Rock River – Hustisford
I started the trip in Hustisford directly below the Sinissippi Lake dam where I was pleasantly surprised to see a large boulder garden and a collection of small rapids. Typically “Rock River” is an oxymoron, but because the dam acts as a sediment trap, the native rocky substrate is revealed in all its glory. Before settlers came and ruined the river with topsoil erosion, much of the Rock River was actually like this, hence its namesake. This short section in Hustisford was easily the best part of the entire trip, but unfortunately, most of the trip was not like this.
After I passed under the Hwy 60 bridge, the river changed dramatically. The channel was wide, deep, and straight, while the banks consisted of a thin layer of silver maple. It’s not a horrible section as it was peaceful with no signs of development or agriculture after Hwy 60, but really was nothing special.
Soon the river enters a flood plain, and like most bottomlands was quite messy and dirty. Here the shoreline was flat and consisted of exposed mud banks…the type you didn’t want to step on. Along the shore you could see the high water mark on the trees marked two feet up as a ghostly shadow along the naked tree roots. The Rock does flood often and it is not uncommon to have to wait until later summer to be able to paddle it during ideal conditions. In high water, the channel easily overflows the banks and it is possible to get somewhat lost.
About halfway into the trip I passed some paddlers in a homemade canoe…going upstream! Really that was just how slow this section was. With a good south-to-north wind, it actually might be interesting to do this trip in reverse. The main advantage being that you would be getting front-lit scenery (bright greens and bright blues) as opposed to backlit scenery (more washed out and less interesting because of the sun angle).
Near the end of the trip, the river narrows and the Rubicon River merges with the Rock. Here there is a really nice take-out for paddlers at Elmwood Road.
In summary, this was a trip that started on a really high note, but the broad, slow, muddy channel just lacked any magic…hence the two star rating. This is subjective though and you may have a positive experience with more ideal conditions (I paddled under overcast skies with a light rain and a bit of a headwind).
Most paddlers will start their trip in Lion’s Park, Hustisford at the east end of Griffith Street. Here you can park by the shoulder (near the Rock River Trail sign) and simply drag your boat down the grassy hill to easily launch by the rocks.
I did not do this as I wanted to take pictures of the dam and experience more of the boulder garden, so I launched at the north end of Lion’s Park by Ann Street directly below the dam. Here too you can park by the shoulder, but the issue is a chain fence that separates paddlers from the water. This is a bit odd as it is public property and is perhaps an overzealous safety precaution. At any rate I did have to scale the fence and drag my boat over rocks, but after that it was a great way to start the trip. Public restrooms are available at the north end of the park.
There is a nice take-out southeast of the Elmwood Road bridge. Here there is a dedicated pull-off and a faint trail that leads to the water.
For those wanting a longer trip (why??), you can continue 4 more miles to Hwy MM. Here there is a steep gravel pull-off southwest of the bridge with easy access to the water.
The bike shuttle isn’t too bad at 5.0 miles and only a few minor hills (102′ of ascent and 82′ of descent). You will want to peddle east of the river not west. While the west section (on Riverview Road) is a third of a mile shorter it is much hillier. Hwy 60 is a crazy, busy road with a small shoulder but you can sneak around most of it by taking Hilltop Road.
Hazards, Logjams and Current:
This is a pretty safe river. While there are some light rapids in Hustisford, the current pretty much dies after Hwy 60. In fact this might be the slowest non-flowage river I’ve ever paddled. There are downed trees on the river, but the channel is so big it is easy to paddle around them. The big concern is wind. I don’t suggest doing this trip if there is a decent south-to-north headwind.
River Depth and Navigability:
I went during a relatively shallow period, yet the channel was still consistently deep (between 2-4′). The one exception was the brief boulder garden and rapids in Hustisford which were bumpy. Here is a super rough depth guide based on the upstream gauge at Horicon.
- 0-50 CFS: A low depth, but I actually think the river should still be mostly navigable.
- 51-100 CFS: A good depth which reveals some of the character along the shoreline. I went at 75 CFS.
- 101-200 CFS: A doable depth, but some of the shoreline character might be lost.
- 201-500 CFS: A high depth. Easily paddleable, but a lot of character would be submerged.
- 501+ CFS: IMO the river would be too unattractive and muddy at this point. The banks might be breached in some areas (these are only rough guesses).
There were a LOT of carp below the dam and I hit a few with my kayak and paddle. I also saw a lot of eagles (or the same group of 3-4 that I kept flushing downstream). It would be curious to know if an eagle could kill a full-sized carp (I’m not sure). There were also a lot of great blue herons who were quite agitated by the eagles. Several of the eagles swooped close to the herons, but generally speaking the herons could bank more sharply and easily escape. Eagles have been known to kill great blue herons though… Lastly, I did see a great white egret which is always a treat.
Other Rock River Trips:
- Upstream of Hillcrest Drive: I believe these portions are too congested to paddle.
- Hillcrest Drive to Rock River Drive: 0.9 miles. A pleasant prospect though Allenton.
- Rock River Drive to Hwy DW: 2.9 miles. Mostly open, but maybe 3-5 serious downed trees.
- 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. Mediocre prospect.
- Hwy P to Dam1st/Front St.: 5.6 miles. Probably an interesting 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.