Johnsonville to Dassow Park:
One of the prettiest and most intimate segments on the Sheboygan River, this short trip will reward the paddler with clear water, a riffly current, steep wooded and attractively eroded banks, and more solitude than the other sections downstream. In autumn, the leaves just burst into flame without a care in the world.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: October 11, 2016
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles
~5′ per mile
Sheboygan River: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 270
We recommend this level.
Laack’s Schnappsville Park, (off County Road JM, behind the fire department), Johnsonville, Wisconsin
Dassow Park (located exactly between Johnsonville and Sheboygan Falls, off Hillside Road, perpendicular to County Road O)
Time: Put in at 2:10p. Out at 4:00p.
Total Time: 1h 50m
Miles Paddled: 6.25
Turkey vultures, hawks, wood ducks, great blue herons and kingfishers.
3.1 miles for bicyclists or cars, easy and safe.
In our previous trip review of the Sheboygan River, we stated that it’s the kind of stream you’d wish to live near, because while there may not be anything extraordinary or exotic about it, the river is still supremely pleasant and pretty. That accolade is especially true for this short section. Even though you’ll be paddling through the heart of agriculture, (despite, ironically beginning the trip next to a sausage manufacturing plant) – the river corridor itself is essentially isolated but for an occasional glimpse or noise from the everyday world.
Also in our previous review we explained why this trip is only six miles and the next segment downstream ten. They certainly can be combined into a long 16-mile trip – Johnsonville to Sheboygan Falls – which is what guidebook guru Mike Svob laid out in his Paddling Southern Wisconsin. But for a neat and tidy little trip, perfect for getting in some river-time in the early morning or late afternoon, the six miles offered here are great.
We’d like to shed some light on the put-in for this trip, at least for those either confused by or concerned about Mike Svob’s cautionary words in his trip write-up. States he, “If you put in along the grassy bank upstream-right from the County JM bridge in Johnsonville, near the fire department parking lot, you MUST launch your boat(s) well downstream from the DANGEROUS low-head dam and the smaller concrete barrier (the remnant of an old mill dam) that follows it. It is strongly recommended that you avoid the dam altogether by putting in 0.6 mile downstream at the County J bridge (downstream-left).”
Respectfully, we disagree and find this to be extravagantly exaggerated. Of course you’ll put in away from the low-head dam, that’s obvious. What’s odd about this is the two dams in the first few miles of his Sheboygan River 2 trip (Rochester Park to Sheboygan) are way more concerning but treated par for the course (pun intended). The “concrete barrier” is simply a small Class I ledge, a minor but fun splash at best. There’s nothing unsafe about this whatsoever. Besides, why not leave your vehicle in a parking lot versus a non-existent shoulder at a bridge, begin your paddle trip at a grassy park lawn versus steep bank easement, and take advantage of a fun little drop?
You didn’t hear this from us, but you probably could even run the dam itself. Yup, we know, you’re not supposed to do that. Got it. We’re not saying you should. What we are saying is this old, useless structure of decrepit concrete has an obvious tongue or chute to it that would provide a 45-degree angle vs. sharp 90-degree angle found at the rest of the dam’s edge. It’s just like the first ledge at Hall’s Creek. We’re just saying…
But we’re not saying “Dude, you should totally do this, bro!”
Calculated risks are just a part of life. But there ought to be some kind of equation or ratio of hazardous danger to personal reward. Running a dumb low-head dam can’t possibly offer that much incentive or adrenaline rush, at least with respect to its potential danger. If the cons outweigh the pros, then what’s the point?
So, let’s just start more sensibly and with less risk below the dam. There’s no official launch here at the park. Rather, you’ll do so from the grass wherever looks most convenient. It’s roughly a 200′ schlep from the parking lot to the river. Called “Laack’s Schnappsville Park,” courtesy I guess of Laack’s Tavern & Ballroom,, which is next door to the fire department. We’re not sure which is more suspicious: the adorable but boozed out Bohemian caricature on the park sign, or the name “Schnappsville.” Either way, it’s kind of cute. Or slightly disturbing…
Right away is a small minor rapid that is fun and not at all unsafe. Before you know it you’ll pass by the aforementioned fire department building and under the County Road JM bridge. On the other side of the bridge is one of two Johnsonville Brats manufacturing plants, on the right. (The other – which is like 10x the size of this one – is just downstream and on the opposite side of the river, but hidden behind a tree line.) It may not truly conjure the awful offal of The Jungle, but the stink is pretty rank. But let’s be real: this is the Sheboygan River, after all, and this is Johnsonville sausages. Sheboygan, the home of the brat! Maybe the smell belongs here in the same way that Milwaukee ought to smell like beer… As soon as you pass the building, the porcine scent should pretty much dissipate. That said, if there’s a notable wind out of the north, the smell may linger longer…
The river here is delightfully narrow and swift. The first half-mile is generally a long, gentle straightaway headed southwest. Before the next bridge (County Road J) you’ll pass an attractive undercut bank about 25′ tall. The landscape flattens some below the bridge, allowing for a view or two of farmland. The first of a few fun brushy islands appears, braiding the mainstream into side channels; we went right, but the other isn’t wrong (eh?). A few flowy meanders, more swift riffles, and some fenced-in pastures precede the next bridge at Woodland Road, where the sight of tall pines and blushing autumn foliage behind it add to the river environment’s charm.
Below Woodland the river takes a curious dip to the south before bouncing back up northeast, coursing through pleasant wooded sections along both banks. This is a particularly pretty, intimate stretch. A second island appears, much larger than the first, with an obvious open channel on the left this time. A third island comes shortly after this one, equally large. Here, both channels were open, the right one more beguiling and secluded.
The bridge at Rio Road comes next, immediately followed by a big old cornfield on river-right. Brief parcels of woods lie hither and yon at both banks for a little more than half a mile. Then the river will run parallel to County Road M along the right bank about 20′ above the water. The river will bend to the right and flow under the bridge at County Road M. In the next half-mile you’ll see a handful of houses in the near-distance, interspersed with additional woodsy corridors. Following a gentle rightward bend, riffles whisk you towards the bridge at Hillside Rd in a straight shot. Because the current here has a little flex to it, be mindful that the take-out is just after the bridge on the right. The take-out at Dassow Park is undeveloped. Just point your boat to the low grass and rocks wherever makes sense. It’ll be shallow here, FYI. There are no facilities at Dassow, but there’s plenty of room to park several vehicles.
What we liked:
It’s always fun to begin a trip with a little splashy drop. But even past that initial ledge, this segment of the river chugs along at a quick clip. While not constant, riffles are frequent. Generally speaking, the water is clear. The undercut banks are striking and add a wildish sense of aesthetics, and the tall tree-lined banks provide intimacy on this entirely quaint little trip. We really liked the three islands, too – there’s just something about an island that’s cool… The wildlife was rewarding, and the two convenient accesses at the put-in and take-out were most appreciated.
Also, unrelated to paddling, this part of the state is home to not only two major food manufacturers, but two iconic staples of Wisconsin cuisine: brats and cheese. There’s Johnsonville right here, of course, but only a hop, skip, and jump away are Sargento and Great Lakes Cheese, both in nearby Plymouth. I passed both on a regular basis while toddling around the county.
What we didn’t like:
Well, the smell from the sausage factory is pretty potent – pretty rank. But that’s to be expected. Besides, unless the wind is from the north, you’ll soon be past the porcine scent only minutes after beginning. As on any stream in this part of the state – most parts of the state, come to think of it – you’ll pass some farms and fields as well as a residential home or three, but that’s to be expected. Ultimately, there’s hardly anything we didn’t like. We caught it a great water level; but this trip would definitely be a real drag if attempted when too shallow.
If we did this trip again:
We would do this again, definitely. But next time, if only to do something a little different, we’d take out further downstream at either the wayside park/landing at the Old Plank Road Trail(head) or at County Road C (if after scouting it, it looked OK) to make for a longer time on the water.
Sheboygan River I: Sheboygan Falls to Lake Michigan
Sheboygan River II: Dassow Park to Sheboygan Falls
Sheboygan River IV: Millhome to Johnsonville
Sheboygan River V: Sheboygan Broughton Marsh County Park to Kiel
Sheboygan River VI: St. Cloud to Sheboygan Broughton Marsh County Park
Camp: Kohler-Andrae State Park
Camp: Sheboygan Broughton Marsh County Park
Wikipedia: Sheboygan River