About a half hour north of Portage is a nice little river in the Mecan. This is a popular kayaking river and it is easy to see why. The water is very clean and the banks are largely undeveloped and wild. The current is unexpectedly strong and there are a few riffles you’ll get to go through. The main put-in is on Hwy Y/JJ. Great parking and grassy put-in. Unfortunately, none of the landings have bathrooms that I saw, so plan accordingly. The river starts out with a strong riffle (you’ll see this in the picture). Put in upstream of the bridge so you can go through it. The current stays fast and there are a large number of hairpin turns. In fact, the turns are so tight and frequent, I don’t know how somebody with a boat longer than 13 ft. would enjoy the river.This is a very scenic part of the river that I liked the best. Lots of clean water, ferns, and greenery. The trees never get that big up here (probably bad soil), so you won’t get your forest canopies, but it is nice never-the less. There are also plenty of quaint bridges to paddle under.
For take-out there are two main options: Dover Ave. and Hwy 22. The former would have been preferred in hindsight, as the downstream section of the river isn’t nearly as nice as the upstream section (which tends to be a recurring theme with most Wisconsin rivers). Dover Ave. definitely appeared to have a better take-out ramp…while we had to slosh around in the mud to get our boats out at Hwy 22 (good parking at both though). Of interest….I believe Mike Svob, in his review of our section (the longer one to Hwy 22), says this is 7 miles…we measured this and it was 10 miles, so we think Mike was wrong…or he referenced the Dover Ave. take-out instead.
(Editors Update — A reader has informed me in the comments below that this river is plenty navigable for longer boats. Also that the upstream put-in above JJ is private and he suggest the downstream side of JJ instead.)
Generally speaking, the further upstream you go on the Mecan, the better. Upper Mecan segments tend to have less mud, better current, better clarity, and more attractive shorelines.
- Mecan Springs to 9th Ave: 1.4 miles.
- Mecan Springs Boat Launch to Hwy GG: 0.6 miles. The river starts as a spring fed lake sandwiched between two moraines. This is a neat lake paddle with clear water and visible springs located mostly along the western end. Trip length can be expanded by 1-2 miles if you explore the various bays throughout the lake.
- Hwy GG to 9th Ave: 1.4 miles. The first mile of the river has a few snags to dodge, but is super scenic with nearly perfect water clarity.
- 9th Ave to Hwy 21: 2.3 miles. Satellite maps indicate there could be many logjams and portages.
- Hwy 21 to Cumberland Road: 2.3 miles. Satellite maps indicate there could be many logjams and 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.
- 11th Ave to Hwy Y/JJ: 3.7 miles. A fantastic section and my favorite on the entire river.
- Hwy Y/JJ to Hwy 22: 9.8 miles.
- Hwy Y/JJ to 14th Ave: 2.8 miles. One of the better and more popular sections of the river.
- 14th Ave to Dixie Ave: 2.5 miles. A very nice section that partly flows through 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 fewer pines.
- Dover Ave to Hwy E: 1.8 miles. River starts to become less interesting but is still ok.
- 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.
- Dam to Hwy N: 5.2 miles. River turns into a 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 moves east creating a really cool corridor.
- Elk Road to Hwy 23: 2.4 miles. Traditionally a section with many logjams, 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, this usually has logjams but they are often cleared out by the locals. 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.
The Mecan River is my favorite small stream and I’ve paddled it over a dozen times. For a capable canoeist it presents no problem, and I find it a great river to teach canoe strokes. I’ve paddled it in 16′ & 17′ tandem canoes and 14′ – 16’+ solo canoes without having any trouble. It gets 5 stars in my book.
Please do not recommend the upstream put-in at Hmy JJ in Dakota. This is private property and, although the owner doesn’t object to responsible use, it’s best to avoid the culvert. The downstream put-in works better because of the eddy on the left side. The rocks downstream are easy to avoid.
And, look out for the poison ivy at the put-in. Please don’t leave the river until AFTER you reach 14th Ave Bridge, nearly all of that section is privately owned by a private club. There is a small take-out on the right side, just under the 14th Ave bridge.
Thanks for the heads up Michael.
Thanks Dave for the comment. I’ve updated the review with your observations.
Paddled from 11th Ave down to Dixie Ave yesterday. It was a great run with clear water and tight twisty turns. Trees were clear but there were a few limbo logs. Lots of wildlife, we paddled right by a small fawn with spots and got a good look at a 6pt velvet buck.
11th Ave is a cool trick that most Mecan paddlers don’t know about. I do want to try Cumberland to 11th…know it will look amazing, but am nervous about the jams.
Then hopefully later this summer I’ll the Germania Marsh dam to N (which Morrall films really liked).
Myself and my best friends are making the trip from 11th Rd. to Dover Ave. Any idea how long of a trip that is and how long it would take?
That’s a longer trip…my guess would be 5-6 hours.
Mecan River caution: As of 20 Oct 2019, there’s a log blocking the exit of the culvert downstream from the Hwy. Y bridge. Mandatory portage (or put-in below the log if starting from Dakota).
Many thanks to those who’ve been clearing the Upper Mecan!
That’s too bad, as it is fun and scenic to paddle under Hwy Y. At least the portage isn’t too difficult. Hopefully the locals clear this out pretty quickly.
My 17 year old son and friends are gonna take their canoes down the river. What’s there best starting point? For them. Thanks
The Mecan can be a bit tight for canoes. That being said I wouldn’t do a trip too far upstream. Mecan Springs can be nice, but could be a short trip. Your son might try Hwy Y/JJ to Dixie but should be advised it could be tricky in a canoe.