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Yahara River

Date Paddled: July 7th, 2012
Put-in: W Stebbinsville Rd
Take-out: Murwin Park
Distance: 6.2 Miles
Time: Roughly 3 hours
Gradient: 3.8' per Mile
Water Level: Yahara River @ Fulton 120 CFS

Originating from a chain of lakes in the Madison area, the Yahara is very popular with locals.  It’s not a super long river and has a number of dams, so there aren’t that many navigable areas before it reaches the Rock River.  The most popular section is from the site of the old Stebbinsville Dam (just recently removed) down to Murwin Park.  Murwin Park is a great takeout location with proper parking and bathrooms.  Definitely use the bathrooms here before driving up to the put-in as, while there is parking at Stebbinsville, there aren’t bathrooms.   

The river starts out very nicely, with some riffles and scenic woods.  The water is pretty clean and clams, fish, and dragonflies tend to be plentiful.  About two miles in…there is an eagle nest on the left bank.  We got to see an adult and fledgling while on our trip.  This section of the river is probably the nicest there is. 

About a forth of the way into the trip, Badfish Creek empties into the Yahara.  The creek is actually a small river and adds significant volume to the main channel.  While the creek itself is relatively clean (an oddity, considering it gets sewage discharge from Madison), the water quality does degrade somewhat after it meets the Badfish.  This may not be the fault of the Badfish, as the Stebbinsville dam was recently removed, which means a lot of built up sediment behind the dam is probably working its way downstream and it will probably take some years for the river to flush this dirt out of its system.  In fact, numerous reviews noted the nice sandbars on the stretch…we didn’t see any (aside from some muddy flats).  And this was despite the water being near record low levels.  So again, this is probably a sign that the Yahara will take a little time to flush out the old sediment.

We did the river near the start of July at the height of the drought and it was still largely navigable…especially after it converges with the Badfish.  The quality of the Yahara is kind of hit and miss.  There are cool little riffle sections (not nearly as many as the Badfish) and then slow, stagnant areas with little helping current.  There are cool wooded corridors and boulder gardens…then boring open grasslands.  Sometimes the water would be clean…sometimes dirty.  So all in all, somewhat of an up-and-down river.  If it is not too much of a drive, it is probably definitely worth doing…but if you are in the area, you should consider the Badfish instead which is a much superior prospect.

As for additional sections, I believe the river should be navigable now from the Stoughton dam to the Stebbinsville pull-off, but have not read any reviews in regards to this.  Many kayakers do pass up the Murwin Park takeout and instead take out on one of the landings on the Rock River, which is an option as well.

Other Yahara River Trips:

Starting at the headwaters and working out way downstream…

  • Hwy 51 to E. Yahara Road: 1.4 Miles. Very small and channelized, it seems open but there might be some snags here.
  • Yahara Road to Veterans Park (Deforest): 1.6 miles.  Very wooded so good chance of jams if not cleared out.
  • Veterans Park to Windsor Road: 5 miles.  A good prospect that has had recently clean-up work.
  • Windor Road to Linden Drive/I90: 1.5 miles.  An interesting section through a golf course.  Linden Drive access is privately owned by the golf course.
  • Linden Drive to Hwy 19: 1.3 miles.  Probably a nice section but am unsure if the cleanup efforts have removed all the jams yet.
  • Hwy 19 to Cherokee Park: 4.5 miles including 1.8 miles of lake paddling.  Historically has had jam issues but it might have had cleanup work.
  • Cherokee Park to Tenney Park (aka Lake Mendota):  7.6 miles.  A nice lake but really too big and exposed for most paddlers.
  • Tenney Canal and Locks to Morrison Park: 1.3 miles.  A fun experience.  A canal fee might be required.
  • Morrison Park to Paunack Park (Lake Monona): 2.6 miles.  Mostly too big and busy to paddle, paddlers still do so and enjoy scenic vista of the downtown.
  • Paunack Park to Babcock Park (Lake Waubesa): 4.2 miles.  Probably too much flatwater to be interesting.
  • Babcock Park to Fish Camp Park (Mud Lake): 4.1 miles.  Wide and flat.  Probably uninteresting.
  • Fish Camp Road to La Follette Park (Lake Kegonsa): 2.4 miles.  Probably uninteresting lake paddling.
  • La Follette Park to Riverside Drive Park (Stoughton): 5.5 miles. Finally back to river paddling!  An ok prospect, but slow and big.
  • Riverside Drive Park to the Dunkirk Dam: 3.1 miles.  A small flowage that is probably ok but nothing special.
  • Dunkirk Dam to W. Stebbinsville Rd: 4.6 Miles.  A good prospect.
  • Stebbinsville Road to Murwin Park: 6.2 miles and this reviewed here.
  • Murwin Park to the Rock River: 2.8 miles.  There is a take-out a half mile downstream on the Rock River by Hwy H.

Many of Yahara’s tributaries are navigable as well.

  • Sixmile Creek – Running through Waunakee, I hope to review this in the future.
  • Token Creek – Comes in NE of Madison this is on my to-do list.
  • Pheasant Branch Creek – Really cool natural springs that I review here and is NW of Lake Mendota.
  • Dorn Creek – A possible prospect that requires a lot of water (west of Lake Mendota).
  • Wingra Creek – A short urban paddle west of the Isthmus that might be fun (west of Lake Monona).
  • Starkwater Creek – Slow creek creek that is popular with local paddlers and has had recent cleanup work. 
  • 7 Mile Creek – West of Lake Monana I’ve heard this is a pleasant paddle.
  • 9 Springs Creek – Highly channelized but seems interesting flowing through a state springs recreational area (south of Lake Monona).
  • Swan Creek – Possible prospect but short (south of Lake Waubesa)
  • Murphey Creek – Interesting wetland prospect but access on the upstream sections looks tricky (south of Lake Waubesa)
  • Door Creek – Small, slow and channelized but might be ok.  Has had recent cleanup work on it from I believe Hwy MN.
  • Badfish Creek – A classic!  Reviewed here.

For a map overview of water trails in the Yahara River watershed, click here.


View Yahara River in a larger map



How did your trip turn out? Questions? Comments? Or just say hi.

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