Oconomowoc River - Wisconsin

Date: July 12, 2020; Length: 8.5 miles; Duration: 2 hours 30 min

Put In: Chaffee Road Park

Park with a parking lot just off the river. An open grassy area leads to river's edge and an easy put in between trees.

Takeout: County F Bridge

Side of the road parking just off the Hwy F bridge. A decent slope of boulders goes from bridge to river, making for a physically challenging takeout.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

This was a good paddling experience. The decent current and narrow width made it feel like an easy paddle, plus the occasional bridge riffles. The river had some winding to it but was clear of downed trees until the final mile or so.

Natural Scenery = 3/5

There are mostly open grassy banks to this section of the Oconomowoc, with the occasional trees instead. Even with the open grassy areas, houses aren't a common sight.

Accessibility = 3/5

Accessibility on this stretch of river is great or iffy depending on how you look it. It's a matter of quality versus quantity. There are plenty of options, especially for its length, but these options typically only consist of a bridge to manage an unconventional put in and takeout.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~1.5 feet per mile. Some current to it.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
Paddling at this water level went well. It was high enough to avoid any scraping but not to the point of it being flattened out and flooded. Rocks at some of the bridges could produce some riffles at lower levels. It had a decent current to it and was open and hazard free until the final stretch of this section.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Delafield gauge, located on the Bark River (just east of) as the Oconomowoc doesn't have a gauge):

  • USGS Number = 05426067
  • Discharge Rate = 39 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 12.75 ft

Overall Experience

The Oconomowoc is a local river to me and one that I needed to paddle at least a portion of. Mike Svob’s Paddling Southern Wisconsin has a section of the Oconomowoc in his book, which I referenced. Following Lac La Belle and a dam, there are several possibilities in access points. To me the best one to put in at was Chaffee Road Park, as it immediately follows the dam and is easier to access than the bridges that follow. My hope was to paddle to the county road F bridge, about 8.5 miles, and possibly a bridge or two farther. The Oconomowoc enters the Rock River beyond that last North Side road bridge, which would also need to be portaged due to an electronic fish barrier under it.
I put in at Chaffee Road Park with my Sea Eagle 330 inflatable kayak, as a guy was fishing off the bridge there. Other than him, I only came across two fishing kayakers early on and then a group of four kayakers about a mile from my county road F bridge takeout. Surprisingly, I spotted more people than wildlife, with only a blue heron and a family of ducks in my time out on the water. As for the river itself, it had a clear light brown/green color initially, losing the clarity and green tint after a few miles. It also had good width and current to it for being a small connector of a river, along with a decent amount of winding. Some creeks came into it and it had a couple good sized bays that seemed out of place, but there nonetheless. And it stayed pretty clear of downed trees or other hazards until the final stretch between the Elm road and F bridges, where some maneuvering and tight squeezes occurred. Other bridges made for some riffles, while the water level seemed high thanks to lots of rain the week before. As for the surroundings, the first mile or so was tight and a mix of trees and houses just off the river. After this it turned to more open grassy banks, yet some moments of trees. Possibly more common than trees were the bridges that occurred every mile or two on an already short stretch of river.
But I ended up deciding to takeout at the F bridge, realizing once there that the takeout options weren’t great or much different no matter the side of the bridge I chose. Each required some awkward moving and positioning and a decent amount of balance to get out and up a path of boulders leading up to the road. And following my course were the four kayakers I passed about a mile before, with them working their way through the rough takeout as well. As for me, this trip ended with a hike with my deflated kayak back to my car, parked back by the put in this time. Overall, paddling this part of the Oconomowoc was a nice experience that I could see myself repeating again for its relaxing nature and solitude.