Starkweather Creek

Tenney Park to Highway 30:
Starkweather Creek is generally a bad idea. Despite the inviting entrance/exit from Lake Monona through the Olbrich grounds, it soon suffers from inner-city pollution and clogged arteries (they kind of go hand in hand being by Taco Bell, KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King and all). Sure it’s a curiosity but sometimes curiosity kills the paddle.

Starkweather CreekRating: ☆
Trip Report Date: June, 2008

Class Difficulty:


Recommended Levels:
Starkweather fluctuates with the slightest rain but this is a paddle we simply don’t recommend, especially late in the summer as algae takes over.

Yahara River, Tenney Park Bridge, East Johnson, Madison, Wisconsin
Starkweather Creek, upriver of Highway 30

Time: Put in at 11:00a. Out at 2:30p.
Total Time: 3h 30m
Miles Paddled: 3.5

What we liked:

The section of the Yahara river which connects Lake Mendota and Lake Monona is a great little paddle through some beautiful Madison neighborhoods. This busy section makes for friendly greetings with other boaters and paddlers. As you paddle under the many bridges between the lakes, you’re bound to see makeshift residences for the homeless.

When you enter Starkweather on the east side of Monona you’ll paddle between Olbrich Gardens. It’s a very beautiful, although short section. Kids visiting the garden were in awe of seeing a kayak in the water.

What we didn’t like:
This creek has potential but the condition in it’s in right now makes it a disappointing journey. Once you paddle past Olbrich and the low train trestle, the water gets murkier, muddier and more polluted.

McDonald’s cups and wrappers guide your way to (what else?) the East Washington McDonald’s. This section was under re-construction by the city as part of the bridge construction over East Washington at the time of this paddle. The city did a great job enhancing the banks and landscape surrounding the creek as it flows through the Worthington neighborhood. But six months later, there is garbage all over the creek and tagging all over the bridge.

Just past Highway 30, the trees and brush become thick to the point where you need to decide just how often you want to portage in the muck.

If we did this trip again:
Until Starkweather is respected as a creek instead of a trash bin, we won’t take this trip again. However, paddling through Olbrich and back is a recommended diversion if you’re on the east side of Lake Monona.

Related Information:
Good People: Friends of Starkweather Creek

Photo Gallery:

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    September 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Starkweather is very paddleable in the Spring, and only in the spring. The weeds and scum do take over in early June, plus water levels drop significantly. The underpass of Highway 30 can only be paddled in higher water as the culverts are positioned about 8 inches above the bottom of the stream. There has been a significant amount of brush removal done this last year. It's a nice hour long paddle.

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    September 12, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks for the comment. Where is your put-in and take-out on this suggested paddle? We'll check it out in spring.

  • Reply
    June 21, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    I recommend putting in at Olbrich boat launch next to Olbrich Gardens. I find it a very pleasant paddle and I've seen green herons, lots of turtles, and bass swimming by in the clear water.

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    June 22, 2016 at 12:14 am

    For a paddling trip that isn't a lake yet is totally enclosed within the City of Madison, Starkweather has some charm. It's definitely worth doing at least once – especially after a hard rain, which helps flush out the algae and stagnant funk. The Olbrich section is certainly pretty. I used to live one block away from the creek and remember it fondly.

    Thanks for chiming in, Dea!

Leave a Reply