Illinois Fox River - Wisconsin

Date: August 15, 2020; Length: 9 miles; Duration: 3 hours

Put In: Center Rd Bridge

Side of the road parking just off the bridge. A gravel landing is located just off the road and makes for an easy put in.

Takeout: Fox River Rd

Tichigan Lake Public Boat Launch is the more ideal takeout option, but the lot was packed with vehicles so I ended up parking just upstream of it on the shoulder of Fox River Rd for my takeout.

Paddling Experience = 2/5

This section of the Illinois Fox felt, looked, and even smelt like more of a long lake than a river. It was basically flat water with lots of vegetation just below the surface and pretty consistently wide, making for a long time paddling. But it also stayed deep enough and clear of downed trees.

Natural Scenery = 2/5

It was lined with banks of tall grass or deciduous trees. A good number of houses were right off the river especially around Big Bend and Tichigan Lake. So there was more development than typical and not the greatest for scenery.

Solitude = 3/5

Most of the way I was the only one on the water. The last three or so miles is when I started to come across people fishing off shore, a dozen-plus kayakers, and then some boats getting closer to Tichigan Lake.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: Less than 1 foot per mile. Mostly flatwater.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
Paddling at this water level wasn't great. But that's more to do with this section of river than the level itself. It was basically flatwater, reminding me of a very long lake. On the plus side there were no concerns of scraping, downed trees, or portaging.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Waukesha gauge, located off Prairie St bridge about 22 miles upriver of the put in to this section):

  • USGS Number = 05543830
  • Discharge Rate = 27 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 2.68 ft

Overall Experience

This Fox River is not to be confused with the Fox River to the north. This one is called the Illinois Fox for its route passing into Illinois, which is where I first came across it. Sections of it in Wisconsin are also only a short drive away for me so I figured I’d do some paddling on it. I initially chose a 14-mile section from county road ES near Mukwonago to Tichigan Lake Public Landing, which I found in Mike Svob’s Paddling Southern Wisconsin book. But when the day came, so did thunderstorms in the morning, leaving me with a brief window in the afternoon to hike and paddle. Therefore I shortened my trip to about 9 miles, instead putting in at the Center road bridge just outside Big Bend. Getting my hike in first, I tried to park my car at the Tichigan Lake Public Landing but spots were limited, so I parked just down the road off Bridge road’s bridge instead.
With this settled, I started my short hike, thanks to the big bend that the river takes in this section, to the put in. After a little over an hour I was there and with it questionable looking dark clouds, making me think my window for good weather could be shorter than I realized. But the put in was convenient, with a nice gravel landing area making for an easy transition. So I was now on the Illinois Fox River, but it didn’t feel, look, or smell like a river for that matter. It had a dark brown, almost black color to it, with aquatic plants or weeds aplenty, and gave off that lake swamp smell much of the way. Staying with the lake theme, it remained consistently wide and lacked a current, but with that came no hazards of downed trees to avoid. It did have a few big islands and some winding but in big bends instead of tight turns. As for the surroundings, the banks were lined with more open areas of tall grass or deciduous trees, plus some instances of mowed grass to houses just off the river. These were most common around Big Bend and while approaching Tichigan Lake. Bridges on the other hand weren’t a common sight, with only one between put in and takeout occurring at Big Bend. Here I saw the first other people, with two fishing off shore, while the last three miles of this stretch was crawling with others on the water. I must have passed a dozen plus kayakers, plus two boats and a pontoon boat going up river. As for wildlife, there were instances of jumping fish and a variety of birds. One blue heron, two Sandhill cranes, some other small birds, and a group of four big while birds were spotted. Looking online later on, I believe the big white birds were actually egrets.
With my takeout coming up, the river seemed to slow even further. But I eventually got there after three hours of paddling. With my car parked off the Bridge road bridge, I had a takeout at some rocks, making for a challenging balancing act getting out and up to the grass. After a moment of a misplaced step and loss of balance and resulting sore foot, I got up to the grass with my packraft. I finished up with deflating and packing it away before heading back to my car, ending this river trip. Looking back on it, it wasn’t a bad experience but not a highlight or one I need to pursue again. So I think I am content with this one trip on the Illinois Fox, in Wisconsin at least, as I could see myself checking out a section of it in Illinois at some point.