Rock River – Ixonia
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).
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.
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.
- 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.
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).
- 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?
- 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.