★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Yahara River VI

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

Previous Trip Reports:
July 13, 2010
August, 2008

Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles

Gradient:
6.4′ per mile.

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Fulton: ht/ft: 4.5 | cfs: 475

Current Levels:
Fulton: ht/ft: 4.29 | cfs: 380

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
GPS: 42.84348, -89.17284
Take-Out:
Murwin County Park, Fulton, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.811, -89.12798

Important Put-in Update:
In July of 2021, access from Stebbensville Road has been “discouraged” by a new landowner who is claiming all property is private surrounding the bridge, as well as the traditional access point just southeast of the bridge across from the old power station. The landowner has been verbally confrontational in addition to chaining off access and posting many, many, many, many No Tresspassing signs around the bridge. The increased use by paddlers using this access point, including the additional service by Drift Away Paddle Company has led to more litter being being left behind, which has exacerbated the issue. We hope this is resolved at some soon because this has always been one of the most popular places to put-in on one of the best paddles in Southern Wisconsin. In the meantime, use this access with extreme caution – the guy is angry.

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

Alternate Trip Ideas:
Stebbensville Road to County Road H (9 Miles)
Murwin County Park to Janesville (12.25 Miles)

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.

***************
Related Information:
Yahara River Overview: Yahara River Paddle Guide
Yahara River II: Windsor Road to Yahara Heights County Park
Yahara River III: Mud Lake to Lake Kegonsa
Yahara River IV: Lake Kegonsa to Stoughton
Yahara River V: Stoughton to Stebbensville Road
Yahara River VI: Stebbensville Road to Murwin County Park
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.

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Fulton: ht/ft: 5.10 | cfs: 664

Current Levels:
Fulton: ht/ft: 4.29 | cfs: 380

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 Recorded on this Trip:
Fulton: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: ~400

Current Levels:
Fulton: ht/ft: 4.29 | cfs: 380

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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Alternate Trip Report: Longer Paddle (9 Miles)
Stebbensville Road to County Road H
July 14, 2013
☆ ☆ ☆

At higher water levels like these, most of what we love about the lower Yahara River, its sandbars and riffles, are nonexistent and the extended section to the confluence of the Rock is much less pleasant.

Previous Trip Report:
September, 2008

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Fulton: ht/ft: 5.61 | cfs: 747

Current Levels:
Fulton: ht/ft: 4.29 | cfs: 380

Recommended Levels:
This level is bordering too high. The Yahara loses a lot of its charm in higher water. We recommend between 330-500 cfs on the Fulton gauge.

Put-In:
West Stebbensville Road, Stebbensville, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.84288, -89.17276
Take-Out:
County Road H (Rock River), Fulton, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.78716, -89.1289

Time: Put in at 11:30a. Out at 1:15p.
Total Time: 1h 45m
Miles Paddled: 9

Wildlife:
Fish, heron and ducks.


What we liked:

I’ve been meaning to do a properly updated report of this section of the Yahara since the last time we posted about this same route, it was a little misleading. It was more of a booze cruise where we spent a lot of time on the sandbars (and it takes nowhere near the seven hours it took us to paddle that day).

The water was much higher than that first trip (and every trip after it). Gone were all the sandbars and most of the riffles, or what I normally consider the best part of this trip. Nonetheless, it was still a pretty paddle.

The put-in off West Stebbensville Road is a short hike from the shoulder near where the Stebbensville Dam once stood not so long ago.

It was at the put-in where I met a guy with a most unusual kayak, it had a motor on the back. So curiosity got the best of me and I had to inquire about it. It’s made for fishing by a company out in New York, Mokai. I had never seen such a thing. He said it tops out at about 20mph. He caught up with me at one point to show me how it worked before he cruised up the Badfish. That encounter was the most excitement I experienced the whole paddle.

The Yahara was rather ho-hum at these levels and there was very little wildlife. I spotted some fish, a heron perched high in a tree and numerous ducks but not much else. It was just a calm paddle on flat water while the river alternated between 50-feet to 250-feet wide at any given time. The water was its usual pretty green, moving swiftly over a rock and sandy bottom (which is much more apparent at lower levels).

At the six-mile point you encounter Murwin Park on river-left. It’s a nice little park and a popular take-out point for paddlers. Murwin to the Rock River is normally worth paddling because there are still some riffles and sandbars to be played on but when the water is high like this, I’d reco taking out there because it got swampy further downstream. About mile past Murwin, I encountered swampland that bordered on bayou and where I half-expected to hear banjo music.

In fact, at the (muddy) take-out, I came upon four hillbillies (and I’m not trying to be mean, I swear these guys would take that as a compliment) fishing for catfish with stinkbait (dead panfish, bluegill, perch, left overnight to ferment, aka rot, so I’m told).

The take-out opportunites on County H are numerous but at conditions like these, they’re all pretty muddy.

Post-shuttle, I did encounter a lot of canoers and kayakers just putting-in to enjoy this easy paddle on a really nice Sunday afternoon.

What we didn’t like:
I think the aforementioned swamp-like trek towards the confluence of the Rock River is a let down in these conditions. It makes for a muddy take-out and a downer on an otherwise pretty paddle.

If we did this trip again:
The Yahara River is a beauty and a staple of our paddling diet but a shallower Yahara is my preferred Yahara. We’re pretty familiar with this section, having paddled Badfish Creek frequently but now that we have it gauged (something we didn’t record years ago) we know to shoot for it when the water is lower.

At levels like these, I’d paddle the Stebbensville to Murwin section and skip the lower part. If it’s at normal levels, I’d paddle down to County Road H.

Miles Paddled Video:


Photo Gallery:

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Previous Trip Report:
September, 2008
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Our return visit to the Yahara was just as fun as the first and it’s already become one of our go-to paddles. We extended this trip to the Rock River where the take-out was real muddy but that was the only downside to an otherwise great paddle.

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Fulton: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: ~500

Current Levels:
Fulton: ht/ft: 4.29 | cfs: 380

Time: Put in at 11:30a. Out at 6:30p.
Total Time: 7h

What we liked:
We had another great afternoon paddle on the Yahara, a wonderfully relaxing river, flowing through south-central Wisconsin. Much like our first trip, we took our time and made a day of it. The sun was out and the beer was flowing, so we took our sweet time floating this section. Under normal paddling conditions, this is really only a 2.5-3 hour trip (not the 7 hours it took us).

Instead of taking out at the excellent Murwin County Park landing, we decided to extend our trip and continue down this last section of the Yahara to its confluence with the Rock River. While this section was definitely worthwhile (a few more riffles than the upper part), that decision led us to a much muddier and muckier take-out.

Despite that, it was a great day to be paddling (or floating) the beautiful Yahara River, one of our favorite little places to spend a few hours (or seven).

What we didn’t like:
As mentioned, the take-out we chose was pretty muddy but there are other take-out options in the area that we’d consider next time.

If we did this trip again:
We definitely will but we’ll choose a different take-out point as there are many to choose from on Highway 184. It was however, worth paddling the short section between Murwin County Park and the Rock River, so the mud was a small casualty.

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Alternate Trip Report: Longer Paddle (12.25 Miles)
Murwin County Park to Janesville
June 6, 2012
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A positively wonderful paddle experience offering scenic splendor and wildlife galore. This trip can – and probably should – be shortened using any number of alternate take-outs.

Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Fulton: ht/ft: n/a | cfs: 220

Current Levels:
Fulton: ht/ft: 4.29 | cfs: 380

Put-In:
Murwin County Park, County Road H, Fulton, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.81095, -89.12807
Take-Out:
North Traxler Boat Launch (Rock River), Highway 51, Janesville, Wisconsin
GPS: 42.69692, -89.03211

Time: Put in at 6:30p. Out at 9:40p.
Total Time: 3h 10m
Miles Paddled: 12.25

Wildlife:
Ducks, turtles, fish, heron and hawks.


Background:

Licking my wounds after the recall election (loss), a good river adventure was just the tonic for my soul and furrowed brow. The trip begins immediately with steep banks, which always call out to my deep down. I could not get my camera out quickly enough to capture a picture of the barn owl I spotted within minutes of putting in, but it was thrilling. This alone would be rivaled by a snowy egret, two pairs of sandhills (more yet I heard cackling and cavorting, but could not see), some handsome wood ducks, an infinite flotilla of Canada geese, and way too may great blue heron sightings to keep track of. Add to that two separate surprises of happening upon deer in the water taking a sip before quickly skipping into the tall grass, kettles of belly-flopping fish, and a bevy of bivalves happy as clams.

Not until the confluence with the Rock River do you see any sign or sounds of settlement. I really did feel at times that I could have been on a river up north; and when the current slowed down some to that breathless, unstirred mirror-like pane of glass, I swear it made me think of Sylvania. But mostly the current flows along quite contentedly. The Rock is slower, of course, but still gets by.

What we liked:
If you have paddled the southern stretches of the Yahara River, and/or the Badfish Creek, you will appreciate the continued environs. If you are unacquainted, get ready for an almost shockingly picturesque and unspoiled trip, full of sandbars, thick woods, hillsides, clear, swift water, and spectacular wildlife. That such a getaway lies in between Madison and Janesville is both a jewel and a joy! While not precisely “crystal clear,” the water clarity here is just shy of it. (Maybe “pilsner pure” would be more apt…) I passed underneath power lines that were literally abuzz with current, which was kind of creepy. I passed a house with a “carport” for a water plane, which you don’t see everyday. And you even pass an honest-to-goodness working lighthouse. Sure, it’s a little kitschy and camp, considering it’s on private land (someone wealthy’s backyard) and a fraction of the size of a true lighthouse, but the novelty was not lost on me, especially as it was well past sundown by that point!

The take-out in Janesville lies just before the throb and business (and dams!) of downtown Janesville. If this is too rude of an awakening after the wondrous solitude of the Yahara, take advantage of the gazillion other take-out options upstream of Janesville.

What we didn’t like:
The Rock River comes with its stretches lacking in luster, it’s true. Power boats, private docks, large (and not so large) river houses, predominantly loom. But don’t toss this baby with the ballast water (so to speak). Despite its traffic and residential clustering, the Rock offers delightful surprises and wildlife galore.

Also – and this can’t be emphasized enough – the wild parsnip (see Badfish Creek I) does lurk in lots of places, and believe me: the “wrath of the rash” is nothing to take lightly. My girlfriend accidentally got it a couple summers ago, during our very first-ever paddle together. Gentlemen, a word of advice: don’t ever do this! The blisters are bad, and the guilt is even worse! (Ah, but that contretemps notwithstanding, the girl’s still with me – and still even indulges me to go paddling sometimes! What a lucky bastard am I!)

If we did this trip again:
First of all, I absolutely will! But I would shorten the length – or put in further upstream on the Yahara, since that’s the more secluded river.

Photo Gallery:

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6 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!

  • Reply
    Clark conway
    August 3, 2021 at 9:41 pm

    Hello fellow paddlers. There is a new path across from the gravel pull off just before the bridge. It is steep but there’s a good bit of shoreline to access the river at the bottom. Fingers crossed the entire area will be a county park within the next few years.

  • Reply
    Patrick DeBroux
    August 10, 2021 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks. County park will be nice there.

  • Reply
    Jim Lacy
    September 26, 2021 at 3:19 pm

    We did this route today, and as Kristin observed back in July, we were immediately confronted by a very angry man. I’m sure he has his reasons. The Rock County land information site in fact shows the land on either side of the road is private, and there are numerous no-trespassing signs posted along the road We put in immediately adjacent to the bridge, on the west side, presumably within the road right of way. I assume the same spot noted by Clark in early August.

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