Six Mile Creek I

Waunakee Village Park to South Woodland Drive:
If you love to portage, (I mean, really love to portage) this creek is for you, otherwise Six Mile Creek is a dud of a paddle.

Six Mile CreekRating: ☆
Trip Report Date: June 7, 2014

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles + Logjams

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Waunakee: ht/ft: 2.65 | cfs: 7.2

Current Levels:
Waunakee: ht/ft: 2.80 | cfs: 20.7

Recommended Levels:
This is a paddle we simply don’t recommend regardless of levels. It’s got huge potential but is also big on portages.

Waunakee Village Park, East Main Street/Highway 19, Waunakee, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.19156, -89.44754
South Woodland Drive
GPS: 43.15989, -89.43214

Time: Put in at 11:10a. Out at 1:45p.
Total Time: 2h 35m
Miles Paddled: 4.75

One otter, two heron, three giant turtles, carp, snake skin (yeesh) and a leech (thanks for hanging on and sucking the blood from one of my numerous portaging-leg wounds).


This trip’s been on my agenda since the first year we started this little ol’ kayaking thing. It’s had two things going for it; it’s close to home and it’s a creek (something we love). Yet, it’s always hit the back-burner due to its generally low water level and I’ve always had a creeping suspicion that it might be a drag.

Six Mile creek starts small and eventually gets wider and slower as it opens into Marsh and then, eventually, into Lake Mendota. Now, I normally don’t care much for lake paddling but this seemed like a “complete and tidy stretch” and good mileage for an afternoon trip.

I first heard about this creek via a Meetup group. The organizer of the paddle said there was only one portage on that meetup (again, this was years ago) – something I sorely misread – the group was actually starting in Lake Mendota and paddling up through Six Mile instead of down it.

Well, it was storming on my intended destination further north, so I opted to stay closer to home and finally knock this one off the list.

I’d actually scouted this creek earlier in the week after a massive thunderstorm swept through the area. I didn’t paddle it that day but perhaps I should’ve (this creek could benefit from more water than when I paddled it). Last Monday it was 3.5” and 21 cfs, triple what it was this day.

Well, the day started good. I headed to Governor Nelson State Park to drop off my bike at the intended boat landing take-out. Coincidentally, I also planned on finally buying a State Park sticker but low and behold, it was Free State Park Weekend (hooray!). Bonus! #freeparking

So, with my shuttle in place, I headed back to Waunakee Village Park, an attractive little park on the Eastern edge of Waunakee. There’s no actual designated put-in at the park but it’s mowed close to the edge and easily accessible so I chose to put in just up-creek of the riffles.

What we liked:
I saw the best of Six Mile and the worst of Six Mile.

The best is the 2.5 miles (approx.) from the Park to a 1/2 mile past Mill road. It’s actually surprisingly eventful, twisting its way through backyards, under numerous bridges and tree-covered canopy. And it’s really riffly and rocky. It kind of reminded me of the how the Waupaca and Little Wolf River are dotted with stones and boulders at times (a very unexpected feature, considering the locale that added to the charm of this creek). In fact, this run was starting to have all the makings of a really special creek with huge potential, with it being so close to home but probably even more so in higher water (I was scraping my fair share on this first section).

And then there was the wildlife, astonishing really considering this is what I consider city-paddling. Almost immediately, I was greeted by an otter who swam right by my boat. There were even a couple herons and a few giant turtles who were sunning themselves on the banks. But after Castle Creek Conservancy and just past Mill Road, there wasn’t much but a whole lot of lumber.

Oh, but there was also the delight of a bikini-clad lady laying poolside in her backyard who gave a rousing hoot and holler and thumbs up that I was paddling by. I wasn’t sure if that was a “Godspeed” kind of thumbs up or what. I took it as a good sign (I should’ve known).

What we didn’t like:
The worst of six Mile starts about a 1/2 mile after Mill Road. There were somewhere around two-dozen portages.

I’m pretty go with the flow (no pun intended) and I can put up with my fair share of portages but I lost count after 16 non-negotiable portages. It was frustrating, draining and it took a lot of creative climbing and ducking and boat tossing, and I’m sorry but nothing is worth this amount of fuss when you’re looking to find the next great paddle.

There were times where the portages were two and three deep, meaning, I knew that once I got over one, I had more work to do (which was more than a little deflating). After a dozen or so, I just gave up and jumped in the water every time, which wasn’t the easiest because it was surprisingly deep in some areas. Shallow water was generally the norm but in high water, a few of these could be incredibly difficult especially on the downriver side of them where the water was already waist-deep. The current was strong around corners, where most of the portages reside (again, in multiples) which made some of these maneuvers all the more exhausting.

So I paddled past Woodland Drive where I was hoping things would get better. I got five more portages into it and to this long-forgotten and broken down steel bridge when I decided to call it. I couldn’t fathom another mile of portaging just to get to some uneventful marsh and then a lake paddle. And who knows how many portages stood between that spot and the marsh? (Hindsight tells me I had about another mile or so to go full of portages until it appears (according to Google Maps) like it got clearer until eventually, the swamp and then finally Mendota).

So I turned around, portaged those five and took out at Woodland. The take-out is just the skirt of a bridge, not an actual take-out and it was pretty bad (steep, next to culverts on a busy road). The intended take-out at the State Park Boat Landing would’ve been fantastic but at this point, it didn’t matter.

Six mile got the best of me and sometimes you got to know when to fold ‘em.

I don’t take bailing on a paddle lightly. In fact, there’s only one other time I can remember that it’s happened. Not only do we invest a lot of time in planning but the feeling of not completing a challenge bruises the ego a bit. The last section is the part I was least looking forward to but still, it was a bummer to not finish it. So I hiked it back to the State Park, head hung low, paddle entow, got on my bike and shuttled my muddy-self all the way back.

The absolute astonishing thing about this trip was the time it took me to paddle 4.75 miles. Nearly 3 hours! That’s nothing short of crazy. It took me 50 minutes to paddle the Park to Mill Road section and nearly twice as long to paddle the Mill Road to South Woodland Drive section (1 hour, 45 minutes), thereby emphasizing the amount of portages.

Lastly, common to city-paddles, there was garbage everywhere. Countless bottles and cans and lost basketballs, soccer balls, tennis balls and other floatable items. A shame.

If we did this trip again:
Initially, Six Mile had all the makings of something unique (the upper section was great) and it would’ve been awesome to finish this paddle the way I intended but it was literally and figuratively, a drag.

In theory and in higher water, I’d try to take-out at the Mill Road bridge, however that may not be a realistic (or level-headed) option since it too, is not a real take-out and the creek and Mill Road converge at a busy intersection. But that section (and the 1/2 mile just past Mill road) was a lot of fun until hitting portage-city.

If someday, some good souls choose to clear and maintain the creek, I’ll give it another go but until that day happens, my curious Six Mile itch has been overly-scratched (and I’m sore as hell).

Related Information:
Six Mile Creek II:
Touring Lower Six Mile Creek
Map: Capitol Water Trails

Miles Paddled Video:

Photo Gallery:

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  • Reply
    Aaron Smith
    June 14, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Had been seriously considering this creek the past few weeks, so really appreciate the writeup! Sounds like this still maybe a good "micro-prospect" up to Mills Road? Any thoughts on if the current would allow for a "down and back"? If log jams would be an issue for putting in upstream of Village Park? Kingsley to Mills is intriguing…

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    June 14, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Hey Aaron, not sure about upstream of village. The only other scouting upstream I did was a few hundred yards for a put-in at the American Legion before Main Street.Now, just based on Google, that section from Kingsley to Century appears to be clear sailing and I can't imagine there would be that much congestion between Century and the park.Down and back, while surely not impossible, could be difficult and probably not much fun. The current was swift and while "drop" is too strong of a word, there were many areas where you'd be paddling some sustained "inclines" (if that makes sense).Best of luck if you paddle it but definitely do it in a bit more water! Even an inch would go a long way.

  • Reply
    Ram bling
    June 26, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    Let the world know that I (Timothy) am mainly to blame for this dud of a paddle. I had been recently scouting the creek the week before and was giddy to try it after some recent rain. My enthusiasm may have been disproportionate and unfortunately influential!There's a put-in option (it's a dock) at Ripp Park. From there you can likely paddle upstream, as that upper section of the creek is a little marshy and a slow meander through pastureland. Below Ripp Park to downtown is similar, though the current will pick up a bit. The prettiest section is what Barry did — as well as the "fugliest." (Century to Main also looks promising, though there will probably be a downed tree or two…)What most people do (myself included, a few years ago) is put-in at the bridge on N. Shore Bay Dr and paddle upstream as far as they can, usually around a horse farm, and then paddle back down. To me that's boring as hell. But sometimes boring is better than portaging two dozen times. Actually, boring is always better than portaging two dozen times!All this said, come the next hard rain and an afternoon or early evening, I myself plan on a Ripp Park to Mill St bridge (tricky riprap and nowhere to park, alas) to just get this curious itch scratch and out of my system.

  • Reply
    June 1, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    I paddled from Hwy 113 to Mill Road, with the water level at 3.3'/22 cfs. I didn't have any portages, but it was still a lousy trip, scraping on rocks and getting hung up all the time. Not just before the village park, but all the way to Mill Road. I had to get out and actually walk my kayak downstream at least five times, which I have never done before. Sometimes it wouldn't even float over the rocks without me in it! No idea how you ran this at the level you did. Maybe the gauge was off today, as none of the other local streams looked higher than average.You can't park closer than 1000 feet to Mill Road or South Woodland Drive because of the stupid bike lanes. However, there is a curb cut near Mill Road bridge — probably private property, but I stayed there long enough to put my kayak on the roof instead of carrying it to where I parked.

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    June 1, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Sorry to hear about the paddle! Yeah, it was a nightmare for me personally, but not until after Mill Road. I can only imagine the condition it's in now after a couple years. It would be a nice paddle if it were kept up but a helluva lot of work to do so. If it makes you feel better, I probably had triple the ammount of portages before I threw in the towel after Woodland Drive. As far as the gage goes, cfs might be a better way to gauge the flow. When I paddled it, it was scrapey but floatable. It was also over 70cfs versus 22cfs – huge difference despite the height being higher on your trip. Regardless, glad you lived to tell the tale!

  • Reply
    June 2, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    The review text says it was 7.2 cfs and that 21 cfs would be "triple what it was this day". Was it really 70cfs?

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    June 2, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    Yeah, my bad, no wonder that made no sense. I double-checked and the 7.2 is accurate. The gauge was indeed lower by triple, not higher. As far as why I could float it versus you not being able to? No idea… I even ran it with a touring kayak – check the video. Regardless, it’s not a creek to get excited about.

  • Reply
    William Petersen
    May 14, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    My wife and I paddled a Mad River Explorer tandem canoe from Governor Nelson up 6 mile creek to Woodland Drive without any problems. This was several years ago. This past February 2017, we spent a very pleasant, unexpected sunny 60 degree day, canoeing from Kingsley Road to the Waunakee Marsh State Wildlife area up to where the creek is a trickle at Hwy 19. Standard marsh paddling, but the bonus that day was the 500 or more ducks that we flushed.

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