Cambridge to Hoopen Road:
A convenient bike-shuttle on CamRock trail and a nice little post-paddle diversion at CamRock Café & Sport makes for a great day trip on the Koshkonong if the water level is right and it’s free of deadfall.
Trip Report Date: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: July 15, 2013
There is no gauge for Koshkonong Creek. A decent visual gauge is the bridge in Rockdale. If the riffles there are shallow, so too is the creek. But Koshkonong Creek usually has reliable water levels.
Time: Put in at 11:20p. Out at 12:40p.
Total Time: 1h 20m
Miles Paddled: 5.5
Turtles, herons, a beaver, and a ridiculous amount of frogs.
The shuttle is really easy and one of my favorites. It’s farm country to Rockdale where you can hop on the gravel CamRock trail for a short 2-mile ride through the woods of CamRock Park where you cross the creek a couple times and you’ll exit right at the put-in in Cambridge. I enjoy shuttles like these.
You could call this a tale of two different paddles (or three, really) because normally, I’d heed the advice of previous reports (specifically Timothy’s first couple) and skip this whole Koshkonong thing but paddling this creek became a personal challenge after I had already attempted to paddle this creek but was rejected due to low-water levels.
Last August, I first biked to the put-in (I usually shuttle after…), jumped in my kayak and got about (I kid you not) forty-feet down the creek when I realized it was a futile endeavor. So I paddled back and then biked back, on my way, encountering this scary little creature. And anyone who knows me, knows that I must really want to do something if I’ll willingly put myself in the same environment as a snake (I know, ironic considering this chosen activity).
Anyway, I first heard about this creek from Morrall River Films who included it on their DVD River Trails of Southern Wisconsin and I’ve been wanting to check it out since it’s so close to Madison. I’m really glad I gave it another go because I had a great time.
There is no gauge on the creek but you can (kind of) use the nearby Crawfish River for an indication of whether it’s high enough. If the water is up, it’s probably a go. The Crawfish at Milford was running 3.53 ht/ft and 895 cfs. With current water levels I would reco doing this section soon (unless we get a lot of rain) because they were perfect.
One of the big differences from when Timothy paddled this a few weeks back to now, is that someone has obviously taken the time to clear the creek. There were no portages to contend with and freshly cut branches could be seen wherever there might have been a potentional issue.
The put-in off Main Street (and behind CamRock Café & Sport) is nice, with a couple of put-in options to choose from, a dock or a muddy slope to the water. The dock can be a little difficult if you’re balance-challenged.
Koshkonong Creek is narrow with a mostly sandy-bottom and the color of the water is a copper hue. There were a lots of downed trees but easily navigable (thanks again to whomever cleared it). Since it is so narrow, I can easily understand how frustrating it could be if it isn’t maintained. I encountered turtles, two herons, a beaver and about million frogs.
The most enjoyable section for me was paddling through the former Millpond. Timothy pointed this out on the map but I didn’t notice it until I was paddlng through it. The millpond is anything but “a pond” (which I was actually dreading since I don’t care much for open water) and is arguably the prettiest part of the journey. Flanked by beautiful grassy banks, you wind your way through what once was the millpond until you reach Rockdale where the only riffly section is.
The riffles continue past Rockdale for a bit and then it’s back to tree-covered sections and open farmland. I can see how it could get swamplike as mentioned in the prevous report but I think the very (bordering obscene) warm weather we’ve had, has dried up a lot of that. I found it similar to the section above Rockdale, maybe less-canopied.
The take-out, however, is suffering from extreme erosion. It’s grassy all the way to the bank but it just gave-way step after step as I tried to get out of my kayak. Once you’re up, it’s great but it’s falling apart and isn’t going to last much longer.
After the shuttle, I had to check out CamRock Café & Sport, which is more of a bike shop/café than water outfitter but they do have kayaks and paddleboards for rent to use on the creek or nearby Lake Ripley. If you’re considering lunch, I highly recommend the Smoked Turkey & Provolone on Foccaccio bread which came with some incredible pickled cucumbers (not yet pickles) and a Founders All Day IPA (no Central Waters, I asked). It’s a great café with a nice vibe and friendly people.
What we didn’t like:
Again, that snake. I didn’t see him this time but I know he’s out there.
If we did this trip again:
Sometimes all it takes is a little time and a paddle can be eons different than the paddle before and even just weeks apart.
I will, no doubt, paddle this again since it’s such a short trip from Madison. It’s a great little paddle when you don’t have to worry about blockages and the convenient shuttle between put-in and take-out make it even more appealing. Plus, I’ve also heard great things about Heather’s Rockdale Bar, which will be my next post-paddle destination.
Miles Paddled Video:
Alternate Trip Report: Shorter Paddle (3 Miles)
Cambridge to Rockdale
February 24, 2013
☆ ☆ ☆
A creek truly cute-as-a-button outside of Madison that offers several options for trip lengths, much of which runs through and along public land, alternating between tree-canopied intimacy, wide-open rolling hills and some steep banks.
Time: Put in at 2:20p. Out at 3:50p.
Total Time: 1h 30m
Miles Paddled: 3
A lone, possibly chilly, quite random blue heron and not one but two bald eagles (open water in winter).
For those with a skiing inclination, particularly of the cross-county kind, you might recognize the date of this paddle and think: the Birkie – for which I was registered and ready to do. To make a long story short, finding out only a few days before driving five and a half hours up to Hayward that your girlfriend all of a sudden doesn’t want to join you (there’s nothing quite so pathetic as skiing a marathon only to be greeted by nobody at the finish line…), is a bummer of a mogul.
So to make lemonade out of love’s lemons, I did something instead that I had always wanted to do (while eating the $85 registration cost and $79.95 motel room deposit), not just kayak and ski on the same day but ski-shuttle after paddling down to the take-out. It’s a rare feat and arguably less attention-grabbing or catchy as the 40th anniversary of North America’s longest and hardest cross-country skiing event (but then again I’ve always sided with the underdogs: the Grace to Gene’s Kelly, the lady cardinal to the flaming-red male, the George Harrison songs on Beatles’ albums).
What we liked:
From Cambridge to Rockdale, the Koshkonong Creek runs through public land, the CamRock County Park. It’s a short 3-mile jaunt but very quaint and pretty. It’s not spectacular or terribly remote but for what it is, it’s delightful. Access and parking to the creek is excellent on both ends and if ever there were a waterway that calls for a bike shuttle instead of using two cars or paying an outfitter for such services, this is it. From end to end you’re looking at two skimpy miles, all of which lies within the pretty confines of the park. This is a great way to experience the bike-shuttle notion without extending yourself (or your kids).
The current was good and the depth quite adequate (considering it was February). Even (or especially) in the “barren oblivion” of winter, the surroundings were charming. I expect it to be truly becoming and bucolic come the lushness of spring and summer.
What we didn’t like:
At the time of this writing, there were a few frustrating deadfalls obstructing the creek. Since I did this in winter, I did not have an option of portaging, as the banks were too icy. I got through alright but it required a combination of delicate branch snapping, limb-twisting, hip brace-thrusting, jutting, nudging and when all that failed, full-on battleship ramming through. It is expected that all of this will be cleared out by volunteers led by the CamRock Café & Sport (more on that below).
The “Kosh” is about 35 miles long before it empties into Lake Koshkonong in between Edgerton and Fort Atkinson. I tried to lengthen this trip by putting in further upstream but such access was next to nonexistent. Off of the Highway 12 bridge, the banks are about 7’-high, while the Highway 14 bridge just north of that is lower, yet there is nowhere safe to park (maybe this will look different after the snow melts…?).
Further upstream still is the London/Britzke road bridge but that seemed a little too dicey for a wintertime paddle on a creek I had never been on and knew very little about. As for taking out further downstream, the first place to do so below Rockdale is on Hoopen Road but at that point the creek was frozen over. That said, come warmer weather, this beguiling section will beg paddling down to.
If we did this trip again:
You can bet your boots I will! Probably several times. It’s only half an hour from Madison via Highway 12/18 (or a little longer but oh so much lovelier a drive via Koshkonong road to County N to I-90. I’m excited to check out the section downstream of Rockdale).
A quick shout-out to the CamRock Café & Sport in Cambridge. It’s a locally owned, do-it-all place for good food and drink, boat and bike rentals and much more. To get a flavor of the place, here is their own description: “Biking, Hiking Trails, Walking Families, Canoeing, Kayaking, Eating Food, Drinking Wine, Sipping Coffee, Laughing Loudly, Music Playing.” They left out yoga classes and craft beer (and maybe the kitchen sink) but I like that kind of ambition!
Alternate Trip Report: Longer Paddle (7.75 Miles)
Britzke Road to Hoopen Road
May 5, 2013
A good trip for beginners that can be easily shortened (or lengthened) on a narrow, intimate creek that flows through farmland, a public park and finally into an open swamp-like environment.
Time: Put in at 12:30p. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 7.75
Not much beyond many, many red-winged blackbirds.
What we liked:
I’ve done portions of the “Kosh” before but not upstream from downtown Cambridge or downstream of Rockdale. There are enjoyable riffles underneath two bridges in Cambridge and also the one in Rockdale. The segment south of Rockdale is entirely different than the upper stretch. It’s tree-canopied, leafy green and a little reminiscent of a swamp (but with current).
What we didn’t like:
The put-in leaves nothing to be desired. The 2.5 miles or so upstream of Cambridge are fairly dull; mostly straight and rigid through farm fields. The deadfall debris just before CamRock Park is mostly still present but definitely negotiable. I sawed off a few limbs in one tight spot, while another left no other choice than to paddle full-steam and ramrod over the logjam.
The interior of CamRock County Park is mostly spacious and open. Never dramatic, just pleasant. You will encounter pedestrians, joggers, and mountain bikers alike (the latter in particular, as there are mountain bike trails on the southern end of the park).
The take-out, immediately after the Hoopen Road bridge on river-right, is nice and accessible but there are cranky “no trespassing” signs at several spots on the other side of the road.
At first I was a little disappointed by the lackluster nature of this trip. Saying nothing of my predilection for misadventures, it was pretty tame and calm by any standard. I brought a friend along for whom it was his first time in a kayak, which is why I chose the Kosh in the first place (as opposed to say the Badfish). For a novice, there are just enough twists and turns to experience creek-paddling without it becoming arduous, a couple riffles to feel what they’re like without worry of getting wet and a long enough time on the water to appreciate “river time” without the trip being too long. I think my acclimating was a success. Later that night he emailed me some links to kayaks for sale and asked for my opinion.
Just about any day on the water is better than a day off of it, even if there is nothing necessarily spectacular or superlative. Sometimes pleasant is enough and who can beat a sunny day at 72 degrees with a chorus-thrush of bird song everywhere in the air?
If we did this trip again:
I probably won’t, as I have been here three times in as many months. There are so many other creeks and rivers yet to explore…