Rock River – East Branch – Allenton
The East Branch of the Rock River is one of the more underrated paddling rivers in Southeast Wisconsin. Most kayakers just consider Horicon Marsh or the Rock River downstream from it. But the East Branch, which is the marsh’s primary tributary, is often overlooked and contains many great paddling segments. For my fourth trip on the East Branch, I wanted to explore a far far upstream leg to see if it was viable for kayaking.
I started the trip at Hillcrest Drive which is located just south of Allenton. Here the creek was really nice with fantastic clarity and clean open banks. This is mostly an open creek with a lot of wetgrass, but I did encounter a few logjams. The majority I was able to squeak past, but two south of Allenton required full portages.
Closer to the heart of Allenton, the banks became more developed with some industry appearing including a large metal-working plant and a noisy grain elevator. Despite this, the creek stayed scenic and I was pleasantly surprised to see some late fall color.
Riveredge Park is located about one mile downstream from Hillcrest Drive and would be a good access option. After the park, the creek changes quite a bit as most signs of human civilization disappear. From this point forward I was mostly paddling through the Theresa Marsh Wildlife Area which is a state protected area. Aside from one last major logjam, this second leg was remarkably flat and open with tall grasses and cattails along the banks. Clarity was surprisingly good and the substrate wasn’t too muddy with a lot of very fine pebbles.
A fun highlight of this trip were the trains, as the creek closely parallels a busy railroad. Expect to see at least 2-3 trains pass by if you do this trip. One of the railroad bridges was in the process of being replaced, which did require an unexpected but easy portage. It was cool to see a massive bridge replacement operation with a crane, telehandler and large prefabbed components being setup despite there being no road access to the area.
The trip ended at Hwy DW. Despite noisy Hwy 41 being next door, it was a nice area with a long, cool tunnel and a scenic view of the river atop the tall embankment.
In summary this was a nice trip, but not as good as my other East Branch adventures. If you’re new to the East Branch I advise first paddling by Theresa or Mayville which are much nicer. This wasn’t a bad trip, but the logjams by Allenton were somewhat annoying. Most of these could have been avoided by launching downstream from Riveredge Park. There are still two more legs of the East Branch on my todo list (DW to D and D to North Pole Road). I don’t know much about these last legs, but believe they should be good marsh paddles and I hope to get to them by next year.
Sights included a great blue heron, two eagles, one beaver dam, many minnows, and several huge schools of medium sized fish.
Hillcrest Drive: This is a decent bridge access.
- Riverside Park (0.9 miles downstream from Hillcrest Drive): Riverside Park is a very good access option. I could see most paddlers launching here to avoid the logjams upstream (two major and several minor).
Hwy DW: The bridge is atop a large embankment so you will have to do some dragging, but this is otherwise a good bridge access. It’s scenic with a nice view of the river and not too weedy.
- Hwy D (5.5 miles downstream from DW): Hwy D is a good bridge access with a public parking lot. The DW to D stretch is a decent prospect with more cattails and wetgrass. It’s mostly open and free of logjams but there will be one cluster of downed trees to deal with.
Shuttle & Rental Information:
Bike Shuttle – Hwy DW to Hillcrest Drive: 3.3 miles with 187′ of ascent. This is a short but hilly shuttle stretch with some heavy traffic to deal with. Note, if you’re feeling sneaky you can shuttle most of this on Hwy 41 (a freeway) which would halve the route and eliminate most of the hills. But note the Wisconsin DOT isn’t a fan of bikers on freeways (even though there is plenty of shoulder space) and you would need to hoist your bike over a fence separating DW from Hwy 41.
Hazards, Logjams and Current:
Logjams: Upstream/south of Riveredge Park there are two major logjams that require serious portages and several minor logjams that I was able to squeak past. Downstream/north of Riveredge Park the river is much more open, but I still had to portage one logjam. Generally speaking, I don’t think paddlers will have an issue with the north leg, but will with the south leg. The south leg though is nice though and I hope locals clear it out.
Current: There are maybe 1-2 riffles, but this is mostly a pretty lazy creek.
Rapids/Dams: None. Well there is a beaver dam, but that was easy to hop over.
Low Bridges: One of the railroad bridges is under construction and a temporary equipment bridge blocks the river. This is an easy portage and I assume it will be removed when construction is completed.
River Depth and Navigability:
Nearest Gauge – Rock River @ Horicon: Trip was done at 70 CFS or 6.85′. This gauge is downstream from several dams so may not be perfectly representative.
- < 31 CFS: Maybe too shallow.
- 31-100 CFS: Decent depth.
- 101-200 CFS: Slightly above average, but a good depth.
- 201-300 CFS: A high depth with poor clarity, but likely fine for paddling.
- 301-500 CFS: A pretty high depth, but I believe the river should still be runnable.
- 501-800 CFS: Maybe only suitable for hardcore paddlers.
- 801+ CFS: Maybe too high for enjoyable paddling?
- Upstream of Hillcrest Drive: I believe these portions are too congested to paddle.
- Hillcrest Drive to Hwy DW: 4.1 miles.
- Hillcrest Drive to Riveredge Park: 0.9 miles. Scenic stretch through the outskirts of Allenton with good clarity. However there are two major logjams to portage, and several minor logjams to squeak past.
- Riveredge Park to Hwy DW: 2.7 miles. An open stretch through wetgrass and a state natural area. One logjam needs to be portaged.
- Hwy DW to Hwy D: 5.5 miles. Outside of one nasty logjam cluster this is a pretty open creek paddle through a protected wildlife area that might be decent.
- Hwy D Wayside to N. Pole Rd. Launch: 7.3 miles. A good wetland paddle prospect through Theresa Marsh. Maybe 1-2 downed trees on the upper part.
- Kohlsville River: Note, the Kohlsville River joins the East Branch here, but it seems too congested with downed trees to be feasible.
- N. Pole Rd to Gill Rd(East): 6.0 miles.
- N. Pole Rd Landing to River Edge Park: 1.3 miles. Slow, open, and marshy channel. Nice though.
- River Edge Park to Rock River Street/Dam: 0.5 miles. A nice town paddle through the community of Theresa. One dam to portage.
- Rock River Street/Dam to Hwy AY: 3.5 miles. One of my favorite stretches on the entire Rock River. While shallow in spots, it is scenic with nice woods, small boulder gardens and multiple light rapids.
- Hwy AY to Gill Road(East): 0.7 miles. A brief wooded stretch that is a nice paddle.
- Gill Road(East) to Hwy 67/Dam: 8.3 miles.
- Gill Road(East) to McArthur Road/Fink Creek: 4.7 miles. Starts boring, weedy, and slow, but gets nice with clear water and rocks later on. Gill Road(West) may be a viable halfway access.
- McArthur Road to Hwy 67/Dam: 3.6 miles. A less interesting paddle through a flowage and downtown Mayville with numerous alt take-outs.
- Hwy 67 to Green Head Road Ramp: 6.4 miles.
- Hwy 67 to Hwy Y/Ziegler Park: 1.9 miles. One of the best paddling stretches on the entire Rock River with good current and small boulder gardens.
- Hwy Y to Hwy TW/Kekoskee Pond Ramp: 1.9 miles. A good stretch that includes a little bit of flowage paddling.
- Hwy TW to Green Head Road Ramp: 2.6 miles. An ok stretch as the river really slows and starts to turn into marsh.
- Green Head Road to N. Nebraska St. Ramp: 10.0 miles. The most popular route through Horicon Marsh known for its waterfowl.
- Upstream of E. Rock River Rd.: I suspect downed trees are too much of an issue for this to be navigable.
- E. Rock River Road to Hwy 49: 1.6 miles. Perhaps a cluster of downed trees in the middle and an electric fence upstream of Hwy 49.
- Hwy 49 to Waupun Park: 1.7 miles. Hwy 49 is not ideal for launching, but should be doable. A good prospect mostly through a golf course. Maybe 2 logjams?
- Waupun Park to E. Waupun Road: 7.2 miles. A good section.
- Waupun Park to Tanner Park: 3.1 miles. Great section though downtown Waupun. Alt access at Pine Street Park, Meadow View Park and Harris Mill Park.
- Tanner Park to Roadside Park: 3.2 miles. A pleasant paddle through a mixture of woods and open areas. A couple of logjam squeakers and one major portage.
- Roadside Park to E. Waupun Road: 0.9 miles. River widens, slows, and gets less interesting.
- E. Waupun Road to Dike Road: 10.0 miles. This is the northern unit of Horicon Marsh and is off limits to paddlers per National Wildlife Refuge rules.
- Dike Road to N. Nebraska St. Ramp: 5.6 miles. Am 80% sure you can drive on Dike Road from the east to launch in the ditch. Mostly a long straight canal paddle through Horicon Marsh with perhaps interesting side canals to explore. You can also launch in a west canal by Burnett Ditch Road. The city of Horicon marks the confluence of the South and East Branches of the Rock River.
It’s a neat prospect, but I suspect the logjam situation is too much (I could be wrong).
- N. Nebraska St. to Legion Park/Dam: 0.9 miles. An ok section through downtown Horicon.
- Legion Park to River Bend Park: 1.1 miles. Simple river segment…probably nothing too special.
- River Bend Park to Lions Park: 8.8 miles. A large and probably uninteresting flowage. If you get permission to take out at Ox-Bo Marine, you can avoid much of the flowage paddling.
- Lions Park to Elmwood Park: 7.2 miles. Trip starts nice with a great boulder garden, but becomes less interesting as the current dies.
- Elmwood Park to Hwy MM: 4.4 miles. An interesting prospect recommended by Frank Piraino.
- Hwy MM to Harnischfeger Park: 6.9 miles.
- Harnischfeger Park to Kaul Park/Hwy CW: 5.1 miles. Nice section with more wooded banks.
- Kaul Park to Kanow Park: 5.7 miles. Nice prospect.
- Kanow Park to Hwy F: 5.0 miles. Mediocre prospect.
- Hwy F to Hwy P: 6.0 miles. This isn't an elite trip with slow current and no exotic scenery. But it is pleasant and one of the nicer legs on the Lower Rock.
- Hwy P to Dam1st/Front St.: 5.6 miles. Probably an uninteresting flowage paddle.
- Dam1st/Front St. to Dam2nd/S. 1st Street: 2.6 miles. Possibly a unique paddle through downtown Watertown.
- 1st Street to Hwy 26 Launch: 3.5 miles. Mediocre prospect.
- Hwy 26 Launch to Hwy B: 10.9 miles. The put-in is SE of Hwy 26 via Jefferson Road. This segment is more undeveloped, but is still probably not interesting with the highlight being I94.
- Hwy B to Lubahn Park/N. Watertown Ave: 4.1 miles. Probably uninteresting.
- Lubahn Park to Tensfeldt Park: 2.3 miles. Paddling through downtown Jefferson might be unique, but there is a dam to portage. Many alt landings in Jefferson.
- Tensfeldt Park to Klement Park: 4.2 miles. Probably an interesting tweener section between Jefferson and Fort Atkinson.
- Klement Park to Lorman Bicentennial Park: 3.1 miles. A weak prospect through downtown Fort Atkinson.
- Lorman Park to Hwy 26 Ramp: 3.3 miles. A weak prospect.
- Hwy 26 to E. Knudsen Road Ramp: 11.8 miles. Mostly boring paddling on Lake Koshkonong. Many other launches on the lake.
- E. Knudsen Road Ramp to Hwy M/Dam: 3.4 miles. Boring flowage.
- Hwy M/Dam to Hwy 14: 8.2 miles. Probably uninteresting.
- Hwy 14 to Century Ave/Dam: 6.4 miles. A trip through downtown Janesville with several dangerous dams to portage (reviewed by AmericanWhitewater.org). There are also many other launch options in Janesville.
- Century Ave/Dam to Happy Hollow Park: 7.8 miles. A very industrial section.
- Happy Hollow Park to Preservation Park Boat launch: 3.2 miles.
- Preservation Park to Wooton Park Boat Ramp: 3.0 miles. Start of urban paddling in Beloit. Numerous other launch options in Beloit proper.
- Further Rock River Trips: From here on, you are in Illinois. For further information see “Paddling Illinois” or Rockrivertrail.com.
Launching at Hillcrest Drive
View downstream from the bridge
First of several snags
Rocks in the Rock River
Last vestiges of fall color
First portage of the trip
Wild cucumber is such a cool plant
Coming up on a very noisy grain elevator
Second logjam that required a portage
Riveredge Park and Hwy 33
This downed tree required some careful maneuvering
River starts to open up
Still good clarity
My third portage (logjam to left of photo)
Railroad bridge construction
New bridge being installed
I had to portage this low construction bridge
Much of the river parallels a busy railroad
One of three trains that passed me
Small beaver dam
More good clarity
Cool cattail corridors
A wood duck house amidst the cattails
Kind of a long culvert
Good take-out area
Looking downstream from the bridge
Nice spot to end the trip
Milkweed that looks like hair
How did your trip turn out? Questions or comments? Feel free to leave your feedback.