★ ★ ★

Token Creek II

Token Creek Preserve Park to Daentl Road:
A pleasant, intimate quietwater trip that starts in a beautiful bubbling natural springs environment with a couple quick riffles, then meanders about a spooky but cool landscape of dead trees, and then finishes off through a super-urban corridor underneath one federal and one interstate highway bridge tunnels. This section of Token Creek is more varied and attractive than its downstream sibling that ends in Cherokee Marsh (and thus spares the weary paddling of miles of shallow water and windblown conditions), but is a little more developed.

Token CreekRating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: April 22, 2018

Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: 

≈2′ per mile


Recommended Levels:
There should always be enough water to paddle Token Creek, since it’s spring-fed.

Token Creek Preserve Park/Elmer & Edna Culver Wetlands Conservancy, DeForest, Wisconsin
GPS: 43.20588, -89.28108
Daentl Road
GPS: 43.181, -89.32909

Time: Put in at 2:45a. Out at 5:45p.
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 5

Carp galore (or some kind of largish fish), frogs, kingfishers, snapping turtle, deer, great blue herons.

Shuttle Information:
6 miles – for cars only, on account of the highways. Bicyclists would have to backtrack by taking County CV south to Hoepker Road east to Portage Road north, which would add a few more miles.


Being so close to Madison, we’ve paddled Token Creek quite a bit throughout the years. It’s a small stream, to be sure, but it can be construed in two sections – upstream of the highways or downstream. The downstream section is what we’ve covered on this site several times in the past, the one that eventually meanders into Cherokee Marsh. For no intentional reason, we’ve given short shrift to the upper section, which is both comparable and complementary to the lower section, minus the marsh. Both sections are included in Timothy’s guidebook, leaving you with the option to do both in a single shot or break them up separately.

There is no official place to launch at the conservancy. Rather, you’ll just schlep your gear about 300′ from the parking lot to the water wherever it’s most convenient to do so. The best of the natural springs are located right here. They come in two forms: those percolating straight out of the ground and those bubbling from below in the water itself. The latter are particularly cool, as they resemble little underwater volcanoes gurgling out of the sand. Pillowy plumes rung by concentric circles. Take the time to check these out before you saunter downstream.

It’ll be very shallow for a hundred yards or so, but there should be sufficient water after a feeder stream comes in at river-left. A long straightaway follows – the first of several in this first mile – with an attractive drumlin hill in the background. Soon, the current will pick up to a peppy pace, with brief riffles here and there past the shoreline grass. In one brief section the creek will narrow to about 3′ wide, with more riffles, adding to the novelty and fun. A few minor meanders will take you to a pleasant pedestrian bridge. This section was open when we paddled it, but it’s not without obstructions to dodge, be they small boulders, gravel bars, or tree debris. After passing a brief line of backyards on the left, you’ll come upon the bridge at Portage Road, where there’s an excellent access (and parking area) on the upstream side, river-left.

Below the bridge you’ll paddle side-saddle to the big drumlin hill (on your right). You’ll also be paddling next to Highway 19 (on your left). The creek takes a curious route here, making a long horseshoe shaped bend to the left, going under the highway, then runs parallel to the highway on the opposite side. But soon it will bend right and away from the road, towards a stand of pines and a charming covered wooden bridge that is part of some lucky person’s driveway. There’s another, more inconspicuous natural spring from the left bank shortly downstream from the covered bridge. An especially scenic section comes next, where the landscape is big and broad but barren, having and look and feel of a lost city equivalent for a natural environment. There are down trees to dodge, but this section has been admirably maintained by commendable volunteers and should be predominantly open. (Being Earth Day, we not only collected trash we paddled past along the way, but maintained some of the nuisance tree debris, too.)

A couple low-clearance farm bridges will be found before any signs of residential development on the distant horizon. At times of extreme high water, these bridges will need to be portaged; but why oh why would you waste a high-water opportunity on the likes of Token Creek when the upper Yahara is only 15 minutes away and can only be paddled after a hard rain? After these the tree debris could well get dicey. We don’t know if it’s more ironic or iconic that Token Creek becomes less paddleable once you’re inside the boundaries of the county park after which it’s named – you’ll see boardwalks along the left side, butting up right to the water – but the point is things will get a little hairy. More disappointing than dangerous.

Twin culverts, both passable, come at Token Creek Lane, the main road in the county park. Just below, on the left, is an access point with parking nearby, if paddlers wished to take out here. But if you continue, there’s a fun (but shallow) ledge only a couple hundred feet away. There’s a big, bulbous island that splits the creek in two channels; take the main one, on the right. There’s only one sluice to run the ledge at, the rest of it too rock-obstructed. Expect to scrape here. Indeed, in summertime this may simply be too shallow to even try to run. It’s a fun little drop of 18” or so. The creek will meander a bit and then go through one last tree-choked spot before heading directly for the bridge/tunnel at Highway 51. This is immediately followed by more tree-choked but passable crap in an unusual no-man’s-land before the next and even longer tunnel below the interstate. Towards the end there’s a neat downspout that drains water from the highway, creating a cascading waterfall effect lit from above in the otherwise dark tunnel.

Immediately following the brunnel exit, on the right, is the take-out. Note, this is before the actual bridge at Daentl Road. You could take out at the bridge, but it’s just easier (and less muddy/weedy) to get out via the grassy banks and then schlep your gear just a short jaunt to the large parking area.

What we liked:
It’s quite a sight, taking in all the natural springs at the conservancy/put-in, whether they’re terrestrial or in the water. It’s just a beautiful location. The swift riffles here also are a lot of fun. The spooky desolation of the landscape downstream from Highway 19 is pretty cool. And while the last mile of the trip is surrounded by development – interstate highways before you, planes taking off from or descending to the nearby airport above you – the little ledge at the county park and then the two subsequent brunnels are kind of fun.

What we didn’t like:
While the conservancy is utterly lovely, do be mindful of its hours of operation. There’s a gate that may well be locked most of the time. There’s a sign that reads thusly:

APRIL 15 – NOV 15
8 AM – 8 PM

How accurate that actually is, we have no idea. Sometimes such signs are posted from way back when, but after budget cuts or – as they now say in the DNR, “strategic realignment” – who knows how enforced such things are these days. But it’s at least something to be mindful of.

For a creek that begins bubble-gurgling from natural springs, it’s plenty heartbreaking how much trash we found and picked up along our short route of only 5 miles. C’mon, people! And while deadfall is indeed to be expected for such a narrow stream, the preponderance of it inside the boundaries of the designated county park itself was both surprising and disappointing.

Personal aside: while sawing tree limbs and yanking out submerged logs, Timothy ended up kerplunking into the creek. Fortunately, it was like 80 degrees warm outside, so it actually felt refreshing. Prior to that, however, he nearly fell in thanks to an unchoreographed moment we’d have paid to replay to get on video (although we do have photos). He was holding onto a branch that stretched from one side of the bank, using it as a kind of anchor to better get at other branches from the opposite bank. Well, at a given moment the branch onto which he was holding came loose, and while his boots were firmly atop a trunk, he started to fall head-first into the water, fully straddled, arms stretched out wide like a flying squirrel (but still holding onto the now-loose branch). Incredibly, the branch didn’t break. So, at an awkward 45-degree angle, still hovering above the water and now catching his breath the way you do after dodging such a bullet, he somehow managed to grab onto another stray limb to pull himself back up and away from the precarious water below. It was like a cartoon or Charlie Chaplin moment as though one were at the top of a ladder that suddenly starts to fall, and in that split instant you’re sure you’re done for, but then somehow suddenly the ladder catches onto something that breaks its complete fall, leaving you dangling but not damaged. It was pretty hilarious.

If we did this trip again:
Token Creek is reliable nearly all-year-long, due to its natural springs. It’s unlikely we’d go out of our way to come here, if we didn’t already live in Madison. But being a 20-minute drive away, it’s a great little go-to destination for a short afternoon jaunt on the water. Of course one could continue past Daentl, but there’s no access past Daentl other than the two options at Cherokee Marsh. This would make for a long trip, given the circuitous meandering of the creek and the probability of deadfall given its narrow nature, not to mention the long slog through the shallow muck of the marsh or the near-guarantee of paddling against the wind.

Related Information:
Token Creek I: Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park
Good People: Capitol Water Trails
Map: Yahara Headwaters Trail

Photo Gallery:

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