★ ★

Kishwaukee River I

Cherry Valley to New Milford:
A pleasant paddle in Northern Illinois with publicly protected land just about the whole way, including a gorge towards the end. This trip can be shortened using alternate take-outs.

Kishwaukee RiverRating: ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: June 17, 2012

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Perryville: ht/ft: 5.87 | cfs: 400

Current Levels:
Perryville: ht/ft: 5.42 | cfs: 222

Recommended Levels:
This is the recommended minimum level. It’s best to catch this higher than 400 cfs as a general rule-of-thumb.

Bauman Park, Walnut Road, Cherry Valley, Illinois
GPS: 42.23215, -88.95713
Atwood Park, Rydberg Road, New Milford, Illinois
GPS: 42.18279, -89.05624

Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 4:00p.
Total Time: 4h
Miles Paddled: 8.5


Shuttle Information:
Roughly 8.5 miles. A nice pedal (on bike), although Blackhawk Road runs along at 55 mph speed limit. Pleasant views of the Forest Preserve.


Following the word of the good book that comes from Mike Svob, I checked out the second section of the Kishwaukee River in Northern Illinois, a 90-minute drive from Madison (and $3.80 total in tolls). I was attracted to the allure of paddling down a gorge section, which does exist but is rather modest and subtle. Both sides of the river are flanked by forest and you can discern a slight rise in elevation but it’s very understated. It isn’t until the I-39 bridge, which is impressively tall and elegant, do you get a sense of scale. The gorge is probably best appreciated from the bridge itself, less so on the water below. About 100′ wide the whole time, the river meanders quite a bit but the maneuvering is very easy. That said, prepare to have your boat scraped here and there, not because you’re intoxicated and choosing the wrong course (you’re not allowed to have alcohol-more on this below) but because of low water levels. The river alternates between riffly and slack but it mostly has good flow.

What we liked:
Just about all of this section lies within publicly owned land so you see relatively few houses. The scenery is pretty and the water clarity mostly good. There are many islands along the way to stop, stretch and snack (and pee).

What we didn’t like:
NO BOOZE ALLOWED. Not only is there an impossible-to-miss sign at the put-in at Bauman Park but there was also a cop stationed there inquiring about alcohol, reiterating that it’s not allowed on the river and stating in no uncertain terms that another officer was downstream who would be checking. This was not the case. There was no other officer anywhere. Whether such a person ever even existed is debatable (and not an irrelevant topic while paddling 8.5 miles at that) but my best hunch is it was a bluff, at least with respect to taking-out down in New Milford which is a whole separate town altogether (and presumably one with its own police force and politics). It is conceivable that there was a second cop at the Espenchield Memorial Forest Preserve takeout which is still in the jurisdiction of Cherry Valley but I don’t know for sure (I did notice the same “No Alcohol” sign at the landing while paddling by). Pity the poor officer who has to bust a guy on Father’s Day for cracking open a cold one on a hot day on the river.

While all this may seem cruel and/or unnecessary, we learned that this stretch of the river has been treated badly by its users, resulting in much littering. So the beer ban is a bit understandable. It’s up to you whether you want to chance things. The officer we did meet at the put-in did not ask to take a look at my cooler and I felt no need to offer him a look-see. All this said, my guess is the prohibition pertains to Cherry Valley only; ergo, an alternative put-in may well offer a paranoia-free paddle, provided you pack-out all your garbage and maybe even collect a stray can or bottle bobbing along or stuck in some brush.

Leaving aside alcohol, this stretch isn’t particularly remarkable. The gorge is nothing to write home about and the surrounding scenery itself is pleasant but not spectacular. Coming from Madison, this trip isn’t worth driving 90 minutes on the Interstate, through Beloit and Rockford and coughing up the Illinois tolls. I’d just as soon stay in-state and paddle the Platte which is comparable but prettier all around. But if I lived in North Central Illinois, I’d return to this spot.

To be fair, today was Father’s Day and tons of folks were on the river (mostly tubing). That spoiled things a smidge and probably precluded any notable wildlife sightings but hey, whatever Dads want to do today is their call.

If we did this trip again:
Can’t say for sure whether I would but if I did it would be in spring for the flowers or autumn for the leaves, depending on water levels. The river is very popular in summer. I’d also opt for a different put-in or simply make a stiff vodka tonic ahead of time and put it in a water bottle, thank you very much.

Related Information:
Kishwaukee River II: County Line Road to Red Horse Bend
Kishwaukee River South Branch: Kingston to Irene Road
Good People: Friends of the Kishwaukee River
Outfitter: Kishwaukee Canoe
Video: Illinois Paddles
Wikipedia: Kishwaukee River

Photo Gallery:

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