Difficulty I at this flow (I-II normally)
Length 5.65 Miles
Gauge MENOMONEE RIVER AT WAUWATOSA, WI
Flow Range 250 - 1000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago ~ 121 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 05/13/2019 10:00 am

River Description


Quick Facts:

Location: Wauwatosa (Milwaukee County)
Shuttle Length: 3.9 miles/~12 minutes.
Character: Flatwater, swiftwater, and cobble/rock shoals in a semi-secluded-feeling parkway within mosly residential neighborhoods.

General Overview
A fairly uniformly moderate-width stream provides relative seclusion even as it passes through residential and commercial areas of suburban-Milwaukee.
In the pattern of naming the other two sections of this river (MenFalls and MenTosa), I call this section "MenWesTosa", standing for "the Menomonee River in West Wauwatosa".
(Yeah, it doesn't flow off the tongue quite like the other two sections, but so be it.)

Much of the run is flat but nicely flowing water, but there are numerous areas of rock/cobble shoals which the novice paddler will enjoy.

One potential hazard is low bridge in a golf course (about midway on the run). You can easily pass under it at low flows and duck/limbo under at moderate flows. It is a mandatory portage at moderately high flows, and you can easily boat over it at extremely high flows! (It has no railings to interfere with passage when water overflows it.)

The other hazard is occasional accumulations of deadfall in some areas, most notably the tandem bridge piers of the pedestrian mall bridge in downtown 'Tosa. Especially at times of higher flows, we strongly recommend scouting these before putting on, to be aware whether you can safely get through this area.

If the river is running high, boaters need to be alert (looking well downstream, to recognize hazards well ahead of encountering them), and may need excellent boat-handling skills to get ashore to portage such hazards.

Also, please be aware that this is a VERY FLASHY URBAN RIVER! Water levels can rise DRAMATICALLY with rains, easily going from too low, to too high, and back to reasonable flow within the span of just a few hours!

If you are on the river when it starts raining hard (or just after it has been raining hard), flows will change before you can finish your trip!

Rapid Descriptions

Butler Frontier Park

Class - N/A Mile - -3.47
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We had previously listed this run as starting at Frontier Park in Butler since (years ago) it had been a fine run from there.

However, at present *** we strongly advise against putting in anywhere upstream our listed put-in at Hartung Park (just east of Mayfair Road)! ***

Why?

Numerous areas of massive deadfall and snags block passage of river between Frontier Park and the confluence with the Little Menomonee River (which comes in just upstream of Hampton Avenue).
If you attempt to paddle this stretch, your overall impression will be that you are spending nearly as much time and energy portaging as you are paddling.
Additionally, in Curie Park there are three golf course bridges which are problematic at nearly every boatable flow.

Bridge: 124th Street (60.64 sq.mi.)

Class - N/A Mile - -3.19
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A former USGS gauge at this location lists drainage as 60.64 Sq.Mi.

Railroad Culverts

Class - N/A Mile - -3.1
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There are three huge culverts under the railroad. The center should generally be the best choice. Coming out the downstream end, there is an island with most of the flow going to the left. Aerial photos show a lot of downed trees in that channel, so proceed with caution, and be prepared if portaging is necessary. A very narrow right channel may be a better option (if it is not too wooded up, and if it has enough flow to paddle through) since it is a shorter channel.

Bridge: Interstate 41/Hwy.45

Class - N/A Mile - -2.58
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Massive, Persistent Snag

Class - N/A Mile - -2.4
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For most people in the area, MPS stands for Milwaukee Public Schools. For would-be paddlers of this section of river, MPS stands for "Massive Persistent Snag"! This thing is visible on all aerial views!

Bridge: Hampton Avenue

Class - N/A Mile - -2.21
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Just before this road bridge, Little Menomonee River enters from river-left, making a total of 82.1 square miles drainage area at Hampton Avenue.

There are folks who put-in from someplace on it, however there is much better parking at our listed put-in than anyplace one could access the Little Menomonee, and you'd gain 2+ miles of flatwater meanders, a few more snags, only very minor riffles, and likely portages of one to three bridges in Currie Park.

Island

Class - N/A Mile - -2
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A large island appears on aerial views. The right channel is likely to hold snags. The left channel is likely the preferred route (for any gluttons for punishment who ignore our info and try to paddle this portion of river).

Webster Park

Class - N/A Mile - -1.9
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Some folks may look at putting in from an area marked as "Webster Park". In a word: DON'T!

First, the actual river is well-off into the trees, with a large swampy floodplain between the river and the roadway (at least, from the northern end of Webster Park).
The next mile of river may still be prone to snags (though not likely near the mess which exists in the prior mile of river).
And again, as you pass under Capital Drive (a mile downstream), you will pass through the Curie Park Golf Course where you will encounter three crossings of the river for golf carts, each of which may be problematic (likely portage) at most boatable flows.

Menomonee River Parkway at W.Congress St.

Class - N/A Mile - -1.48
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The northernmost point of the Menomonee River Parkway is at West Congress Street (midway between Capital Drive and Hampton Avenue).
There is very little parking evident along this stretch of road. Additionally, at least at the northernmost end of this area, the area between the river and the road is low swampy floodplain.
DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT TRYING TO ACCESS FROM HERE!

Bridge: Capitol Drive

Class - N/A Mile - -0.95
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Bridge: Currie Park Golf

Class - N/A Mile - -0.77
A hazard to navigation at quite a few different flows!

Bridge: Currie Park Golf

Class - N/A Mile - -0.68
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A hazard to navigation at quite a few different flows!

Bridge: Curie Park Golf

Class - N/A Mile - -0.55
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A hazard to navigation at quite a few different flows!

Bridge: Hwy.100 / Mayfair Road

Class - N/A Mile - -0.42
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Hartung Park (Menomonee River Parkway) *** Recommended Put-in ***

Class - N/A Mile - 0
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There is roadside parking along the Menomonee River Parkway just east (downstream) of Mayfair Road. We recommend parking near W.Keefe Avenue near the children's play area at Hartung Park.

We will note this area affords very little privacy for anyone needing to change into boating gear. The presence of the playground across the street means utmost discretion must be observed to avoid possibly offending parents and small children there. (Mind your language, and have some sort of cover up while changing!)

Often it can be preferable to change (into and out of boating clothes) at your planned take-out, to be already dressed and ready to 'grab-and-go' when you arrive here. All boaters should then leave a change of 'street clothes' in a take-out vehicle, to be able to change out of  boating gear before returning to retrieve the upstream shuttle vehicles.

Unfortunately, in this case, our listed take-out is also in a very high-visibility area, unless your group is sufficiently experienced (and the water levels are appropriate for your group) to continue down the next section of this river, which is a more secluded area. (See next section description for info on that.) An option does exist to take out a bit earlier at the Red Book parking lot which affords slightly more privacy. (See detail on that below.)

Hartung Park Ledge

Class - N/A Mile - 0.11
OK, to call this a 'ledge' is a bit misleading and generous. A minor rocky intrusion creates a sometimes-surfable/spinnable wave.
To river right (just through a break in the trees) you will see some fine houses along another portion of North Menomonee River Parkway.

Downstream and around the bend, lesser shoals creates splishy-splash action which continues a bit past Burleigh Street.

Bridge: Burleigh Street

Class - N/A Mile - 0.62
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Mt.Mary Shoals

Class - N/A Mile - 0.68
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Just after passing Burleigh Street, another shoals is encountered. On river-left just upshore lies Mt.Mary University. On the right shore (mostly well hidden behind wooded shores) lies Bluemound Golf and Country Club.

Bridge: North Ave.

Class - N/A Mile - 1.8
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Confluence: Underwood Creek

Class - N/A Mile - 1.92
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Just downstream of the North avenue bridge, this significant side-stream (entering from river-right) has drainage of 19.6 sq.mi., adding to the 90.5 sq.mi. of the Menomonee above this point.
The North Avenue bridge and this confluence should serve as warning of the next bridge, which can be a hazard at higher flows.

Hansen Golf Course Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 2.01
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This bridge will be impassible at high flows! You can easily get under in virtually any paddlecraft at flows less than 1000 cfs or so. In a whitewater kayak, you can 'limbo' under it up to something near 1700 cfs but canoeists will likely be in trouble! At flows above 1700 cfs, it will be necessary to get ashore and portage.

Generally there is a pretty decent eddy very near the bridge on river-right, but you must have confident boat-handling skills to get this eddy, to go ashore, and then re-enter the river. This may not be easy for inexperienced boaters!

Somewhere around and above 2400 cfs, you may pass over the bridge with little or no problem.

Just downstream the river takes a significant jig-jog. Higher flows have caused the right bank to be heavily undercut and collapse into the river, along with trees from shore. At moderate-to-higher flows, there may be some intense maneuvering necessary here to avoid mishap!

At least on this golf course, there are no tees on one side of the river where golfers drive a ball to a green on the other side. Thus, only wildly errant shots (hooks and slices) pose any risk to passing boaters.

Swan Boulevard

Class - N/A Mile - 2.31
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Just downstream of here you enter Hoyt Park on river-right.

Box Culvert / Transect

Class - N/A Mile - 2.44
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An oblique/diagonal Box Culvert (or 'Transect') crosses the river. At low-to-moderate flows, this creates some rather interesting currents and small surfable waves. Decent eddies will exist at such flows to allow exploring this area for entertainment.

Hoyt Park *** Alternate Put-in or Take-out ***

Class - N/A Mile - 2.5
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Since a few of the formerly interesting features ('hydraulic jumps' caused by cement box culverts crossing the river) have been removed from the next stretch of this run, some folks may prefer to shorten their trip by getting out at or before the suspension bridge in this park.

We have placed this marker at the former location of the first of those now removed jumps. (Some aerial views may still show the 'jump'.)
If taking out here, you may wish to park as far toward the pool as possible to minimize your carry up to your vehicle from your exit from the river.

Alternatively, folks wanting a bit longer trip on the next section downstream (the "MenTosa" section), but not wanting to add the entire length of this ("MenWesTosa") section, might use Hoyt Park as their put-in.
In this case, park about midway between the entrance and the pool, where you will carry downslope, along the border between grassy area and woods, where you will start off with the aforementioned diagonal box-culvert waves.

Hoyt Park Suspension Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 2.62
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This rather scenic bridge is often the site of wedding photos during warm months of the year. (Photobomb, anyone?)

Rubble Rips

Class - N/A Mile - 2.7
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Rubble fill (erosion control) creates a splish-splash rapids. At low water (below 300 cfs), expect to 'grunge out' through here. At moderate flows, a minor wave-train will develop.

This had been the site of a second 'jump', which may also still appear in some older aerial views.

In the pool downstream of the rubble rips, there is good depth and some strong currents which could allow some vertical play (bow-stalls, stern-squirts) in freestyle kayaks and squirt boats (other than for the water quality suffering at high flows which makes me disinclined to play when these currents could be at their best).

Strongest flow downstream heads straight into a gravel shoals area which has become populated with shrub willows. At low-to-moderate flows, it will be necessary to paddle out of the main flow to avoid broaching here. At higher flows, these will be totally awash. Another area of gravel shoals leads into and around the bend downstream.

And, to satisfy anyone's curiosity about the cement and grillwork at river right, just across the berm behind this structure lies a large excavated area to act as a retention pond. At times of heavy rains, when Underwood Creek goes to flood levels, similar grated structures allow it to overflow into underground tunnels into that retention pond. If/when the pond fills to an unusual level, water will overflow into grates to then flow out the structure that you see in the river.

Former 'jump'

Class - N/A Mile - 2.95
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Again, old aerial views may show an apparent 'jump' at this location. It was removed, and (I'm pretty sure, but I could be mistaken) virtually nothing of interest occurs here at any reasonable boatable flows.

Hydraulic jump

Class - N/A Mile - 3.07
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Once more, old aerial views may show an apparent 'jump' at this location. It was removed, and (in this case) the bed and banks of the river have been 'armored' with quarried rock. At some flows, this may create some interesting splishy-splash rapids (and, if you're lucky, maybe even minor play).

Wave Train (and Train Wave?)

Class - N/A Mile - 3.3
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The river takes a quick right-then-left as it heads toward a railroad embankment. It encounters a bit of a shoals, and (at moderately high water) a minor wave-train may be found in this area. At low flows it will barely rate any classification, at higher flows it may merit a class II-. Just before the left-bend, tight to river-left, at some flows, water flowing over a boulder creates a funky little surfable hole. As with most things on this run, we're not talking about great freestyle play or anything, just a minor surf wave.

Oak Leaf Trail (bike path) Bridge / Red Store Lot

Class - N/A Mile - 3.45
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From the prior bends, down to and beyond this pedestrian and bike path bridge, you'll find one of the longest and strongest (such as it is) rapids on this section of river (exclusive of the next section, the "MenTosa" stretch).

Coming out of that prior bend combination, keep your eyes well downstream (be very watchful), as this area has been very prone to have trees blocking part of the flow! Strong current will make it difficult for novice boaters to avoid disaster! That said, the rapids rarely rate above a legitimate class II, so experienced whitewater boaters should generally be able to make any necessary moves.

Right at this bridge is an optional take-out point, though novice boaters may find it a bit challenging to do so. Current in this area is rather swift and there may not be good eddies. Immediately under bridge the banks are lined with quarried rock, and elsewhere all along here its a short but fairly steep climb up to the Red Store Lot. So ... why take out here? It does offer plenty of parking at times when Hart Park may have some event taking place. Also this lot is slightly more secluded (than both our put-in and our listed take-out) for those needing to change into or out of boating clothes. Additionally, from the river our listed take-out is not as readily obvious, being identifiable mostly by being almost immediately past a triple of bridges.

Bridge: Harmonee Avenue

Class - N/A Mile - 3.52
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Harmonee Avenue crosses high overhead on this bridge. However, take this as your signal to again look ahead to the next bridge to be prepared for emergency maneuvers!

Bridge/Mall: Harwood Ave.

Class - N/A Mile - 3.59

The bridge for Harwood Avenue crossing the river has been closed to vehicular traffic (for years) and is a pedestrian mall with tables and chairs (outdoor seating for pleasant weather).

Unfortunately, the bridge has two sets of piers in the river which have a strong tendency to collect wood (large branches and whole trees) which can partially or totally block passage on river. (SEE PHOTO!)

IT IS STRONGLY ADVISED TO LOOK AT THIS LOCATION WHILE SETTING SHUTTLE so that you know whether the river is clear or if there are obstructions, and (if so) to assess whether you can safely get past.

IF THERE IS ANY WOOD BLOCKING ANY PORTION OF THE RIVER, GIVE IT WIDE BERTH!

IF THIS IS TOTALLY BLOCKED, YOU WANT TO BE AWARE AHEAD OF PUTTING ON, SO YOU CAN CHOOSE A TAKE-OUT BEFORE COMING THIS FAR!

Also be aware that when you see wood sticking out of the water, it may also mean there is wood IN the water which could snag your boat, or could shift in the current just as you are approaching and passing it.

There are stairs coming down to the water through the vertical wall at river-right, meaning there is a way to get out of the river here if necessary. Unfortunately, those steps are immediately AT the bridge, so if the whole river is blocked here, you would have to get perilously close to the blockage before being able to get out! Again, best to know before putting on for your run!

Railroad Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 3.62

Almost immediately after the Harwood Avenue (pedestrian mall) bridge there is a railroad bridge. At normal and usual flows, this presents no hazard.

At high, flashy flows, I've seen the water up near and into the undercarriage of this bridge! This is an extreme hazard for anyone on the river at high flows.

Side-by-side with the railroad bridge there is a bridge for the Oak Leaf Trail (paved pedestrian and bicycle path).

Take out

Class - N/A Mile - 3.65
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Our listed take-out is river-left, just beyond the railroad bridge and immediately after the Oak Leaf Trail bridge. This is also the put-in for the final whitewater section of this river.

From the river it is very easy to miss this take-out since there is no obvious clearing, and a vehicle in the parking lot above will likely be obscured by trees and shrubs on shore. Current in this immediate area should generally be slack enough to allow getting out, but you are likely to see and hear "Hart Park Rips" just ahead around the bend.

At lower flows (under 300-400 cfs), novice paddlers will probably be fine if they opt to continue downstream to do some part or all of the next section.
(At least, as long as they read and heed warnings about a couple of very specific hazards, especially at Jacobus Parkl)

However, as levels rise between 600 to 1000 cfs or higher, this next section takes on quite entirely different character.

At such flows, all boaters of the next section should have proper whitewater gear and experience! They should also have knowledge and skills in self rescue by having taken some swiftwater rescue training.

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Various shorter trips are certainly possible, using various points of access.

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