Pecatonica River – East Branch

The East Branch is a solid river for paddling.  As a general rule the further upstream you go, the better the scenery…but also the greater the likelihood of logjams.

Trip Reports

Hwy 39 Bridge to Horseshoe Bend Road

Date Paddled: August 9th, 2014
Distance: 7.4 Miles
Time: 4 hours 35 minutes

An underrated prospect located 40 minutes southwest of Madison, with nice plantlife and tree canopies, but most of all, some splendid rock bluffs. There is a decent chance you haven’t heard of the East Branch of the Pecatonica River, as many paddle review sources do not cover it.  This is odd…but kind of a consistent […]


Blanchardville Dam to Hwy 78

Date Paddled: September 18th, 2021
Distance: 3.8 miles
Time: Expect 2 hours

This is a weaker stretch of the East Branch, but it wasn't a bad paddle.  It's most memorable feature was the Blanchardville dam at the put-in which is photogenic.


Hwy 78 to River Road Landing

Date Paddled: September 30th, 2023
Distance: 6.2 miles
Time: Expect ~3 hours

A pleasant stretch with open scenery, Driftless Area hills, and a handful of rock outcrops.  On the downside some sections are a bit boring and open pasture has degraded parts of the river.


River Road to Argyle Boat Landing

Date Paddled: July 16th, 2023
Distance: 7.2 miles
Time: 3.25 hours

A guest review for a scenic stretch of the East Branch which features impressive outcrops.


River Road in Argyle to Hwy M in Woodford

Date Paddled: July 22nd, 2023
Distance: 9.2 miles
Time: 3.5 hours

A guest review for a scenic stretch of the East Branch between Argyle and Woodford.


Overview Map

Detailed Overview

Nearby Guages


Bonus video below of butterflies siphoning minerals from mud and beating their wings as a hydraulic mechanism.


Oct 2nd, 2023 - Eric Guderyon from Wingra Creek
I did this section on Oct 1 2023, ( USGS 4.4 ft 125 CFS), Overall the levels were good, a few shallow spots and a bit bumpy in some of the riffles, but on the upside we were able to get under a few things that might have been more difficult with a few more inches. There were certainly things to avoid, but nothing too difficult, and no complete blockages. A few of the leaves were just starting to turn, so I hope to be back in a few weeks as it is a fantastic trip during peak colors as well as a beautiful trip after all the leaves fall and you can see all the bluffs that have been hidden. Here is a link to my trip using the Relive app, that I highly recommend
Aug 8th, 2023 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Update from"Update, a group of volunteers went down the river from McKenna launch to Blanchardville and have gotten it opened up for your paddling pleasure"
Jun 26th, 2023 - Aaron from Dell Creek
I appreciate the river updates which other readers should find helpful.
Jun 26th, 2023 - Otter from Mineral Point Branch
Did this trip mid June 2023 in kayaks. Did not check river gauge at the time, probably about 4.6, water was low comparing to past years at the McKenna landing (looking at the concrete ramp). Very little problem with bottoming out. A bit muddy getting in at Hollandale as the weeds are high under the bridge, so just did an otter slide down the grass into the mud. Very nice trip except for three total blocks. Two between Hollandale and McKenna Road, one between McKenna and Horseshoe Bend. The last one has been there for years but we can no longer squeeze under, even in low water. The second block in the first section was downstream of the old block just before the bridge. We were able to climb over all three blocks with some effort. Hesitant to try again. Will require a large chain saw to clear as the trees are rather big. There were a couple other blocks but we could squeeze through them. Did a little cutting but only had a small hand saw.
Nov 16th, 2022 - Aaron from Dell Creek
The pictures look fantastic! Late fall is a terrific time to see rivers like this.
Nov 15th, 2022 - Eric G from Wingra Creek
We took advantage of a nice fall day and did trip on Oct 29, 2022. We dropped are boats on the South side of the Hwy 38 bridge on river left, drove down and parked our car at the Horseshoe Bend Rd bridge, then biked back to our boats. Although it is a bit hilly this is a beautiful shuttle because it runs along a ridgetop with some fantastic views of the countryside. It was especially nice because the road was technically closed for "through traffic" due to construction,so there was very little traffic and it had just been paved so it was one of the smoothest roads I have ever biked on. The trip itself was equally beautiful. This is a fantastic trip to do in the late fall because it is much easier to see all the gorgeous rock formations after many of the leaves have fallen. I am happy to report that the muti-tree blocake just north of the Mckenna bridge has now been cleared up, so the river is open all the way from Hollandale to Horseshoe Bend and according to other reports all the way to Blanchardville. This is an easy and fun trip that I tink is doable by anybody unless levels are high. Here is a link to a map and pics of our trip
Aug 7th, 2021 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Another update from Pec River Clean-Up Group: "Quick update! Got the lower portion of the river from McKenna to Blanchardville opened up a bit today"
Jun 6th, 2021 - Aaron from Dell Creek
One of my main goals for 2021 is to return to the East Branch. I appreciate all the intel you provided on this river!
Jun 6th, 2021 - Kristen from Fox River
Here’s an update from 2021! We went on June 5 from Hwy 39 to Blanchardville (155 CPS & 4.72 ft @ Blanchardville). We accessed on the NW side of the bridge as others have. This access OK, but there wasn’t really a path, and getting down is pretty steep and rocky. Wild parsnip was further to the left. My boyfriend almost lost his muck boots in the quicksand-like muck, so be careful how far you wade in! The highlight of the first section were the bald eagles + nest ~3 miles. The low lights were a downed log that we balanced on to pull the boat over, and then the massive log jam others have mentioned before McKenna Road. To get around, the left side of the river had stinging nettles and more wild parsnip. The right side had grass and wild cucumber, so we scrambled up the steep right bank and bushwhacked a trail ~30 m to a fairly nice put in, actually - some branches to lower yourself back down into the boat instead of dealing with the muck! It didn’t seem like we were the first to go this way. The rest of the trip was clear, and we appreciate the efforts of volunteers who made it so! We saw the paved launch at McKenna road and kinda wished we had put in there instead. The exit at Horseshoe bend road looked very steep with some stairs to get up to the road. The highlight of the next section was definitely the cliffs at Horseshoe bend. As we got closer to Blanchardville, the current really slowed down, which made the last few miles kind of a slog. And there was very little shade (vs the first sections that had very nice tree cover!), which made for a hot and sunny 90+ section. We had planned a bike shuttle from the park in town by the dam, but then noticed a paved ramp ~0.2 mi north of there, where we took out instead. Getting out by the dam would be doable; the banks were almost 2 ft above the water, but it looked like there were some rocks to step on to help. We highly recommend the paved launch with parking! Portaging the dam would be challenging, because of the exit and also the put in - the banks just below the dam are very steep. The next access point looks to be a paved ramp at McKellar park, as mentioned.
Mar 22nd, 2021 - Aaron from Dell Creek
A big update for the East Branch from the Pec River Clean-Up Group: "It was a couple rough days on the Pec but the River rats got it done. The river from Blanchardville down to thunder bridge is open. Also the most popular stretch for canoes and kayaking, McKenna to Blanchardville is also open. I will warn that if the water level is high, the tree in the first picture will be an issue on that stretch . As of today we had no problem getting our boats under it but the river is extremely low for this time of year. Please don’t forget to thank all the river clean up helpers for donating their time and equipment to this cause. Last weekend was Nate Dammen, Chad McGowan and Kevin Phillips. Today we had Ron Krause, Chad and Wyatt McGowan, Jeff Love and Kevin Phillips. There are many others that also contribute throughout the year and I personally want to thank them for their time."
Nov 29th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
I would definitely be curious to know what the latest logjam situation is below McKenna. High on my todo list for 2021 will be 78 to River Road, which I hope is logjam free.
Nov 28th, 2020 - Eric Guderyon from Wingra Creek
Took advantage of a sunny 50+ late Nov day and paddled this section with a few friends on 11/28/20 (220 CFS and 5.4 ft) The trip took us about 2 hours and 45 min, started at 11:45 and finished at 2:30. Conditions were great, good water clarity, decent current, and just a bit of mud at the take out and at the 1 portage. The portage, just upstream of McKenna, is still there and and is a series of 3-4 groups of trees completely blocking the river. We portaged on river left, bank is muddy and slippery and the pretty steep where you put back in. River right looks like it might be easier to put back in but I did not see an easy place to get out. After McKenna the river is unobstructed all the way to Horseshoe Bend Rd. I agree with your earlier comment, and next trip I will put in at McKenna, where there is what appears to be an old concrete slab landing, and go down to Blanchardville
Aug 11th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Appreciate the update as always. I'm quite curious about the lower sections of the East Branch and will have to check those out some time...
Aug 11th, 2020 - Eric Guderyon from Wingra Creek
did this trip on 8/6 with a bike shuttle, levels were at about CFS 225 and 5.5 which seemed almost perfect. There were several obstacles to go over/under/through but only one complete blockage, just upstream of Mc Kenna Rd. that required a portage, we did the left bank but had to walk a ways (50 yards?) to find a place to put back in that was not too steep and muddy, perhaps right bank would be better. The river is much less obstructed after McKenna Rd. This would be a great trip to do in the late fall or early spring to take advantage of the lack of foliage so the rock outcroppings would be more visible. Yes the shuttle has a few hills, but it also has great views from the ridge tops. A stop at Nick Engelbert's Grandview is a must for anyone who likes outsider or quirky art environments and it is less than 2 miles from the put-in
Jun 28th, 2020 - Aaron from Dell Creek
That's too bad...the East Branch has really endured a lot of flooding in the past five years and it sounds like it isn't in great shape.
Jun 28th, 2020 - Jon from Starkweather Creek
We paddled from Hwy 39 (near Hollandale) to Horseshoe Bend Rd. on 28June2020. Gauge was 270 CFS and 6 ft. After scouting, we chose to put in upstream river right (nearest to the parking lot), which was muddy. Quite a bit of wild parsnip to be careful of as well. Not far upstream from the McKenna Rd. bridge, there were three sets of downed trees. Depending on water levels, boat length and commando skills, these three jams require some combination of portaging, exiting to climb over logs, and sneaking through tight thickets of branches. The portage route had some stinging nettles. Downstream from McKenna Rd., there were no jams, although boat control is still essential. Compared to the photos from previous years, the river seems to have eroded quite a bit, with more mud at put-ins/take outs.
Oct 22nd, 2019 - Aaron from Dell Creek
Thanks as always. Consider taking pictures on some of your trip and posting to an online album (such as Google Photos or Flickr). You could then easily insert the album url in the comment and others could see what you saw.
Oct 22nd, 2019 - Eric Guderyon from Wingra Creek
I did the trip on 10/20/19. with a bike shuttle, there were a few tough hills but very little traffic and it is only 5 miles with some great ridge top views so all in all not too bad. Water levels were fairly high (approx 390 CFS and 7.2 FT) so there was a good current the whole way and the trip only took us a bit over 2 hours. The put-in/take-out were easy and thanks to the high water not too muddy. There were a few tight spots that required a bit of ducking under and or sliding over and one spot just north of McKenna Rd where we had to get out of the boats to pull them over a blockage but we never had to get off the river. some of the obstructions that we were able to float over might be more difficult at more typical water levels The rock outcroppings and fall colors were fantastic, especially the section between McKenna and Horseshoe Bend Rd. I think this section would be suitable for any level paddler, and the section from McKenna to Horseshoe Bend, would make for a great short after work fall/winter paddle.
Aug 7th, 2018 - Aaron from Dell Crek
No took 4+ hours. I'm slow though...3 hours might be more typical.
Aug 7th, 2018 - Rich from Bass Creek
Hello! Thanks for the write up. Did it really take 4+ hours or is that a typo? Rich
Jun 14th, 2018 - Eric Guderyon from Wingra creek
Did this section with a bike shuttle, the river was at 212 CFS and about 5.3 ft. Great trip, very quiet and peaceful, saw lots of wildlife but not a single person the entire way. A few duck unders, slide overs, and tree branches to slip through, but I never had to get out of my boat. I cleaned up a few spots so its a pretty clean trip right now. One strange thing to note, about 25 yards downstream from the put-in there is a white and orange buoy, like the ones marking swimming areas, that says KEEP OUT NO BOATS. Knowing Wisconsin laws about navigable waterways I ignored it. But you may want to add a note about it for other kayakers and canoeist.
Sep 3rd, 2017 - admin
Thanks for the update Chris...this really helps out other paddlers.
Sep 2nd, 2017 - Chris from Black Earth Creek
Attempted Highway 39 to Blanchardville on September 2, 2017. Encountered Five complete blockages before McKenna Road where we called it quits. Recommend avoiding this section.
May 20th, 2017 - admin
Thanks for the feedback! Too bad about the downed trees...probably came in from our recent storms.
May 20th, 2017 - Steve from Yahara
Paddled Hollandale to Blanchardville 5/19/17. Many downed trees along the way. If water was any lower we would have been dragging boats over trees, thankfully we were able to slip over them. Really nice few hours spent on the river, looking forward to doing other sections of the Pecatonica.
Jan 9th, 2015 - Jacki from Milwaukee River/Lake Michigan
Wow, great site! My husband and I are new to kayaking. We went on our first camping/kayaking trip last year to Pattison State Park and kayaked the Bois Brule. It was great. We both tipped, I lost my sunglasses, but it was great. We're going to kayak the Pecatonica this August.

How did your trip turn out? Questions or comments? Feel free to leave your feedback.

Be notified when future paddle reviews go live by subscribing!