Lodi Marsh is a very nice natural area located a half hour north of Madison. Basically, it is an open valley marsh that is fed with freshwater springs and accumulates into “Spring Creek.” There it in turn flows through the city of Lodi and then eventually into the Wisconsin River at Okee Bay. There is a terrific trail system in the area that affords great views of the valley, wildlife, and marsh. The DNR has an official map with the four main public access areas that you can download here. I’ve hiked quite a bit of this trail system and it has a nice (albeit artificial) prairie and bluff overlooks. The best part about the trail system is the access to the water, and more specifically the freshwater springs that gush out of the hillsides, the wonderful spring wildflowers and terrific skunk cabbage colonies. Two of the three main springs are accessible from the trails, but you have to be on the water to access the third. If you’re curious, the official website and map for the Ice Age Trail in Lodi can be downloaded here.
I’ve long wanted to paddle the marsh but access (well, boat access) is very poor. The take-out at the Riddle Road bridge is a fine bridge take-out with pull-off parking for fishermen. But, within eyesight of the bridge is a logjam (always a bad sign). There are no real bridges on the southwest portion of the marsh (again, largely a spring-fed watershed), but there is a public access area on Lee Road which can be a makeshift put-in. In the days prior, there had a been a lot of rain, so I reasoned the marsh would be quite navigable and rolled the dice that this would be a feasible trip due to the high water. I’m glad I did the trip, and I really like the marsh and being able to access it from water…but logjams were a serious issues (more on that later).
To start the trip, I put in at the public access on Lee Road (marked on the map). This does not connect to the trail system and the only reason this remote pulloff is established is it provides access to one of the three large freshwater springs that feed the marsh. In a sense, this is the start of Lodi Marsh (aka Spring Creek)…very literally so, as water will be gushing out of the ground to form the creek at this location. Very cool! This pulloff is not designed for kayaks, but works. Parking is good, but you do have to drag your kayak maybe 90′ to the creek. For this trip, you’ll want to bring towing rope, amphibious shoes, a change of clothes, and a shorter/flatter kayak that is easy to drag around logjams (more on this later). The water is a little shallow at the start–you’ll probably have to wade for maybe 10-15 yards until the water gets deep enough to launch. The water quality is terrific and the substrate filled with clean sand and nice pebbles (this will change).
The first mile or so is very shallow. I have a very good shallow water kayak because of its flat bottom, but I got hung up more then I would care. I never had to get out, but it wasn’t ideal trying to brute force your way through the muddy bottoms (which had replaced the nice sand I saw earlier). In fact, the mud might have been dangerous to try to walk on because it was so soft (who knows how far down it went). Something to keep in mind was that I went during high water (4.3′ on the official gauge), so normally this would be much more trying. The shallow waters don’t last long, as soon tributaries provide enough water for mostly smooth sailing. But then a new problem pops up…
Before going on this trip, I had studied the satellite maps and knew an early half-mile stretch would be trouble (basically, I couldn’t see the creek from the satellite view, which almost always means logjams in my experience). I reasoned this wouldn’t be too bad and would necessitate some portages, but after that, the satellites showed the creek cleared up. It turns out this was a very trying part of the trip. At first there weren’t any logjams…just annoying “squeakers” that took a lot of maneuvering and got you and your kayak dirty (as well as your camera, hat, tripod, etc…) But after a while I had to get out, which was not easy. The foliage was so dense, it was difficult to actually drag the kayak around the logjams. Putting back in, you had to deal with serious muddy banks, which is never ideal for launching. As soon as I would get out and get back in…there would be another jam…sometimes just 10 yards down the creek. I debated aborting the trip and backtracking to my bike…but the thought of going through the logjams and mudjams again was not attractive. It was also extremely windy (watch the forecast for this trip) and I also would be returning into a nasty headwind. I knew from memory that this half mile of dense tree cover by the creek would go away, so I decided to do a “super portage.” So, basically, with my handy rope, I dragged my kayak away from the creek to get onto more towable marsh grass and pulled my kayak for 2-3000′ around this evil section. Not fun…especially with the “land logjams,” but better than the water logjams.
Eventually, as predicted, the trees (and their accompanying logjams) cleared out and I was able to get back on the water. From here on out there weren’t too many logjams to the end (maybe ~6)…good relative to what I just went through. The middle open area (see satellite map) is definitely pretty logjam free. I’ve marked some (not all) of the logjams on the map. There are easily double this in serious squeakers, and longer/bigger boats would have to do more portages. Some of the “duckers” I did were pretty extreme. At times I limboed deep into my cockpit and got under some logs with maybe 6 inches to the top of the kayak. Normally this would be dangerous, but the water was mostly shallow and current very slow.
After ending my super portage, I soon encountered my second major fresh water spring–very clean and attractive, with oodles of skunk cabbage growing in the vicinity (there is a picture in the photo gallery).
After a couple more miles of easy paddling, you’ll encounter a small tributary on the right which I suggest paddling up to. Very shallow…and you’ll probably have to get out, but it is worth it IMO, as this is the third and best fresh water spring–basically a very nice micro-waterfall coming out of “nowhere”–but also a terrific field of marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage enjoying the crystal clear spring water. This gushing seep is accessible from the trail system (marked on the map).
Continuing on, the creek gets to be quite wide and open. The Lodi Valley is kind of bowl-shaped (one giant glacial moraine) and the hills provide attractive backdrops and contrast with the flat open marshland you paddle through. Again, wind can be an issue.
Wildlife was terrific, with lots of geese (who weren’t happy to see me). Saw a muskrat or beaver (have a video of him), yellow warbler, ducks, blue heron, and many birds I didn’t recognize. Unlike some marshes (Grand, Horicon), cattails are not as epidemic and the plant life is much more diverse and attractive. My theory is that marshes with dams artificially encourage cattail growth, which is why Lodi Marsh, without a dam (unlike Grand or Horicon), is so nice.
The creek starts to narrow and encounters another wooded section. This time the extra girth of the creek from the additional tributaries cuts down on the number of complete logjams, but I did have one (not too bad) and a couple of serious squeakers. The creek opens up again…clear sailing and pleasant paddling, for the most part, for the final couple of miles. Then trees envelop the creek one last time, which results in maybe 3-4 more jams and numerous serious “almost jams.”
Just before my take-out at Riddle Road, I encountered some fishermen on the bank. They commented that they wanted to paddle the marsh! Small world… I warned them about the logjams, but don’t know if I was too persuasive… They also said they had paddled Spring Creek to the Wisconsin River last year (which I had also done last year…review here). There had been a log clearing effort a couple of years ago, but unfortunately, things have filled in since then. The fisherman and his girlfriend had said the jams were so bad they couldn’t even be portaged…which is a worrisome sign. If I had a “log clearing genie” with only 3 requests…this creek would be one of them.
The bike shuttle is only 3.5 miles and affords a fine view of the marsh (a little hilly, but not bad). No shuttle services are in the area.
If you REALLY want to do this marsh…you’ll want to plan better than I did. Don’t put in at Lee Road (logjams are too bad). Try putting in at Cty. Y (marked on the map). There is a small drainage ditch which is barely navigable…maybe not even… from Y to the main creek. Even if you drag your kayak with rope (which you should bring), this would be better than what I had to endure as it will significantly cut down on the number of log jams and pretty much eliminate the mud jams if the water is as high as it was for me. If the ditch is too shallow, it would be a 1400′ drag over mostly grass (ok in my book if prepared). The land here is all public, so access, while not ideal from Hwy Y, would be the best bet IMO. From here on, there should be just a couple of jams until you get to the final forest section.
You can avoid some (not all) of these final jams by taking out at Hwy Y close to close to Riddle Road (see map…some kayak dragging involved), but my vote would be to finish this up, endure the jams, and take out at the bridge.
Alternatively, hiking is a fine way to experience the marsh. You can get to all the springs except for the second one, which doesn’t have direct access…but if you are really determined and go off trail and over a serious hill, you can get to that as well.
- Upstream of Lee Road: There really isn't much to paddle (the creek starts as a natural spring).
- Lee Road to Hwy Y Side Channel: 1.4 miles. A nightmare tangle of logjams. Not recommended (reviewed May 2014).
- Hwy Y Side Channel to Riddle Road: 6.6 miles. Scenic wetland paddle with multiple natural springs, but probably 5 logjams (reviewed May 2014).
- Riddle Road to Pleasant Street: 0.7 miles. A frustrating wooded section because of 10 logjams (reviewed May 2015).
- Pleasant Street to Fair Street/Sanitation Plant: 1.1 miles. Very scenic part through downtown Lodi with some fun rapids and no logjams (reviewed May 2015).
- Sanitation Plant to Hwy J: 1.1 miles. Attractive paddle, but ~7 logjams (reviewed May 2015).
- Hwy J to Hwy 1131st: 1.0 miles. More of an open grassland paddle with no logjams but a few low fences (reviewed May 2015).
- Hwy 1131st to Hwy 1132nd: 1.3 miles. A frustratingly muddy section with many downed tree and three major logjams (reviewed May 2015).
- Hwy 1132nd to Hwy K Landing: 2.1 miles. Surpsingly nice and attractive wooded section but there will be a serious logjam or two to deal with. Trips ends on Okee Bay (reviewed May 2013).
View Lodi Marsh in a larger map