Badfish Creek Paddle Guide
By Andy Hoernemann + Miles Paddled
A contributor collaboration (but let’s not kid ourselves, Andy did most of the work).
Over the course of the 2014 summer, my goal was to paddle as much of Badfish Creek as possible. I managed to complete the creek from Rutland Dunn Town Line Road (just east of the Village of Oregon) to North Casey Road (between Cooksville and Edgerton off Highway 59) on different day paddles throughout the summer. I didn’t run each of these segments individually but they’re broken down into segments to help tailor your trip (most of the time I combined segments to make longer trips).
Rutland Dunn Town Line Road is about the farthest north you can realistically put-in on the Badfish. Further upstream, the access at Schneider Drive isn’t ideal because the banks are very steep and overgrown with weeds and bushes. This would make putting in at Schneider Drive difficult.
There’s a gauge on Badfish Creek near Cooksville located near the Highway 59 bridge before you get to North Casey Road. The information gathered from this gauge is incredibly useful, although there isn’t really a need to check the height because most of the water that flows through Badfish Creek is effluent (water being discharged into nature) from the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District. The effluent almost always allows for enough water to paddle. Due to the addition of this filtered water, the water quality on the Badfish appears better than other rivers and streams that I have paddled. Since the water is being discharged from the water treatment plant, there is a slight odor to it. According to the MMSD, during the final step of the cleaning process, “the treated water, called effluent, passes through disinfection chambers designed to kill disease-causing bacteria with ultraviolet light.” The odor comes from the UV light process. Check this out for more information.
For most of the put-in locations, you’ll have to park on the road. There are parking lots near Old Stone Road and Old Stage Road since they are at the edge of the Badfish Creek State Wildlife Area.
It’s interesting to see how the Badfish Creek changes as it progresses south through Dane County into Rock County. Most of the creek has a channelized feel with a uniform width, high banks and a pretty straight path until you get into Rock County and pass under the West Leedle Mill Road bridge. The chemical odor from the creek is stronger the further upstream you go. I could smell it on each segment but it was never too great to cause any headaches or discomfort.
There are two different trips, each offering a different style of paddling, that I would recommend. The first would be to put in at Sunrise Road and take out at Old Stone Road, making it roughly 5.65 miles long. On that stretch, you’ll paddle a fairly straight line without many sharp turns. The banks are quite high at times making it seem very secluded and there are many trees hanging over the creek as well.
The second would be to put in at Old Stage Road and take out at North Casey Road (which is a Miles Paddled favorite), making it roughly 6.75 miles long. On this stretch, your boat control will be tested. There are many twists and turns as well as sets of riffles to navigate.
There’s also plenty of wildlife to view in this area. On every segment I usually came across a blue heron that I’d follow downstream. Carp and minnows could be seen in the deeper sections as well. There were also some deer between Cooksville and North Casey Road where the banks of the creek were lower.
I think the best thing about this creek is that there is always enough water to paddle it. Once you get over the fact that a lot of the water comes from the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District, it’s really enjoyable. The water is really clear and to me, it seems cleaner than most streams/rivers around.
County Road B to Rutland Dunn Town Line Road
Miles: 2.5 | 2015 Trip Report
The average paddler should probably just skip this mess altogether. It may appeal to the Badfish completist (they really do exist) or to scratch that curious itch but as a whole, it’s not recommended. The put-in is anything but accommodating and as mentioned in a previous report, you have to use your ninja skills to actually launch there. Add to that, it just may be on private land too.
From the put-in, you could certainly paddle upstream to the actual outflow from the Madison Metro Sewer District if you really wanted to see the source but you would, of course, be paddling upstream through debris (and you’ll find no Holy Grail there).
From County B to Schneider Road it’s narrow and full of deadfall and debris and once you reach Schneider Road, you’re met with a dangerous low-clearance bridge which should be portaged (unlike us). From there to Rutland-Dunn Town Line Road, it’s pleasant in comparison but you’ll no doubt, meet at least a couple of must-portages.
Rutland Dunn Town Line Road to Sunrise Road
The put-in at Rutland Dunn Town Line Road is adequate but not ideal. On the northeast corner of the bridge, there’s a path that leads to the creek. The banks are a little steep but manageable and the water is pretty shallow so you can step in if needed (it gets deeper a few feet out though). The take-out is on the northwest corner of the Sunrise Road bridge (river-left before the bridge).
This segment is a lot deeper than downstream between Cooksville and North Casey Road. About a half-mile into the paddle, we came to a low-head dam which explains the depth. I could hear the water running over the dam before I could see it. There is a good 4-5′ drop at the dam but there’s a path on creek-left to help portage. The banks are somewhat steep here so it took some work to get the boats up to the top but there’s a nice field road that runs along the creek to get beyond the dam. Due to the steep banks and the extra drop of the dam, the creek was quite a bit further down from the field road. Putting-in again wasn’t too difficult but it was still a pain regardless.
After getting back in, I recommend paddling back up to the dam to check it out. The odor of the creek was a lot stronger here due to the churning of the water below the dam, however, it’s worthwhile to paddle upstream to view the water cascading over the dam.
Further downstream of the dam, the trees growing on the sides of the creek are all leaning towards the center of the creek creating a ‘tunnel’. It was very cool to paddle through these trees.
The creek on this trip had a ‘channelized’ feel, due to a uniform width and straight banks. Most of the journey was under tree canopy with an abundance of tall weeds under the water. Even with the straight nature of the creek, low branches needed to be navigated around and there were a few trees that needed to be portaged downstream of the dam. The dam itself though, was definitely the highlight of this segment.
Sunrise Road to Highway 138
Miles: 1.35 | 2015 Trip Report
There’s a small worn trail on the west side of the road just north of the creek to access the put-in.
The first part of this segment is through thicker trees. The later parts still have trees that line the creek (and contend with) but beyond that, it’s a lot of field and grass.
We encountered two trees laying across the creek about a hundred yards apart shortly after we put-in but other than that, it was just some low branches to navigate around. The bank on the north side of the creek where the downed trees are makes a good path to portage. I guess this might be considered trespassing (but I wouldn’t say anything).
Low branches throughout are not enough of a hassle to be put off by them but enough that you have to pay attention to avoid them. I was surprised by a nice set of riffles/class I rapids shortly after the tree portage (about 1/3 mile after the put-in). Those riffles/rapids were the highlight of this segment because after that, the creek is straight and has high banks. Surprisingly, there isn’t much (noticeable) noise from Highway 138 until you get close to it.
Highway 138 to County Road A
There’s a lot of traffic on Highway 138 between Oregon and Stoughton so I would avoid putting-in or taking-out at this location. You could potentially park along the highway and shimmy along the guardrail to get to the creek though.
Highway 138 to County Road A is similar to the upstream sections. The creek is still pretty straight with high banks. This segment flows through farmland although you don’t notice it since the banks are so high.
There was still a light odor from the water but it wasn’t intoxicating enough to cause any headaches and went away unless you really tried to smell it. The water was moving at a good pace which made it more of a challenge to navigate around some of the low branches.
There are three relatively new farm bridges above the creek and they are in much better shape than the bridge at County Road A. There was a nice drop (about 18” or so) under the second bridge. It sure made that stretch more enjoyable.
The take-out at County Road A wasn’t too bad, just a bunch of tall grass to walk through to get back up to the road.
County Road A to Old Stone Road
The put-in at County Road A is OK but not great. There’s a little trail on the northwest side of the bridge with some tall grass to walk through from the road to the creek. Once at the creek, the bank drops off pretty severely but the water isn’t that deep. When I put-in, I stepped in the water and then climbed into my canoe.
The creek on this segment is very straight. About ½ mile downstream you’ll paddle under Lake Kegonsa Road. I didn’t check to see if this would make a good put-in/take-out location due to the proximity of the County Road A access.
The water here was still pretty deep and there were a lot of tall weeds under surface. This segment is not long enough to warrant paddling it by itself but makes a nice addition to the previous segment.
Old Stone Road to Old Stage Road
Miles: 2.5 | 2011 Trip Report
A parking area is located on the Southwest corner of the Old Stone Road bridge. There’s a path down to the creek but it was pretty muddy. This stretch takes you through the Badfish Creek Wildlife Area.
The creek still has a uniform width and is still pretty deep in spots. There were a lot of trees that needed to be portaged and that alone made this segment not very enjoyable. If the deadfall were removed, or at the very least, cut to allow a boat through, it would be a lot nicer. The worst ‘log jam’ occurs a few hundred yards upstream from Old Stage Road.
I’d avoid paddling this stretch unless you like getting out of your boat and climbing over trees and there really wasn’t anything too interesting on this segment that can’t be seen on other trips.
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.
The put-in has been moved and developed in the years since we first paddled the Badfish. There’s a parking area on the Northwest side of the Old Stage Road bridge with an easy trail that leads to the landing. Avoid the poison ivy along the way.
The first .75 miles of this segment is pretty straight, wooded, and has a similar ‘channelized’ feel like the creek upstream. Once you get to the West Leedle Mill Road bridge, that all changes. The creek starts to wind its way through the countryside. Boat control is a must as there are not too many straight sections between West Leedle Mill Road and the Yahara River, and there is occasional deadfall. However, this Badfish trip is hugely popular which means it’s generally maintained, but beware that you may encounter new deadfall, especially after storms.
After Highway 138 (Cooksville), the creek continues to wind itself through the countryside. You’ll pass under Highway 59 twice along with North Riley Road. Although you could take out at these locations, we don’t recommend doing so as it would take away from experiencing the best segment of the Badfish Creek. Even though most of the creek is pretty close to Highway 59, the traffic noise isn’t substantial. The banks along the creek become noticeably lower than earlier segments. The gradient of this segment is also greater creating more riffles and changes in elevation than previous segments (besides the dam south of Rutland Dunn Town Line Road). There are many large rocks in the creek to paddle around as well.
The take-out at North Casey Road is very good. It’s on river-left before the bridge and there’s a little channel to paddle into and then a small hill to climb to get back to the road. Do watch out for wild parsnip. If you want to extend this segment, add the two-mile stretch from Old Stage Road to Cooksville or continue down to Murwin County Park on the Yahara River.
Casey Road to Highway 59
The short 2.25 miles from North Casey Road to Highway 59 is appealing, in theory, in that you’ll soon meet the confluence of the Yahara River. However, as the start to a trip, it really isn’t ideal because it truly is the end of one section and the transition into something much different. While the surroundings remain pretty, there’s a fair amount of deadfall to work around. Also, while we normally love being on one stream that then merges into another one, the lead-up to the Yahara is quite possibly the most anticlimactic confluence imaginable, as it’s a totally flat and long straightaway. Once on the much bigger river, it’s only half a mile to Highway 59. It’s a pretty half-mile – the left bank especially – but it’s brief.
The take-out, while doable, isn’t exactly easy for parking or launching. There’s a rough and rugged parking area on the upstream side of the bridge on river-left. The gradient is steep from the river to the road, so not all vehicles will be suitable to park here. Shoulder parking along the road is possible but the gradient remains steep. Worse yet, vehicles take Highway 59 pretty fast and there’s always a semi or two. In short, it’s not a very suitable put-in/take-out. This is why we almost always take out at Casey Road.
Up to Casey Road, the best of the Badfish has already been had so this won’t give you the real flavor of the creek, nor the Yahara really, for the short time you’ll spend on both. One should only really start here if you’re looking for an alternate put-in for the Yahara (if perhaps, you’re just looking to switch things up?). Instead, this section should really be an addition to an extended paddle on the Badfish. Additionally, if you’re curious about spending more time on the Yahara, continue down to Murwin County Park in Fulton where there’s a much more convenient take-out.