Putting in at Hwy F

View upstream from bridge (nice fog)

A very cold garter snake

Nice reflections right off the bat

No wind + no clouds = great reflections

This would look very different in the summer

Last vestiges of fall

A few white pines

Perfectly smooth surface

Tree mouth eating the river

Buck with a nice rack

I likely missed peak color by just one week

You wouldn’t know it with all the mud, but the Rock River has plenty of rocks

Oaks are always the last to turn

Everything was so still and peaceful

Large eagle nest

The Oconomowoc River (left) joins the Rock River

After this, I started to see more farms

An adult red-tailed hawk

Rock on the Rock

Entering another stretch of woods

River gets shallower and faster

Nice little island by Hwy P

Coming up on my take-out (and my shuttle bike)

Nice public access on Hwy P

Scenic area

Area was really cool in the morning with all the fog

Downstream view from the bridge

I had considered Northside Drive (Oconomowoc) as a put-in, but there is an electric fish barrier here

 
 

Rock River – Ixonia


Date:
October 29th, 2022
Put-in:
Hwy F
Take-out:
Hwy P
Distance:
6.0 miles
Time:
Expect 3 hours
Water Level:
Rock River @ Watertown 450 CFS or 2.03'

The Rock in southeast Wisconsin isn’t an elite paddling river.  Much of it is wide, slow, muddy and boring.  However there are some decent sections on the Upper Rock between Horicon and Johnson Creek that aren’t half bad.

I started the trip at Hwy F which wasn’t a great bridge access (I should have launched from Rockvale Road instead).  The area by the bridge though was scenic and the river inviting. 

Spectacular banks of fog overhung the river and had I known this, I would have set my alarm clock for an earlier trip.  Paddling in fog is a fantastic experience, but fleeting as it usually dissipates quite quickly.  Ideal conditions include little wind, warm water, and cold air.  Often you just have a small window after sunrise to experience this.

Since this was late October, most of the trees were leafless (although a small handful of holdout oaks still had some color).  I actually like doing leafless rivers like this in spring/late fall.  When the grassy banks die back and the trees are bare, a lot more light falls onto the river which gives it a more vibrant and open feel.  It’s very different compared to say a July paddle when the banks are overgrown with weeds, the sky hazy from pollution, and the banks hidden beneath large, wooded shadows.

Thanks to the lack of wind and no leaves on the trees, the river reflections from the trees were fantastic…among the best I’ve seen in years.  There were times you could take a picture of a river bank, turn the picture upside down and you wouldn’t know which side was the reflection (they were that good).

This trip had two distinctive halves, with the first half up to the Oconomowoc River being the best part.  Here the channel meandered naturally, the banks were more wooded and less developed, and in general the scenery was better.

The Oconomowoc River was a decent tributary that entered from the left.  Despite it being significantly clearer, it did nothing to improve the turbid muddy Rock.  After the Oconomowoc mouth, things became less interesting.  The channel became significantly wider, the banks less wooded and more developed, and the river was incredibly straight  (I suspect it was artificially straightened).  It was still a decent paddle, but wasn’t as nice.

Up to Pipersville Cemetery, there was virtually no current…in fact I think you could paddle upstream on the Rock up to that point with no problems.  But after the cemetery, I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of micro-rapids.  On top of this the banks became wooded again with some surprise late fall color.

I ended the trip at Hwy P which was a fantastic area.  Here Class 1 rapids flowed around several small islands and there was a scenic kayak access northwest of the bridge.  If I had to pick the most attractive part of the entire trip, it would have been the take-out at Hwy P.

In summary this was a trip that turned out surprisingly well and is IMO one of the nicer legs of the Rock below Horicon.  But it’s not an elite river…there are no fancy rock cliffs, boulder gardens, or major rapids.  So it’s not exactly a trip you would drive a long way to do, but for locals in SE Wisconsin looking for a new adventure it can be a pleasant trip.  Part of the reason I had a positive experience though was the very favorable context which others may not get.  It’s always a good idea to carefully time kayak trips, and in this case I suggest doing it early morning (for the fog), in late fall/early spring (for more open scenery), and with little wind (to see the nice reflections).

Noteworthy Wildlife:

Sights included two bucks (both with nice racks), many cranes, many geese, a handful of flopping carp, two adult red-tailed hawks, and huge flocks of staging songbirds preparing to fly south for the winter.

Put-in:

Hwy F:  This was an ok bridge access with the best launch option being on the southwest corner.  Be advised the shoulder here is steep which can make parking a bit tricky.

Alt Put-ins:

  • Rockvale Road (2.2 miles upstream from F):  A much nicer bridge access than Hwy F.  In hindsight, I should have launched there.
  • Wayside Park (4.0 miles upstream from F):    This is a popular and nice park.  This bonus leg of the Rock should be a solid paddling prospect.
  • Kanow Park (5.3 miles upstream from F):  This is a decent public park for paddlers, but it is gated and sometimes will be closed to the public.
  • Northside Drive/Oconomowoc River:  If you really wanted to, you could start a trip at Northside Drive (the Oconomowoc River).  This isn’t a great access though as there is a lot of mud and there is an electric fish barrier to avoid. 

Take-out:

Hwy P:  There is an official pull-off and shoulder access northeast of the bridge.  This is a very good access (and one of the more scenic areas of the river).

Alt Take-outs:

  • Front Street/Watertown Dam East (5.8 miles downstream from P):  There is a public access east of the dam.  This stretch should be a solid leg and will include parts of Watertown.

Shuttle & Rental Information:

Bike Shuttle – Hwy P to F:  3.8 miles with 52′ of ascent.  Hwy P is bad for bike shuttling as it is quite busy and fast for a rural road.  But thankfully most of the shuttle is actually on Rockvale Road which has little traffic and is scenic.  All in all, a pretty manageable bike shuttle.

Rentals – Harnischfeger Park:  This park does offer kayak rentals but it is located upstream from this leg so service may be limited.

Hazards, Logjams and Current:

Logjams/Dams:  None…this is a very safe/easy river.

Wind:  There wasn’t much wind on my trip (which contributed to the nice reflections).  But this is an open river so wind can be an issue.  Be sure to monitor the weather forecast and avoid trips which involve a strong headwind.

Current/Rapids:  Most of the trip is very slow with almost no current.  The exception is the final mile of the trip where there is not only current, but a series of light riffles.  There are even Class 1 rapids at the very end of the trip by the Hwy P bridge, but these are really easy.

River Depth and Navigability:

Nearest Gauge – Rock River @ Watertown:  Trip was done at 450 CFS or 2.03′.  This gauge is downstream from several dams so may not be perfectly representative. 

  • < 100 CFS:  The river almost never gets this shallow.
  • 101-200 CFS:  Most of the trip will be fine, but some paddlers may ground-out in the last mile where the river is faster/shallower.
  • 201-300 CFS:  Slightly below average, but a good depth.
  • 301-400 CFS:  An average depth.
  • 401-500 CFS:  A higher depth, but still suitable for paddling.
  • 501-800 CFS:  This is a high depth, but the river should still be fine for kayaking.
  • 801+ CFS:  Maybe too high for enjoyable paddling?

Other Rock River Trips:

Trip Map

Overview Map

Video

Photos
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How did your trip turn out? Questions or comments? Feel free to leave your feedback.

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