Olson Road to Aztalan State Park:
With not much to look at and slow current, this is a totally fine but mostly unremarkable trip on the Crawfish River, which is usually the case on this river.
Rating: ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: March 21, 2015
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater
< 1′ per mile.
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Milford: ht/ft: 2.70 | cfs: 400
Milford: ht/ft: 2.13 | cfs: 165
This is a very recommendable level.
Time: Put in at 10:20a. Out at 1:05p.
Total Time: 2h 25m
Miles Paddled: 10.25
Geese, mergansers, sandhill cranes, one bald eagle, turkeys, one pheasant and whole lot of frisky carp.
I’d scouted a few different sections of the Crawfish (aka the “crawlfish”) last autumn and found myself driving past Milford a number of times. The recommended trip in Mike Svob’s book begins at Milford and concludes at the Rock River confluence, a blasé trip already covered here and remembered fondly by no one I’ve ever known (sorry Crawfish; it’s not your fault what God gave you, or the glaciers.) I myself wanted to do something different but I knew already not to waste my time in the Mud Lake section north of Highway 19. There’s a put-in at 19 but parking is a little tricky. Less than a mile downstream is an outstanding boat launch off Olson Road. There’s also a third access half a mile downstream from Olson at a private campground (re: RV park) but there’s a fee to use it. Hence Olson Road as my put-in.
Aztalan State Park itself is a fascinating place and worth an hour of walking around. Downstream of it you have next to no options for taking out until Jefferson. That’s how this trip came to be. I knew it would be slow, wide and muddy, with mostly agricultural backdrops. But I was hoping there’d be something more, something fun, something redeeming. Not so much.
What we liked:
The couple miles or so just upstream and leading to Milford were pleasant with views of drumlins to the east and a couple of undeveloped landscapes to the west. I loved that the 15-mph wind was at my back and the southern sun was kissing my face. I appreciated that the river, while low for where it should be this time of the year, had plenty of volume. And on a stream this huge (over 400 feet wide most of the time) you’ll never have to worry about deadfall. Except for the first mile there’s little housing on this trip; it’s mostly agricultural. The lead-up to the I-94 bridges was something I’ve been curious about for years, since I’ve driven over the river well over 200 times to/fro Milwaukee. And finally the last section of this trip from County Road B to Aztalan State Park is pretty: there’s an undeveloped woodsy ridge on the left (east bank) and glimpses into the park on the right (west bank) of the stockades, mounds, and even a few hollows. Both the put-in and the take-out are excellent accesses, with full facilities and water at the state park.
If you take nothing else away from this write-up, let it be this: If you live nearby or are passing through, stop by Crawfish Junction for a great meal and beer. Located at W6376 County Road A in Milford just up the road from the bridge, the clever combination of Crawfish River with Cajun-themed cooking is a nice touch that’s much appreciated by someone with a soft spot for Cajun culture. Where else can you have deep-fried gator this far north in the Mississippi River watershed?!? Discovering this place probably was my favorite part of the trip (yes, even though it technically had nothing to do with the river itself.) Failing that, since you’re this close to Lake Mills, you should stop at Tyranena for a fine local-made cold one.
What we didn’t like:
It’s just disappointing and boring. First, the width alone is preposterous, leaving little to the imagination. Whereas on a meandering creek you look forward to the exceptional straightaway and offer your thanks to rest a moment, here you long for a bend to the left or right and crave a curve however subtle. Otherwise, it’s just a long boulevard of flat brown water. Not very inspiring. There’s nothing to do but slog through the array of RVs lining the left shore in the beginning. I can imagine this campground is a zoo in summer, given that there is a gigantic Dells-esque waterslide play pool. The location is a pity from the paddler’s perspective, because there is an otherwise attractive hill right at the facility hovering above it. The other hills on this trip are off in the distance for the most part, seemingly larger the farther away they are, anticlimactic as you approach closer.
There are two protected prairie state natural areas I was hoping would enhance the scenery – Snapper Prairie State Natural Area and Faville Prairie (the latter advocated by none other than Aldo Leopold himself ) – but had I not known of them beforehand and looking for them, I’d have been none the wiser while on the river. Perhaps this would be different in spring and summer, once the land wakes up from its winter sleep.
Another disappointment was how underwhelming the approach to Milford was. Native fishing weirs are supposed to be in the river near the right bank upstream of the bridge but if they’re there, you can’t see them. The riffles in the rocky shoals just below the bridge are pleasant but little more than that. Come to think of it, you can say that for most of this trip: “pleasant, but little more than that.” There’s potential for this being better, once spring is in full swing, but one probably shouldn’t expect too much.
If we did this trip again:
Unless I lose a bet or am honoring a friend’s questionable bucket list who wants companionship, there’s just no reason to bother repeating this trip.
Crawfish River I: Milford to Jefferson
Crawfish River III: County Road I to County Road G
General: Glacial Heritage Area
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Video: Wisconsin Paddles
Wikipedia: Crawfish River