Date Paddled: September 10th, 2017
Put-in: School Section Road
Take-out: East Creek Road
Distance: 6.9 miles
Time: 6 hours 3 minutes (3.5 hours would be more typical)
Gradient: 2.6' per mile
Water Level: Turtle Creek @ Clinton 110 CFS or 3.38'
Turtle Creek is a popular paddling creek located halfway between Janesville and Lake Geneva. The upper portions consist of spring-fed wetlands and marshes, while the lower portions descend quickly through the Beloit metro area before finally emptying into the Rock River.
One of the highlights of the creek is the Turtle Creek Wildlife Area which is roughly a 10 mile stretch of undeveloped land that runs along the creek (mostly from the city of Delavan to the South O’Riley Bridge). That would have been a long trip, so we settled on a 6.9 mile sub-section stretching from School Section Road to East Creek Road.
The most remarkable attribute of the entire creek is its clarity which was fantastic and among the clearest paddles I’ve done all year. Despite the channel being consistently deep at 3-5′, you could usually see all the way down to the bottom. The clear water allowed you to see the pondweeds flowing gracefully in the current, the many fish darting about, and the coarse sandy substrate. It was like paddling in an oversized aquarium…really cool! In fact I highly advise saving this paddle for a sunny day and during low water levels for the best clarity.
The banks consisted of intermittent hardwoods, many shrubs, some marsh plants and surprisingly little mud. But most wonderful of all, they were almost completely devoid of civilization minus the one house we saw and the occasional road traffic we heard. While generally somewhat flat (like many SE Wisconsin paddles because of the glaciers) a moraine ridge follows the creek from Hwy C to E. Creek Road which adds to the scenery.
One of the other highlights of the trip was the large wild rice fields we got to paddle through. Quite prolific, it would sometimes consume large portions of the channel leaving only small corridors to sneak through. Coupled with its bright emerald green leaves, it was quite scenic. The best rice field is just upstream of the Hwy 14 bridge.
The biggest tributary to the upper Turtle would be its many springs which keep the water cold, clear, and even remarkably open during winter. On occasion you’ll see (and feel) these spring inlets come into the creek where beavers work to dam them up. The largest spring-fed creek comes in from Trout Lake, which you can actually paddle up for a ways. Unfortunately the natural springs that form Trout Lake are buried by a large dam flowage and private property signs deter the public from exploring.
Following Hwy C was another spring creek on our right, but this one you can explore and it was really cool. Perfect water clarity, zen-like underwater plants, and gushing water coming from under the hillside. It was somewhat shallow, so you may need to wade somewhat to get upstream, but it was worth it (despite the ice cold water making my toes numb).
In summary, this was one of those creeks that surprised you with how nice it was. There was nothing grandiose about it, but it had a lot of subtle beauty that you wouldn’t expect in overdeveloped southeastern Wisconsin. I very much recommend this section, but do again advise going during ideal conditions (low water and strong sunlight).
School Section Road has a very good bridge access and is very popular with the locals. Here a small trail leads to the water and ample parking is available along the shoulder.
There is a canoe launch area west of the East Creek Road bridge. This was a decent option, but it was deceptively deep and muddy (doable though). To reach the parking lot, you’ll need to drag your boat 280′ over grass.
Note, many of the nearby bridges are also good access options. Upstream, Hwy 14 and Hwy C have good launch areas (lot of paddlers were parked at Hwy C). Downstream, South O’ Riley Road is a good option (note that access is not by the bridge but rather a quarter mile east of it).
I’m not aware of any local liveries or rentals, but this would be an easy bike shuttle at 4.8 miles with virtually no hills. A short stretch on Hwy 14 is busy, but the rest of the route has hardly any traffic.
Hazards, Logjams and Current:
There are really no hazards or logjams, and the current is for the most part pretty gentle. Be mindful of wind direction and speed as this is an open paddle.
In late summer and at low depths, some of the weed growth can constrict the channel somewhat. It was thick at times for our trip (September at 110 CFS), but we were never blocked in.
River Depth and Navigability:
There is a local gauge on Turtle Creek located near Clinton, Wisconsin. Below is my depth guide:
- 0-80 CFS: 60 CFS is typically an average late summer depth. Clarity would be excellent at these levels. I don’t think you would be grounded much, but in late summer/fall, weeds might choke parts of the channel.
- 81-150 CFS: A higher depth with good clarity. I think you should be always able to get through the weeds. We went at 110 CFS.
- 151-250 CFS: Still some clarity, but likely the creek loses a little magic at these higher levels.
- 251-350 CFS: While navigable, a lot of the creek character would likely be submerged.
- 351+ CFS: Likely a little high for an enjoyable paddle.
A snapping turtle, a beaver (and two beaver dams), some clamshells, 5-6 great blue herons, and a wounded goose (coincidentally goose hunting season had just started). The highlight was the many fish you could see in the clear water. Mostly minnows, some decent sized suckers, and a few gigantic carp.
Other Turtle Creek Trips:
There are many good paddling sections on Turtle Creek. For more information see my overview map, or use the below bullet list:
- Turtle Lake Boat Ramp → Turtle Lake Road: 0.8 miles. Half of this would be a lake paddle on spring fed Turtle Lake. The other half would be over an extremely small channel that would likely require very high water to be navigable.
- Turtle Lake Road → Island Road: 3.2 miles. Artificially straightened, and perhaps requiring a few culvert portages, this marshy section would likely not be for most but could have its appeal. Google has a nice street view image of this section.
- Island Road → Dam Road: 2.5 miles. More straightened channels running through thick marshes. This could have some subtle beauty to it. An alt take-out would likely be Hwy P.
- Dam Road → North Terrance Street: 2.8 miles. For 1.5 miles the creek finally meanders naturally for the first time, but in the last mile, the creek is impounded by a dam to form Comus Lake. Take out above the dam at the public Comus Lake boat ramp.
- North Terrace Street → School Section Road: 6.3 miles. Good marsh prospect with perhaps a logjam or two. Launch below the dam but be wary of a second lowhead dam. On my to-do list.
- School Section Road → East Creek Road: 6.9 miles. Great segment. Reviewed here.
- School Section Road → Hwy 14: 2.2 miles. Great section, with terrific water clarity.
- Hwy 14 → Hwy C: 2.4 miles. A bit more weedy, but still a great section with good water clarity.
- Hwy C → East Creek Road: 2.2 miles. A nice section with some scenic springs.
- East Creek Road → South O’Riley Road: 1.9 miles. A very good prospect.
- South O’Riley Road → South Carvers Rock Road: 3.1 miles. A good prospect. Paddling author Rick Kark called this “surprisingly attractive”. North of the take-out is Spring Brook Creek and Carver-Roehl Park. A scenic area with cool limestone outcrops.
- South Carvers Road → Hwy 140: 1.9 miles. A good prospect with some steeper hills. Hwy 140 appears to be a doable take-out, with a steep bank, but public parking northeast of the bridge.
- Hwy 140 → Turtle Creek Parkway/Smith Road: 3.8 miles. An interesting prospect.
- Turtle Creek Parkway → Sweet Allyn Park: 1.4 miles. Section includes the famous Tiffany Stone Arch Bridge.
- Sweet Allyn Park → S. Lathers Road: 1.5 miles. Likely a nice prospect. The take-out at S. Lathers Road is good and used by paddlers…but vague no parking signs don’t make it clear where you can park.
- S. Lathers Road → Town of Turtle Creek – Canoe Launch: 2.2 miles. Likely a nice prospect.
- Town of Turtle Creek – Canoe Launch → Milwaukee Road: 5.5 miles. A very good prospect with fast current that flows through the Turtle Creek floodplain. While the Milwaukee Road access is decent, you must hike 600′ north to reach a public parking lot.
- Milwaukee Road → Colley Road: 0.4 miles. Good prospect.
- Colley Road → Turtle Creek Park: 1.6 miles. Good prospect. Take-out is west of Dearborn Street. Disembark north of the creek and park to the west. Bank is a bit steep here. A nicer launch is south of the creek by Turtle Tap. Turtle Tap is private, but supposedly there is a strip of public land you can use to launch from.
- Turtle Creek Park → Dickop Street: 1.0 miles. A very good prospect.
- Dickop Street → John Jose Canoe and Kayak Launch: 0.8 miles. A final short section on Turtle Creek, then a paddle upstream on the Rock River to reach a take-out.