately for me, my friend and neighbor Kory was up for the challenge to scratch that same curiosity itch – what is north of Quarry Road?
Here were the pre-paddle facts:
- The put-in at Crosscut Road was lined on all four corners with four strands of barb wire fencing and high bridge sides. Assessment: doable but challenging.
- Looking downstream from Crosscut Road was nothing but a zig zag of meandering river through a large cow pasture. Assessment: likely boring.
- The volume and flow rate at Crosscut Road seemed reasonable and the volume of water at the Highway 81 riffle set immediately after the bridge indicated a ‘higher than normal’ water level. Assessment: this is doable.
- Looking upstream from the Highway 81 bridge showed a long stretch of flatwater in another cow pasture. Assessment: unknown. Curious if it was all this way.
- Google Maps definitely showed the landscape to be one-third cow pasture, one-third cornfield and one-third tree-lined. The elevation map also showed that there would be very little rock formations since the river infrequently bumped up against a hillside. Assessment: set expectations low.
- Lastly, ol’ Google Maps showed high potential for downed trees and portages. Assessment: be ready to portage and bring battery Sawzall and loppers.
So, why would anyone in their right mind paddle such a stretch? First, we have no documentation that anyone has ever paddled this stretch before. Second, what else would two neighbors do on a 90 degree day in direct sunlight during a long 4th of July weekend? Third, sometimes you just feel obligated to take one for the team (aka paddling community) and satisfy your own curiosity at the same time. Lastly, we are Platteville locals, so we weren’t throwing away a long vehicle ride or shuttle for a poor experience.
Upon review of the pre-paddle analysis, we were spot on with our assessment. There weren’t any surprises other than three beavers that jumped in the river within feet of my kayak and scared the crap out of me. To get technical, I believe it was mama and two little ones that did the beaver belly flop out of the corner of my eye. Unfortunately, I was about five seconds late turning on the GoPro though I’m sure it would’ve made for a great video. Maybe next time.
The put-in leaves much to be desired but it’s manageable. We ended up sliding our kayaks under the bottom strand of barb wire, maybe twenty yards from the bridge. With the boats now in the pasture, we walked down the concrete bridge embankments. From there, we literally found a carved cowpath to the river.
The first half-mile of this trip is nothing but meandering through cow pasture. Most of the time the banks are 6’ high and lined with rock on the outer bend. It was in this section that we had our first and only true portage. Since the portage gods were looking down on us and provided an easy out/easy in, we opted to portage instead of hop over the trees. Within the next half-mile along a tree line on the left, you’ll see the first of the three or four rock formations on this section. This rock wall is the most modest of the three and was masked by the summer’s overgrown vegetation and hidden in the shadows.
The next section is more pasture on river-right and corn on the left. For the farmers along this trip, your corn is definitely over knee high by the 4th of July. As you exit this section and bump up along the next short wooded section came a little surprise Class I rapid. Is it truly Class I? I don’t know…. but it’s more like a fun and short game of kayak pinball or pong.
After playing pinball wizard with your boat, you’ll be in the ‘corn’ocopia of more meandering. The current is still quite active and there are occasional light riffles or speedy water at the bends. We were amazed at how deep many of the pools were considering how far upstream we were.
Around the halfway (3 mile) mark, you’ll enter another sizable cow pasture. A few times, we had to wait for our four-legged bovine brethren to stop their river wading. On a sun-soaked 90-degree day, we felt it was ‘udderly’ ridiculous that they could ‘milk’ their day away soaking in the river, holding up boat traffic.
After the farmstead on Splinter Lane, we were finally greeted by some shade and a wade. By wade, I mean that I jumped in the river to help guide our kayaks under a downed tree. The tree could have been portaged to the left, but the water was only waist to chest deep, so I opted to cool off. After entering the wooded section, the river turns 90 degrees to the south where you are welcomed by the longest and highest rock wall of the trip. A rock wall like this would be the norm on the lower sections of the Little Platte but is the exception on this upper section. Just upstream of the Mounds Branch, or around the 4 mile mark, you’ll encounter the third rock wall. It’s a nice reminder of why you are exploring this stretch. Through the wooded section above and below Mounds Branch there are many downed trees, but we were able to either A) sneak by them, B) cut through them with a loppers, and C) plow through them while riding the current. Staying on the topic of the Mounds Branch, my assessment is that it is not likely paddlable. The volume of water is comparable to the Rountree Branch, which runs through Platteville and dumps into the Little Platte further downstream; regardless, we appreciated the extra water from the branch.
About a mile from the take-out, you’ll enter the world of pasture land with a sprinkling of corn. It’s in this last section that we encounter electrical wires that require both caution and a Y-er. One of the wires was truly unique and medieval looking. It has a very high horizontal wire with electric wire tentacles. Fortunately, there were a few gaps between the vertical tentacles to slide between without issue. However, I did tuck my paddle tight to me and narrowed up as much as I could. I took a pretty good shock on the big Platte a few weeks back and don’t want to officially earn the nickname ‘Sparky’. It’s also in this last section that we encountered the only low electric wire that needed to be lifted with the Y-er again to gain clearance.
The last half-mile of the trip is all deep flatwater and very straight. I don’t know if this section has been channelized in the past to align with the Highway 80 bridge, but the straightness gave off that vibe. The stretch is sort of like rounding the corner to your house and seeing your driveway at a distance.
The take-out at Quarry Road is good (3 out of 5 stars), with a nice grassy bank near the bridge and up a little ditch/stream that’s convenient. It’s not perfect but it’s not mud, so we’ll take it.
What we liked:
Since our expectations of this trip were remarkably low, we liked that we only had one portage (and an easy one at that). Surprisingly, there was plenty of water, and there wasn’t much scraping. The next two sections below Highway 80 have much more scraping and hang-ups, even at this water level. Also, the three or four peaks of rock ledges were also appreciated since the topography in this section didn’t indicate that we’d see much of anything. Lastly, the fun little Class I bumpy drop was fun and unexpected. Overall, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be.
What we didn’t like:
The bottom line is that two-thirds of this trip is either along cow pasture or corn fields. The meandering is fun, but the banks being tall (6′ in parts) really impedes the view of the valleys and driftless scenery. Of course, cows and fences, too. We didn’t mind the cows, but we did have to be patient for them to get out of the river for us to proceed. You are on their schedule. The banks are high and the river is narrow, so your only option is to wait in traffic.
If we did this trip again:
If I did this trip again, I would wish that I would have cut some more branches out to clear some paths. The video shows that my GoPro took a few good smacks. Because we had/have no intentions on doing this trip again and feel that maybe no one ever will, we only cleared out what was needed for us to get through.
Now, would we do this trip again? I would only do this trip again if someone had it on their bucket list and they wanted a companion. It wasn’t a terrible paddle, but if I had two or three hours to spare, I’d do the next section of the Little Platte instead.
One trip that might be on my future agenda is the next stretch upstream. The put-in would be at Highway 80 in Arthur, Wisconsin, and the take-out at Crosscut Road. This trip is on the bucket list because the topography looks better.Tthere should be or could be enough water so my curiosity has been sparked, and it’s only 5.5 miles so the misery may be limited.
Little Platte River I: Old Lancaster Road to County Road O
Little Platte River II: County Road O to Banfield Bridge Recreation Area
Camp: Blackhawk Lake Recreation Area
Camp: Governor Dodge State Park
Miles Paddled/Driftless Kayaker Video: