Rock River - Wisconsin

Date: April 25, 2021; Length: 13.5 miles; Duration: 4 hours 15 min

Put In: Schaller Park (Watertown)

Street or neighborhood parking with a short walk through the park leading to plenty of flat open grass and rocks just before the water to put in off.

Takeout: Rock River Park (Johnson Creek)

On the downriver right side of the bridge is a dock and landing to take out at. The park has plenty of parking and a restroom as well.

Paddling Experience = 3/5

For how wide and flat of a section this is there was a decent current much of the way. A strong wind at the back definitely helped, but even that wasn't enough to feel like I was really getting anywhere in my paddling. With constant paddling, I still barely averaged about three miles per hour. Yet the experience could have been worse with lower or higher levels as this river can greatly fluctuate.

Natural Scenery = 4/5

Going into paddling this section of the Rock, I wasn't expecting much for natural scenery. But I was surprised at what it was actually like in banks mostly lined with trees and otherwise more open grassy areas. That combined with a lack of houses much of the way gave this section of river more of a natural feel than what I would have thought.

Wildlife = 5/5

From jumping fish to a deer running back off into the woods to what I believe was a weasel crawling around on some rocks, this trip offered a variety of wildlife encounters. And then there were the endless amounts and types of birds. The more typical ducks, geese (a couple big groups), and flying hawks were spotted but several blue herons and sandhill cranes were as well as a big group of pelicans.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~1 foot per mile. Riffles to start then not much of a current the rest of the way.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: At this level the river wasn't overly flooded as it often gets nor was it too shallow to paddle on. A little higher level couldn't hurt though to get a little better flow.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Gauge located in Watertown, a short distance downriver of the dam and upriver of the Schaller Park.):

  • USGS Number = 05425500
  • Discharge Rate = 900 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 2.7 ft

Overall Experience

The Rock is a river in southern Wisconsin that flows southwest into Illinois before reaching the Mississippi River.  Over the last two years, I have paddled on two other sections of the Rock River, both upriver of this one, which I found in Mike Svob’s book Paddling Southern Wisconsin.  The section was Watertown to Johnson Creek, a 13.5 mile route of the Rock.  A few years ago I ended my Rock River trip in Watertown, but this year’s put in was a few miles down river from there, thanks to two dams in the short stretch to the town.

With my route set, I parked my car at the Rock River Park and Landing in Johnson Creek just off County Road B and got ready to hike up to Watertown.  After about three hours of walking along county roads I reached my put in of Schaller Park in Watertown.  Parking was nonexistent here, but could be done on the side of a nearby neighborhood street.  The park had a big open grass area that led to the water’s edge where rocks separated the two.  So I had plenty of room to set up, inflating my packraft and strapping down my backpack, while actually getting on the water required more improvising, putting in off the rocks.  Once on, I experienced a few riffles, which would be the first and last of them to this section.  The river remained pretty wide, yet had a decent current thanks to the wind at my back most of the way.  The water had a light brown color to it without much clarity, which would be useful in spotting down trees, though it was pretty clear of them, and just getting a sense of how shallow the water was to avoid scraping or getting stuck.  This river is notorious for fluctuating in water level with flooding more common than it being too shallow, but this time around it was a good in-between.  Bays still occasionally occurred, with a big one named Hahn’s Lake around the halfway point of this trip.  Islands were less common but here and there.  Beyond the water, the banks were typically lined with trees, with some open grassy spots in there as well.  Houses were pretty common, as were a couple bridges, in the first couple miles but both of these became scarce over the next ten miles.  With this lack of development came an abundance of wildlife.  There were a handful of fish spotted jumping out of the water, along with a deer on a wooded bank that headed farther into the trees and what I believe was a weasel crawling around on some rocks.  Then there were all the birds, from ducks, geese, and hawks, to blue herons, sandhill cranes, and a big group of pelicans.  The bird encounters just kept coming.  People on the other hand were less common of a sight as I was the only paddler, but did come across two boats around Cappie’s Landing just down river of the highway 26 bridge early in the trip.

After a little over four hours I passed the interstate 94 then County B bridge, taking out on the right where both a landing and dock are available.  There is also plenty of parking and a restroom here as well.  To keep my packraft as clean as possible I made use of the convenient dock when deflating and packing it away.  This ended my third outing on the Rock River.  Looking back on this section of it, the wildlife was the obvious highlight for not just the amount that I spotted but the variety in birds and a few less common sightings of a deer and a weasel.  At this point I’ve paddled about 46 miles of the Rock and I look forward to adding to this total with another section next year, most likely up river of here.