★ ★ ★ ★

Maunesha River I

Marshall to Firemen’s Park:
A return trip to mark an anniversary of sorts, this second time around was even prettier and less difficult than the first. Great wildlife, a surprisingly scenic landscape, fantastically fun moving water and a thrilling ride of nonstop rapids for the last two miles – this is the Maunesha from Marshall to Waterloo.

Maunesha River

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: April 3, 2016

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

4′ per mile (except for the last 2 miles, where the river drops 10′ per mile).


Recommended Levels:
If the water is high, we recommend paddling this. So, try catching it after some rain or still early in spring. If you’re nearby, a good visual gauge is any of the bridges in downtown Waterloo where there are rapids. If they’re high enough, everything else will be as well.

Marshall Dam off Waterloo Road, Marshall, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.16715, -89.06009
Firemen’s Park, Waterloo, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.18969, -88.98244

Time: Put in at 1:40p. Out at 5:40p.
Total Time: 4h (including 45 minutes of clearing jams + a 30-minute backwaters excursion)
Miles Paddled: 8.25

Alternate Trip Ideas:
Waterloo Road to Firemen’s Park (6.75 Miles)

Great blue heron, wood ducks galore, nesting geese, bluejays, kingfisher, sandhill cranes, beaver dams, muskrat, three groundhogs and three deer.

Shuttle Information:
5 miles, easy and direct. Not only is Jefferson County very bicycle-friendly, the world headquarters of Trek is in Waterloo.


A return trip to the river that essentially started me on the whole “who needs guidebooks?” mindset when wondering about where to go paddling each weekend (ironically, this mindset then inspired me to write a guidebook of my own – about places not found in other guidebooks. This should come out in a couple months, about whose publication/release we shall say more when the time comes). So while the manuscript is in the editing phase with the last touches being put on before it goes to the printer, it seemed appropriate to go back to the trip that more or less started things, three years ago, almost to the day.

This time around we started right below the dam in Marshall and added another mile, which was pleasant (though not essential). You’ll have to schlep your gear about 30 yards from the road. There’s an unpaved path that leads to the water but it’s very muddy, ruddy and not approachable unless you have a high-clearance AWD vehicle, and it’s ambiguous whether this is a public right-of-way. The only real advantage to putting-in here is a small rapid about 40’ from the put-in and adding another mile to this otherwise short trip. You’ll see the sights (and in season, hear the sounds) of Little Amerricka to the south as the river meanders underneath Highway 19 twice. Or you can simply skip this and begin the trip at the next two bridges, Koch and Waterloo roads, respectively.

What we liked:
When we first paddled this trip back in April 2013 the river was higher, the current stronger. This time around, the water was lower (but still higher than summer/autumn), the current less pushy. It was a great level, actually, and in retrospect I wish I’d marked a bridge or fixed some kind of visual cue for future reference. Being higher than normal, we could ride/ butt-scoot over a couple down trees that might otherwise pose problems in lower levels. And the rapids towards the end were fantastic!

That said, the 2-3’ drop at the railroad trestle bridge had notably less water flushing through its chute, which made running it a little dodgy. Rather than sliding down diagonally, this was more a boof-esque kerplunk. We both ran it, stayed upright, and then dewatered the boats at the bottom. As we’ve mentioned before, this drop is tricky because there are pylon remnants that you want to avoid but have only very narrow elbowroom to avoid running into. Given the velocity of the current, bumping into one of these can be, um, unpleasant… But it was an adrenaline spike while doing it, and a fist-bumping moment afterwards.

When the river begins to run parallel to Highway 19 you’ll see a large wetlands complex to your right. We first noticed a large beaver dam and then remarked how surprisingly deep the water was upstream of it. To be clear, this is some backwater or feeder stream of the Maunesha, not the river itself. We thought it would be a fun novelty to explore these backwaters. And so we did for about 30 minutes, on water ranging between 1-3’ deep, on a channel only 4-5’ wide, carefully making our way through tree branches like threading a needle. The loop took us to an even bigger beaver dam – right back to the river itself (though one could easily have continued in a different direction to further explore the backwaters). Here as elsewhere we were happily surprised by how pretty the Maunesha is, more so than either of us had remembered from the past. Indeed, there are several small hills (knolls?) reminiscent of Badfish Creek.

Special praise – OK, maybe amazement – must be given to my paddling accomplice, who on this trip who brought with him a battery-operated sawzall to help cut down tree branches and obstructions. A cordless sawzall in a kayak! This has been a daydream of mine for years, never to manifest in real life until now. So much easier than a handsaw. Maunesha, meet the Handyman! Together, we cleared out every clog where otherwise we would have had to portage around, instead paddling through. Alas, these efforts are futile, we know that. When the water lowers, there will be new obstructions exposed. Or the next time the water rises and drags debris down its way, the latter will cluster and create a new obstruction. And so it is, on the river. But still… a sawzall!

What we didn’t like:
There was a lot of litter, especially in the first couple miles. Plastic bottles mainly, your basic tractor tire which probably had rolled down a hill and into the water, plus an old door for good measure. It wasn’t awful but the amount of it was surprising, especially since it’s so early in the year.

If we did this trip again:
Leaving aside my own sentimental reasons for wanting to do this trip again, it really is a fun paddle. The surrounding landscape is quite pretty – more so than I remember it from a few years ago – the current is so much fun, and the wildlife is always diverse. It’s a great length for an afternoon trip, and the shuttle is quick and easy. There will be obstructions here and there but they’re definitely worth putting up with.

Related Information:
Maunesha River II: Elder Lane to Twin Lake Road
Maunesha River III: Waterloo to Portland
Maunesha River IV: County Road TT to Canal Road
Good People: Capitol Water Trails
Good People: Maunesha River Alliance
Wikipedia: Maunesha River

Photo Gallery:


Alternate Trip Report: Shorter Paddle (6.75 Miles)
Waterloo Road to Firemen’s Park
April 21, 2013
☆ ☆ ☆

One of the best paddling experiences of my life! Old railroad bridges, even older oak trees, forest settings, open marsh, doldrum hillsides, a number of exhilarating ledges and a thrilling coast the final mile in Class I-II standing waves into downtown Waterloo.

Waterloo Road, Marshall, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.16792, -89.04721
Firemen’s Park
GPS: 43.18969, -88.98244

Time: Not recorded
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 6.75

A herd of deer, including fawns running like rockets across a marsh that actually leapt across the river, some big fish, a couple different hawks (including one that got mugged and then heckled by a cacophony of crows), some sandhill cranes, geese (including a nest with ginormous eggs) and a turtle.

What we liked:

Where to begin? Within a hundred yards of the put-in we happened upon a beautiful and humongous oak tree probably as old as the state of Wisconsin itself. After that, the river hugs the hillside of a small but handsome drumlin for a while. In fact, steep banks flank most of this segment, some as high as 20-feet running beside the river. Occasionally the landscape opens up to sprawling pastureland, clean and pleasing to the eye. Not until Waterloo will you encounter a house but for one or two next to barns.

There is a small marshy area around the 5-mile mark and there are three ledges that can be run (more on those below). The last mile of the trip (and the only time you will hear cars) is like icing on a cake. The river is swift and riffly the whole way down, with Class I-II rapids in a couple spots (…depending on water volume – the water was still high when we did it – the butt of a repeated bad joke considering that the date of the day before was 4/20) and a short run of fun standing waves in between the two bridges downtown. Speaking of downtown, Waterloo is unexpectedly handsome and offers several very pleasant riverside views of rough-hewn buildings and bridges. We didn’t see an actual boat launch at the take-out but it could have existed under all the high water. Nevertheless, Fireman Park is pretty and a nice place to end a great trip.

As for the drops, the first is river-right through a small clearing in deadfall that otherwise straddles the river. I would like to immodestly dub this drop “Tim’s Trim,” as it is only runnable because I climbed onto the damn logjam, inched out onto a thin limb, (hovering five feet above the drop where the water is running quite fast and frothy) wrapped my legs around whatever branches I could like a possum’s tail and handsawed off the two limbs that stabbed into the river and blocked passage. Of course you don’t have to run this and shouldn’t if you don’t think you’re up for it.

The second drop is definitely the most difficult and potentially dangerous. Underneath a huge old railroad bridge (seriously, the pilings must be about 40-feet high) is a 2-3-foot ledge. Deadfall and logjams block passage through all the pilings but for one narrow slot, roughly 3.5-feet wide toward river-left. What’s a little tricky here is there are some old piling remains just below and just above the water surface, so you must be able to line up perfectly straight and run the drop straight as an arrow. I did it in part because I felt like I had to, for myself, as part of the continual process of coming to terms with whitewater, both its successes and its lessons in failing. I had a spray skirt, the right type of clothing and a crossover kayak. Plus I had a friend there too, incase a mishap occurred. I managed it clean and true and felt like a million bucks after it. But don’t do it unless you are confident and safe.

The third drop is toward the end, where it looks like a bridge (or a dam) had been removed some time ago. The drop is only about a foot high but there are nasty concrete chunks strewn about to keep a wide berth of. I recommend running the slot all the way to river-left as it seemed the most unobstructed route. There is a slot all the way to the right that looked splashier and maybe more challenging for some but it didn’t appeal to me or my friend. Caution is prudent but it’s an easy ledge to run. I highly recommend that you scout this before you even put in at the beginning because it’s a little difficult to get out in this section and even more so to get back into your boat. The current is strong and swift and the banks are high and not easily accessible. It can be safely done (we got out to scout where to run the drop) but we both agreed that we should have first scouted it during the shuttle. It’s very conspicuous, off the main road into town (Highway 19) behind what looks to have once been a former Burger King.

What we didn’t like:
You will need to portage around logjams at least twice and this is not counting the three drops further downstream, which you may want to portage also. There is some deadfall that can be paddled through, under, or over but there are approximately two, a mile downstream of the put-in that were awkward and shaky. They required precise boat control and the ability to a) dodge tree limbs quickly, with a fair amount of flexibility and b) turn your boat on the dime with a power stroke, lest you get pinned or snagged.

So I do not recommend this trip for beginners or kayaks much longer than 11-feet in length. Even though the Maunesha is classified as a river, it behooves a paddler to have an agile creek boat or something akin. As my friend and I delighted in saying several times, (when not remarking about how high the river was) “numerous maneuvers” were required. (I still maintain that Numerous Maneuvers would make a fine name for an acid jazz album.) In lower water some of these spots would probably be easier and less potentially dangerous.

The Maunesha is mostly muddy (there were some exceptions to this, where the water was clear and lined by a sandy bottom and yes, we also said “sandy bottom” a lot). We did spot a couple of clams here and there, all of them meaty and big as a man’s fist. The put-in was fine but by no means great with roadside parking and a mostly mucky access to the water.

If we did this trip again:
I will for sure but I’ll look for a better put-in. Due to the recent flood watches and warnings, the river was very (say it with me) high, so neither below the dam at Marshall nor the next two bridges (one on Highway 19, the other on Koch Road) were terribly feasible options. I look forward to exploring the segment further downstream of Fireman Park to the confluence with the Crawfish River, as a couple miles of it runs through a state wildlife area.

Photo Gallery:

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  • Reply
    May 9, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    We just did this trip yesterday 5/8/16 in our canoe. The water was at least 16 inches lower which probably made things way harder. We ran aground several times which is manageable. What put this trip over the top for my worst paddle experience was all the deadfall, drifted and clogged up tree debris, beaver dams, garbage/litter/stink (thought we might even find a body) and worst of all after the train tracks but before the Cherry Lane bridge some a#*hole farmer took a front end loader and pushed all of his riverfront trees and brush into the river clogging it completely. We had to get up and drag our canoe up steep muddy banks carrying our canoe a couple hundred yards before we could get back in. Looks like this farmer did this within the past couple weeks.Also, the train bridge by the Malting Plant before Waterloo was completely impassable. Again carrying over the giant pile of trees and brush. HOWEVER, after this point the rest of the river was amazing! Everything that made this trip horrible to this point vanished. Lots of fun rapids, clean water and beautiful downtown Waterloo. Sadly this was pretty much towards the end. We were at least grateful for this. All in all lost track of how many times we had to portage? 10+ for sure, I could never recommend this to anyone unless you started much closer to Waterloo. Just an FYI.

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    May 10, 2016 at 1:20 am

    Oh, we're truly sorry to hear about this! The lower water is not surprising, given the lack of real rain since forever. But the debris is shocking, at least heartbreaking. That a landowner would do that is totally unethical and despicable but it happens all too often, of course. (Really? Too cheap to buy a burn permit and light the stuff on fire? They're trees and brush!) What really surprises me is that the RR bridge by the malt plant being totally closed off. I've paddled this at least three times throughout the years and always there's been one open chute (towards the left).What's also remarkable is that you paddled this only a month after our last report on it. While it was touch-and-go, we did a lot of clearance so that no one had to portage. Granted, that's always subject to change, but your experience only 35 days later is pretty sobering. The Maunesha is prone to deadfall but this is ridiculous — especially since there haven't been any thunderstorms or strong winds to speak of.Glad to hear everything from the malt plant to the takeout was great – that's definitely the funnest section of the Maunesha River – but bummed to hear how frustrating it was up to that point. Hope you soaked your sorrows in a deserved beverage after the trip! Thanks so much for letting us know about this.

  • Reply
    August 5, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    Just gave this one a shot today. I loved this little stretch; had to stay on my toes to get ready to maneuver around the dead fall. I can see the water level was probably a foot higher a few weeks ago (remember all the rain). First I thank you for all the hard work you did on making paths around the dead fall & anyone else who might have paddle/cleaned it up. I only had to portage 3 times. One within a mile of the put in, another somewhere in between and then the last railroad bridge. The railroad bridge was the only one really iffy portage as I got on top of the log pile and then slide into the water through the drop off and away I went. I will say the wildlife; birds in particular was just wonderful prior to the malt plant. Got the opportunity to see a juvenile and adult eagle, great blue heron, blue heron, white heron, green heron, belted kingfisher, geese, sandhill cranes and many song bird. You guys have inspired me to do little clipping of some of the smaller branches, to make it a little easier to work around. All in all, I will for sure be back. It took me about 4 hours to paddle it and I think that was pretty good as I am still learning how to read the water and have a very basic/wide starter kayak that doesn’t track or steers the greatest. I can only imagine how lovely this would be with a kayak that tracks better. I only wish I could get picture of all the birds and some of the turns of this river; it was very picturesque ( I had to keep my hand on the paddles 90% of the time). There was minimal biting bugs, I do have to put the label out there as I did get a lot of tree spiders on the kayak. Thanks for paddle and writing about it with great pictures; it’s inspiring!

    • Reply
      Miles Paddled
      August 7, 2017 at 5:40 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words and sharing your experience! We’re so glad others are getting a taste of the Maunesha — it’s one of our faves so close to home.

      Sorry to hear about the portaging, but it’s not surprising, unfortunately. We’ve paddled this exact trip or a variation of it at least four times in as many seasons of the year, and there’s always some portaging to be done. Two friends of ours spent a good 8 hours with sawzalls and steely reserve, even a winch, this past April (on Earth Day no less!) cleaning up and clearing out as much as they could. The big RR trestle has always been a snarly mess. Usually though the river is clear from there to Firemen’s Park, aka the rapids portion.

      The wildlife you encountered sounds incredible, the diversity of herons in particular! Wow!

      It sounds like you’re truly having a great time in your boat and learning about water/ river currents and getting confident with different skill and comfort levels, which is truly awesome!

      Keep on keeping on!

  • Reply
    June 26, 2022 at 9:06 pm

    I did this trip on June 14 2022, there is no gage ( or gauge) for the “sha” but the nearby Crawfish was at 1200 CSF, not sure how well it corelates but the level seemed great. Local groups have done a great job of cleaning up the river, as well as removing some of the dangerous obstructions. There are longer big drops at either railroad bridge, or at least there has not been the last three times I have been down. The only rapids are at the old Malting plant and a few through town. There were a few spots to maneuver around things but no complete blockages, that said the last trip I did was only from Cherry Lane to Fireman’s Park, so I cant speak to how open the section from the dam in Marshal to Cherry Lane. Link to video/pics/map of my trip

    • Reply
      Rick H
      August 28, 2022 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks for the description and photos! I’ve been wanting to paddle this river for some time but previous reports, 5/6 years ago, left me a bit leery. I like moving water, up to Class II, max. Feeling better about it with this recent report. Sounds like the perfect venue for my 9’ Dagger Zydeco, which is why I purchased it, several years ago, for smaller streams.

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