Rocky Run Creek – Hwy 51
Rocky Run Creek is a small tributary to the Wisconsin River located just a little upstream of Lake Wisconsin. This is a small creek paddle, and is not suitable for larger boats because of the tight turns, decent current, and low hanging alder gauntlets.
What really is the problem are the log jams. There is one down tree immediately downstream of the put-in, which I was able to hop over with a running start. After that there was a down tree that required a portage, which was difficult because of how muddy the banks were. Next up, was a very low walk bridge necessitating portage #2 (also muddy). On top of this there were several squeakers to thread through all just within the first mile, which put a damper on my enthusiasm for the creek.
I don’t want to overplay the log jam situation though. If you’re a local looking for a new adventure this could be a good option. In my case, I did the trip after it had rained for almost three days straight so the banks were unusually moist (never do a portage-fest prospect after a big rain). Also I was in my “red boat” which is not suited to doing jams and portages unlike my “yellow boat” (an excellent jam buster). So that and the overcast weather, might have jaded what could have been a three star creek.
While the first mile is a small, tight, twisty creek in fast current hugged by alders, the second mile after the railroad bridge is completely different. The channel widens, the current slows down and best of all there are absolutely no jams to contend with. This was a very nice section that I liked. The trees receded and bottomlands flattened out into an open and pleasant wetland.
After Hwy J/V, the channel changes dramatically again. The twisty channel returns as well as the trees (and with them log jams). These were easier to portage than the upstream jams, but this was still annoying (especially as I hadn’t had to face these on my last trip). The creek soon widens out at as a mixture of Duck Creek, Lake Columbia, and the Wisconsin River collude to backfill Rocky Run Creek. Some of the slough sections were simple open water sections and not as interesting to paddle.
The best part of the creek was ironically enough the Wisconsin River. Immediately at the mouth, there are splendid sandstone cliffs running a third of a mile all the way to the take-out. These are fantastic with little alcoves carved out and even a cave that you can poke into. The cliffs are filled with swallows who have made attractive mud nests in the eroded recesses which at times looked like sandstone swiss cheese.
So to provide a big picture recap here:
- Mile 1 (Hwy 51 to the Railroad Bridge): A small, fast section that was a bit brushy and had “two” many portages for my taste. If you do this, wait for a dry spell so the portages won’t be muddy. Two stars.
- Mile 2 (Railroad to Hwy J/V): A very pleasant open wetland paddle. Three stars.
- Mile 3 (Hwy J/V to the Wisconsin): Several portages and then open slough paddling. Not super interesting and only two stars. However…if you paddle this during high water, you can not only easily go over the jams but you can also paddle through the lush silver maple floodplain forest. An amazing experience (4-5 stars), which I did previously.
- Mile 4 (Wisconsin River to Dekorra): Great section of the Wisconsin with a really nice sandstone bluff. (5 stars)
Hwy 51 is actually not bad for a bridge access point despite the fast, heavy traffic. There is plenty of room to pull over and nice beaten down trail north of the bridge leading to the water.
Dekorra Landing is one of several take-out options on the Wisconsin River. This is a good option with free parking, but is very busy and has no outhouse.
T&G Canoeing is a rental and livery that provides service to the Wisconsin River. Am not sure if they service Rocky Run Creek, but you can call and ask: (608) 617-2818.
The bike shuttle is pretty easy at 3.18 miles and no major hills.
Hazards and Logjams:
The second half of the trip is very exposed to the wind, so keep this in mind. Not only can this be grueling, but it can make the Wisconsin River very choppy. In my case, I ended up paddling through whitecaps. Not a big deal for me and many readers, but beginners want to avoid big waves.
The logjams were a problem. Basically, there are two jams that need to be portaged between Hwy 51 and the railroad bridge. These are muddy and not easy. Plus there were several tough squeakers.
Between the railroad bridge and Hwy J/V, is clear sailing.
Between Hwy J/V and the take-out there are at least 3 portages plus some close squeakers. Interestingly enough, they are all very close to Hwy J/V and you could in theory avoid most by launching 500′ west of the bridge where the creek doubles back on the road. During high water, it would be easy to get over these jams.
River Depth, Navigability and Current:
The creek itself is actually relatively stable and somewhat immune to spur-of-the-moment floods and running dry late in the summer. The bigger concern is the Wisconsin River. It will backfill between one-to-three miles of the creek depending on the flow rate. I went at about 7,500 CFS per the Dells gauge which is about average for a spring paddle. Previously, I did the lower section at 24,000 CFS which was perfect. Not only did it allow me to go over the log jams, but I was able to paddle through the floodplain forest which was an amazing experience. My recommendation is to launch from Hwy J/V and at a depth of at least 20,000 CFS.
A mother duck pulling the old “lame duck” trick to lure me away from her kids when she should have been more worried about the snapper I saw nearby. Other highlights included dragonflies, deer, muskrat having lunch, and local monkeys bellowing and jumping off the sandstone cliffs. Unfortunately, biting insects were an issue. Pulled one tick off me and swatted many mosquitoes.
- Traut Road to Cuff Road: (2.6 miles) Surprisingly open and clear of most deadfall, this is a simple wet-grass prospect but very small and would require above average conditions to be feasible. An intriguing prospect.
- Cuff Road to Dunning Road: (3.1 miles) Deadfall appears to be too much of an issue for this leg.
- Dunning Road to Hwy 51: (3.9 miles) Swift current, gravel, and an attractive marsh are highlights. Unfortunately logjams and low hanging alders are a bit much.
- Hwy 51 to Hwy J: (2.5 miles) An ok section but with several muddy portages.
- Hwy J to Dekorra Landing: (2.0 miles) This section has too many jams to be enjoyable. But during high water you can go over these and through the silver maple forest which is an amazing experience.
- Additional Wisconsin River Options: For other take-outs and adventures on the Wisconsin, see my Wisconsin River overview map.