★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Badfish Creek III

Old Stage Road to Casey Road:
It’s no secret that we love Badfish Creek, or that this is our absolute favorite paddling stretch near Madison – we’ve directed paddlers to Old Stage Road numerous times over the last decade. With almost always reliable water levels, riffles, sand/gravel bars, and maintained access points, it’s as delightful of a paddle experience one could ask for. Best yet, since it’s so popular, it’s almost always navigable but that’s also due to volunteers, specifically, the Friends of Badfish Creek (and well, those of us who carry a battery-powered Sawzall).

This overdue trip update was extra special paddle because nearly a dozen friends of Miles Paddled made the trip, giving us all the more reason to love this most recent visit.

Badfish Creek

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: August 3, 2019

Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Riffles (Class I)

≈ 5′ per mile

Cooksville: ht/ft: 5.34 | cfs: 135

Recommended Levels:
This is an ideal level. The Badfish almost always has enough water in it since it’s fed by the Madison Metropolitan Sewer District, but don’t let that scare you too much (more on that below).

Old Stage Road
Casey Road, Cooksville, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 10:45p. Out at 1:45p.
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 6.75

Deer rustling (I think), fish, turtles, one bald eagle, a hawk but no cranes – a Badfish first for me.

Shuttle Information:
5 miles. A nice bike, or short car shuttle.

Let’s start with apologies, because I’m seriously sorry y’all, we haven’t update this trip in five years – FIVE YEARS! Plus, the last time we updated it, it was winter. I repeat, WINTER in Wisconsin when most people don’t actually paddle that much (nor visit Milespaddled.com). So really, that means it’s actually been nine years since we first decided this was the ultimate Badfish trip. So, yeah, this report was long overdue.

Since then, we’ve paddled it numerous times; spring, summer, fall and winter. But we’ve never thought to do a proper update, which these days, feels simply necessary. Without an update in more than half-a-decades-time, we’ve failed you. Mother Nature deems some of our trip reports outdated weekly, monthly, yearly, and most definitely after five years. In fact, looking back, we’ve never actually given our favorite paddle near Madison it’s proper due with a complete and detailed overview (our early trip reports are quite vague in hindsight – see below for those). Forgive an oversight?

To be honest, we’re just so used to not re-reporting trips if it hasn’t felt like it’s been that long since we last paddled them, and especially if there hasn’t been a dramatic change to the stream. And for the most part, the Badfish hasn’t changed despite an epic round of floods a year ago.

The evidence of that flooding is evident but not if you’ve never been here before. You’d have to know the stretch. There was a homeowner who had to shore up his, uh, shore, with a whole lot of rocks due to erosion, and there’s also a new Oxbow that only recently broke through (although I may or may not have claimed to have caused it by ramming through the final sediment thereby staking claim to the Oxbow and christening it “Barry’s Oxbow” – that is how naming-rights work, right?) Regardless, Badfish Creek’s complexion hasn’t changed much in seven years, and what has is quite minor compared to other rivers and creeks we’ve seen after major flooding.

This trip was a quickly-schemed sort of paddle where we just started inviting people to it, and soon our few-person group turned into eleven (a Miles Paddled dozen is almost like a Baker’s dozen – we aim to overachieve but sometimes fall short). 😉

Extra cool was having Andy join us, a contributor and longtime friend of the site whom I only recently met in person at Canoecopia after years of emailing each other (sound familiar? Yeah, that turned out to be the storyline for me this weekend). Coincidentally, Andy is also dialed into Friends of Badfish Creek, and to prove how awesome he and that group are, check out this before-and-after of a major blockage just before the bridge just downstream from the the put-in at Old Stage Road just a few weeks earlier. Thanks to all of you!

My initial impression/memory of the Badfish focused on a certain smell. A treated smell. And yes, you can smell that smell, Skynrd. There’s an odor that’s undeniable, especially when your paddle takes deep paddle strokes, something Andy also commented on while we were out.

That smell, is treated water – it doesn’t occur naturally. You see, the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District releases clean sewer water into two creeks; Badger Mill and Badfish. And though that may sound alarming, it is treated and tested for ecoli amongst others things – just not all year round (the winter months, specifically). Although, Friends of Badfish Creek are trying to change that line of thinking and approach due to the creek’s increased year-round recreational popularity – like those of us Miles Paddlers who actually do paddle it in winter (the treated water is warm so areas of the creek don’t ice over). We do hope it will be tested year round, but it’s not as of this post.

Having toured the facility and met many folks there, I guarantee that they are the kind of people that will work to keep people safe while dealing with our wastewater in the most environmentally-friendly way possible – despite a waste infrastructure that wasn’t built to handle the growth and sprawl of Madison.

On the glass half-full side of things, due to the release there’s always has enough water to paddle the Badfish. Conversely, like any other river or creek, it can have too much water for safe paddling after heavy rains. That’s when the current will get pushy and new deadfall occurs, which makes having proper boat control absolutely necessary. But that may be besides the point if you’re averse to paddling in treated wastewater. If you’re cool with it, continue on…

Overall, this visit was similar to all previous trips, except that the put-in at Old Stage Road has been developed since we last reported here. It’s on the upstream left-side (paddler’s right) instead of the downstream right-side (again, big thanks to the Friends of Badfish Creek for giving us this gem). This development utilized the parking lot at the hunting access gate and created a direct path to the creek for paddlers. Do watch out for all the poison ivy at the trailhead though, because there’s a lot of it (but frankly, it had to be pointed out to me because I’m terrible at spotting poison anything – all leaves look like three to me if you’re really looking for it, right?).

From the put-in to Leedle Mill Road, the creek beings sparsely canopied, opens to low-banked prairie and then back again. Beneath the Leedle Mill Road bridge, you’ll find a fun set of light riffles that can become a Class I ride in higher water. They’re not difficult, it’s just that they do require basic boat control as you soon approach a sharp-ish left-hand turn.

After that, you’re treated to consistent alternating of low prairie banks and a little more canopy around easy bends and turns on a swift and clear current. It’s easy paddling which allows for some frisbee for those of you who do that kind of thing (our group sure does).

Which brings me to another point… usually wildlife is abundant, but when you’re paddling with ten others (unless you’re paddling with first-day interns from the public library) you’ll see much less like us. Once you account for the whipping of frisbees, hooting, hollering or even playing a tiny drum set in a canoe (yes, that happened) you’ll understand why we encountered a lot less wildlife than normal.

You’ll soon reach the Cooksville access point about a third of the way way through, at Highway 138. It’s technically an access point, but not really all that great because of the traditional DOT rocky base at the bridge. And it’s certainly not as easy to access like Old Stage, where you also benefit from a whole lot of Badfish’s allure upstream. Regardless, soon after you’ll come across an old steel farm bridge – the only real unusual sight to be seen on this creek, and which also scares the crap out of me, frankly. With the recent floods, I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been dislodged yet – but it’s coming. You can tell by how the bank is eroding. As Andy pointed out, “when that happens, what will we do?” First, I hope I’m not under it. Second, I hope we can paddle over it?

The creek continues to meander and alternate between gentle bends, low prairie and mild riffles. Gentle weed beds sway downstream, and are sometimes interrupted by the occasional little island. The sand and gravel bottom creek bed makes for some appealing bars to stop at along the way. Also, on this trip we saw a new natural spring we hadn’t seen before which was kind of cool (unless of course, something was leaking from somewhere – sadly, you never know).

Two-and-half miles later you’ll come to Highway 59 where there’s a subtle riffle bed before you’re back to the Badfish-basics again and on course to meet the Riley Road bridge not long after. We stopped at a sandbar just downstream from it where some of us swam, some ate Pringles, and some got sunburnt.

Continuing downstream, you’ll paddle around a couple more small islands. Soon, the last underpass appears which is the second meeting with Highway 59 (where the USGS gauge/gage is also located – say cheese and you just may show up on its camera feed if you’re there at the exact right time). This is where we finally seemed to get clogged up – not by deadfall – but by the nature of having eleven boats grouped together on the creek.

The final stretch has a few homes set in unison along the right bank, but there’s very little development on this section or really all of Badfish. Just past my favorite little island and right before the Casey Road bridge, you’ll find a little inlet/channel on river-left that’s outfitted with a wooden stair step in place for easy exiting. Just steer clear of the wild parsnip on the walk-up left – it was mostly dead when we were there, but always be cautious.

For what it’s worth, years ago there was a water snake that used to hang out at the Casey Road take-out (albeit, the opposite side of the stream). But every season for years, he/she/it was there. He/she/it wasn’t there this time, thankfully, but I guarantee you I was on the lookout for he/she/it.

What we liked:
What I love most of all was a flotilla with all these Miles Paddlers: Rachel, Mitch, Jeff, Sara, Karen, Seth, Scotty, Andy, Karla and Timothy – all contributors to the site through their reports, ideas and just straight up enjoying the spirit of Miles Paddled (and, of course, humoring me while I document it). All of them are the kind of people you just want to be around, regardless of whether you’re paddling. It was awesome to spend the day with that group of folks and in a flotilla of eleven which was surprisingly comfortable for a creek I thought might be too narrow at points (it was all good). Great people and a special paddle, indeed.

Also, it was a (to use a Timothy term) “hoot” to finally paddle with Andy who was a great guide and knows this creek better than anyone I know. It’s always cool to meet people via the site but even better when you like those folks (ha, ha) and want to spend some hours on the river together. It was long overdue and was hopefully not our last trip together.

The put-ins and take-outs are great and are now clearly marked from the road – once again, thanks to the Friends of Badfish Creek. As mentioned, just watch out for poison ivy at the put-in and wild parsnip at the take-out on Casey (I’ll admit, it does sound kind of funny that I consider these great access points even though they are riddled with skin-irritating plants…).

Anyway, the Badfish is very much what I remembered and love about a great river or creek mid-summer: dependable current, clear water, mild riffles, cut banks, small boulders, sand/gravel bars, gentle hills, soft prairies, and best yet – no portages. There’s not really a “slow section” followed by a “riffly section”, etc. It’s a bit of all that but it’s all pretty subtle and it comes and goes – that’s what makes it special.

It’s also great for advanced-beginner paddlers who want to learn how to read currents and improve their paddling skills on moving water in a generally shallow setting (but still, please wear your life jacket as it does get quite deep in spots and the potential for a spill on the Badfish is always there and common).

Oh, and best of all, that damn snake wasn’t at the take-out.

What we didn’t like:
Well, I guess poison ivy at the put-in and the wild parsnip at the end are a little something to be down on? But, that is the nature of outdoor Wisconsin and you’ll be fine if you know what to look for.

If we did this trip again:
We love the Badfish and we’re fortunate to have it so close to Madison. It’s that friend you like to hang out with regularly because they aren’t full of a bunch of drama – just a whole lot of fun. You’ll find that you get a generally consistent experience, and the reliable levels almost always provide an opportunity to paddle when your Plan A, B or (Godforbid) C, paddling plans fall through. There’s nothing better than a reliable friend like that. And hopefully, you all can experience this stream with your own flotilla soon, too. Because that was really cool.

Related Information:
Badfish Creek Overview: Badfish Creek Paddle Guide
Badfish Creek I: Cooksville to Murwin County Park
Badfish Creek II: Old Stage Road to Highway 59
Badfish Creek IV: Old Stone Road to Casey Road
Badfish Creek V: Old Stage Road to County Road H
Badfish Creek VI: Sunrise Road to Old Stone Road
Badfish Creek VII: County Road B to Sunrise Road
Article: Paddling the Badfish Creek
Good People: Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed

Miles Paddled Video:

Photo Gallery:


Previous Trip Report:
March 10, 2014
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Some days it pays to be unemployed. To wit, a freakishly warm Monday when the mercury rose to the lower 50s – the first time we’ve felt that since October. That it follows the hallowed weekend of Canoecopia, when one’s spirit is charged with inspiration to resume paddling again, well then… Today (as of this writing) the temperature is a good 13 degrees colder, with full clouds and winds that make it feel worse. Tomorrow the high will be 20 degrees. Carpe diem ye paddler!

Gauge: Cooksville: ht/ft: 5.03 | cfs: 105
Time: Put in at 2:00p. Out at 4:00p.
Total Time: 2h

Wood ducks, turkey, some Canada goose gaggles, a deer, a couple cardinals and two bald eagles.

Speaking of Canoecopia, I was suppose to paddle the Badfish with Darren Bush, the so-called “chief paddling evangelist” of Rutabaga. Our plans were nixed in the end, although coincidentally I would see a small group of canoeists during my bike shuttle that turned out to be none other than himself with a couple pals. I mention this for two reasons: 1) while I had only a so-so time on the creek, he had a great time (as seen on facebook) and 2) while I found the water level shockingly shallow for such a warm day with all the melting snow, his group appears to have managed quite well in canoes.

So take this brief report with a grain of salt.

What we liked:
I don’t think there’s a segment of water we cover as much as the beloved Badfish Creek. In part, because it’s so close to Madison and also because it offers several put-in/take-out options to tailor the length and variety of the trip experience. But it’s mainly because it’s so pretty, reliable and fun. My favorite aspect of paddling this stretch today was seeing the contour of the land, the soft hills in particular, in its leafless nudity still swaddled in snow. It offered a much different visual feel than in spring or summer, or even autumn.

Noting the gazillion tracks of deer and whatnot was also a charming pastime; all these places they’d been to previously. And of course the snowbanks themselves were awfully pretty (noted oxymoron), many of which undulated like waves. The riffles were at their riffliest, so to speak, maybe as much as a Class I in a couple of spots but very easy to read and follow for any level of paddler.

And despite the mean, long winter we’ve had coupled with several notable occasions of crazy-assed wind, I saw no signs of significant wear and tear on the water and certainly no impassable tree downfall requiring portaging.

What we didn’t like:
I was genuinely surprised by how shallow the water level was. I didn’t expect to be scraping when paddling in early March with surrounding snow melting. Indeed, earlier in the morning I awoke to reports on the radio about potential flood warnings on the nearby Rock and Pecatonica rivers. So to find the Badfish in early season snowmelt as low as I have ever paddled it in the thirst of sultry July was surprising and occasionally frustrating.

I had been planning on warning paddlers who are interested in canoeing this stretch of the Badfish (and this is, by all accounts, the best stretch of the Badfish) that I would advise doing so only with more water but as Darren’s example proves, it can be canoed even this low, so deciding when to go is your call.

There were two odd sites on this trip, shortly downstream from the put-in. First, a hawk carcass caught in tree branches overlooking the creek (what chain of events led to this unfortunate happening would be fascinating to know) and Second, a little further beyond that, someone decided that the best place to dispose of an old armchair was is in the middle of the creek (which is to say that someone schlepped this beast of furniture out through the snow and onto the ice and just plopped it then and there).

If we did this trip again:
The question isn’t “if” but “when” the Badfish will be paddled again.

Photo Gallery:


Previous Trip Report:
May 20, 2012
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

There’s probably not a creek or river that we paddle more often than the beloved Badfish. In part, because it’s so close to Madison and it offers several put-in and take-out options to tailor the length and variety of the trip experience. But mainly because it’s so pretty, reliable and fun. This might be the best paddle in southern Wisconsin.

Gauge: Cooksville: ht/ft: 4.94 | cfs: 117
Time: Put in at 11:15p. Out at 2:15p.
Total Time: 3h

What we liked:
We paddled our favorite little creek to officially kick off the 2012 season. And it was very much like our last paddle due to almost identical flow rates. It’s a relatively clean creek (save for an occasional bloated racoon lying in the water) that meanders it’s way through canopy and farmland with plenty of islands and tiny sandbars to get out and relax on. It’s rocky at times, sandy at others and the swift current makes for a great day-paddle.

On our way we had another encounter with a deer that we startled while coming around a bend. We also saw cranes, some crazy-looking turkey-like thing and also some carp. The carp surprised us since the water was so low and we had never seen carp in these waters before.

The Badfish was plenty busy with lots of friendly canoe and kayakers enjoying the beautiful weather. Amongst the friendly small talk, we were given a botany lesson from a couple guys at the take-out. They pointed out all the invasive wild parsnip and informed us of the unpleasant rash you will get from contact with the leaves (when the sun hits the leaves, they release the toxin. However, the root is the edible part and is perfectly safe). They both seemed to have extensive first-hand knowledge of the “rath of the rash”.

What we didn’t like:
The wonderful Leedle Mill Road bridge is gone. It’s been replaced by a new state-of-the-art (and rather ho-hum in comparison) bridge. At first glance, the construction didn’t seem to affect the drop below the bridge but the current isn’t quite the same as it once was.

If we did this trip again:
The Badfish is a favorite of ours and a must-do every year, if not a few times. Old Stage road to Casey road is the best paddle on the Badfish. We’ll definitely paddle this in higher water whenever possible and Spring to early Summer is always the best time to paddle it before the weeds take over.

Miles Paddled Video:

Photo Gallery:


Previous Trip Report:
August 7, 2010
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

In very high waters, the Badfish is quite pushy, more of a workout than normal, and of course, many of the distinguishing features like mini-islands and sandbars are hidden below the surface.

Gauge: Cooksville: ht/ft: 5.44 | cfs: 115
Time: Put in at 3:00p. Out at 5:20p.
Total Time: 2h 20m

What we liked:
It’s amazing how one week (and a little less water) can make a drastic difference in a paddle. After an amazing paddle last weekend I wanted to take advantage of the high water but it dropped a little and made a huge difference.

The current is still a little pushy and the portage still exists but some of the more riffly areas have become less dramatic. A lot of weeds have appeared and the sandbars are popping up making route options less improvisational. So all in all, a fun paddle but more like the Badfish we are used to. We didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife on this trip (we spotted one crane the entire trip). It could have been because it was mid-afternoon.

We still don’t recommend this for beginner paddlers. It’s quite a work out and boat control is important with the many strainers you’ll come across and some of the openings are just wide enough for your boat.

What we didn’t like:
The grass snake we saw at the take-out.

If we did this trip again:
Old Stage road to Casey road is the best paddle on the Badfish. We’ll definitely paddle this in higher water whenever possible. It’s just more exciting.

Photo Gallery:

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