Rock River - Wisconsin

Date: August 26, 2020; Length: 11.5 miles; Duration: 3 hours 45 min

Put In: Lions Park (Hustisford)

Park with parking lot and a good takeout landing (but not put in) as its right before the dam. A short walk down river leads to an open grass hill and rock bank for a put in. Or start farther downriver to avoid shallow rocks.

Takeout: County MM Bridge

No designated landing but a few good takeout options leading to a grassy walk up to the road, with shoulder parking.

Paddling Experience = 2/5

Paddling this section of the Rock wasn't anything special. It was relatively flat water and lower than usual, causing some scraping issues early on. Downed trees were for the most part avoidable but one had to be roughly portaged along a mud bank. Overall, it was a long paddle even when on the water without issue.

Natural Scenery = 3/5

This section was mostly lined with deciduous trees but with it often being open beyond that. And for the most part, it was absent of houses and no bridges for a long stretch. Still, the natural scenery is of limited potential in this area.

Wildlife = 4/5

In the water there were a bunch of jumping fish hard not to spot or hear, along with a muskrat swimming. On land was a great big group of geese (too many to count) at one point. And in the air were repeated encounters with blue herons, Sandhill cranes, eagles, and hawks, some who kept flying downriver with my returning presence.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: Less than 1 foot per mile. Mostly flatwater.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: Paddling at this water level was alright. It seemed low compared to where it's been months earlier. This was only an issue around the put in where there was a lot of scraping on shallow rock beds. The low water levels also seemed to give the river even less of a current than it usually has. As for downed trees, they were a common sight along the edges and some in the middle. Most were easily avoided, but there were a few tight passes and one full portage.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Watertown gauge, located about 33 miles downriver of the takeout to this section):

  • USGS Number = 05425500
  • Discharge Rate = 250 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 1.6 ft

Overall Experience

The Rock is a local river to me in southeastern Wisconsin and my only repeat of a river this year. Last year I paddled a 21-mile section from County CW to Watertown. With that in mind, I decided to choose a section farther upriver this time around. I was contemplating paddling the entire 25-mile section from Lions Park in Hustisford to County CW, to close the gap and connect my Rock River trips. But a late start to the day made this out of the realm of possibilities and I ended up cutting my trip in half, instead taking out at the County MM bridge. Starting out with my hike to the put in, I parked my car by the takeout, which just had side of the road parking just off the bridge. From here was about an 8-mile hike up to Hustisford and Lions Park more specifically.
A big dam is located here, so I planned to put in just below the dam at the park, but when I got there I realized that I’d need to move farther downriver away from Lions Park to get on the river after the dam. So after a brief walk I managed to find an open grass area to set up, with a put in off some rocks to follow. But even this wasn’t far enough down river, as the water was too low and caused me to scrape on the shallow rock beds and subsequently walk my way to deeper water, until after about five minutes I was in the clear. And with this behind me, I was able to check things out on the water while making some progress paddling. The water had a muddy light brown color and lack of clarity to it, not to mention next to no current to go with it. I think the low water levels factored in some there. Otherwise it had a decent amount of winding, widening out at times but usually staying at a moderate width. And even though it stayed relatively wide, there were a couple of tight passes and one complete portage (about 2 miles downriver of Hwy 60 bridge) thanks to downed trees. So paddling wasn’t the greatest or easiest for that matter. As for the surroundings, the river was mostly lined with deciduous trees, while houses remained few and far in between. Adding to the solitude was the absence of bridges for about an 8-mile stretch, before a few came close together towards my takeout. And not surprisingly, I was the only paddler out there, only passing a couple people fishing off Elmwood bridge. What I did see was an abundance of wildlife. Besides a muskrat and some jumping fish, the story here were birds. I spotted three blue herons, two Sandhill cranes, three eagles, two hawks, and a group of too many geese to count in my time out there on the Rock. If this weren’t enough, I kept seeing several of these same hawks and eagles, as they’d get spooked by my presence and fly further downriver until I caught up with them again and produced the same reaction, repeating this game of sorts a handful of times for some.
After nearly four hours I spotted my County MM bridge takeout. There wasn’t a designated landing or cleared spot for access, but I made do with my best option of the downriver right side of the bridge. Some improvised transitioning off the water followed, but I managed to cleanly and drily get to land and then deflate and pack away my packraft to end my hike-paddle Rock river trip. Looking back on it, the recurring bird sightings sticks out to me as the most interesting and enjoyable part. The river itself or paddling on it were far from highlights compared to others I’ve been on and had. But I did enjoy the long 8-mile stretch between bridges offering some nice solitude. And I am drawn to the prospect of returning to the Rock to continue to paddle more sections, slowly working my way to the point of paddling as much of it as I can. Next year will likely bring me a section further downriver beyond my Watertown exit of last year.