Yahara River – Deforest
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, WisconsinRiverTrips.com 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.
- 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 small but fast stretch that has become popular in recent years.
- Windsor 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. There are too many logjams to recommend this.
- Hwy 19 to Cherokee Park: 4.5 miles including 1.8 miles of lake paddling. There are too many logjams downstream of Hwy 19 to recommend that as a put-in.
- 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 Viking County Park: 3.5 miles. Finally back to river paddling! An ok prospect, but slow and big.
- Viking County Park to Dunkirk/Hwy N1st Bridge: 5.2 miles.
- Viking County Park to Riverside Drive Park (Stoughton): 2.1 miles. A flowage paddle through downtown Stoughton.
- Riverside Drive Park to the Dunkirk Dam: 3.1 miles. A small flowage that is ok but nothing special.
- Dunkirk/Hwy N1st Bridge to W. Stebbinsville Rd: 4.8 miles.
- Dunkirk to Hwy N2nd Bridge: 2.5 miles. A good stretch that starts a bit slow, but speeds up and contains a number of large scenic boulder gardens.
- Hwy N2nd Bridge to W. Stebbinsville Rd: 2.3 miles. A scenic rocky stretch flowing through glacial outwash.
- Stebbinsville Rd to Murwin Park: 6.2 miles.
- Stebbinsville Rd to Hwy 59: 2.1 miles. This is the last super stretch of the Lower Yahara. After Badfish Creek joins up, the river becomes much larger and less interesting.
- Hwy 59 to Murwin Park: 4.4 miles. While not as scenic as upstream legs, this is still a solid stretch and popular with paddlers.
- Murwin Park to the Rock River: 2.8 miles. Final stretch on the Yahara and then a short leg on the Rock River. Probably ok, but nothing special.
Many of Yahara's tributaries are navigable as well.
- Badfish Creek - A classic! One of the better paddles in Southern Wisconsin.
- Token Creek - A surprisingly nice creek located northeast of Madison.
- Nine Springs Creek - An underrated prospect located west of Lake Monona that has some attractive springs.
- Six Mile Creek
- Starkweather Creek - A slow urban paddle, but interesting because of its bridges and Olbrich Gardens.
- Pheasant Branch Creek - Located northwest of Madison, this is a short trip but has some spectacular springs.
- Wingra Creek - A short urban paddle west of the Isthmus that might be fun.
- Dorn Creek - A possible prospect west of Madison that would require a lot of water.
- Seven Mile Creek - West of Lake Monona, I've heard this is a pleasant paddle.
- Swan Creek - Possible prospect but short (south of Lake Waubesa)
- Murphy 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.