Date Paddled: November 1st, 2016
Put-in: Brown Deer Ave
Take-out: Chicago Ave
Distance: 3.9 miles
Time: 2 hours 34 minutes (2 hours would be more typical)
Gradient: 7.9' per mile
Water Level: Waupaca River @ Waupaca 270 CFS or 1.86'
Willow Creek is a somewhat obscure tributary to Lake Poygan. The upper portion is popular with trout fishermen and has numerous easements and pull-offs along the shore. It is somewhat odd this creek isn’t referred to as a river though, as it gets to be quite large near its mouth…and this may be the biggest creek in the entire state. However, much of the creek is not navigable because of logjams. Based on map research, I had long suspected a section from Brown Deer Ave to Chicago Ave might actually be open and was anxious to check this out.
Brown Deer Ave is an easy way to start a trip on the Willow, with a handy public parking lot northwest of the bridge. The scenery is pleasant but gets repetitive in a hurry. Basically, you have a narrow channel (~15′ wide on average), a ton of tight turns, up-tempo current, no hills, and banks lined with grasses and thick alders. Water clarity was fantastic and the highlight of the trip. Despite this being a deep creek (with most sections between 3-6′ deep), you could easily see the sandy bottom and the many fish darting back and forth.
This all sounds nice…but it was the same thing for almost the entire trip, which made the creek less interesting. What also hurt the trip were the two logjams I had to portage and, on top of this, several snags that took a while to get my boat through. After a few miles the creek does get nicer as alders thin out, a couple of pine groves appear, and the channel widens to about 30′.
Despite the nice water clarity and lack of development, I probably can’t recommend the trip unless you are a local. In many ways the creek reminded me of the nearby Mecan River, which I consider to be superior and would suggest instead if you want to do a trip in the area.
Northwest of Brown Deer Ave there is a public pull-off area (intended for trout fishermen but works equally well for paddlers). From here, it is easy to launch upstream/west of the bridge.
I took out at Chicago Ave, downstream/west of the bridge. This is also popular with trout fishermen and works well as an access point. Parking is a bit tight on the shoulder by the bridge though and you may have to park on the shoulder several hundred yards to the west.
An alternate take-out would be Hwy S (about a mile upstream of Chicago Ave). Here there is another nice pull-off for fishermen and it shouldn’t be difficult to launch along the bank, although you will have to circumnavigate a guardrail.
Very easy bike shuttle at 2.15 miles with no hills (part of the reason I did this trip!).
Hazards, Logjams and Current:
No real hazards nor rapids, although the current does scoot along at a good pace. If you launch upstream of Brown Deer Ave, the bridge has low-hanging nails that can hit your head.
There are multiple downed trees though. Two required me to portage, which wasn’t too difficult (although the first was a bit mucky, so make sure you bring your aquatic shoes). In several cases I had to zigzag through, over, and under downed trees (I did break some branches, which should help future paddlers). Other than that, this is a mostly open paddle.
River Depth and Navigability:
There is no gauge on the river, but the Waupaca River gauge should give a rough idea of where this creek is at:
- < 220 CFS: A rare depth, but the clarity should be smashing. This is a deep creek and I doubt it ever gets too low to run.
- 221 – 260 CFS: A typical depth and well suited for paddling.
- 261-300 CFS: Above normal depth that will hurt the water clarity a bit. Trip was done at 270 CFS.
- 301+ CFS: Creek would be very full and may overflow the banks at this point. Not recommended.
Not much…a few ducks, deer, and many fish (which I think were mostly trout). The highlight was seeing a family of three guinea fowl roosting on a low tree. They are domestic animals, so perhaps they escaped from a nearby farm.
In the nearby city of Redgranite there is a quarry lake that is a popular swimming destination with locals. What makes Redgranite Lake unique are the large red granite rocks that line the quarry and that locals like to use as diving boards (which you’re not supposed to do). You could certainly take a swim here or do a quick paddle around the quarry after a trip on the Willow.
Alternate Willow Creek Trips:
- Upstream of Hwy W/Nordic Mountain: I suspect the creek here is too narrow to be navigable.
- Hwy W to Blackhawk Road: 3.9 miles. Probably many downed trees, a very narrow channel, and a poor prospect. Access by Hwy W is steep and brushy.
- Blackhawk Road to Brown Deer Ave: 1.7 miles. Probably too many logjams. Access by Blackhawk Road is intimidating because of a nearby house and no-trespassing signs.
- Brown Deer Ave to Chicago Ave: 3.9 miles. An ok section with clear water and two portages for logjams. Alternate access at Hwy S available. Reviewed Nov 2016.
- Chicago Ave to Hwy S: 2.0 miles. A good wooded prospect that is probably scenic with perhaps a few light rapids. Logjams could be an issue.
- Hwy S to Red Granite/Park Street: 3.8 miles. Good prospect that is mostly open, but probably a handful of logjams. Hwy S is a scenic bridge put-in with tight parking (might have to park on Cottonville Ct.).
- Red Granite to 28th Road: 3.5 miles. Probably 4-8 portages, but otherwise a good prospect. Good put-in access in the park (off Park Street), where you can see some evidence of jam clearing.
- 28th Road to 29th Lane: 2.4 miles. Congested woods in the first half and a more broad open channel in the 2nd half.
- 29th Lane to Hwy 49/Dam: 2.2 miles. Mostly open flowage.
- Hwy 49 to Hwy D: 8.55 miles. A good prospect and frequented by paddlers. Mostly open wetgrass with a broad slow channel, this is an ideal spring prospect.
- Hwy D to Lake Poygan: 3.6 miles. Probably not too interesting. Poygan is one of Wisconsin’s largest lakes and I’m sure there are many nearby boat ramps available.
Special thanks to Adam Kiernicki for information on this creek.