2023 Year End Review
With snow falling down and water temperatures plunging, it’s time to put a bow on the season. Thanks to the readers who followed along for the “ride” during 2023. Special thanks to those who left feedback or comments. And extra special thanks to those who provided guest write-ups, especially Peter Johnson who provided some terrific water trail reviews.
BIGGEST TRIP DISAPPOINTMENTS: Most trips turned out great, but there were exceptions.
- Stony Brook: I had high hopes for this, but it was ravaged by logjams. This isn’t the fault of the kayakers who recommended it to me, but rather to a recent tornado which has likely ruined the creek for years to come unless cleaned out.
- Wedde Creek: The Mecan is a great river, and I had high hopes that several of its tribs would also be good. But in the case of Wedde Creek, logjams and more so alders were too much. The opportunity cost was worse than the alders, as that weekend had ideal weather that could have been spent on another water trail. I’m now getting cold feet about exploring some other Mecan River tribs on my todo list (like Lunch Creek), but we’ll see.
- Montello River (below Harrisville): The Montello is a great river and this is one of its most scenic stretches. Others have paddled it and while noting logjams, they didn’t seem overwhelming. However when I did the trip, the logjams WERE overwhelming, and recent storms have exacerbated the situation. There is some great cleanup work happening on the middle section of this stretch and hopefully this is cleaned out in the future as it would be one of the nicer water trails in South Central Wisconsin.
- Milwaukee River (below Thiensville): While not a horrible stretch, I’ve had so many other positive experiences on the Milwaukee that I was shocked that this one was actually boring (relatively speaking).
TRIPS THAT TURNED OUT BETTER THAN EXPECTED:
- Menomonee River: This was one of the best trips of the season. The river was surprisingly rocky, scenic and filled with fun rapids. I had always assumed the Menomonee would be industrial, dirty and boring…but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
- Mississippi River (by Marquette): Typically you think of the Mississippi as having big, boring, large waves, and lots of boat traffic. But this was a great stretch mostly protected by no-wake zones and flanked by terrific bluffs. My only regret was maybe not paddling this further upstream or in October when the area had amazing color.
- Pine River (by Saxeville): This is a very underrated neighbor of the Waupaca River. The boulders, covered bridge, and rapids are very scenic…but I understand why more don’t paddle it (there are Class 3 rapids and the millpond is shallow).
- Thompson Creek: This was somewhat of a random trip idea based on a random Facebook photo I found…but it turned out to be a unique trip with the best waterfall of the year.
- Mineral Point Branch (by Oak Park Road): While not one of the year’s best, this was a sneaky good trip and one of the more underrated stretches on the Pecatonica watershed.
- Kickapoo River (below Plumb Creek): Historically, I’ve written off the Lower Kickapoo as lacking outcrops, and being just a bigger and more boring version of the Upper Kickapoo. But I’m glad I gave this a shot as the bluffs were terrific. I happened to be in the same area a month later, and the fall color was stunning.
- Turkey River: I always knew the Turkey had a scenic mill and was a good paddling prospect, but I was blown away with how nice the bluffs were and what great color they had.
- Nippersink Creek: You don’t usually equate Illinois with nice water trails, but the rolling glacial kames and oak groves were fantastic.
MOST HARROWING MOMENTS: Generally speaking kayaking is pretty safe if you follow common sense precautions, wear a life jacket, and stay off rivers/creeks that are flooded. But there were a few stressful moments during the year.
- Kickapoo Wilton Bull: That was nerve-racking. Thankfully the bull vacated the small channel to follow the cows that were spooked, but it wasn’t a good situation.
- Platte River Bike Shuttle: There were several unpleasant bike shuttles (cold/windy/hilly/long)…but this stands out in my memory as being perhaps the worst.
- Getting Wet on the Yellow River: My red Tsunami started leaking again (despite many previous plastic welds) and I had to sponge it out frequently during the trip. This wasn’t a huge deal as the leak was slow and the weather warm, but it was annoying. After that trip I gave up on plastic welding and instead used keel guard tape to patch my leak, which to my shock worked incredibly well for the rest of the season.
- Pine River Rapids: The Pine (Lake Poygan version) is one of the more underrated streams in Central Wisconsin with some terrific boulder gardens. But there was a very tricky chute of Class 3 rapids to deal with. It was all manageable, but there was crazy little room to maneuver because the channel was so rocky.
- Van Loon Forest Shallows: We had a major drought in Wisconsin this year thanks to El Nino. I don’t think I fully appreciated this until my trip on the Lower Black. The trip had many fantastic sandbars, but was incredibly shallow and required a lot of wading.
- Montello River Logjams: These were very challenging and often the portages along the shore were difficult. No other trip had me more relieved to finally reach the take-out than this one.
- Road Construction in Marquette Iowa: I almost had to cancel my trip over what was extremely inconvenient and confusing road construction. Thankfully after talking with locals, I found a way to drive to the take-out and complete a bike shuttle along the river around the closed roads (bike shuttling the back roads up Mississippi bluffs was not an option).
- Goat Island Tragedy: Goat Island is a unique and popular spot at the mouth of the Crawfish. Unfortunately, since our trip there in August, five of the six goats passed away from lymphadenitis.
- Surprise Black River Landing Closure: Driving a long way to do a trip you carefully planned, only to discover the take-out (Grinde Landing) was closed was a huge inconvenience. The day, however, was salvaged by just doing a shorter trip on the Black, and adding on a longer trip/wade up nearby Roaring Creek.
- Electric Fences on the Root River: Ultimately the trip turned out great and I don’t believe all the fences I initially thought were electric were…but regardless this was stressful and limbo-ing under a few of the low ones wasn’t fun.
- Flooded Yellow River: While not at a crazy high flood stage, the river was WAY higher than expected or planned for. It all worked out though.
- Car Trouble and Yellow Creek: My alternator died when driving to Illinois to do Yellow Creek. I had to be rescued and cancel my trip for that weekend. I was able to do Yellow Creek the following week though which turned out to be a great experience.
- Camera Falling Apart: The TG-6 is a great waterproof camera for kayak trips, but its internal memory failed on me at the end of my Menomonee trip and a number of those pictures didn’t turn out. I got a new TG-6 which worked well for most of the season, but during my Yellow Creek trip the focus dial popped out and I couldn’t use zoom for the rest of the trip. My second camera is currently in a New Jersey repair shop and hopefully will be good for the 2024 season.
MOST POPULAR TRIPS: It’s interesting to monitor which trips are popular with readers (per Youtube and GA4 stats) and which aren’t. Often this is somewhat unpredictable and surprising…trips that I think will be popular aren’t, and vice versa. An example of this last year was Redgranite Quarry which was one of my most popular reviews ever. Yet it was only a spur of the moment trip I did after my Willow Creek trip (few read either of the Willow Creek reviews).
By far and away the most popular trip this year was Mormon Creek which I believe went viral when somebody posted its cave picture on a La Crosse based Facebook group. It’s a terrific creek…but it is kind of short, unless you want to brave some add-on legs which have logjams (that hopefully get cleared out in the future). No other review came close to it for popularity, but in 2nd place was the Kickapoo River by Wilton which was a unique ice paddle.
For Youtube, my most popular videos this year included the Yellow River in Iowa and the North Branch of the Root River. Perhaps this is a sign that I should do more out-of-state paddles. Many of my videos get few views relative to the work I put into them and relative to my Youtube subscriber count (figure 50-80 views for videos in the fall despite 780+ subscribers). Not sure what to do about that. My videos are not professionally edited which would help, but that would take too much time. Something crazy I noted is if the thumbnail contained rapids the views doubled or even tripled. Don’t worry…I won’t try gaming my Youtube channel (or this website) with click-bait tactics.
My least popular reviews this year were Stony Brook, Volga River, Kickapoo Plum Creek, Rock River Harnischfeger Park, and my Pecatonica East Branch trip. I understand Stony Brook not being popular but was disappointed the others didn’t get more views. The least popular review this year was the Baraboo River below Glenville…only 14 read that one.
WATER TRAIL UPDATES: Things change with water trails…sometimes for the worse…sometime for the better. Here are a number of noteworthy water trail happenings in 2023 (based mostly on my users’ comments).
- Beaver Dam River: A large logjam was reported by the Kraft Factory, but overall the trip was a positive experience (Mike). A trip was later completed in April and the major obstacles were no longer present, although there were a few minor issues to avoid. Overall another positive experience (Eric).
- Yahara River – Deforest: One large logjam was reported in March, but this leg was otherwise clear (Eric).
- Mormon Creek: One strainer was removed, and plans were put in place to remove future obstructions (Bonnie).
- Ashippun River: A positive experience was reported doing the O to P leg, but the later trip by the Erin Hills Golf Course had too many logjams (Gregor).
- Rubicon River: A trip between Hilldale Drive to N. Rural Rd turned out well, but the downstream leg between N. Rural Rd and Wacker Drive had too much congestion (Gregor).
- Bark River: A large downed tree was reported by the arched pedestrian bridge near Genesee Lake Road (Jon).
- Badfish Creek & Badger Mill Creek: Madison is shifting its Badger Mill Creek effluent to Badfish Creek to oblige DNR phosphorus rules. This is madness as this won’t reduce phosphorus…it will just move it to another creek. Badger Mill Creek will likely become too shallow to paddle after this and may dry up. Badfish Creek may suffer soil erosion and a decrease in water quality because of the added effluent.
- Robinson Creek: The area got walloped with an ice storm last winter which downed many trees. Much of the creek upstream from Kelly Road was since cleared out, but heavy obstructions remain between Kelly Road and Fall Hall Road (Denny).
- Fond du Lac River: A few fallen trees were reported, but all were duckable and the trip turned out well (Gregor).
- Crystal River: Adventure Outfitters did a major cleanup of deadfall between Red Mill to Shadow Lake.
- Wildcat Creek: This was navigable but barely. It was advised anything lower than 40 CFS would require wading and portaging of trees (Gregor).
- Maunesha River – Cherry Lane to Waterloo: Serious logjams were reported on May 26th (Luke). Since then significant cleanup work was done and this stretch appears navigable again (Maunesha River Alliance).
- Milwaukee River – East Branch: The stretch between Mauthe Lake to the Youth Camp was good and mostly cleared out. However there are multiple logjams below the camp…most are easy to get past, but a few are tricky (Don).
- Neenah Creek – Oxford to Hwy A: Significant cleanup work was done on this great leg. Only 3-4 logjams remain and they should be easy portages. (per a Facebook poster)
- Pecatonica River – East Branch: Two logjams were reported in June above McKenna Road (Otter). This stretch would later be cleared out in August (PecRiverRats). In October it was reported this leg was now clear (Eric).
- Pine River – Pier County Park to Steamboat Rock: This leg was clear as of July 3rd, but there is a jam by the natural bridge that would have to be portaged if you want to paddle under the rock formation (Ryan). Note, this jam may have since been cleared out.
- Spring Creek: From Veterans Park (Lodi) to the Sanitation Plant, the creek should now be free of jams. Between the sanitation plant and Okee Bay there might be three major logjams remaining. Lyft Lodi will be doing a cleanup in May hopefully to clear out what remains. Feel free to help (Lyft Lodi).
- Willow River: Significant deadfall was reported blocking the river by the New Richmond Launch. (Bobbi)
- Horicon Marsh: The marsh was unexpectedly drained which confused some local kayakers who found the marsh surprisingly shallow and muddy. I think it has since been refilled.
- Baraboo River – Union Center to Wonewoc: This stretch is no longer cleared out and has filled in bad with logjams. This is not recommended until they are removed. (Beyond Boundaries)
- Illinois Fox River: Significant logjams were reported on the Fox upstream of Wonderland Tap by the Pewaukee mouth (Facebook post)
- Kinnickinnic River: Open meetings were held to consider removing two dams in town. If completed this could open up a really nice stretch of the river for kayaking.
- Six Mile Creek: The creek is now open from Division Street to Mill Road! (Friends of Six Mile Creek)
- Lemonweir River – 19th Ave to HH: Many logjams reported on this leg courtesy of a recent tornado. (Robert from Mad City Paddlers)
- Blue River: Heavy logjams were reported by the mouth near the Wisconsin River (John).
- La Crosse River – Sparta to Hammer Road: New downed trees on this leg…it’s still navigable, but tight maneuvering will be required to get past some. (Ian)
- Perry Creek – By Cranberry Drive: Heavy logjams and brush made this a challenging trip. Scenery not as good as the lower section. (per Laura)
- Morrison Creek: Significant cleanup work happened on Oct 7th. To date, only 2-3 significant logjams remain. (per Billy Sunday)
- Little Maquoketa River: Deere Dike Boat Launch is no longer accessible. (per Bob)
- Menomonee River: Significant cleanup work was completed on Oct 22nd. All jams between Capitol Drive and Tosa Village should now be cleared out. Future cleanup work is planned upstream from Capitol Drive. (per Facebook post)
- Black River: Grinde Landing and Willard Road Landing were closed by their respective owners and are no longer public landings.
- Coon Creek: A race was held on Aug 26th…the section upstream from Coon Valley was cleared out prior to the race.
- Bark River: While the main stretches remain clear, some of the more obscure legs were hit hard by wind storms that toppled the dead ash trees. Thanks to the emerald ash borer, logjams are now a major issue on some of the more obscure legs of the Bark.
- New landings: New landings were constructed on the Rock River, Illinois Fox, Beaver Dam River, Fox River, and others. This is a positive trend that hopefully continues in the future.
Website Goals: The map page will be revamped…you’ll be able to filter by rapids, ratings, and other criteria. Let me know if you the reader have ideas for making the website a better experience.
Watertrail Goals: I absolutely want to do more rivers in MN, IA, and IL. Specific goals include the Zumbro River, Whitewater River, more of the Root, more Turkey, and more Maquoketa. For Illinois, the Piscasaw, Kishwaukee, and Apple are all on on my todo list. I’m still putting together my todo list for Wisconsin…this should include a few surprises as well as some classics. Too many of my trips have either been in the south half or west half of the state…and I do need to balance things out with more northern and eastern Wisconsin trips. I’m considering getting an electric bike which should allow me to do trips with difficult shuttles.