Little Turtle Creek
Turtle Creek is a popular paddle trail located just east of Beloit. I’ve paddled it twice before and both times were positive experiences. This winter when map scouting the area, I came across an obscure tributary called Little Turtle Creek which appeared quite tantalizing. Light rapids and good water clarity were clearly visible from satellite imagery, and there didn’t seem to be many logjams. I scouted it in person about a month ago but it was flooded and unappealing. I still had good vibes about the creek though, so when creek levels finally settled down I jumped at the opportunity to paddle it.
My initial plan was to paddle this creek in two parts (J to Lake Shore and later Lake Shore to N). But Lake Shore was a bad bridge access so I scrapped those plans and settled for launching a bit upstream at S. County Line Road. The first mile was very nice…small, fast and open. It was very reminiscent of many of the Driftless trout streams I’ve paddled in the past despite it not being a Driftless paddle. Clarity was good, which provided a nice window to see the clean pebble substrate and occasional fish.
Soon Ladd Creek added good volume to the creek and I would pass under Lake Shore Road (the bridge I initially hoped to start my trip on). The next half mile flowed quickly through an attractive woods that reminded me of Black Earth Creek (another Ice Age paddle). Little Turtle Creek is located just south of the terminal moraine created by the Green Bay Lobe (a massive glacier). At its front, it ground up many rocks into small pebbles and bulldozed them to the front of the terminal moraine. These pebbles and glacial rocks are why “Ice Age paddles” run so uniquely clean and clear.
Despite the creek being in “farm country”, there was a significant buffer that flanked the creek and I rarely saw farm fields which was appreciated. The creek would meet a south-facing hill which I presume was some type of glacial feature. Natural seeps sprung out of the banks and skunk cabbage grew nearby. Along the hill was a large sand bank which was a unique sight for this area of the state.
Following Temperance Trail, the light woods were replaced by flat, open grassland as the creek widened. This sounds uninteresting, but the scenery was surprisingly attractive here with multiple light rapids, colorful pebble bottoms, and nice bluff vistas in the distance. Little Turtle Creek is one of those infrequent Wisconsin rivers that flows north…so on a sunny day this means paddling into vibrant blue skies and bright blue water.
The creek would stay scenic after Hwy X and feature colorful substrate striations that weaved with the current. There was a surprising amount of sand here including several small sandbars. I ended the trip at Hwy N, which despite practically being under busy Hwy 43, was a good access. At the take-out there were some locals including a kayaker who left just as I arrived. So much for me “discovering” this paddle. I talked to another local though who actually was surprised that I had paddled it. He had assumed it would have logjam issues…but I assured him there weren’t (I only had to deal with one jam).
In summary this was a surprisingly nice trip I really enjoyed. It wasn’t perfect in that there were some mud banks and a bit of untidy flood debris here and there. And while I ranked it five stars, I actually liked the other two five star trips I did this year more (Scuppernong Creek and Rattlesnake Creek). But…this was still a special creek with the highlights being a a consistently fast current, good clarity and a beautiful pebble substrate. My only regret was perhaps not putting in further upstream as those legs looked really nice when I scouted them. Perhaps another time. One last note…if you do this trip, save it for a sunny day…otherwise you just won’t be able to appreciate the amazing clarity.
S. County Line Road: This is a relatively good bridge access. There is a decent launch area along the NW corner.
- Cty Road J: (2.4 miles upstream from my put-in) Not super private but otherwise not a bad access. In hindsight I wished I had launched here. This stretch is open with maybe 4-5 logjams, but is scenic.
- S. Summerville Road: (2.1 miles upstream from my put-in) This bridge has tight parking but is a doable access. This leg is open with maybe 2-3 logjams.
- Lake Shore Road: (0.8 miles downstream from my put-in) This is a difficult access with little privacy…not recommended.
Hwy N: Despite almost being under a larger interstate overpass, this is actually a nice access option with suitable parking, decent privacy, and a suitable (although a bit muddy) take-out area on the southeast bank. There is additional parking at the Pelishek Nature Trail 300′ to the south if needed.
- Temperance Trail: (1.3 miles upstream from my take-out) Unless you’re willing to park in a farmer’s field, there’s nowhere to practically park, making this a poor access.
- Hwy X: (0.6 miles upstream from my take-out) This is a doable access but not recommended as Hwy X is a busy road, there is a long guardrail here, and the banks are steep.
- S. O’Riley Road: (2.3 miles downstream from my take-out) Riley Road is actually on the main ranch of Turtle Creek. This last stretch of the Little Turtle is wooded and nice, but there could be 4-5 logjams.
Shuttle & Rental Information:
Hwy N to S. County Line Road: (3.1 miles/141′ of climbing). This isn’t a super long bike shuttle but does have some grueling hills. What made this particularly difficult in my case was pedaling into a headwind with 40+ mph gusts. In hindsight I should have shuttled in the morning before the winds picked up.
There are some dogs on this route. The first house had a pair of nasty pit bulls that ran after me but thankfully they were constrained by a fence…eventually they settled on attacking each other. There was another pair of dogs at the south end of the shuttle who chased me briefly…but once I didn’t give them eye contact they let me pass. NEVER look a dog in the eyes that is chasing you on a bike…they see it as a challenge.
There is a trailhead to the Pelishek-Tiffany Nature Trail by the take-out…but it is not practical for kayak shuttles. If you wish, you could hike it…it’s a grassy trail used by locals (mostly horse riders and those who walk their dogs).
Hazards and Concerns:
This was a pretty safe and easy trip.
- Logjams: There was only one logjam on the trip located here. I hopped over, but it would also be a straightforward portage if you prefer.
- Rapids: Many riffles and light rapids but nothing really noteworthy. There is a one foot rock dam located here that paddlers can hop over or easily portage.
- Fences: None
River Depth and Navigability:
Nearest Gauge: Turtle Creek @ Clinton, Wisconsin. This gauge is about 6 miles downstream from my take-out…but does include the much larger Turtle Creek so may not be completely representative.
- 0-150 CFS: This might be too shallow.
- 151-200 CFS: A handful of rapids will be pretty bumpy but I think this will be a viable depth. Clarity will be superb.
- 201-300 CFS: An above average depth, but a good target range. Some rapids will be bumpy but it won’t be too bad. I did the trip at 237 CFS and enjoyed good clarity.
- 301-400 CFS: A high depth but likely navigable. Some clarity but not as much.
- 401-500 CFS: Likely doable but with no good clarity.
- 501+ CFS: Maybe too high for an enjoyable paddle. I scouted the creek on March 28th when it was in the process of rising from 600 CFS to 1900 CFS. At that point the creek had burst its bank and was in flood stage.
Other Little Turtle Creek Trips:
- Upstream of Cty Road J: The creek splits into two channels, both of which are small, but likely navigable. There are some logjams to deal with.
- Cty Road J to S. Summerville Road: 0.3 miles. Nice stretch, but maybe 2 logjams.
- Summerville Road to S. County Line Road: 2.1 miles. Small but scenic stretch. Maybe 2-3 logjams.
- S. County Line Road to Hwy N: 6.0 miles.
- S. County Line Road to Lake Shore Road: 0.8 miles. Good stretch that reminded me of a Driftless trout stream.
- Lake Shore Road to Temperance Trail: 3.7 miles. A long and windy stretch with some woods. Highlights include fantastic clarity and an attractive sand/pebble substrate.
- Temperance Trail to Hwy X: 0.8 miles. Very open grassy stretch with many light rapids that is surprisingly scenic.
- Hwy X to Hwy N: 0.5 miles. An open sandy section with top-notch clarity.
- Cty Road N to S. O’ Riley Road: 2.3 miles. The last leg before connecting with Turtle Creek. This is a wooded stretch with perhaps some deadfall to deal with (figure 4-5 logjams).