Neenah Creek – Grouse Drive
Date Paddled: February 19th, 2017
Put-in: Grouse Drive
Take-out: Muskrat Road
Distance: 3.2 miles
Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
Gradient: ~2.1' per mile
Water Level: Fox River @ Pardeeville 7.55'
Time for another Neenah Creek review (the 7th if you include tributaries). Located an hour north of Madison, Neenah is a slow, wide creek with flat, open banks and few obstacles. Not too exotic, but not too tricky…perfect for a February paddle. What makes this Grouse Drive section distinct? It’s the halfway point in the creek and marks its transformation from a twisty, narrow creek, to a small slow river.
The trip starts at Grouse Drive where there is a small pull-off and a nice grassy area for launching. Thanks to a recent warm spell, the creek had swollen somewhat from spring runoff leaving the water much higher, pushier, and muddier than I was accustomed to seeing. Here the creek is still a creek, with quick, tight turns flanked by mostly wetgrass and some hardwoods.
Soon the South Branch joins the main branch, and the creek immediately doubles in size while the current slows dramatically (as if you were to take your finger off a hose). This is a big transformation that the creek will retain to its mouth on the Fox. If you are curious you can paddle upstream on the South Branch (it’s really slow…pleasant but not super exotic).
After the confluence, the creek becomes less squiggly, and the trees recede for vast tracts of wetgrass. This is a favorite spot for waterfowl which can gather in large flocks to hang out. Last year in this general area, I witnessed the most cranes I had ever seen. No cranes this time, but there were some large flocks of geese. You can tell this is a favorite area of theirs as large swatches of wetgrass had been nibbled short to the ground as if a large lawn mower had come through.
About two-thirds into the trip, Big Slough Creek joins the main branch. Before the Portage dikes were built, the Wisconsin River would occasionally flood, ignore the continental divide, and dump a massive amount of water into Big Slough Creek (and by extension Neenah Creek and the Fox River). Today however, Big Slough Creek was completely frozen over which gave me the opportunity to carve out icebergs from the main sheet with my kayak and send them down the main branch (to the bemusement of nearby onlookers).
After Big Slough, the banks become more wooded with occasional clusters of white pine. This was a simple but pleasant section with peaceful, mirror-like water that offered attractive reflections of the blue sky.
At Muskrat Road there is a flat, grassy launch area…perfect for paddlers. It’s privately owned (as explained to me by the owner who bumped into me), but paddlers are permitted to use it. The owner had some interesting stories of how the creek has changed over the years. Apparently after the Montello Dam (Buffalo Lake) was built on the Fox, the creek changed in character with several channels moving significantly (you can still see evidence of some of the old channels from satellite view).
In summary, this is a good trip to do if you are looking to see some waterfowl, avoid complications, or are curious about the area. But in some regards it was too simple and peaceful, and most paddlers would probably find other prospects to be more interesting. If you are new to Neenah Creek, I suggest starting on the upstream sections which I consider to be the best and most scenic.
There is a small pull-off by Grouse Drive and nice shallow grassy slope, making this perfect for launching.
Great take-out NW of the Muskrat Road bridge, with good room for parking and a shallow slope for launching. This landing is technically private, but ok for paddlers to use. Please be mindful of this and respectful of the property.
Super easy bike shuttle. 2.4 miles, pretty flat, little traffic and all paved. They rarely get much easier than this.
Hazards, Logjams and Current:
No logjams to worry about (one minor low branch to duck under but should be easy for most paddlers).
Note, this is an open and exposed part of the creek, so be mindful of the forecasted wind direction and speed.
Also note, this was done in February which technically makes this a winter paddle. Be cognizant that the water can be significantly colder than the air temperature even during warm spells. Also be mindful that even if you see open river at the put-in and take-out, the sections in between can be completely iced up and impassable. As a general rule, small fast creeks tend to thaw first while large, slow rivers and flowages will thaw last (sometimes waiting until April to completely melt).
River Depth and Navigability:
There is no gauge on Neenah Creek. The Pardeeville gauge on the Fox River is probably the best measure, but it it likely unreliable because of the nearby dam. This trip was done at 7.55′ but felt higher than that. On top of this, the gauge was likely affected by ice, so take this with a grain of salt. Long story short, Neenah is pretty much never too shallow.
- 7.0′-7.5′: Typically the lowest the creek gets in a year. Easily plenty navigable.
- 7.6′ to 7.8′: Probably an average depth. My last trips were done in this range.
- 7.9′ to 8.0′: The creek is on the high side and about to burst its banks.
- 8.1’+: Banks should be overflowing at this point.
Several ducks, deer, eagles, and countless geese.
Other Neenah Creek Trips:
- Upstream of Peppermill Creek: I suspect the creek is too congested to run
- 1st Lane (Peppermill Creek) to 1st Court: 1.1 miles. First half is a nice clear open stream but there is congestion after that.
- 1st Court to Seeley Lake Access: 2.8 miles. Amazing clarity, nice riffles and steep hills…but serious logjams issues. Been on my to-do list for a while…
- Seeley Lake Access to West Chauncey Street: 0.6 miles. Mostly pleasant lake paddling with a dam to portage.
- West Chauncey Street to Hwy A: 6.8 miles. My favorite section with terrific clarity, a few fun rapids, and clean substrate…but rumor has it new logjams might be an issue. Reviewed Apr 2014.
- Hwy A to Hwy P: 4.1 miles. My second favorite section. Very nice wetgrass paddle with great clarity and no logjams…best saved for a sunny day. Reviewed Oct 2014.
- Hwy P to Grouse Drive: 6.4 miles. Reviewed Dec 2017.
- Hwy P to Hwy 23: 3.9 miles. A pleasant stretch that starts nice with clear, sandy seeps but becomes less interesting when it flows though the marsh.
- Hwy 23 to Grouse Drive: 2.5 miles. A mediocre stretch…less marshy than before, but still very open.
- Grouse Drive to Muskrat Road: 3.1 miles. Creek slows down and widens significantly. Reviewed Feb 2017.
- Muskrat Road to Hwy CX: 4.6 miles. A big open wetgrass paddle…at times pleasant with good water fowl, this is likely my least favorite section. Reviewed Nov 2016.
- Hwy CX to Dixon Road: 3.1 miles. Mostly open but with some possible jams.
- Dixon Road to Hwy CM (on the Fox): 1.2 miles. Final stretch with take-out on the Fox River.
- Big Spring Creek: A small, but neat creek with incredible transparency. Reviewed Apr 2016.
- Neenah Creek – South Branch: A slow, simple but pleasant marsh paddle. Reviewed Oct 2014.
- Big Slough Creek: A very slow, broad creek with a lot of history. Reviewed May 2014.
- O’Keefe Creek: Too small to run above Mud Lake, but it is navigable downstream of the lake. Reviewed by Richard Kark.