★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Yahara River I

Stebbensville Road to Murwin County Park:
A wonderfully scenic quietwater paddle that’s perfect for beginners and families, this section of the Yahara River is one of our all-time favorites and one that provides a different experience every time we visit. With easy access points and a short shuttle, this popular paddle located near Edgerton, Wisconsin, makes for a wonderful day trip.

Yahara River

By Patty Glines-Kotecki
Contributor/@patty_fabulous

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: May 31, 2020

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles

Gradient: 6.4′ per mile.

Gauge:
Fulton: ht/ft: 4.5 | cfs: 475

Recommended Levels:
We recommend these levels – they were just right on this occasion. This section of the Yahara is the most appealing between the 330-500 cfs range on the Fulton gauge.

Put-In:
West Stebbensville Road, Stebbensville, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Murwin County Park, Fulton, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 3:30p. Out at 5:45p.
Total Time: 2h 15m
Miles Paddled: 6.5

Wildlife:
Frogs, carp, a muskie, cranes, muskrat, wood ducks and tons of birds.

Shuttle Information:
One of the best parts of the Yahara is the relatively short shuttle time (for bikes or cars) From the put-in, head east on Stebbensville Road and take a right at North Wallin Road. You’ll then cross Route 59. Continue straight as North Wallin Road turns into West Caledonia Road. Murwin Park will be on your right as you approach Highway H. There’s a second parking lot is across Highway H.


Background:
My friends and I do this route quite a bit because of consistent water levels in nearly any season, and the fact that it’s a convenient central meeting spot for our group of paddling friends from Madison, Oregon, and Evansville. We’ve paddled this section as early as March and as late as November. This May trip though, was especially wonderful because the water clarity was amazing – it allowed for some great underwater sightings you don’t typically get to see.

Overview:
At the put-in you’ll see an attractive old building for the former dam. In the summer months you’ll want to put-in here on the north eastside of the bridge. The embankment is a little steep but there are two good spots – one directly down from the parking lot, and one off a larger rock that you’ll see as you walk about 40 feet down the path that leads up river. I’ve paddled this section in all seasons, and in winter and spring, we prefer to put-in on the upstream-west side of the bridge. However, it’s typically too overgrown and muddy or shallow in the summer months. There’s also a put-in across Stebbensville Road, (the more common access point) but launching there cuts out the fun oxbow section. Plus, it adds another half-mile to an already short day trip.

At these water levels, we easily paddled upstream a bit to look for frogs and fish while waiting for our friends to get back with the shuttle car. Once headed downstream, the current was immediately noticeable heading towards the bridge. There’s an island just downstream of it and we all chose the left side due to a downed tree on river-right. Past the island, the river curves left  – and on this trip the water was so clear here that we saw lots of pretty rocks. Around the next corner, the water gets calmer and the bottom, sandier – I was over the moon paddling through this section because we could clearly see trails in the sand created by river oysters. Ten minutes in, and I’m already gaga in love (again!) with the river!

The surroundings for most of the trip are woods and farmland. The river bottom, a mix of sand, rock, and mud. Luckily, there are ample sandy/rocky-shored areas for the inevitable bio break or for those who need to stretch their legs. Ladies – there is no need to perch between your boat and a log to pee on this trip! You’ll see relatively few homes along the way with the exception of some near the put-in, the take-out in Fulton, and the homes near the Caledonia Road bridge (which we affectionately call the “Redneck Riviera”). 🙂

Along the way you’ll paddle beneath two bridges. The first is Route 59, where the river widens and slows. If there’s a headwind, it can feel like a slog but the river narrows again soon after. The second bridge is Caledonia Road, and if you’re old enough, you’ll appreciate the Nine Inch Nails graffiti underneath it. Both bridges are also alternative access points, with varying degrees of ease. The river narrows a bit past Caledonia Road and the shore continues to be a mostly wooded.

When you see the steep hill covered in stones on river-right, you’ll know you’re in Fulton and nearing the end. The Murwin Park take-out is just before the Highway H bridge. The water here is sometimes swift, so you’ll want to paddle river left along the shore at the park (watch for people fishing!). You can either turn into the eddy at the take-out or simply follow the shore and back into the hard-packed sand. The water is just a few inches deep here, so you can step out of your boat easily. If you happen to miss this take-out, there’s another option if you paddle past the bridge and around the corner at the rock bar which is located river-left (at this water level). This is a popular picnic and fishing spot. If the water is high, this won’t be an option for you. (Also, this s-curve requires caution as it often clogs with deadfall and a strainer tragically took a life there as recently as May of 2019.)

What we liked:
The put-in and take-out are both convenient with plenty of parking and an easy shuttle. The majority of the trip is tree-lined and provides ample opportunities for wildlife viewing. The river is small enough to feel intimate yet wide enough where a group can spread out. Given the clarity of the water, I was able to see a muskie hanging out along the shore near the put-in, as well as a number of frogs swimming across the river. My absolute favorite part is paddling by the natural spring, which is located river-right just before Badfish Creek pops into the Yahara. In the late summer you may not see it, but you’ll know it by all of the swamp cabbage.

What we didn’t like:
There’s very little to “not like” about this stretch. Sometimes Murwin Park is crowded with cars due to the growing popularity of kayaking, but there’s overflow parking on the road and across the street at the other parking lot. With COVID, the bathroom at Murwin Park is currently closed, which means many of us needed to spend a little time under the Highway H bridge.

If we did this trip again:
Despite a 2+ hour trip, oftentimes our biggest complaint is that it’s over too quickly. You can add an additional leg by taking the Yahara all the way to the Rock River (there’s parking river-right about a mile after the confluence across from the island). You can also shorten the trip by putting-in at Caledonia Road or taking-out at the Highway 59 bridge (although, not my favorite due to the high bank). If you’re simply looking to relax and enjoy nature, this trip on the Yahara will suit you well.

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Related Information:
Yahara River Overview: Yahara River Paddle Guide
Yahara River II: Stebbensville Road to County Road H
Yahara River III: Murwin County Park to Janesville
Good People: Friends of the Yahara River
Guide: Yahara Waterways Trail Guide
Wikipedia: Yahara River

Photo Gallery:

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Previous Trip Report:
July 13, 2010
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

On our third trip to the Yahara, the complexion of the paddle changed considerably due to higher water but it was a welcome change to see one of our favorites at a different level, giving us a new experience.

Fulton: ht/ft: 5.10 | cfs: 664
Time: Put in at 9:45a. Out at 11:30p.
Total Time: 1h 45m

Wildlife:
Heron and fish.

What we liked:
It’s been awhile since we last paddled the Yahara. Today, I was reminded just how lucky we are to have this river so close to Madison. The water is a foot above normal so it was a very easy and relaxing paddle. The riffles almost disappear at this level but there was enough current and strainers to keep things exciting. I’ve always preferred to paddle this river when it’s low so we can enjoy the sandbars but today was such a great experience, I’m rethinking that.

What we didn’t like:
I was surprised to find a lot of litter on the river this time around. I was able to pick up a few things including an underwater camera caught on a log as well as a Beck CD (Midnight Vultures which I can kind of understand) of all things.

If we did this trip again:
We will probably paddle to the Rock River from now on to enjoy the full lower Yahara.

Miles Paddled Video:


Photo Gallery:

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Previous Trip Report:
August, 2008
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Yahara River’s proximity to Madison, not far from Edgerton, isn’t the only reason this section is popular for canoers and kayakers. It’s a relaxing paddle on an often swift current in very clean water, making for a delightful day trip.

Gauge: Fulton: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: ~400
Time: Put in at 11:00a. Out at 5:00p.
Total Time: 6h

What we liked:
The Yahara river starts in northern Dane County and meanders it’s way south, connecting all the lakes in the Madison area. It’s about 60 miles long but this section is just the last few miles before its confluence with the Rock River.

The Yahara’s proximity to Madison, not far from Edgerton, isn’t the only reason this section is popular for canoers and kayakers. It’s a relaxing paddle on a swift current in very clean water. There is nothing too exciting in the way of rapids but you’ll find some riffles here and there. There are also plenty of places to beach your boat and relax, making this the “lazy river” of kayaking.

The put-in at Stebbensville Dam is a short hike down a well-worn path. There isn’t a lot of parking (with only the shoulders accessible) but it wasn’t a problem. The take-out at Murwin County Park (just one of the many options to take-out) is a great little park with plenty of places to picnic on the banks of the Yahara.

Of course, you could continue a few more miles downstream to the Rock River where there are also multiple access points (although some are muddier than others).

Let it be known that this paddle takes nowhere near the six hours it took us. In fact, this section should only take about two hours even in low water.

The reason it took us six hours is because we decided to have a beer every bridge (we decided to nurse hangovers by kayaking). And ironically, if you take-out at Murwin County Park, you have the perfect 6-pack booze cruise (not that we condone such behavior).

What we didn’t like:
We ran out of beer and lost a dear foot soldier (my favorite Adidas sandal).

If we did this trip again:
We’ll do this paddle every year, multiple times, guaranteed.

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Kristin McGuine
    July 20, 2021 at 9:14 pm

    Hi – We paddled this route Sunday (7-18-2021) evening, except that when we arrived at the put-in, there was a disgruntled gentleman fuming about bad apples and he is sick and tired of x, y, z… while chaining off river access at all four corners of the bridge and posting no trespassing signs. We weren’t sure if this was really a thing he can do, but we left and put in at N = A couple extra miles, but all for the best, since the paddle was amazing and we still managed to be off the river by the time it was getting dark. Just thought you would like to know that access at this particular put-in may be in question…

    • Reply
      Barry Kalpinski
      July 21, 2021 at 6:25 pm

      Hey Kristin, thanks for the update! I have to tell you, I’m really surprised by this. It’s a popular put-in but perhaps, the landowner has had enough (though I’d be surprised if he owned the land on all four corners). It’s possible, but not probable knowing that area. I’ll have to check the land maps. Still, there should be legal access around the bridge to the water. That said, we don’t often push our luck with unfriendly landowners. Just east of the bridge is the more common put-in. Do you know if that was posted too? I’d like to look into that if it was because I’d be surprised. It’s the second green put-in marker on the Yahara River I map (or the coordinates are 42.84307, -89.17234). Let me know and wow, this is interesting info.

      • Reply
        Kristin McGuine
        July 22, 2021 at 8:12 pm

        The landowner seemed to indicated he recently purchased so I think he may be new on the scene. We did look down from the road at that alternative put-in you mention above, but did not see much in the way of actual water – it seemed like more of a mud flat – so we just headed up to N. I do not recall if there were signs posted there or not. That being said, I paddleboard, and generally feel safer doing smaller, shallower creeks with debris in the water from my knees. This was the perfect size river to take standing up and the current made it super fun. And so much wildlife! Anyway, thank you for this website – it was great to discover this route. Happy paddling!

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