Good public access at Walking Iron Park

Wild plums growing by the put-in (a little tart yet)

Main put-in is a hidey trail downstream from the bridge

I put in upstream to run the rapids

Quite fun

The first couple of miles are wooded and really nice

Great water clarity

Big leaves = big beans, I guess…

Very early fall leaves (dry season)

Lot of wild grapes on the creek

Be careful where you put your head…

Look like rockets blasting into space

Number of little riffles

Some nice tree canopies

Beaver bit off more than he could chew

A wild pumpkin with small fruit

Couple of small sandbars

Another fun little riffle

Cool little suspension bridge

One of the nicer riffles

West Hudson bridge is a popular take-out

Bit weedy, but doable

Naked roots

Some animal path that has been magnified by erosion

Water clarity was fantastic

Inspecting wild cucumbers

Their fruit looks like naval mines

A riffle created by log debris

Huge wall of grapevines

Easy to hide in

Plenty navigable for kayaks, the creek might be small for canoes

Nice light, clean pebbles

What a mess…but thankfully cleaned out by the locals

Cool root pattern

Just missed the train by minutes

Quite the spider web

Mystery effluent with mystery odor and mystery algae

Lot of orange touch-me-nots on the river

Seedpods before being touched

After being touched the seeds go flying

Might be nannyberry


Magnificent weeping willow


Monarch food (milkweed)

Things are starting to open up

Second group of kayakers that passed us (do not trust my trip times)

Another squeaker (but doable)

Three farmers had these creek vacuums in the water

White snakeroot and some blue nightshade flowers

Nightshade berries look like Christmas lights

Ripe elderberries

More nice cleanup work

Morrill Road bridge has swing gates for cattle (or people)

This section of the creek is very open

Some startled onlookers

Some cow erosion

Dry teasel heads–once used for carding wool

This fence was easy to duck under

Cool pore fungus

Walnuts! (quite the fruitful trip)

A very muddy leopard frog


Blynn Road is a good take-out but a tad bushy

7 more miles to the Wisconsin River at Arena

Pause Slideshow

Black Earth Creek – Walking Iron

Date Paddled: August 22nd, 2015
Put-in: Walking Iron Park in Mazomanie
Take-out: Blynn Road Bridge
Distance: 5.47 Miles
Time: 5 hours 3 minutes (2.5 hours would be more typical)
Gradient: ~6.0' per Miles
Water Level: Black Earth Creek at West Hudson Street 32 CFS or 2.03'

Black Earth Creek is a popular trout stream located a little northwest of Madison.  It historically hasn’t been paddled much, but thanks to clean-up efforts by the locals it is now largely navigable.  I’ve done most of the creek already and really liked it, so was definitely interested to see what this last post-Mazomanie section was like.

Trip starts out on a great note with good but not dangerous current and some slight riffles, including a class 1 rapids below the put-in bridge.  The creek has a cool feel to it that is hard to describe.  Perhaps it is the clear water, clean sandy substrate, not too much dead log debris and relatively clean/low banks with lush plant life.

From Walking Iron Park to West Hudson Road is easily the best part of the trip.  Here the woods are the thickest and close to the creek, creating intimate canopies and a sense of mystery.  It’s worth noting that of the entire length of the creek the very best section is upstream from Olson Road to West Hudson Road, which I reviewed previously.  West Hudson Road is an alternate take-out but a bit bushy, with the best access directly below the bridge.  

From West Hudson Road to Morrill Road the current slows down and the creek opens up a bit.  It’s still nice and the highlight here are the cool, clear sections.

From Morrill Road to Blynn Road the creek really opens up, with most trees disappearing.  You’re in cow country now.   Directly under Morrill Road there are swing gates to block cattle from going under the bridge.  They are a little unwieldy for kayakers to duck under but are doable.  Sure enough, shortly after the swing gates we encountered a large herd of cows in the water.  This last stretch is more of a cow savannah with grasses and disturbed plants being most dominant.  Three farmers had active water pumps in the creek which they were using to irrigate their fields.

All in all, a really nice trip that I liked and do recommend (do the Mazo section first though).  It’s kind of strange that a creek like this isn’t more popular than it is, but we did see two groups of kayakers on the water, so perhaps the word is getting out.

For geology fans, this creek has a lot of significance.  15,000 years ago it was a gigantic glacial river that filled much of the Black Earth Creek valley.  This tremendous river eventually receded and Black Earth Creek is all that remains.  This history has given Black Earth Creek a lot of unique character…especially with its clean, sandy substrate and pebbly bottom.


Good access at Walking Iron Park.  There is a small pedestrian bridge you can cross and then put in downstream river-right.  Parking and restrooms are to the south.


The bridge at Blynn Road is a little bushy, but otherwise plenty doable as an access with good shoulder parking.  Best take-out location is southeast of the bridge.

Shuttle Information:

I do not believe the local Wisconsin River liveries service this creek.

The bike shuttle is plenty manageable at 4.3 miles, mostly along Hudson Road, with just minor hills.

Hazards and Log Jams:

No hazards.  Log jams have historically been an issue on this stretch, but they have recently been cleaned up by the locals, which is very much appreciated.  Still be wary of new trees in the water.  There are a couple of tight spots to squeak through so I’m not sure this would be a good section for canoes (kayaks would be fine).

River Depth, Navigability and Current:

Good current, especially near Walking Iron Park, with a couple of minor riffles.  This was paddled at 32 CFS per the local gauge which, despite being below average, was never a problem for getting seriously stuck.  I think 30-60 CFS is a good target.  High 20’s are probably doable, but it might be a bit more bumpy.  The creek will lose its fantastic clarity at higher flow rates, so lower is better.  I suspect the creek might start to get too pushy at 60 CFS or more.


Animals included a red-tailed hawk, great blue heron, wood ducks, many green darners (a dragonfly that migrates), lots of leopard frogs and some beaver evidence.

The plants were actually the highlight.  We had huge catalpa beans, wild plums, a wild pumpkin, many wild grapes, walnuts, wild cucumbers, exploding touch-me-not pods, ripe milkweed pods and a number of toxic berries.  Quite the fruitful trip. 

Alternate Black Earth Creek Trips:

  • Upstream of Cross Plains: I suspect the creek is actually large enough to run here, but deadfall is probably an issue.
  • Cross Plains to Salmo Pond: 3 miles.  Some obstructions, but is on my to-do list. You can launch by the Kwik Trip or by the Ice Age Trail.
  • Salmo Pond to Black Earth: 4.2 miles.  A good section (reviewed here). 
  • Black Earth to Olson Road: 4.1 miles.  Another good section (reviewed here).
  • Olson Road to Walking Iron Park: 3.7 miles. Best section on the entire creek (reviewed here and later as a guest winter review here).
  • Walking Iron Park to W. Hudson Road: 1.1 miles.  A small but great section that is recommended as an add-on to an Olson Road trip (reviewed here).
  • W. Hudson Road to Blynn Road: 4.4 miles.  An ok section but nothing special (reviewed here).
  • Bylnn Road to Mouth at Arena: 6.8 miles.  Technically now Blue Mounds Creek, this is the weakest section (reviewed here).




4 Comments to “Black Earth Creek – Walking Iron”

  1. My husband and I did this section this spring when the creek was very high. We had to portage about 6 times (lost count!) but hopefully the jams are cleared now. Just a few updates for you: There is a new bridge at the put in at Walking Irons park and the banks are very rocky from the new construction, my guess is to prevent erosion. All of the brush has been removed on both sides of the creek which looks great. On the south side of the creek, just downstream of the bridge, an “official” put in has been created and marked! The swing gates at Morrill Road bridge were gone at the time we paddled through. Don’t know if it’s just seasonal or if they’re gone for good. This is a fantastic website and has been invaluable to my husband and me as we are novice paddlers. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much for the comments Jennifer!

      It’s too bad to hear about the new logjams, but I know some cleanup work has been done on the lower section and this might be in better shape now.

      Also appreciate the heads up about the accesses and the fences. It’s great to see what the community has done the creek.

  2. OK…please note that John’s Landing is now available at Walking Iron Park for a put-in and has space for about 15 cars to park. Good spot to put in. However, John’s Landing to Blynn road is still a work in progress. Very hard to keep clear plus the farmers have some issues with trees being cut, etc. It shall improve once the crops are out and we can get in to the creek from the fields. BUT now for the fun update: today 7 of us spent 5 hours with john boat/kayaks/hand saws/ chainsaw/loppers/ etc and cleared from Blynn down to the Wis River. It is totally navigable. There are trees to skirt around but all are do-able. Also we cut back many of the overhanging branches and managed to loosen some of the floating logs. So…go have fun. Gaila and Gary Olsen Black Earthlings along with 5 Mazomites!!

How did your trip turn out? Questions? Comments? Or just say hi.

Be notified when future paddle reviews go live by subscribing!