Map of the Upper Yahara

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Yahara River – Deforest

Guest Author: Karl Kovaciny
Date Paddled: May 11th, 2016
Put-in: Veteran's Memorial Park
Take-out: Sunfish Pond
Distance: 5.7 Miles
Time: 2 hours
Gradient: 9.1' per mile
Water Level: Yahara River @ Windsor Wisconsin 35 CFS or 1.3'

I will be looking to visit this section of river near my home any time there is enough rain. I did it at 1.3 feet and wouldn’t go any lower.

I don’t like long straight paddles — I like curves, steering between rocks, and reading the river to avoid shallow spots. This was great fun with no danger of falling out. I got hung up a couple times, but it felt like a video game where there are rewards and punishments for picking the right or wrong course. Fortunately, I have a short kayak that I don’t mind scraping on rocks.

I don’t think you could do an out-and-back run on this trip, with the way the current accelerates you downriver at times. Fortunately, the Upper Yahara River Trail makes doing a bike shuttle a really attractive proposition. This 4-mile bike trail goes all the way from the last take-out at Sunfish Pond to the first put-in at Veterans Memorial Park, traveling through hill, meadow, and forest on asphalt and raised boardwalks. You get a neat preview of some of the burbling mini-rapids that await you on the river.

The bike trail doesn’t have signage to guide you to the put-in, but I think you’ll be OK if you turn right every time: at the two T-intersections, and where the trail comes out onto Sunnybrook Drive. There, the river goes under the South Street bridge but the boardwalk doesn’t, so you briefly come out onto the street and turn right in order to cross the bridge. You then pick up the trail on the other side of the river.

The water trail is maintained by Friends of the Yahara River. I never had to portage. There are signs ahead of each takeout to notify you that it’s coming up. The takeouts are plain grassy banks in four city parks, all about a half a block’s carry from the parking area. After the last takeout, a sign warns “Maintained trail ends — golf course ahead.” I drove through the golf course but didn’t get out to see if it was navigable. It might be.

You see some parkgoers and well-groomed back yards, but you’re often surrounded by nature. My experience in the springtime included a good deal of wildlife: groups of 2, 3, and 4 deer; a raccoon at the riverside locking eyes with me the whole while I passed by; a crane, swifts, and a tree full of crows; and two duckling families with their usual peeping and fleeing. (Swimming and running don’t seem too different for a duckling; I saw one run up on a branch and back into the water, continuing the same foot-paddling motion the whole way like he was trying to run on the surface and sinking.)

I will choose to paddle here over the more sedate Token Creek whenever the water level gives me the opportunity. Too bad I can’t schedule rain for when I have visitors.

Special Thank You From the Editor:

Thank you to Karl Kovaciny for submitting the review!  The section sounds great and I (and presumably my readers) look forward to paddling the upper Yahara.  Note, does indeed accept guest water trail reviews which are very much welcome.  There is a formal trip review submission form here.  But if that is intimidating, you can just send me (Aaron) an email and we can work out the details. 

Other Yahara River Trips:

Here are some other trip ideas added to the review by the editor.  For a complete map overview of water trails on the Yahara River watershed, click here.

  • 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/Sunfish Pond: 5.7 miles.  A good prospect reviewed here.
  • 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 clean-up 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 clean-up 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 vistas 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 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.



13 Comments to “Yahara River – Deforest”

  1. June 2016 update: I have just gone through the trail with the volunteers from Capitol Water Trails and they have chainsawed down all the blockages and dragged the logs up on the bank. So it’s a clear paddle!

  2. Thanks Karl for the update! By chance do you know if they did any clearing after Windsor Road?

    1. Karl, thanks so much for your review! I frequently walk on the Yahara River corridor board walk (including just this morning), and every time I do, I look longingly at this pretty little stretch of the river and wonder how to catch it at just the right level for paddling. (I have read “after a heavy rain”, but a little more specific info is always helpful.) Your review is the first time I’ve seen a minimum water level mentioned for this stretch, and I appreciate this website providing a direct link to the USGS gage. Thanks to all!

  3. Thank you for your write up on this section of the Yahara. I’ve really enjoyed paddling this section quite a few times now since they started clearing away the blockages a few years ago. I’m surprised you enjoyed the trip at 1.3′. I always keep an eye on the Windsor Golf Course gage after a good rain and my minimum I will make the trip is 1.7′. I know that’s only .4’higher but I’ve found it makes a huge difference. I’ve paddled this stretch under lots of different depths and found the sweet spot to be 2 feet to 2.75′. I’ll paddle anything down to 1.75 but have found that there are too many shallow rocky spots you get hung up on if you go at the normal depth which is about 1.2-1.5′. If it goes much above 3′ also I’ve found that it’s a little too fast for my taste since you still need to navigate around boulders and other obstacles. It’s a fun little river though. Hope you can get out when it’s above 2′. Just keep your eye on the gage after a good rain and make sure to get out there before it recedes (usually within about 24 hours). By the way, I’ve also done the Lake Windsor Golf Course section. I found it to be a lot of fun. There are some branches to dodge in the early part but I never had to get out of my kayak. I would suggest getting out at Linden Dr. since I hear there is quite a bit of downed trees between the Interstate and Hwy. 19. Not sure if anyone will ever be able to clear those out but I don’t think it’s maintained at this point. I’ve heard the Hwy 19- Cherokee Marsh section isn’t too bad. Thanks again for your review. I’ve really enjoyed this section of river but it’s got to be done at the right level.

  4. Sorry, I wrote my comment 2 times. For some reason I thought that it didn’t accept the first one but I just noticed now that my comment yesterday is actually on here now. I took out at Linden Dr. (which is right as you’ve gone past the golf course). It’s also right before the Interstate bridge. If you go past that take out I think you will run into a section that’s choked with blockages. You could possibly take out at one of the roads by the clubhouse but to do the whole section the only takeout is Linden Dr. Feel free to delete one of my comments if you’d like.

  5. 8/18/17 Just did the paddle/bike shuttle on this section, with a level of about 2.25 ft. I would agree that any shallower would mean a lot of scrapping and hanging up in the shallow riffles, This section is great trip with a good mix of quite water, riffles, and a few drops, with a pretty bike shuttle at the end. I cleared out 2 small jams, there is still one place I had to scoot my kayak under a log while I climbed over, and another that I cleared out a passage way, but there is still a big sweeper to deal with.

  6. Just did the section from VMP to Innovation Drive,with a bike shuttle. The guage was at about 32cfs and 1.7 feet. I only did a short (1.5 hr) trip because I was not able to start until 4pm and it was dusk by the time I got off the river. I was still a great trip on probably one of the last 55+ days of the year. I have never done this trip below about 2 ft, as I read that was about the minimum for an enjoyable trip. While I had fun, I was scrapping bottom a lot and had to do a lot more maneuvering to keep from bottoming out and/or hitting rocks. This was a much more challenging trip than it is a 2 feet, but still very doable if you don’t mind a bit of work and/or scraping up your boat.
    Also There is one small log jam that requires a sharp zig and a zag to get through, that I don’t recall from the last time I went down. I didn’t have the time to clean it up as it was getting dark

    1. Thanks Eric for the update! Very interesting to hear you can run it as low as 32 CFS. Yeah, the weather is not looking great for the rest of the year…especially this weekend.

  7. Just did the section (again from VMP to Innovation Drive with a bike shuttle, The gauge was at about 32 fps and just above 1.7 ft. very nice trip, a lot of wildlife, many ducks, about a dozen muskrats, and 1/2 dozen deer, perhaps because it was almost dusk by the time I got off the river.This is about the exact same conditions I did this trip a few weeks ago, but the water seemed lower. I was scraping bottom quite a bit more, and had to get out at one place that I was able to navigate last trip. Still a great late fall trip for a short (1.75 hours) after work trip.

    1. Appreciate the update! 32 CFS is another helpful baseline…sounds pretty bumpy but doable which will be help to other paddlers.

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