An old mill race below Rome Pond

The Rome flowage

You have to drag your boat 470 feet to the dam (easy)

A giant duckweed engine

The short stretch between the dam and Main Street is really nice

A rope swing that has seen better days

The old mill and outlet for the mill race

Some fun rapids below Main Street

Most paddlers put in at Pickets Landing (but then you miss a nice section!)

Really nice water clarity

One of many epic weeping willows

Nice riverside sculptures

Overhanging limbs and thick brush gives this a cozy feel

Remnants of perhaps an abandoned mill race

One of many private campgrounds along the river

Lots of bottlebrush barnyard grass

Ripe elderberries…ready to eat

Log jams were never an issue

Some other yakkers (and dogs) on the water

River starts to open up and slow down

We are now in a cattail marsh

Migrating cedar waxwing

Purple loosestrife

Looks like silky dogwood

Palmrya Road bridge

So much duckweed…

Dew drop-covered touch-me-nots

Very cool flowing pondweed

One of many duckweed barges

Turner Road bridge

A medieval flail (or wild cucumber wrapped around a cattail)

Turner Road is a put-in option

Nightshade berries (look like Christmas tree lights)

Nightshade flowers

A historic house and drumlin–one of the few houses on the river

Super clean water and sandy substrate

Evidence of a lot of good cleanup work

Gorgeous pondweeds, with a sprinkling of duckweed

A glacial drumlin (or kame)

The river narrows and is really nice from here to the take-out

Not sure if these are glacial deposits or human deposits

One of multiple small riffles

Nice to see that cows have only limited access to the river

Clear flowing water and pondweeds

Cow fence has seen better days

At lower depths, the water clarity would be even better

At times quite sandy

Easy to navigate around obstacles

Turtle with his duckweed camouflage

Dueling turtles

He was honestly stuck! (We rescued him)

Yet another amazing weeping willow

And more nice pondweed

Trying to figure out how to empty a leaking canoe

The section by the Bark River Campground was really nice

Looking back at the local campground bridge

Really cool stretch

Green frogs…which are sometimes brown

A fish pillow

Time for some kayak pull-ups

Final weeping willow shot (I promise)

Entering the remants of the old Cushman flowage

Removed in 2008, the land is still recovering

Don’t get lost on the side channels

Huge snapper

He tried to hide under my kayak but did not fit

LOTS of big fish in this stretch–one of the highlights of the river!

This section had the best water clarity

An impressive and random granite boulder

Great blue heron

More fun riffles

Substrate starting to get rocky

Juxtaposition: Unmowed grass and an unused mower

What is left of the old Cushman dam

Now a fun series of easy rapids

Not difficult

Looking downstream from Cushman Road

Park southwest of the bridge

There is a nice local landing at end of drive, but it is private and requires permission

History of the Cushman Mills area

Pause Slideshow

Bark River – Rome

Date Paddled: August 30th, 2015
Put-in: Rome Dam
Take-out: Cushman Road Bridge
Distance: 5.6 Miles
Time: 4 hours 38 minutes (2-3 hours would be more typical)
Gradient: 4.1' per mile
Water Level: Bark River @ Rome 41 CFS or 1.76'

The Bark is a nice little river that originates in the western suburbs of Milwaukee and flows west to meet the Rock River at Fort Atkinson.  Most paddling review sources cover the very last section of the Bark, which is honestly perplexing as it appears to be a messy, dirty floodplain forest.  After finding an obscure canoe trail map showing a section starting from Rome and liking what I saw from Google Street View, I decided to give this upper section of the Bark a try and am glad I did. 

The short stretch from the dam to Pickets’ launch is very nice, with intimate overarching branches, clear water and a fun set of rapids which is again why you want to put in by the dam instead of by Picket’s landing.  In this area, you’ll see the remnants of an old mill and mill race (no longer operational).  The dam, however, is still operational and creates a large flowage upstream.  The lower section of the river is filled with an inordinate amount of duckweed and I suspect the stagnant waters of the Rome flowage are to blame.

Just outside of Rome is the first of two RV parks on the river, which is Rome Campground.  After this, the river opens up into a cattail marsh and slows down.  The next quarter mile is where the Slabtown flowage was before the removal of the Slabtown dam  in the early 70’s.  The duckweed is everywhere, like snow on the water, but is not unsightly. 

After you pass an old brick house (one of the few you’ll see on the trip) and a massive glacial drumlin on the left, the river starts to narrow and really changes character.  The current picks up, the water clarity (already good) gets better and the substrate gets sandier with more gravel.  From this drumlin to the take-out is the best part of the trip. 

Soon you’ll pass by the Bark River Campground, which is a high density RV park next to the river.  This is actually a really neat section, with red-hued substrate you could easily see from above, good current and attractively wooded banks intermixed with the trailers.  Here we encountered some other paddlers (two of which were dealing with a serious hole in their canoe).

This river, despite not being reviewed by Mike Svob’s paddling bible, had a surprising amount of traffic on it.  The put-in had a number of j-bars and canoe trailers in the parking lot, a local store owner told us there was a massive group of paddlers coming later in the day, we encountered two kayakers doing cleanup work, and then finally there were the  paddlers from the campground.

After the RV park, the river opens up into what used to be the old Cushman Dam flowage.  In 2008 the dam at Cushman Road was severely damaged by a flood which led to its removal.  This final mile of the river is still recovering from being submerged and, at this point, is mostly a wetgrass paddle (but still very nice).  Good current here with some riffles.  A lot of gravel and even occasional boulders in the river give this section a very clean feel.

A sign of a good river is the lack of high muddy banks, and the Bark is a great example of this.  I’m not sure why it is so clean.  Perhaps because of the lack of agriculture (I didn’t see a single farm from the water).  What was really cool were the number of fish we could spot from our kayaks (many were quite big).

The take-out ends on a great note as you’ll paddle over some light rapids (what remains of the Cushman dam) before disembarking just below Cushman Road.  [Editor’s update…thanks to the Hoard Historical Museum in Fort Atkinson for providing a historical picture of the dam and mill (early 1950s), which you can see here.]

Again, the local landowner is sensitive about trespassers, so be considerate (see my put-in write-up above).  You easily could paddle four more miles to the next bridge at Hwy 106 where there is a good landing.  I think this bonus section would be mostly clear of jams, but might necessitate a couple of portages.

As a side note, I do recommend reading the book: The Bark River Chronicles.  It is the fascinating account of one man’s canoe journey on the entire Bark River and the economic, geologic, native, and pioneer history of the land and river along the way.  It is not a guide book per say like this website, but it does contain practical navigation tips from the headwaters at Bark Lake to its confluence with the Rock River. 


Most paddlers in Rome launch from a yard behind Picket’s store (just downstream/west of the Hwy F bridge).  The store owner has given permission for the public to use this launch, but not to park in the store parking lot.  Instead, you have to park at a local park maybe 500′ to the northeast and walk back (not a big deal).

However, I suggest putting in upstream by the dam instead.  You’ll park in the same spot (marked on the map), but instead walk north over a mill race bridge and put in just east of the dam.  Yes, you have to drag your boat maybe 500′ over grass, but you have to walk a bit either way for this put-in.  By putting in below the dam, you’ll enjoy one of the nicer sections of the river and some fun class 1 rapids.


The take-out is at Cushman Road southwest of the bridge.  There is a nice pull-off northeast of the bridge that would make a perfect landing, but it is posted as no trespassing.  The local property is owned by the Cushmans and they are sensitive about paddlers trespassing on their property.  They request that you ask permission in person (I’ve marked their residence, N3279, on the map) before using their land.  If they are not present, there is a phone number on the door so you can explain that you are parking on their land for a trip (that way they know not to call the police on you).

Shuttle Information:

I’m not aware of any local liveries. 

The bike shuttle is easy at 3.13 miles, with not too much traffic and only a few hills.

Hazards and Log Jams:

There are no log jams (well there were, but they get cleaned out by the locals).

There are occasional riffles on the river, with the most noteworthy rapids being just north of Hwy F (by the put-in) and just upstream of the take-out bridge (Cushman Road).  These are plenty safe at class 1, but could be a problem at higher water levels…especially since there is a strainer just upstream of the bridge.

River Depth, Navigability and Current:

This was paddled at 41 CFS according to the local gauge, which is about average and provides plenty of padding (rarely more than 1-2 feet though).  I suspect you can paddle this as low as 20 CFS…am not sure though.  One of the reasons you want to paddle this river is for the clarity which you would lose at high flow rates.  My guestimate would be to try to paddle at least below 50 CFS and ideally 30 CFS for the best experience.  


A lot of animals, including great blue herons, an osprey, lots of fish (mostly suckers and bass), clams, crayfish, dragonflies, a lot of song birds and a ton of painted turtles.  Well into the trip I mentioned that we hadn’t seen a snapping turtle…two seconds later we find one.  Talk about coincidences…  This guy was huge.  He was wary and would try to hide under the kayak but didn’t fit because of the shallow depth, which was quite amusing.  Speaking of amusing turtles, one of the painted turtles we found was stuck between two tree stumps (pictured below).  Weirdest thing…as I’m not sure how he did that, but we did free him.

Alternate Bark River Trips:

Starting upstream and working our way downstream…

  • Upstream of Merton:  Some log jam issues but has some nice parts.  For more information read The Bark River Chronicles.
  • Merton to Hwy 83:  7.25 miles that is sub-dividable with good parts and bad parts. For more information read The Bark River Chronicles.
  • Hwy 83 to St. John’s Park: 2.5 miles.  Mostly slow lake paddling on Lake Nagawicka. 
  • Saint John’s Park to Hwy P: 2.6 miles.  Really cool trip and detailed in my Delafield Review.
  • Hwy P to Genesee Lake Road: 2.2 miles.  Very nice marsh paddle and detailed in my Delafield Review.  Hwy P is under construction and not a launch option until November 2016.
  • Genesee Lake Road to Summit Ave: 3.0 miles.  A good stretch with ecologically diverse banks.  Genesee Lake Road has good shoulder access.  Detailed in my Delafield Review.
  • Summit Ave to Hwy 18 Wayside: 3.8 miles.  A decent prospect.  The take-out is a small park and the last of the three Hwy 18 bridge crossings.
  • Hwy 18 Wayside to Hwy E:  6.2 Miles.  Heavily channelized, but some of it still seems like it has potential.
  • Hwy E to the Rome dam:  4.2 miles…maybe 2 of which consists of open flowage paddling.  Jefferson County Map
  • Rome to Cushman Road:  5.6 miles.  A great section detailed in my Rome Review.
  • Cushman Road to Hwy 106 canoe launch:  4 miles and seems intriguing.  Per a comment below, it is free of logjams (thanks Theresa!).  Jefferson County Map
  • Hwy 106 canoe launch to Princes Point Wildlife Area:  5 miles.  Be careful of the partly removed dam at Hebron.  There are definitely downed trees in this section. Jefferson County Map
  • Princes Point to Burnt Village County Park:  6 miles.  Mostly floodplain forest and doesn’t look as interesting IMO.
  • Burnt Village County Park to the Rock River:  5.5 miles.  Does not seem topnotch.  Landing just upstream of the mouth on the east bank.



Part 1:

Part 2 (cool stuck turtle video!)


11 Comments to “Bark River – Rome”

  1. Thank you so very much for your excellent review. We kayaked from the Rome Pond Dam to Hwy 106 for a total of 9.6 miles, on October 9, 2015, @ 45 CFS. We did not have to portage at all. There were some areas where we scraped, but we could either scoot over those areas or walk our kayaks. Rapids were very mild and not quite class 1. The river was shallow enough to walk almost the entire distance. The highlight of the trip was the crystal clear water and ever changing scenery. Lots of maples were lit up with beautiful fall color and the wildlife was amazing! This truly was one of the best kayak outings of the year! Thank you, thank you, thank you for your awesome review!

    One thing: I worry about for future paddles on this stretch of the Bark, I noticed, after returning home, that the CFS climbed to above 70 CFS. There was no rain that day, so I’m assuming that water was released upstream for some other reason. I worry that I would unknowingly be in a situation of high/fast water. Do you know anything about the Bark’s CFS fluctuations?

    1. I’ve been on this segment of the Bark as high as 90 cfs, and it is by no means dangerous. I’ve been on it as low as 40 cfs, and the difference between the trips in terms of depth or current speed was not terribly notable. Except for in times of intense rain, this segment is typically below 80 cfs due to the decent gradient.

      1. FYI, I paddled this exact trip yesterday, Dec. 12, 2015, at 125 cfs. The riffles were delightful, and the 1-2 light rapids were fun play! It was an overcast drizzly day, but still the river was clear. Water clarity was not compromised at all despite the higher level. 125 cfs is the highest I’ve paddled this mid-section of the Bark, and I absolutely recommend it!

          1. One final update: I paddled this again yesterday, 12/19/15, at a shocking 250 cfs. Put in at Rome, took out at Green Isle bridge in Hebron, just below the 2′ drop. The current was swift from Rome to the Duck Creek confluence, the riffles were exquisite, and the light rapids approaching Cushman were wavy and rollicking. Water clarity was hardly compromised at all despite the higher level, and rarely was the river deeper than 2′.

            After Duck Creek the gradient disappears in a floodplain forest more reminiscent of the lower Bark by Prince’s Point and Burnt Village. The notable exception to that is the short mile-and-change segment below Hwy 106. There the current picks up again, the gradient increases, and it’s constant riffles and light rapids. At 200+ cfs there were fun standing waves below the pedestrian bridge, and the rapids at the dam remnants in Hebron, immediately upstream from Green Isle Rd bridge, were raging. There’s a formidable backroller hydraulic at the bottom of the drop in the center section — be careful. My friend got caught in it and capsized — and it was 23 degrees outside! (He’s fine; the car was right there.)

            It’s a rare river than can be paddled at 41 cfs and 250 cfs without its appearance or the experience of paddling it changing drastically!

  2. Thanks for the info! That the next 4-5 miles is free is huge news.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the Bark River dam situation. Often times in fall, dam operators will wind down their flowages in preparation for next spring’s flood. Usually they don’t do this on a weekend…but not always. I’m not sure if this is the case?

    If you hear anything else about the Bark, let me know!

  3. Also, for point of reference, there are two alternate takeouts in between Rome and Hebron. The first is at the confluence of Duck Creek and the Bark River, along Hagedorn Rd (hard to find but easy to access; there’s a walking trail that many others have used — plus it’s a great alternative to the “ask for permission” dilemma at Cushman Rd immediately upstream)​. The second is at the Hebron Campground just downstream from the fun drop at the dam remnants at Green Isle. The owners of the campground, Ralph and Joann, are very nice and supportive of paddlers. There’s no official launch, but it’s easy to use the grassy banks, and parking is nearby.

  4. We paddled yesterday from Slabtown to Cushman. It was very pleasant. We like it better than Princes Point to Rock River.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Barry. I totally agree…and frankly am not sure why so many paddlers focus on the far downstream sections.

  5. I have kayaked the Bark on 3 different occasions. Saturday was our best trip. Put in Prince’s Point. Take out Burnt Village. Easy put in…gravel ramp. Take-out had improved concrete. Portapotty & picnick table at the take out.
    The bark has been cleared with no snags. 2 1/2 hrs-3 hrs. Mild current. No nearby farms or bridges crossing over the river. Abundant wildlife: eagle, cooper hawk, many blue herons, green herons aand kingfishers.
    Worth highlighting on the web site.

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