Milwaukee River - Wisconsin

Date: May 1, 2021; Length: 11.5 miles; Duration: 4 hours

Put In: Riverside Park (West Bend)

Big parking lot with trails and at least one landing space to access the river. Several trail bridges follow for alternatives.

Takeout: Fireman's Park (Newburg)

Big parking lots along the river with carry in access from the flat grass banks on the right side of the river.

Paddling Experience = 3/5

This section of the Milwaukee had some riffles early on with a decent current throughout. The river remained fairly narrow as well. So that all points to a nice paddling experience but a lower than ideal water level spoiled it towards the last couple miles of this stretch of river where scraping was unavoidable.

Natural Scenery = 3/5

The natural scenery was nice at times but spotty. Trees would line both banks but not for long and it would become more open on one side or both. Houses and docks popped up here and there too while a neighboring highway could often be heard. All in all though this section of the Milwaukee had some moments of nice natural scenery viewed from a fairly narrow river.

Wildlife = 4/5

Wildlife spottings were a highlight on this trip for the variety. The first came in a thick beaver scurrying up a rocky bank. From there came a large fish rapidly swimming back and forth with its upper half out of the water. A deer was also spotted on one of the banks, along with a dozen plus turtles getting sun on some logs. And then there were the more typical birds of ducks, hawks, and a bald eagle.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~3 feet per mile. Riffles at times and a decent current otherwise.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
At first the water level was just high enough to avoid scraping but at times it was unavoidable especially around the County M & Hwy 33 bridges. A CFS of 400 or more would be much better.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Gauge in Cedarburg, located about 30 miles down river of this trip's takeout.):

  • USGS Number = 04086600
  • Discharge Rate = 320 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 6.05 ft

Overall Experience

The Milwaukee is a river in southeastern Wisconsin that flows southeast, ending up in Lake Michigan.  Last year I paddled a 16-mile section of it and returned this time around to tack on some more miles just up river.  The section I chose, from Mike Svob’s Paddling Southern Wisconsin, was West Bend to Newburg (he had it at 11.2 miles).

When the time came, I was able to catch a ride from Newburg to West Bend, thus eliminating my typical hike of a shuttle from my takeout to put in.  Riverside park in West Bend was today’s put in which consisted of a big parking lot for trails and a few spots to access the river’s edge.  A flat concrete landing area was available, but with a foot of a drop to get down to the water.  After a little unorthodox of a put in, I was once again paddling down the Milwaukee river.  The current was swift to start, but so was the wind, which was thankfully blowing the general direction I was going.  The river winded a good amount though, interchanging the strong wind between my friend and foe.  And the water seemed on the verge of being too low early on around West Bend.  The true test of this came after about 8 miles of paddling as I neared the bridges for M and highway 33.  Here laid a long stretch of rock beds, that at this water level were high enough to barely get by, but with plenty of zigzagging, scraping and scooting.  Downed trees occurred at times as well, especially during the tighter winding of this section, but most were easy enough to get by, with one requiring a little scooting to do so.  Aside from these nuisances, the river had other positive attributes.  It had a brown color to it with good clarity, while it stayed pretty narrow most of the way but still managed to have a handful of islands in there.  Beyond the water, the banks were lined with combinations of trees, open grass banks, a long fence, and the occasional houses and docks.  The natural surroundings rarely stayed fully so in this stretch from the view of the river, while vehicles going along highway 33 could often be heard not far off.  Bridges on the other hand were both common and not.  Four trail ones occurred in the first mile but then an absence of any came over the next seven to eight miles before county road M and highway 33 happened one after the other.  As for other paddlers, there were less than bridges.  I passed two kayakers just before the M bridge, which was a slow pass and came at a frustrating time thanks to the lower than ideal water level over the shallow rock beds there and intermittently following the remaining miles of this section.  And like the bridges, wildlife were more common than people.  Early on I spotted a beaver moving around some rocks on the bank, followed by a big fish noticeably swimming with its upper half out of the water like the trademark exposed shark’s fin.  I also spotted a deer before it took off and a dozen plus turtles on logs that seemed much less concerned with my presence.  Ducks, hawks, and a bald eagle were in the mix as well.

After about four hours I reached my takeout of Fireman’s park in Newburg.  There isn’t a specific landing here but the grass banks along the right side just following the bridge are decent options as they aren’t far off the water and remain fairly flat.  Overall, it was a good return of a river trip.  If I were to do it again, I would definitely make sure the water level is at least a little higher than it was.  But the main highlight to me came in knowing I linked this and last year’s Milwaukee river trips, now having 28 consecutive miles paddled on it.  I plan to further this link next year with another section just up river yet, likely just below the dam in Kewaskum and of course ending in West Bend, where I started this trip.