Token Creek I

Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park:
When one plan is stymied, Token Creek is always there. However, if you’re going to attempt this section, keep in mind the wind factor that will make for a difficult go of it on the wide open Cherokee Marsh.

Token CreekRating: ☆
Trip Report Date: May 22, 2011

Previous Trip Reports:
August 22, 2009
May 2, 2009

Class Difficulty:


Recommended Levels:
Water levels are almost always reliable.

Token Creek County Park, DeForest, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.18578, -89.32057
Cherokee Marsh South Boat Landing, Madison, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.1535, -89.38339

Time: Put in at 11:45a. Out at 2:15p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 6.5

What we liked:

We paddled.

What we didn’t like:
We planned on keeping it close-to-home and paddling the Six-Mile Creek because the weather was suppose to get rough today (which never happened). When we showed up at the put-in we realized just how difficult that was going to be with the size and depth of the water (in fact, if any of you have paddled the Six-Mile Creek and can tell us if it’s worth doing, please state your case).

So we headed to Token Creek. As we’ve said before, the trip is really the tale of two paddles. The first four miles is spent dodging and ducking many tree limbs and fallen debris while navigating a very twisty and pushy little creek. There was one major portage where we had to be creative in finding a way around it. It’s obvious that some good folks do a fine job of cutting a path through the creek but it is getting so bogged down in debris that the it feels like you spend more time dodging, ducking and climbing than actual paddling.

The unfortunate section this time around were the headwaters of the Yahara and on throughout Cherokee Marsh. As luck had it, we had some pretty nice (40 mph) headwinds for the last 2 miles with some great whitecaps that filled all of our boats nicely. It felt like we weren’t even moving when we paddled. The open water portion of this trip has always been our least favorite section but on normal (meaning sans-hurricane forced winds) days it’s at least enjoyable.

We’ll definitely feel this trip tomorrow.

If we did this trip again:
We’d be hard pressed to make this trip again. Fact is, we have plenty of more enjoyable waters to paddle.

Related Information:
Token Creek II: Token Creek Preserve Park to Daentl Road
Article: A Glimpse of the Token Creek Water Trail
Article: Token of Appreciation
Good People: Capitol Water Trails
Map: Yahara Headwaters Trail

Miles Paddled Video:

Photo Gallery:


Previous Trip Report:
August 22, 2009
☆ ☆

Our return to Token Creek wasn’t nearly as appealing as the first. The banks were overgrown and there was much deadfall to contend with. A late season paddle on Token just isn’t recommended.

Gauge: n/a
Time: Put in at 11:00a. Out at 1:30p.
Total Time: 2h 30m

What we liked:
Any day out paddling is generally a great day and this was no exception but the water was cold, mighty cold. Add to that the fact that we had to contend with a lot of overgrown brush from the banks and many a fallen tree that we had to duck under or climb over, it wasn’t the most relaxing of paddles but again, a paddle nonetheless.

We followed the same route as our first trip although we had mapped and planned to paddle the upper 2.5 miles (below Highway 19) but there was no way that was going to happen. There was no clean and clear path to put-in off Highway 19 and we suspected we’d be moving in on private property. Also, parking on the shoulder of a busy road like 19 wasn’t very appealing. So we ended up putting-in at Token Creek County Park.

What we didn’t like:
The water was lower than in the spring (as expected) so it made for some slow spots. Also, as mentioned, the brush on the bank was incredibly thick, making the pathways appear much narrower (and it was much buggier too).

If we did this trip again:
Earlier in the year when the water is higher and banks aren’t overgrown is probably a much better time to do this creek but since it’s so close to Madison, we’ll undoubtedly make a return visit.


Previous Trip Report:
May 2, 2009
☆ ☆ ☆

A curiosity located close to home, Token Creek is narrow and woodsy and therefore deadfall-prone until it gets to the open waters of Cherokee Marsh where it’s wide, shallow and slow.

Gauge: n/a
Time: Put in at 10:30a. Out at 12:45p.
Total Time: 2h 15m

What we liked:
This was our first trip down Token Creek. It’s a spring-fed creek originating near Sun Prairie and winding its way to the Upper Yahara River (also called Cherokee Marsh). It’s location, just on the outskirts of Madison, makes it an appealing creek to paddle since it’s so close to home. Recently, Mad City Paddlers and Capitol Water Trails have done a great job clearing the creek and making it canoe and kayak friendly.

The put-in is at Token Creek County Park which has a semi-convenient landing right at the first bridge near the entrance of the park. A couple hundred feet after putting in is a rock ledge that you have to portage (or run if the water is high enough and you don’t care about a few scratches on your boat). Just past that are two long bridge tunnels, one under Highway 51 and the other, Interstate 90. Be prepared for a noisy and somewhat eerie paddle through the tunnels (and watch out for birds). Just after Interstate 90 you’ll encounter Daentl Road bridge which is a good alternate put-in if you want to forgo the noise of the highways and portaging of the rock ledge (but you’ll also miss the natural beauty of the giant Shell sign). From here on out, things quiet down and reminders of the city are less obvious.

This is a very narrow and twisty little creek. There are a lot of sharp turns and deadfall to keep you on your toes and your paddling skills sharp. The water was shallow, clear and quite cool but of course it was only early May.

There comes a point past the train trestle near the airport where you’ll come to some “forks in the water”. If you look real hard you may find a sign with an arrow and canoer-graphic helping to guide your way but they were challenging to spot. Regardless, we somehow made our way out into the open waters of Cherokee Marsh. From here until the take-out, it’s quite wide-open and surprisingly shallow for a body of water this large.

The take-out is the Cherokee Marsh boat landing. It’s more of a traditional boat-landing with a concrete landing and dock, making the exit really easy. There is also plenty of parking.

What we didn’t like:
The first four miles are fun but once you hit the mouth of the Yahara/Cherokee Marsh, it’s open water. On a windy day, that could be quite a drag. We would recommend finding an earlier take-out to avoid the open water if it’s not your type of thing.

If we did this trip again:
We’ll definitely make a return visit to Token Creek but we’ll bring a garbage bag to pick up some litter.

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  • Reply
    Abbey Foley
    June 6, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    I took this route yesterday and I had a very hard time with the amount of logjams. My kayak was filled with spiders as well from all of the trees. It only became easier when I got to Yahara and ran into a thunderstorm. It took me about 4 hours to complete. I would try it again…just not anytime soon.

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    June 7, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Friends of ours did Token Creek from Portage Rd to Daentl during a rare warm spell the last weekend in January and reported the obstructions to be pretty bad. We're sorry to hear that little has changed in the last 4 months! It is to be hoped that sometime in summer volunteers will tend to Token Creek. Being so narrow and lined with trees, Token often is subject to deadfall, unfortunately. As for the spiders, ugh! We hear you though. Timothy counted 13 bits on his arms and legs during one recent 5-mile trip on a clogged section of the Mecan River. Regardless, we're glad it has dampened your paddling spirits! And thanks for chiming in with us! It's always appreciated!

  • Reply
    August 1, 2016 at 1:42 am

    Paddled from Token Creek park to dog park off of 113. The downed trees were maneuverable and no portaging necessary.The spiders were out with a vengeance. Excellent adventure besides the lily pads. Cherokee Marsh was a sea of menacing lily pads. Bushwhacking necessary.

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    August 1, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Hello! Did you start at the county park off Highway 51 or at Portage Road? Just wondering in terms of the downed trees. As for the spiders, sigh… We feel you. Arachnids and snakes, why?!? And we hear you about the Marsh. This time of year in particular it gets pretty overgrown, which makes the paddling sluggish. Glad you had a great adventure though! Thanks for letting us know. Cheers!

  • Reply
    Samantha Walsh
    August 1, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    We started at the county park off highway 51. Most of the tricky downed trees were a mile before the Cherokee marsh opening. I should note we did this with a tandem inflatable kayak and it handled like a champion! Also, realized paddywhacking was a more appropriate term.

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    August 1, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    We like "bushyaking" ourselves. Thanks for the response. Downed trees are always a problem downstream of Daentl Road, approaching the Marsh. But we've heard too that there are some clusters between Portage Road and Token Creek Co. Park too, which is why we wondered which section you did. Thanks Samantha!

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