Great parking by 11th Road Bridge

Attractive put-in

Small trail leading down to the landing and riffles

Wild mint!

Kayak equivalent of a car air freshener

Entering the eyes of the Mecan

Downstream view from the 11th Road Bridge

Great fall color

Superb water clarity

Blue aster

Why timing is everything with paddling

Even the ferns are turning

Like a smooth mirror

One of just a few homes

Ugh…billboards for kayakers

Tight but doable duck-under

Rustic pedestrian bridge

Clump of moss with red spore capsules

Wall of moss

Excellent chainsaw work by the locals

Cool stripes in the gravel

Most of the trip was like this

Occasional rocky substrate

Unique gravel pattern

This is a very sandy river

Another nice mirror picture

Personal favorite photo

A surprising number of white pines

If you paddle during spring or high water, you may not get this

Beggar’s ticks in flower

Scouring-rush horsetail

Scouring rush and club moss (front center) on moss mountain


Another nice pedestrian bridge

Lot of maples on the river

Buckthorn–attractive berries, but highly invasive

Maybe iron in the water? (looks like rust)

Current picking up into light riffles

An off-ramp sign for kayakers

Hwy JJ Bridge

Fun rapids below the bridge

Nice trail downstream east of bridge

Alternatively, there is a launch upstream/south of the bridge.

Handy distance reference (but not accurate)

Fantastic parking under a cathedral of pines

Saying good bye to the Mecan

Scouting the Germania Marsh dam–which is closed (kind of)

Scouting Cumberland Road Bridge (nice, but one jam immediately)

Hwy B is a better put-in and the river looks nice

Upstream view

Hwy 21 Bridge–looks narrow, fast and fun

Reverse view

9th Ave–creek is small, but looks nice

Mecan Springs Lake has no inlet and is spring-fed

Birth of the river (impressive for just ground water)

Pause Slideshow

Mecan River – Upper

Date Paddled: September 21st, 2014
Put-in: 11th Road Bridge
Take-out: JJ Road Bridge
Distance: 3.7 Miles
Time: 2 hours 26 minutes (2 hours would be more typical)
Gradient: 4' per mile (rough guess)
Water Level: Silver Creek (not accurate) 6.65' or 30 CFS

Despite the Mecan being a popular paddle, this section is often overlooked and undeservedly so.  This is a fine wilderness paddle and one of the clearest rivers in southern Wisconsin–a must paddle for south central Wisconsinites (you “northerners” already have lots of these type of rivers).


Very good bridge put-in at 11th Road.  Small trail on the northwest side of the bridge leads down to the water and some light rapids.  I suggest putting in a bit upstream so you don’t have to fight the current.  Parking is available at a nice pull-off area 100′ to the north.

Shuttle Information:

There is a popular livery in “Mecan River Outfitters” but I don’t know if they put in this far to the north.  Their number is 920-295-3439.  I had trouble reaching them, so perhaps they don’t have fall hours.  There is another rental service in “Lake of the Woods Campground” but I don’t know much about them.  Their number is 920-787-3601.

Otherwise, this is an easy bike shuttle.  Relatively flat, no gravel, minor traffic and only 2.34 miles.

River Depth, Navigability and Current:

The Mecan is largely spring-fed, which keeps the river extremely stable and means it can usually be paddled when other rivers are too high or too low (especially the upper sections).  I’ve included a reference to the nearby Silver Creek gauge at 30 CFS (not a super accurate representation, but better than nothing).  It had recently rained in the area, but I don’t know if that affected the depth much.  I suspect it was a tad above average and certainly could have been paddled at a much lower depth.  I never once got stuck on any shallow areas for reference.

The gradient is a medium 4′ per mile, with some riffly areas near the put-in and take-out.  Much more consistent and with less “slow areas” than the next section of the Mecan. 

Substrate and Water Quality:

FANTASTIC water quality and this is the “star” of the trip.  The reason why the water is so clear is because the river is largely spring-fed.  While the next (more famous/popular) segment of the Mecan has nice water quality, this was actually much better.  For the most part, the substrate is sand (this is a very sandy part of the state), with occasional attractive gravel beds.

The Trip:

I’ll start quick with a personal anecdote.  I’ve paddled the Mecan before, but from Hwy JJ to Hwy 22 (the classic section).  Really liked the river and was definitely hoping to revisit the river this year.  A video review by “Morrall Films” spoke highly of a downstream  section from the Germania Marsh to 2nd Hwy N bridge.  Alas, it was not to be.  I had called the local livery three times, but nobody answered.  That’s okay, as this seemed like an easy bike shuttle.  I drove up to the marsh dam and discovered the main road to the dam (and the put-in) was blocked by a gate.  Ugh…deja Grand River.  I suspect (if this is the same as the Grand Marsh), the DNR opens this only from May to Labor Day and then a brief period afterwords for gun season.  I would have to drag my kayak 940′ from the parking lot to the dam…which was doable in my book.  I had dragged a kayak 700′ just a week earlier for the East Fork of the Black River.  So I locked up my kayak and drove down to the Hwy N bridge to park the car and start the bike shuttle.  When I took the bike out of the car, I realized one of the quick release bolts for the front tire was gone.  Frantically searched everywhere for it with no luck.  I decided I had driven this far, why not try a “walk” shuttle at five miles (or hitchhike).  At about a mile in, nobody passed my way and it started to rain (was a 0% chance of this in the forecast)  First time I gave up on a trip.

The next day was Sunday and with a fixed bike, decided to give the Mecan another go.  Because of the rain, I was worried that the lower sections would be not flooded per say but higher than preferred, so decided to do a far upper section instead and am glad I did.

This far upper section (about 4 miles upstream of the popular JJ launch) is rarely paddled, most likely due to  rumors (false) of deadfall in the water.  I would be surprised if you saw another kayaker on this stretch, despite how popular the next section of the Mecan is.  For this trip, I lucked out on the timing (mid-September) as the trees were turning color and the color was terrific.  I had paddled the lower Mecan early in the spring when everything was so dead, and it was such a nice change of pace to see the trees fleshed out and in color.

The combination of clear water, clean sand, lack of mud banks and attractive white pines really made this a five-star trip…a trip I easily preferred to the next river segment as the current was more consistent, water cleaner, and the plant life/trees were better.


Some dragonflies but not much else I can remember (the disadvantage of being so behind on my reviews).  Some nice aquatic plants, but generally mostly a sandy substrate.  Some of the plant highlights were wild mint growing by the put-in, numerous white pines (Wisconsin’s largest tree), and gorgeous fall colors (especially the maples).  More wooded and not as scrubby as the section after Hwy JJ.  There were two nice, I believe, sandstone banks, but they were absolutely plastered with mosses, lichens and other exotic plants, so it was difficult to tell what rock was hiding behind it all.  Many ferns but not as many as after Hwy JJ.  Numerous wild berries on this trip, but all I think are toxic.  Many dying wildflowers and this would have been a great July/August paddle for them.

Hazards and Log Jams:

No log jams, thanks to the clean-up efforts of locals.  Maybe a tight duck-under at one point, but not bad.  There were some light rapids, but mostly minor (really, the put-in and the take-out are the main ones).  The Hwy JJ rapids are rockier and faster than you would think…almost class 2.  I “t-boned” my kayak in these rapids a few years ago so know not to underestimate them, but honestly, they are pretty easy and safe (very shallow water too if something were to go wrong).


Very good bridge take-out either above or below the bridge.  On the SW side, there is a nice grassy launch area that you can use if you want to avoid the rapids.  There is private property nearby, so be considerate.  The main put-in is at the NE side of the bridge with a small trail leading down below the rapids.  The rapids are fun and you should definitely run them!  On the NW side….maybe 50′ to the north, is the main parking area under an attractive white pine canopy.  Warning:  this lot does fill up in the summer, so you may want to come early.  Might be able to park by the road, but it wouldn’t be ideal.

Human Impact:

Very little.  The river (up to this point) is largely spring-fed and reasonably protected from commercial, agricultural and residential pollutants.  You’ll see only a couple of homes on the river, which is very nice.

Alternative Mecan River Trips:

Generally speaking, the further upstream on the Mecan you go the better.  Superior water clarity, better current and more woods (as a general rule).   For more trip ideas see my overview map here or use the below list:

  • Mecan Springs:  The river starts as a small lake fed by natural springs.  You can launch off the north shore near Chicago Road to explore this State Natural Area.
  • Mecan Springs to 9th Ave:  2.1 miles.  The river is an attractive creek with clear water.  Logjams shouldn’t be too much of an issue.  9th Ave is a tough access with small shoulders and being close to a home.
  • 9th Ave to Hwy 21:  2.2 miles.  Probably many portages.
  • Hwy 21 to Cumberland Road:  2.3 miles.  Probably many portages.
  • Cumberland Road to 11th Ave:  3.9 miles.  A great section with fast current, clear water and scenic white pines.  A few logjams to portage but not bad (reviewed Oct 2017).
  • 11th Ave to Hwy Y/JJ:  3.7 miles.  A fantastic section and my favorite on the entire river (reviewed Sep 2014).
  • Hwy Y/JJ to Hwy 22:  9.8 miles.  A very popular section (reviewed May 2012).
    • Hwy Y/JJ to 14th Ave:  2.8 miles.  One of the better and more popular sections on the river.
    • 14th Ave to Dixie Ave:  2.5 miles.  A very nice section that partly flows the “Mecan River Pine-Oak Forest State Natural Area”.
    • Dixie Ave to Dover Ave:  2.0 miles.  An ok section, but not as good as upstream sections.  More open and slower, with less pines.
    • Dover Ave to Hwy E:  1.8 miles.  An ok section, but not as good as upstream sections.  More open and slower, with less pines.
    • Hwy E to Hwy 22:  0.7 miles.  Nothing special about this section.  Open and somewhat simple.
  • Hwy 22 to Duck Creek Road/Electric Fence:  4.2 miles.  More open and not as interesting, but the river does flow through a state natural area.  Access to Duck Creek Road may be restricted.
  • Duck Creek Road/Electric Fence to Dam:  1.6 miles.  River turns into flowage pond and marsh.  Take-out is on a small access road off Hwy N.
  • Dam to Elk Road:  6.3 miles.  The most popular section on the Lower Mecan (reviewed Jul 2015).
    • Dam to Hwy N:  5.2 miles.  River turns into flowage pond and marsh.  Take-out is on a small access road off Hwy N.
    • Hwy N to Elk Road:  1.1 miles.  The river completely moved east creating a really cool corridor.
  • Elk Road to Hwy 23:  2.4 miles.  Traditionally a section with many log jams, this does get cleared out periodically by the local livery.  Hwy 23 is a poor access option.
  • Hwy 23 to Hwy C:  2.7 miles.  Again, usually logjams but often cleared by by the locals and Hwy 23 is a poor access option.
  • Hwy C to Mouth:  1.1 miles.  Simple open stretch leading to the Fox River.
  • Mouth to the Princeton Locks:  3.1 miles.  An uninteresting stretch on the Fox River.

For further information on the Fox River, see my Fox River review.


Zoom out for other trip ideas.

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10 Comments to “Mecan River – Upper”

  1. I love this part of the Mecan!It has a real “Up North” feeling. I’m glad to see someone cut a path at that downed tree. I had to portage over it with my wife and daughter. It was one of my daughters 1st time out kayaking and she wasn’t happy.

    I really like your site. It has a lot of good info on some of the smaller rivers and creeks that I like to paddle. If I could make one suggestion, Date of the trip.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I actually might be up there tomorrow… As for dates, they are posted on the front page, but yeah, I might post these on the trips themselves in the future.

    1. Hi Aaron,
      If your going to be up in this area, you might like to try Neenah Creek. The water level is high right now which makes it paddlable. I put in on Co. Rd. CX and paddle down to the Fox. Then get out by the Co. Rd. CM bridge. Plus with the water level so high you can get around all dead falls.

  3. Appreciate the info. Actually prefer shallow paddles if possible and might head down to Southwest Wisconsin (the only county it seems that hasn’t been deluged in rain). We’ll see…

  4. I did this trip today from 11th St. to 14th Ave. with a bike shuttle. The paddle was about 7 miles and took me 2 1/2 hours. It was such a wonderful place! Thank you for your write up, it encouraged me to try this river. I was able to navigate the hairpin turns, riffles, and dead fall in my 10 foot kayak.

  5. Just did this section yesterday, a few duck-unders, but otherwise it is clear all the way. The water was crystal clear and the fall colors were just starting to show. It should be spectacular in the coming weeks. We had bikes to do a bike shuttle but happened to stop in at Blader’s Dakota Inn,and found someone who offered to give us a lift top the top for free (5-10 min drive). Blader’s is just a few hundred feet from the JJ bridge, and is a good place to grab a burger and a beer and/or use the bathroom before or after a trip.

  6. Forgot to mention that we had 14′ kayaks, and did not feel they were too big, some sites and books I saw recommended against anything bigger than 13′, I don’t know about the lower sections but this section is totally doable in a 14’if you have have level of boat control.

    1. Appreciate the tip about the kayak length. The upper Mecan can be be fast and tight for longer kayaks, but yeah good experience can help.

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

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