Yahara River - Wisconsin

Date: November 7, 2020; Length: 10.5 miles; Duration: 2 hours 45 min

Put In: County N Bridge (Dunkirk)

The County N bridge had shoulder parking off of it. It lacked a landing but had accessible options on most sides of the bridge.

Takeout: Murwin Park Landing

Murwin park had a parking lot, restroom, and landing to it. The takeout came right before the County H bridge on river left.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

Paddling on this section of the Yahara River was pleasant. The water was consistently wide and deep enough to avoid any scraping or portaging. It had good clarity, with the river bottom and its contents distinguishable. And there was a solid current and occasional riffles, making paddling feel like light work.

Natural Scenery = 3/5

This section of the Yahara River had a mix of surroundings. The banks were usually lined with deciduous trees that sometimes extended farther back. Open grassy/marsh areas also occurred, while houses were a frequent yet scattered sight. But they were usually off the river a ways and didn't feel too out of place.

Accessibility = 4/5

There were four pretty evenly spaced out bridges between my put in and takeout of this rural 11.5 mile section of the Yahara. As for quality, all but one of the access points were just bridges, limited to side of the road parking and came without landings. But none required tricky maneuvering to get down to or then on the water. And Murwin park was a great takeout with a nice landing, parking area, and a restroom.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~4 feet per mile. Good current to it, with some riffles.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
Paddling at this water level was great. It had a good current and intermittent riffles. The water remained deep enough at all times to avoid scraping, while downed trees were scarce and never a concern.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Hwy 59 gauge, located about 7 miles into paddling this section):

  • USGS Number = 05430175
  • Discharge Rate = 655 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 5.16 ft

Overall Experience

The Yahara is a river in Southcentral Wisconsin that flows South through Madison before entering the Rock River. I hadn’t initially seen much written up about it beyond where it connects the lakes in Madison, so I didn’t end up paddling any of it during the Summer. Later in the Fall I found sections of the Yahara both upriver and downriver of the lakes connection in Timothy Bauer’s Canoeing & Kayaking South Central Wisconsin: 60 Paddling Adventures Within 60 Miles of Madison. Bauer has a 14.1 mile downriver section from Dunkirk Dam to Rock River written up and mapped out.
So when an unusually warm week in early November came out of nowhere, I decided to go on one more river trip for the year on that Yahara section with an earlier takeout at Murwin park making for 10.5 miles of paddling. I parked at Murwin park and packed my packraft into my backpack and started my hike to my put in below Dunkirk Dam and more specifically the County N bridge in Dunkirk. After a little over two hours I was there, with some quick packraft inflating and strapping my backpack down to follow. It was an easy walk down to the water from here thanks to a gradual decline and mainly grass for ground, while the put in was just as smooth. I chose to put in on the upriver north side of the County N bridge but other sides were suitable as well.
But once on the water I could tell I was in store for an easy time of paddling. The current was solid and gave the water and my packraft and me some momentum. The water was also pretty clear, with a dark brown color to it. It had a moderate width, that only widened out a couple times, while staying deep enough to avoid any scraping, though lower water levels will produce this in some areas here. Downed trees also weren’t a factor, as the few that were present were easily avoided. So there were nothing but positives for the river itself. As for its surroundings, the river banks were usually lined with deciduous trees. Sometimes these trees extended back a ways, but more often than not they didn’t go far beyond the bank. Other areas were more open with high grass or marsh. Open areas also occurred less naturally with houses scattered throughout these 10.5 miles of river, with a handful of bridges in there as well. Still, the surroundings never felt too out of place. The Yahara passed from one small town to another in this section and remained rural and not overly developed. People were also scarce the first half of paddling this section. In the second half I did spot two separate people fishing and a group of three kayakers between Hwy 59 and Caledonia bridges. Three other fishermen came at Murwin park, while wildlife was limited to an eagle and deer sighting. Arriving at Murwin park after just under three hours, my takeout was on river left at a nice marked landing. This made for an easy transition back to land, where I had plenty of space in the grass to dry out, deflate, and pack away my packraft before returning to my car.
This ended my last river trip of the year, which was a good one to go out on. The river was great and all you could hope for in a flat water river. And the surroundings offered opportunities for solitude between banks of trees, with even the inhabited areas still very rural and undeveloped. A different time of year could also make the scenery even better, as this early November outing isn’t the ideal time for that. Regardless, I’m impressed with the Yahara and want to check out more of it farther upriver and plan to do so next year most likely where it connects the big lakes of Madison.