Castle Rock Creek
Date Paddled: April 1st, 2017
Put-in: Church Road
Take-out: Hwy Q (last bridge)
Distance: 3.1 miles
Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
Gradient: 21' per mile (that's fast!).
Water Level: Black Earth Creek @ Mazomanie 90 CFS or 2.5'
Located 10 miles south of Muscoda, Castle Rock Creek (aka Fennimore Fork) is a tributary of the Blue River. Rarely paddled for good reason, this creek usually doesn’t have enough depth to run. But not always… After a few days of rain, a rare window opened and I jumped at the opportunity.
I knew this would be a relatively short trip, so wanted to put in as far upstream as possible. I decided on Church Road where while the creek looked narrow, it did look navigable and is part of a public fishing easement. Castle Rock Creek is a popular trout stream, and chances are you’ll see trout fishermen walking along the nearby mowed paths.
The trip starts with a narrow, winding and surprisingly fast channel. The water is muddy (although it does clear in the summer) and atypically deep (usually 2′), while the flat grassy banks afford nice views of the surrounding driftless hills.
The first (and only) problem of the trip comes up almost immediately. The current picked up and was pushing me toward a makeshift I-beam bridge that I wasn’t getting under. I turned sharply, but because the channel was less than 10′ wide and my boat 10.5′, I got jackknifed and stuck between banks. The mild rapids were pinning my boat sideways, and had I not good boat control (and a ridiculously stable boat…Equinoxes are awesome), I would have taken on water. So after precariously climbing over my bow, I was able to make a pretty easy portage.
For rapids…that’s just the start. The entire trip is filled with them. Almost all Class 1, with a few strong ones that are almost Class 2. The creek is classic pool and riffle. You have deep pools and then somewhat shallow riffles, but at my depth the riffles were never really a problem. Soon into the trip, two tributaries dramatically swell the creek and kayak sandwiches are no longer a concern.
Maybe a mile into the trip, you’ll see a gorgeously clear spring creek enter the main branch from your left (I’ve marked this on the map). I do suggest hiking along the fishing path after your paddle to follow the springs to their source, where they come gushing out of a bank under Hwy Q. There actually is an underwater cave under the springs. If you’re not claustrophobic, check out this video of some divers swimming around in it.
About halfway into the trip, I came up on the first of three Hwy Q bridge crossings. This is a popular spot for trout fisherman and an option for putting in with a public parking lot and historical markers talking about Castle Rock (we’ll get to that later).
After a gorgeous oxbow, the river beelines for Cedar Cliff which is a steep hill on the south side of the Snow Bottom State Natural Area. This was my favorite part of the creek because of the multiple rapids, boulders in the water, and steep rocky hillside. It’s a neat scene that would probably be more striking in the summer when everything is lush, green and shady.
After Q bridge #2 (another public fishing and access option), the river widens out and loses some depth. On this last leg, you might bump over a few rapids, but it mostly wasn’t bad. One of the biggest and shallowest set of rapids you can scout downstream from the bridge which is tricky to get through. Ideally somebody in the future will move some of the rocks to form a navigable channel through here.
What is most striking about this last leg is the view of Castle Rock which towers over the creek and is the creek’s namesake. With little people sitting on the summit and pine trees growing from the crown, it has a very Devil’s Lake like feel to it. Soon the river picks up and you’ll paddle under Castle Rock, past some cool outcrops, over some Class 1 rapids, and then you’ll be at the take-out.
Castle Rock itself has an interesting history which you can read about below from the historical signs I photographed. Basically, the locals wanted to turn it into a state park which never did happen, but it did eventually get handed over to the DNR which made it available to the public. If you wish, you can actually climb up on top…which a LOT of people do. I think I counted at least 15 groups that parked by Hwy Q to take the small dirt path up to the summit. For being a surprisingly popular trail, it is actually kind of dangerous. What hikers do is scramble up the slope on the east side which is very steep and slippery, and actually requires a little bit of mountain climbing to get over a large boulder. If you reach the top, though there is a nice view of the river valley below.
Something else to check out after the trip is Snow Bottom State Natural Area, which is just north of Castle Rock. It’s kind of inaccessible but worth the effort. Basically it is a very secluded and scenic river valley. The creek creates an impressive oxbow and is flanked by steep hillsides, which could be a neat paddling trip. By foot you can access the SNA by parking on Cedar Rock Road and hiking down one of the ravines to reach the valley floor.
Decent bridge access off Church Road. Here (like much of the creek), there are public easements for fishing access and a nicely mowed path NW of the bridge leading to the water typically used by trout fishermen.
The last of the three Q bridges is a decent bridge take-out. You will have to drag your boat up a grass embankment to reach your car though. You’ll also compete for shoulder parking spots with the hoards that park here before hiking Castle Rock, but it shouldn’t be a problem.
I’m not aware of any local liveries. For bike shuttlers this is easy-peasy. Mostly flat with just a few minor hills and only 2.4 miles (23 minutes)
Hazards, Logjams and Current:
No logjams (current is too fast and rocky for them). I was worried there would be electric fences, but there were no fence issues anywhere.
Webmaster’s update…a reader has mentioned there are two new fences (likely not legal). Details in the comments below.
The current is very fast and this should be considered a light whitewater river. Most rapids are Class 1 with a few approaching or borderline Class 2. In several cases the pushy current can jackknife you horizontally against the rocks which can be an issue, but experienced paddlers in small boats should be fine.
River Depth and Navigability:
The depth I went at was great. Much of the upper section was 2-3′ deep on average and I was able to get over all but one set of rapids without getting stuck. The current was on the verge of being pushy, but was ok. Nevertheless I would recommend this trip only for experienced paddlers in smaller boats. There is no gauge on the creek, but you can use other clues. In my case it had rained in the area 0.4 inches 60 hours earlier. The Platte River gauge for the trip read 223 CFS (above normal but not exceedingly), the Fever River gauge was at 3.21 (above normal but not close to flooding), but I think the most representative gauge would be Black Earth Creek which was at 90 CFS.
A rough unscientific depth guide using the Black Earth gauge:
- 0-45 CFS: Probably way too shallow (I did scout this at 40 CFS).
- 46-75 CFS: The flat sections will be navigable but the rapids will be pretty bumpy.
- 76-105 CFS: Probably a good target (trip was done at 90 CFS)
- 106-130: Probably too strong for casual paddlers but a great depth for whitewater paddlers.
- 131+ CFS: Suspect the banks are spilled at this stage.
Four woodchucks (mind you in 4 completely separate locations and times) and some redtails soaring over Cedar Cliff. Also saw several trout fishermen and some fish.
Other Blue River Trips:
Note if you are a visual person you can use my Blue River Overview Map instead, which has the same information. Sections in red are probably unfeasible.
Castle Rock Creek (aka Blue River – Fennimore Branch):
– The creek by and upstream of Blue School Road is probably too small to run.
Hwy Q1st: Didn’t scout this but it should be ok access.
– 0.5 miles. Very small. A simple cow pasture paddle that probably isn’t special.
Homer Road: Part of a fishing easement, but some obstacles to pull your boat over. There is also a nasty pit bull nearby.
– 0.3 miles. Simple open section through overgrazed and eroded banks.
Hwy Q2nd: Part of a fishing easement and doable access, but nowhere to park.
– 0.4 miles. Paddle by a steep hillside and quarry. Maybe some interesting geology.
Church Road: Acceptable access. A mowed path for trout fishermen is on the NE side.
– 1.2 miles. A nice open pasture section with many riffles, but one I-beam to portage. Reviewed Apr 2017.
Hwy Q3rd: Good access with parking lot to NW. Popular with trout fishermen.
– 1.1 miles. A neat section with many rapids that goes by Cedar Cliff. Reviewed Apr 2017.
Hwy Q4th: Good access NW of bridge. Also popular with trout fishermen.
– 0.7 miles. Shallowest part of the creek during low water. Some neat geology in this section with more great rapids and a spectacular view of Castle Rock. Reviewed Apr 2017.
Hwy Q5th: Ok access NE of the bridge but will require some dragging. Not a lot of shoulder parking but should be doable. Popular trailhead for Castle Rock hikers.
– 6.7 miles. River flows through a massive hidden valley flanked by steep hillsides. Super cool and the western unit of Snow Bottom State Natural Area. While mostly open, the river does have sections with clusters of likely logjams. After Snow Bottom, the river loses the woods, gains a lot of mud, and flows through farm country.
Witek Road: Decent access.
– 3.9 miles. A farm pasture paddle with likely a number of downed trees.
Neff Road: Likely ok access.
– 1.9 miles. Mostly open farm pasture paddle. Maybe one logjam.
Hwy M: Likely ok access.
– 3.8 miles. Maybe 3-5 logjams.
Mouth on Blue River
Blue River – Main Branch:
– Upstream of Blue River Road, I don’t think the creek is practical.
Blue River Road: Likely ok access.
– 1.4 miles. Mostly clear of logjams, but shallow and would require high water to be navigable.
County Road I: Decent access. Popular with trout fishermen. There is a subtle trail to the water NE of the bridge.
– 0.9 miles. Nice section that goes through a small woods. Maybe 1 or 2 jams. In hindsight, I wish I had done this. A shallow section but just doable during my trip.
Bluff Road: Good bridge access used by trout fishermen.
– 2.4 miles. Fantastic section through driftless valleys with many light rapids. Reviewed May 2017.
Snowbottom Road: Great access by bridge with a small parking lot.
– 1.6 miles. A good section through a small woods then through an open area reminding me of the Platte River. Reviewed May 2017.
Bowers Road: Good access with parking lot to the west of the bridge. Popular with trout fishermen.
– 6.1 miles. Really neat prospect which has been on my to-do list for a long time. Maybe 2-3 logjams, but scenic and flows through the eastern unit of Snow Bottom State Natural Area.
Shemak Road: Should be doable access.
– 1.7 miles. Mostly open farm country paddle. Maybe 2 logjams.
Biba Road: Likely doable access.
– 5.0 miles. Maybe 15-20 logjams.
Hwy G: Likely doable access.
– 1.0 mile. Maybe 3 logjams.
Studnika Road: Likely doable access.
– 6.7 miles. Maybe 3-4 logjams. Otherwise a nice open prospect. Might be able to subdivide using access roads.
Forest Road: Likely doable access.
– 6.3 miles. Maybe 3 logjams. The river is wide enough here you might be able squeak past most of this.
Hwy 133: A busy road and long guardrails make this annoying, but with some boat dragging, I think it would be pretty doable to launch from the SE side.
– 1.0 mile. Maybe 6 logjams. This is floodplain forest now.
Wisconsin River – Cross Slough: From here you can paddle a mile north to reach the Port Andrews Boat Landing. Alternatively, you can paddle down Cross Slough for 3 miles which is like a mini-river and might be a unique paddling experience.