Date Paddled: August 17th, 2013
Put-in: Covered Bridge Park
Take-out: Grafton Lions Park
Distance: 3.6 Miles
Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Gradient: 4' per Mile
Water Level: Cedarburg 30 CFS or 5.24' (tad low)
Cedar Creek is a decent-sized tributary of the Milwaukee River that runs through the small town of Cedarburg just 30 minutes north of Milwaukee. While not widely known state-wide, the locals know all about it, and it is a popular paddling location for Milwaukee area residents.
There are a number of put-in options (see map), but because I was worried about water levels (more on that later), I opted for a short 3.6 mile stretch from Covered Bridge Park to Grafton Lion’s Park (ending roughly where Cedarburg starts). Covered Bridge Park is an ideal put-in. Nice parking, bathroom, and launch area. This is a crowded park, however…and not because of paddlers. Here resides the historic “only original covered bridge” in Wisconsin. It’s very pretty going over the creek, and people love to take pictures there. There is a second walk bridge just a little downstream that is scenic as well, and it is worth it to take the time to walk around the park before you paddle.
The water level at Covered Bridge is low relative to the rest of the segment that we did. Don’t be discouraged by how shallow it is, as it gets deeper shortly after. We went at 30 CFS/5.24′, which is considered low, but probably around normal for August. Generally speaking, there were some bumps around Covered Bridge…the middle section of the river was fine…and the last 1000 yards to Lion’s Park were very bumpy and we had to get out a couple of times. Not a big deal IMO, as I have a high tolerance for low water portages (log jams are a different story). Others may disagree…if you have a tight cockpit or v-bottom boat, this may be more of an issue. I originally got the idea to do the trip from a “Treasures of Oz” tourism site which has a nice guide to the creek that I suggest reading. They describe 5.5′ as scrapey and that above 6.5′ as fast and only for experienced boaters. They also stated there were rapids (1 to 1.5) but at our water levels, they were just minor riffles (maybe 0.5 rapids). It is an interesting contrast to think that the creek we ran, which was so mild, could be so fierce during high water, but it is believable and should be a cause for concern for potential boaters.
The highlight of the trip (along with the covered bridge) was the incredibly clear water. I’ve paddled a number of rivers/creeks and this might be the clearest I’ve ever run. This might be seasonal…most rivers lose water levels and flush out springtime flood sediment by August, so tend to be much cleaner than in spring and early summer. A neat thing about this is that the creek has a lot of fish which are fun to track from your vantage point on a kayak. There was one section of the creek where I was herding fish around trying to get a nice picture…which is so novel because you just can’t do this on so many other water bodies. Fish aren’t the only things that look great through clear water…the clams, crayfish, and Potamogeton (aka pondweed) were amazing as well. Very surreal paddling through Potamogeton forests.
The other interesting plant on the trip was the abundant wild rice, which I’m sure you could harvest during fall. It was quite thick in spots and in one area spanned the width of the creek. Not a big deal, as this was easy to ram through and didn’t extend very far.
Again, the take-out close to Lions Park is THE most shallow area. Bring aquatic footwear as there are sharp rocks in the substrate. While for the most part this trip was pretty remote, close to Lions Park houses start to pop up, which is unfortunate. Lions Park (like Covered Bridge) is popular, but also has bathrooms and nice parking. It is a bit of a hike from the parking lot to the landing, but you might be able to drive down on an access road to reach the landing. Not sure. In hindsight, I would not have taken out at Lions Park but rather at Boy Scout Park (all marked on the map). This would extend the trip to 5 miles total (roughly) and you would take out by the dam. While I’m sure the river after Lions Park is still quite shallow (perhaps unbearably), the flowage will kick in soon and depth would be a mute issue.
There are other paddling options below Boy Scout Park, but things get tricky from there on out. Cedarbarg (which the subsequent section flows through) has a steep drop of 80′ in 2.5 miles (that’s fast!). Unfortunately, about half this gradient is submerged under four flowages. If Cedarburg were to ever wise-up and remove their dams, they could restore some wonderful falls/rapids that used to exist their natively. After the second dam and to Highway T is a whitewater route and you can learn more about it from https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/2652/#main. In a nutshell, this route is probably class 2 normally…class 1-2 late summer/fall and class 3-4 during high water. The flowages are scummy (in contrast to the nice creek upstream) and filled with PCBs (as long as you don’t wade in the mud you’ll probably be fine). Do your research before running this section. The first dam they refer to (actually the 3rd dam in Cedarburg) is probably best portaged on the right. There could be property owner issues here (but paddlers have portage rights in state law). The second (4th) dam is very steep and tricky to traverse. Rope is recommended and I believe there is a permanent support rope on one side of the dam.
After Hwy T, I think the serious rapids die off and while I don’t know much about the area, think that locals like to start segments here and end further downstream on the Milwaukee River (at this point we’re close to the mouth). There may be nice ways to extend the trip upstream of Covered Bridge park as well. I can’t be certain, but the new high-def satellite images show most of the upstream bridges to have good potential as possible landing areas.
For local rental options, REI and Laack and Joys rent out kayaks/canoes within range of the Cedar. Aqua Guides and Outfitters will rent kayaks, do shuttles and is based I think in Cedarburg (but they don’t have an office, so you have to schedule trips in advance).
It’s always fun with paddle trips to explore non-paddling diversions if you have time after a trip. Cedarburg is a tourist town and the downtown (Washington Ave. along the Creek) is very historic and artsy. In Cedarburg, there is a nice riverwalk that is part of the larger Ozaukee Interurban Trail–one of the most popular bike trails in the Milwaukee metro area. Somewhat close to Cedarburg is Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, which has a nice trail system that leads to a wonderful overlook of Lake Michigan and another segment that cuts through a gorge (and micro-creek) onto a beach at the lake.
Cedar Creek Overview
- Upstream of Hickory Lane: I suspect the downed trees make paddling impractical.
- Hickory Land to Hwy 60: 0.7 miles. Short wooded section followed by an open stretch through a powerline corridor. Maybe a few jams and Hickory may not be a good put-in.
- Hwy 60 to Division Street Landing: 1.5 miles. Creek here is artificially straightened, channelized, and runs through farm fields. Might be a jam or two.
- Division Street to S. Church Road Landing: 1.2 miles. Might be a jam or two…but it is a good sign that the start/end points are landings.
- S. Church Road to County Aire Drive: 2.1 miles. Mostly open marsh paddle. Might be a downed tree.
- County Aire Drive to Granville Road/Hwy Y: 2.4 miles.
- Granville Road to Hwy NN: 1.4 miles. Good prospect. Might be an alternate landing halfway by Cedar Creek Road.
- Hwy NN to Kaehlers Road: 2.0 miles. Good prospect. At Hwy NN, you might need permission from “The Hub” diner to launch.
- Kaehlers Road to Covered Bridge Park: 0.6 miles.
- Covered Bridge Park to Robin Ct. Landing: 2.3 miles. Shallow but very scenic section (reviewed Aug 2013).
- Robin Ct. Landing to Grafton Lions Park: 1.3 miles. Launch is SW of W. Cedar Creek bridge. A good section (reviewed Aug 2013).
- Grafton Lions Park to Boy Scout Park: 1.6 miles. Half of the section is flowage paddling. Take-out NE of the dam or north of Bridge Road.
- Boy Scout Park to Silver Creek Brewing Company: 0.4 miles. Simple flowage paddle. Closed in 2017 for environmental cleanup.
- Silver Creek Brewing to Lakefield Road: 2.2 miles. Scenic section with good whitewater, but difficult dam portages and snags can be issues. Closed in 2017 (reviewed by AmericanWhitewater.org).
- Lakefield Road to Green Bay Road: 1.0 miles. Do not think this section has serious rapids.
- Green Bay Road to Mouth/Milwaukee River: 1.4 miles.
- Mouth to Hwy C/Garrison’s Glen Park: 1.4 miles. An additional segment on the Milwaukee River to reach a take-out.
MapNote - High definition satellite maps are available in this area of the state if you zoom in.
View Cedar Creek in a larger map