★ ★ ★ ★ ★

White River I (Walworth County)

Sheridan Springs Road to Lyons:
A delightful jaunt on a very pretty river with two distinct temperaments – placid and slow, frisky and fun – surrounded by a predominantly unspoiled landscape. The only deterrents are this trip often is too shallow to paddle (at least the rapids section) and the drive seems to take forever (unless you’re already in the area). But this stretch of the White is definitely worth the while!

White River (Walworth)

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: March 12, 2016

Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class I(II)

≈ 2′ per mile (10′ per mile in the first 1.5 miles downstream of the second Sheridan Springs Road bridge).

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Lake Geneva: ht/ft: 8.5 | cfs: 35
Spring Grove (Nippersink Creek): ht/ft: 4.8 | cfs: 220
Gauge note: We’re not entirely certain about the accuracy or correlative relevance of the Lake Geneva gauge. You may want to reference the gauge for Nippersink Creek, which is a similar stream located just over the border.

Current Levels:
Spring Grove (Nippersink Creek): ht/ft: 3.96 | cfs: 64.0

Recommended Levels:
This is the recommended minimum level. You could run this slightly lower but you’ll definitely scrape a lot.

Sheridan Springs Road (the one further south, closer to Lake Geneva, next to the golf course), Walworth County, Lyons, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.61393, -88.39744
Riverside Park, Lyons, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.64798, -88.35771

Time: Put in at 2:35p. Out at 4:15p.
Total Time: 1h 40m
Miles Paddled: 6.5

Alternate Trip Ideas:
Sheridan Springs Road Alternate Put-In to Lyons (3.75 Miles)

Sandhill cranes, mink, great blue heron and beaver.

Shuttle Information:
3.5 miles.


Ever since paddling the White a couple years ago I’ve wanted to return to run it below flood level when it isn’t so dangerous. But I’ve also been curious about the section of the river upstream from where we’ve started in the past, the “other” Sheridan Springs Road. That’s how this trip came about.

I hadn’t really considered beginning further upstream, in the actual town of Lake Geneva, because I didn’t think it was even doable (too narrow and shallow), much less desirable (it goes through at least one golf course). But I came across two separate groups of paddlers while on the water, and both answered that they’d started in Lake Geneva when I asked where they’d put in. Not a park or bridge or road, just “Lake Geneva.” Oh well. Maybe that will be a future trip, as the satellite map looks like it could be paddled.

I had started late in the day and really had no desire to go into the gaudy “escape to Wisconsin” trap for Illinois tourists that is Lake Geneva. Besides, the drive (from Madison) is long and boring enough without adding to my time to get back home. That’s why I didn’t scout the options from the lake itself to this trip’s put-in. But if anyone out there has light to shine on this section, we’d love to hear about it!

What we liked:
The access at the put-in is fantastic. There’s ample room for shoulder parking and there’s an obvious path leading to the water on the downstream side of the bridge on river-left. Launching a boat from here is flat and mud-free, easy as cake. It’s wonderful. The other nice benefit to beginning here is the golf course is on the other side of the road (in other words, just upstream), making this bridge the point closest to accessing the White River without having to “play through” the links. Incidentally, if you’re looking for free golf balls, you’ll totally score, as they’re dotted haphazardly (emphasis on the hazard) in the first mile. It must be the current, gentle as it is, that has moved these balls from upstream – unless some amateur golfer has a really bad hook – in which case duck if you hear “Four!”

The first 2.5 miles are quite pretty and pacific, as the river (re: creek) meanders back and forth around a savanna and marsh. A gentle ridge and hill here and there add to what might otherwise feel monotonous after awhile. This stretch is perfect for beginners. The current is slack (except for one little half-foot ledge) and the water is clear. The river is narrow here, about 25’ wide. There are few trees in this section too, meaning fewer downed trees to have to negotiate. Now and again you’ll see large houses off to the right but they don’t really detract. More houses will appear as you approach “town” and the other Sheridan Springs Road bridge, but all of this passes in a handful of minutes, after which you won’t see any houses for another 2.5 miles.

Everything changes quick as a finger snap in the next section. The gradient drops and the current picks up. Fast. To be fair, we’re talking only riffles and Class I rapids but the feeling is distinctly different from the previous section. And it’s super-fun. The former sand/gravel bottom of the stream has now been superseded by rocks and small boulders (I saw at least two barely submerged rocks with fresh tell-tale scrapes of aluminum at their tops, presumably from a canoe).

Not surprisingly, the landscape here changes too. The banks rise and the river runs through steep hillsides. Most of this fun stretch also lies along public land, so there’s really no development. The setting has a wild feel to it. However, you’ll be paying attention more to the water itself, as the pace is brisk, there are obstacles to dodge and there are few places to slow down and stop. You’ll pass under two attractive pedestrian bridges as part of a new Walworth County park, the aptly (if not imaginatively) named White River Park. In this brief 1.5-mile segment the river drops some ten feet but this too shall come to pass. And even when the current slows down, the landscape remains pretty, even hilly in parts.

Eventually you’ll enter a flat marsh area that leads up to the adrenaline-driven Class I-II drop at the Spring Valley Road bridge. It’s wise to scout this beforehand, as it comprises two drops. It’s not technically difficult, but you should portage around this if you don’t really know what you’re doing or have solid boat control in powerful current. This is generally run center-left, and it’s intuitive where to turn and pivot after the first drop. But still, scout before you run. The water was much lower than when I did this a couple years ago, making this fun drop much easier and less intimidating.

Below the drop, riffles will whisk you along for another half-mile as you enter the hamlet of Lyons. There’s not a whole lot to take in here, as the section is mostly residential. I’m happy to report that the occasional deadfall and strainers of years past have been cleaned up and cleared out. So enjoy the riffles together with the occasional sandy banks and pine trees. As you see the next bridge come into view, Riverside Park will be on your right. There’s no designated launch, dock, or pier, but there’s a convenient and tidy cleft in the right bank about 10’ upstream of the bridge itself. It’s easy to wedge your bow into this and then get out onto the grass (and avoid getting slicked up in mud). There are facilities in the park, about 100 yards away from the parking area.

What we didn’t like:
At the time of this writing there were two obstacles, both totally negotiable. The first is between the two Sheridan Springs bridges. There’s a tree down in the stream but it’s easy (even at this water level) to ride over it, and the current is calm. The second one is a little trickier and requires caution. It’s a low-hanging tree with strainer branches dipping into the water but here the current is frisky brisk. The only thing to do is approach it carefully and plod through it. Again, it isn’t dangerous but you do need to be cautious.

The only matter I found objectionable was the surprising amount of garbage on the water or snagged on the banks – plastic bottles and beer cans mostly. The White is a short river, and this section itself is notably upstream, so I don’t know where all this trash is coming from. Lake Geneva itself, I guess. The golf course? I don’t want to blow this out of proportion. (Please, I’m from New Jersey; if anyone knows trash, it’s me!) The stream and the surrounding landscape are still very pretty. I was just surprised to happen upon what I did.

If we did this trip again:
I’d definitely do this again, ideally at a little higher water. This is a great trip all around. Actually, it’s just about perfect in that the length is great for most folks, the scenery is pretty, the rapids are a lot of fun, the accesses are excellent and the shuttle is short. There are only a couple obstructions (as of this writing; we did just have 50-mph winds only a few days after this trip) and none of them dangerous; just enough to keep you engaged.

Next time I’ll probably tack on extra miles next time and explore the Lake Geneva stretch. Unfortunately, the next access downstream is not for many miles, closer to Burlington.

Related Information:
White River II (Walworth County): Sheridan Springs Road to Wagner Park
General: American Whitewater
Video: Tom Lindblade

Photo Gallery:


Alternate Trip Report: Shorter Paddle (3.75 Miles)
Sheridan Springs Road Alternate Put-In to Lyons
May 15, 2010
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A very short exploratory section of the White River near Lake Geneva brought about a mix of light whitewater fun and some stretches of flat water paddling.

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Lake Geneva: ht/ft: 7.50 | cfs: 65

Sheridan Springs Road, Lyons, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.63156, -88.38376
Riverside Park, Mills Road
GPS: 42.64798, -88.35771

Time: Put in at 11:25a. Out at 1:00p.
Total Time: 1h 35m
Miles Paddled: 3.75

What we liked:

Today we paddled the “mysterious” White River near Lake Geneva. I say mysterious because there’s a noticeable lack of information about this river to be found but it’s a great little paddle located in Eastern Wisconsin. The source of the river is Lake Geneva and the water is clear with a generally sandy-bottom. And being spring it was cool water.

We heard that you can only paddle the White River in spring because that’s the only time there is enough water in it. We talked with a friendly local who agreed. Apparently the river dries to no more than a trickle late in the year.

Overall, it was a great first paddle of 2010. We heard it was riffly with some class I and II rapids. It was riffly for about 1.5 miles with arguable class I’s here and there. The second 1.5 miles was very quiet with very little action until you reach the bridge on Spring Valley Road. That is where you’ll encounter the only class I (or II in high water) which was handmade from locals who took rocks and concrete from an old dam that was there and created a great little drop.

After the bridge it was another .5 riffly miles with a lot of turns, deadfall and strainers to sharpen our paddling skills.

What we didn’t like:
For such a short little trip and the information we did find about this section, we were surprised at the 1.5 mile of quiet water. Not that we didn’t like it, we just didn’t expect it but it’s really a beautiful paddle so it’s nothing to get too down about.

If we did this trip again:
We’d probably paddle this section again if the water were higher than 75 cf/s to see if the class of rapids change dramatically.

Photo Gallery:

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  • Reply
    matt k
    April 10, 2016 at 12:44 am

    just went down the White in early march.be sure to check out Honey Creek, which is close by. put in on Bell School Rd or Hill valley and take out hwy D or FF

  • Reply
    Miles Paddled
    April 12, 2016 at 2:54 am

    Hey Matt,Thanks for the tip. It sounds like you've paddled this. It's worth doing? What do you like about it? Pros, cons? Is the water usually low, like the White River? I know Sugar Creek, also in the area, which I've scouted. And I remember Honey Creek feeding the White River just upstream of Burlington. I just mapped this out, and it definitely has promise. Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Jason Fay
    September 4, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    Paddled from Sheridan Spring rd near Buckby to Lyons three weeks ago in a group of 4. Water was definitely at the lower limit. Two of us even went back the next day to try it and we still had to get out twice to get off the bottom. I have earmarked this run for next spring / early summer as we had fun even with leaving a lot of plastic on the rocks.

    • Reply
      Miles Paddled
      September 5, 2017 at 3:12 pm

      What was the date? We can look at the correlative gauges for an idea of what they were at.

      • Reply
        Jason Fay
        September 5, 2017 at 5:00 pm

        It would have been Sat, Aug 12th and Sunday, Aug 13th. I have to say that I’m grateful for your efforts. This is the first year my family has owned kayaks and with being new to the sport, I don’t go anywhere without checking if you have a trip report on it. We’re in SE Wisconsin.

        • Reply
          Miles Paddled
          September 5, 2017 at 7:33 pm

          Thanks a lot Jason! Appreciate the note. Well, it was certainly lower based on the two gauges but not terribly lower, although, this are correlative gauges so they aren’t precise. Geneva was around 20cfs (8.2 ht/ft) and Spring Grove was around 200 cfs (and the ht/ft dropped significantly from the 12th at 4.75 to 4.6 on the 13th). Good notes to have though. Thanks again!

          • Timothy
            April 24, 2022 at 7:48 am

            A group of eight kayakers and me in a canoe bet it all on White yesterday — along with approximately a gajillion other paddlers — on the first above 70 degrees day this year but just as relevant, a day after the area received 2″ of rain. The “Nip” gauge read 7′ and 600 cfs, which is arguably perfect levels for the White. Fast and fun but no washouts. The drop beneath the bridge was an easy straight shot with no technical maneuvering (all the rocks were submerged) at these levels.

            All this said, there were lots of flipped boats and lost gear throughout the day — kayaks, paddles, sandals, water bottles, phones, even car keys! The section of the White with the rapids is not a beginner paddler-friendly stream. Add some day drinking and a sun dolphin and you’re bound to get wet…or worse.

  • Reply
    Joshua Duncklee
    August 25, 2023 at 9:54 pm

    Went from here to riverview Park(Lyons) today. Nice calm with a couple beaver dams to cross. It was too shallow, after white river park we had to get out a lot and push/pull/walk through.

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