★ ★ ★

Rock River III

Kanow Park to County Road P:
Often wide, always slow, muddy and usually surrounded by agriculture, the big old Rock River is hardly a glamorous destination. But it does provide for some pretty, undeveloped moments, abound in wildlife and it’s reliable when other streams are too shallow.

Rock River

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: September 27, 2015

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Flatwater

1′ per mile (at best)

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Watertown: ht/ft: 1.5 | cfs: 230

Current Levels:
Watertown: ht/ft: 1.77 | cfs: 344

Recommended Levels:
Water levels are almost always reliable, although this was particularly low for the Rock River.

Kanow Park, Jefferson County, Ixonia, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.14247, -88.56555
County Road P, Pipersville, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.14247, -88.6442

Time: Put in at 2:35p. Out at 5:55p.
Total Time: 3h 20m
Miles Paddled: 10.75

Bald eagles galore, well over a dozen great blue herons, lots of hawks, many muskrats, teams of turtles, ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and a gazillion frisky fish jumping out of the water.

Shuttle Information:
5 miles, pretty much due east.


Let’s face it: if you live anywhere near Madison or Milwaukee, you’ve driven over the Rock River on I-94, probably hundreds of times, but never thought “oh baby, I gotta get me some of that!” It’s big, muddy and slow, and typically either too agricultural (Dodge-Jefferson counties) or too industrial (Watertown-Janesville). But embedded in the monotonous bland of cornfields and processing plants are quiet moments of real wild. They catch you by surprise and when they do, you’re given something to think about.

Why this section of the Rock River and not say the 30+ miles upstream from the Horicon area? Oh for a couple of reasons, mainly logistics. The day was getting ahead of me as it was without driving more than was necessary, plus most of this trip is part of Mike Svob’s Rock River 1 trip, so I reasoned that there must be a reason that he didn’t include anything below Horicon (this last point is debatable, as the resourceful Rock River Trail Guide describes the stretch between Hustisford and Kanow Park as beautiful and even “wilderness” – think swamps).

What also may be debatable is whether one should paddle the additional five miles Svob writes about by putting in upstream at Krape Park. I’d say that 8-10 miles on the Rock is plenty, since unless you’re paddling, you’re really not going anywhere (and really, how many fields of soybeans and corn next to muddy banks does the eye need to take in?). Sixteen miles on any river is a long day, to say nothing of one with hardly any current. On the Rock, that’s a lot of work with little reward. So instead I opted for the cute Kanow Park (rhymes with “Hey now”) and took out at the riffles at the County Road P bridge.

What we liked:
Kanow Park is an adorable little gem you’d never know existed unless you looked for it. The river gently bends around the alluring woods of the park clockwise. Here and elsewhere (but not always) the river is not as hugely wide as one normally thinks of the Rock. Indeed, for most of this trip the river rarely is wider than 100 feet. The wildlife was outstanding on this trip – not an uncommon feature while on the Rock in my experiences. So even though the trip is not spectacularly scenic, the critters do keep things interesting.

There’s an attractive railroad bridge randomly bisecting the landscape and even a brief but engaging set of riffles. There is also only one hill to speak of during this trip, on your left, on top of which is a farm and a house. The river wends itself around the hill so eventually you’ll see the “back” side of it, too. It’s really only notable in that the land rises any in the otherwise flat environment. There are countless clusters of really cool old, gnarled oaks, which I’m a sucker for. The swift riffles leading to the County Road P bridge in Pipersville are fun and the landing itself is convenient and appreciated (off-road parking).

What we didn’t like:
Leaving aside the given mentioned above about the Rock River being wide and slow and kind of boring, the water was shockingly shallow. At several different times my paddle scraped the bottom. This is the Rock River! I didn’t think it could ever get shallow, frankly. It wasn’t a problem but it A) surprised the heck out of me and B) slowed me down some.

The bike shuttle is so-so. A surprising amount of modest hills for a river with next to no gradient combined with little shoulder-room on County P and sharing Highway 16 with fast traffic for a mile (plenty of shoulder room on the road there but the whir of vehicles is less than ideal).

If we did this trip again:
Um, neh. Out of curiosity I will likely explore the “wilderness” area below Hustisford and I am curious about the Watertown to Johnson Creek stretch. But there simply isn’t anything terribly memorable about this trip.

That said, I know some paddlers who would never paddle the Rock if it were the last river on Earth. I like the Rock – some sections, at least. It’s not particularly beautiful or exciting but it does have pretty segments and is always reliable when everywhere else is parched. This is a fine stream for beginners or anyone looking for a slow, relaxing day on the water when you don’t have to worry about water levels or obstructions.

Related Information:
Rock River I: Oregon to Dixon
Rock River II: Janesville to Beloit
Rock River IV: Watertown to Johnson Creek
General: Glacial Heritage Area Watertrails
General: Rock River Trail
Wikipedia: Rock River

Photo Gallery:

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