★ ★ ★

Milwaukee River I

Newburg to Fredonia:
A revisited paddle at much more accommodating water levels, Newburg to Fredonia was anticipated to be a little more exciting than it turned out to be but what it did offer was a swift current with intermittent riffles and lack of development throughout, which resulted in a nice day trip.

Milwaukee River

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: June 20, 2015

Previous Trip Report:
June 24, 2012

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles

2.8′ per mile (Approx.)

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Milwaukee: ht/ft: 2.52 | cfs: 550
Cedarburg: ht/ft: 6.13 | cfs: 390

Current Levels:
Milwaukee: ht/ft: 2.18 | cfs: 284
Cedarburg: ht/ft: 5.95 | cfs: 236

Recommended Levels:
This is the recommended minimum level.

Fireman’s Park, Newburg, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.43373, -88.04926
Waubedonia Park, Fredonia, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.46838, -87.97313

Time: Put in at 11:25a. Out at 3:30p.
Total Time: 4h 5m
Miles Paddled: 11

Otter, fish, turtles and heron.

Shuttle Information:
Just over 6 miles. A lovely pedal through the rolling landscape and farms of bucolic Washington and Ozaukee counties.


The name “Milwaukee” conjures up instant thoughts of big city paddling. But of course, this section of the river starts much further north than the namesake city. And for those of you following along in the “Good Book”, Mike Svob’s Paddling Southern Wisconsin, this is “Milwaukee River 2”, where this was touted as being one of the most appealing of all the sections on the Milwaukee.

The last time/first time we paddled this stretch was back in 2012. Of course, we’ll use the word “paddling” loosely here, since it was actually more walking than paddling. It took 6 hours at comically-low levels due to all the hoofing it. Obviously, the main difference between then and now (besides it not being Flag Day, of course) was the water level.

And these were indeed, much better water levels. Prior to the shuttle, we had chatted with one of the park rangers at Waubedonia Park in Fredonia. He said this was the perfect water level, just past the point of too low of what would be recommended. It was the time to catch it since it’s often too thirsty most of the “calendar” paddling season.

Earlier speculation (is first-hand speculation an oxymoron?) led us to think that there was more in store in terms of scenery and riffles but they were not the story on this trip, only footnotes. It’s certainly a likable water trail but aside from mild riffles and some peaceful stretches, there isn’t a whole lot in store to leave a lasting impression.

But all was not lost, let’s certainly not write this off – a day on the water is better than none at all, especially because it was new boat day! And who doesn’t get excited about the maiden voyage of a piece of plastic they plunked down their hard earned scratch for? Yes indeed, their was a new boat added to the Miles Paddled fleet and this was the day to get its bow wet.

What we liked:
We put-in at Fireman’s Park in Newburg. There’s plenty of parking but the lot is located on the opposite side of the bridge from the put-in so you’ll have to trek the paved trail and beneath the bridge tunnel to get there. It’s not wholly inconvenient but it is a bit of a trek with kayak entow, so best if you have some help.

The put-in is enticing with a riffly entrance stretching beneath the bridge but don’t get too excited, because this is not a sign of things to come. Instead, that’s as exciting and chaotic as it gets for riffles, save for some small patches here and there.

The water was mostly brown but clearer in the shallows and as mentioned in our earlier report, it moves between sand and rocks.

About a mile into the paddle you’ll venture through the boundaries of the Riveredge Nature Center where the surroundings feel woodsy and sometimes, intimate.

Throughout the trip, the banks are often enclosed by woodsy corridors, cedar groves and you’ll come upon some fun islands that split the river into different channels. Rock outcroppings are highlighted in Mike’s write up but any outcroppings sighted are indeed modest-mouse-sized (been waiting to work that band name into an adjective). Blink and you’ll miss them.

The County Road A bridge is about halfway home and it’s flat water river paddling for most of the way until Waubeka where one of the landmarks is the old feed mill. There, the dam has been removed, making for an obstruction-free paddle and leaving little trace that there was ever a dam there in the first place. For better or worse, (well, for better from a natural perspective, really) the rapids where the dam existed were no more than a riffly little bump in the river.

Now, this whole trip took us longer than it probably should have. We would’ve shaved off about an hour but were fortunate enough to run into some nice folks from the area (their geographic origin was an entertaining point of argument). Meeting new people and paddling with them is probably one of our favorite parts of any journey and Andy and Noreen were good company indeed (Andy, specifically, is kind of like a third brother to me, being a fellow 2001 Jeep owner and all, and who is now coincidentally, sporting a Miles Paddled sticker on his hatch). And so we slowed to a halt the last few miles enjoying new found company and conversation. This certainly added an hour to the expedition.

Well, and Johnnie Walker. No, I’m not blaming you, Johnnie. It’s never you.

We finally ambled our way (can I use amble when I’m talking paddling? Cuz it kind of felt like that) to the take-out at Waubenonia Park. It’s easy to spot river-left just after the County Road A bridge and has a convenient landing. There are facilities as well as campsites (aligned next to each other) not too far from the river’s edge. There we ran into many a folk asking about paddling, where to paddle, what to paddle and I believe we gave out some stickers (aka, our business cards).

Last, but certainly not least, isn’t every new boat paddle a good one? Well, such was the case with the first day in my new crossover. “New boat day” should bring great joy to every paddler – and relief when you realize that you actually love the boat you just bought.

Now, this is not the kind of river that necessitates the use of a crossover but it was perfect for these conditions and a great river to test it on. For what it’s worth (and short of writing a review) I can understand why Pyranhas are so popular… great control with the skeg and stop on a dime control without. I can’t wait to put it to real whitewater use (alluding to the future here… stay tuned).

What we didn’t like:
Not a whole lot but there are some minor points. The water was cloudy and not at all as translucent as the previous paddle and it was still shallow and scraping in some spots despite the water level being above the recommended minimum level. Then again, it sure beats walking down the entire stream.

If we did this trip again:
We’d certainly paddle it again but at the same time, there are paddles with a little more life, a little more scenery and definitely more intrigue to them than this one.

Also, upon return, we’d put in at Goeden Park, four miles upstream in West Bend (as mentioned in Svob’s writeup of Milwaukee River 1) to take advantage of additional riffles in a pretty, natural setting.

Related Information:
Milwaukee River II: Estabrook Park to Bruce Street
Milwaukee River III: Lime Kiln Park to Thiensville
Milwaukee River IV: Kewaskum to Barton
Milwaukee River V: Grafton to County Highway T
Milwaukee River VI: Fredonia to Grafton
Milwaukee River VII: West Bend to Newburg
Good People: Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Wikipedia: Milwaukee River

Miles Paddled Video:

Photo Gallery:


Previous Trip Report:
June 24, 2012
☆ ☆ ☆

A beautiful paddle on a fun section of river with clear water, lots of riffles, excellent fishing, many islands and a rolling landscape that continues to capture the imagination.

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Milwaukee: n/a
Cedarburg: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 90

Current Levels:
Milwaukee: ht/ft: 2.18 | cfs: 284
Cedarburg: ht/ft: 5.95 | cfs: 236

Time: Put in at 12:30p. Out at 6:30p.
Total Time: 6h

Wildlife: A barn owl, lots of trout, turtles, crawfish, blue herons, and a couple osprey.

Touted as the most scenic stretch of the long and diverse Milwaukee River, one that begins almost immediately through a nature preserve, the river here twists and turns in a fun, active way. It offers at least three modest drops (ranging from a few inches to no more than a foot) and lots of riffles. Probably not suitable for someone’s debut paddle but accessible to most beginners. If you’re into fishing, this is a premier place to be. We saw several that were a foot-long (I don’t know squat about fishing, much less names of fish). Plus, southeastern Wisconsin rivers are coveted areas for the springtime ritual of spawning steelheads (I know that name at least, after looking it up in a book).

The water here is clear and you will see more crawfish shooting backwards than at a Bubba’s boil back down in Baton Rouge. Seriously, hundreds. The river bottom fluctuates between sand, gravel and odd chunks of rock about as big as a phonebook (remember phonebooks?). One very cool section (I don’t remember where) featured a series of small shelves underneath the water, something that reminded me of the Lake Superior coastline. The Riveredge Nature Center lies only a mile downstream from the put-in and flanks both sides of the river for a solid mile. High wooded bluffs surround the scene; it’s very pretty.

What we liked:
It’s very pretty, isolated and entertaining. Great wildlife and a beautiful setting.

What we didn’t like:
Low water! Did you notice how long it took to paddle this? Six hours for almost an 11-mile trip! Not until the town of Waubeka is the water volume normal and adequate but this is at the 9-mile mark! Up until then, there wasn’t a window of time longer than 30 seconds between rock-bottom scrapes and foul-mouthed grumbles. It got old, quick. Granted, southern Wisconsin is in the grips of a parched drought but this area of the state received a lot of rain earlier in the week.

I first checked the USGS site for the Cedarburg gauge (the closest one to Newburg-Fredonia) and the water level was rated as good, not even fair. What the website doesn’t tell you is that the dam in Newburg is currently being removed. This is always welcome, to be sure but the problem is that the water upstream of the dam has been drained during this project, thus leaving precious little below the dam. I saw no signage anywhere mentioning this. It was not until I returned home (a heluva lot later on in the night than I had planned for!) and looked online for clues did I come across this little bit of light shed on what’s going on.

To put this into context, Mike Svob recommends that the water level be at least 350 cfs for a comfortable, scrape-free paddle. The Cedarburg gauge read “Good” the day before I did this paddle. I checked it again the following day, and it read 99 cfs (!) for 6/24/12, which is both humbling and heartbreaking. The same day last year, you wonder? 550 cfs. That’s what happens after draining a river upstream in conjunction with a rainless drought. Bear in mind that Cedarburg is a good 24 miles downstream of the Newburg put-in.

If there is no present term for this and unless this is deemed insensitive or politically incorrect, I would like to offer “wheelchairing” for the following scenario: when the water is too shallow to bother using your paddle, yet you remain too stubborn to get out of your boat to walk and schlep, so you reach down on opposite sides of your kayak and propel yourself forward with your hands, pitiless inch-by-inch, in desperate and/or delusional hope of finding a deep-enough pocket of water to warrant using your actual paddle and redeem the whole experience.

If we did this trip again:
I absolutely will and not just because of spite and pride but because it is scenic and fun. BUT ONLY IN ADEQUATE WATER! I don’t know when the full dam removal project will be completed, let alone when we’ll ever get rain again but it would be wise to contact the Washington and Ozaukee Public Parks departments first to make sure there is enough water. At the time of this writing, my email to both has gone unanswered, maybe because I am from Madison (Together with Waukesha County, Washington and Ozaukee constitute the trifecta of the dead-red Republican bastion in Wisconsin. Indeed, saying nothing of the umpteen pro-Scott Walker yard signs and bumper stickers, one actually read “Former Embryo.” Wow! Hadn’t seen that one before). [Editor’s note: The guy had a rough day, I had to let him vent]

Coincidence or conspiracy, the town of Waubeka is apparently the home of Flag Day. And to think I missed that momentous occasion less than two weeks ago!)

Photo Gallery:

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