Difficulty I-II at this flow (II-III normally)
Length 2.2 Miles
Flow Range 100 - 1200 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 46.1 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 05/02/2020 11:52 am

River Description

Quick Facts:

Location: Downtown Cedarburg to east edge of town.

Shuttle Length: 0.8 mile.

Character: An oxbow in the creek allows paddling 2.3 miles with only a 0.8 mile shuttle! Bedrock ledges and low-angle slides provide an assortment of interesting play before gradient peters out in rubble-field shoals. Two dams and their backwaters unfortunately lock up considerable gradient which otherwise could add to this run.

Put-in is approximately 780' elevation.
Take-out is approximately 705' elevation.
Thus total elevation change is approximately 75'.
For the 2.2 mile run, that would work out to 34 FPM.
Unfortunately, approximately 30' of this is wasted, being backed up by the two dams.
This diminishes the effective/usable gradient closer to just 20 FPM.


All Boaters of this creek should be aware there is a regular (nearly constant) problem with deadfall blocking passage at various places on this run. Location and seriousness of the hazard changes randomly from time to time. The difficulty/class/rating listed is for if/when things are clear, which they SELDOM are! The steep banks and swift current (virtually everywhere other than the two impoundments behind two dams) make getting out of the river (to scout, to portage, or to recover self and gear in the event of an out-of-boat experience) EXTREMELY difficult to nearly impossible in many places! As a result, it is strongly advised that:

#1) You should realize that while inexperienced, unprepared, novice boaters may make a trip down this, without mishap when all goes well, the bigger issue is being prepared and knowing what to do if and when things go amiss!

#2) Therefore, it would be VERY wise to have a group of at least 2-3 separate boats and boaters for safety and recovery in the event of a mishap, AND to have exposure to, knowledge of, and experience with Swiftwater Rescue techniques and equipment (throw ropes, extraction and recovery techniques, etc).

#3) Because of the somewhat tricky nature of the two portages, and the areas of the run which require skilled maneuvering at almost all flows, it can be VERY helpful to have at least one person in the group who has done this run at least once before (to help guide folks new-to-the-run, and warn/suggest skills and techniques needed in those tricky areas).

#4) Because the location and nature of hazards change quite often, and often can be in locations VERY DIFFICULT to avoid, and because scouting much of this run (either before running or during a run) can be difficult-to-impossible, all boaters are STRONGLY ENCOURAGED to make it a habit to check the 'Alerts' (at the right) and the 'Comments' (at the bottom of this listing) for the latest updates EACH TIME before running this creek.

General Overview

Historic Cedarburg boasts a fun little run, with two short, but rather wicked portages (dropping ~12' and ~18-20') around dams. Mountain goat agility or ropes will help, especially for early season (ice), during/immediately after rains (mud), or in fall (leaves obscuring footing). (A rope with 'biner to assist lowering boats and rapelling down the steep rocky bank might be handy, especially for such conditions.)

The run consists of shallow bedrock rapids, short ledges, and gorge/dells. In the lower reaches of this run (after Estate Bridge), the gradient has largely 'petered out', but current is still swift. Novice boaters may find themselves in trouble as they navigate bends and negotiate deadfall.

Main playable drops are: City Park Ledge, Bank Waves, Estate Bridge, and Railroad Ledges.

Note: this is one of the later southern Wisconsin streams to 'open up' in spring, due to the ponds (behind the two dams on the run) which do not quickly flush free of ice. Specifically, the second one (above the 'Nail Factory Dam') lies in an East-West stretch of river which tends to be rather sheltered from the sun, so it may remain ice-covered and impassible well after other rivers in the area have flushed free of ice!

Rapid Descriptions

USGS gauge (120 sq.mi.)

Class - N/A Mile - -2
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While the gauge is located about two miles upstream of the listed put-in, and a pair of dams intervene, they have virtually no 'regulation' on the flow.

Water Quality Comment

Class - N/A Mile - -1
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This creek had long been a 'hotspot' for PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls). A major contributor to the PCB load was in the dam pond just above the put-in of this reach. Remediation efforts were done on 'Ruck Pond' (just above the listed put-in) during 1994-1995, on 'Hamilton Pond' (about a mile downstream of our recommended take-out) during 2000-2001, and what is likely the final remediation took place in 2017 in both the the Columbia Pond and the Nail Factory Pond (the two 'ponds' backed up by the two dams normally portaged when doing this run). As a result, there should now be very little concern regarding PCB levels anywhere on this run.

Headwaters of Cedar Creek are Big Cedar Lake and Little Cedar Lake (in Washington County, just north of Slinger, just southwest of West Bend). Most of its upstream drainage is farmlands and marshes and bogs. As a result, it tends to take somewhat longer to rise and is rather slower to fall-off than many other area runs.


Class - N/A Mile - 0

Park on the street and carry upstream to put in behind Landmark Feed Seed & Supply (the historic Cedarburg Mill), and adjacent to the patio area for Rebellion Brewing.

A small ledge/wave midstream can provide some minor entertainment (surfing and attainments) before heading down the first drop.

Some folks may 'eye' the dam just upstream. While I am aware of at least one claim of having run it (supposedly 'accidentally', though that's hard to imagine), it cannot be recommended. The 'landing zone' contains shallow rock/bedrock (at least in most places), making boat damage and injury likely. Unless you are very skilled and confident of nailing a boof, or unless you have 'plumbed' the base of the drop (by going in there at minimal flows and walking/swimming the base of the dam), we strongly recommend that you should not attempt running this dam. (Besides, it is so much easier to put in below it than above it.).

City Park Ledges

Class - III Mile - 0.04

A set of ledges (maybe 3-4' of drop in 15' or so of river) provide a somewhat exciting start to the run. Minor play is possible here at certain levels, though always rather limited by shallowness and vertical stone walls constricting the stream.

A video on YouTube includes both the nearby section of the Milwaukee River in Grafton and this run. The following link jumps to the putin on Cedar Creek:

Highland Drive / Dam (PORTAGE!)

Class - N/A Mile - 0.7
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As you near the end of the millpond, you'll see the attractive rock-arch bridge at Highland Drive. A small park to the right, before the bridge, has a path and a bench, and looks like an inviting landing where you could get out and walk across the road. On the north side of the street, river-right is a private, residential property, and river-left is a BMO Harris Bank. Technically, to carry into either property (from the street/sidewalk), it would be a trespass unless you have secured permission to do so (which you should have done before you had put on!).

To be properly legal, it is necessary to paddle under the bridge (precariously nearer the dam!). In Wisconsin, you do have a legal right to portage as long as you enter the private property directly from the river (creek), spend as little time on shore as possible, take the least-possible time, shortest-distance travel, to then return to the stream. Be very careful to "leave no trace" of your passing. That is to say, do your best not to disturb anything on shore ... leave all landscape (rocks and plantings) as intact as possible.

So, it is possible to portage either right (private residence) or left (BMO Harris Bank), but each entails a bit tenuous a take-out and some rather treacherous climbing down to the creek! SO ... the details on each legal portage:

RIVER-RIGHT: Paddle as tight to the right shore as possible as you come out from under the bridge. About halfway between the bridge and the lip of the dam, beach your boat parallel against the shore, then carefully exit your boat, barely a boat-length or two from the brink. Carefully and quickly traverse the back yard to find one of the two mini-ravines in the steep, ~12' limestone riverbanks. Small, precarious handholds and footholds generally allow a careful climb down to water's edge, though most often you'll find a significant accumulation of pine needles and leaves making footing quite tenuous.

At water level, a large tree stands on the banks. At low-to-moderate flows, a fairly flat, mossy/gravelly patch of land allows easy re-entry to your boat. At higher flows, you will have to do your best to stabilize your boat in the shallow eddy to get in. (At higher flows, more advanced paddlers have been known to forego scaling down the wall, instead doing a 'seal launch' from lawn atop the riverbanks! Nail that boof if you try this!)

RIVER-LEFT: Stay well to the left as you drift under the bridge. IMMEDIATELY at against the bridge, there are stone stairs down to near water's edge. It is precarious to exit your boat and get onto the steep bank and steps. Again, as directly and 'leave no trace' as possible, walk back along the millrace to just before a capstone 'patio' and wire fencing span the millrace. Do a 'balance beam' walk on a narrow cement 'beam' across the millrace, gently lower/drop your boat to the grassy/rocky spit of land below, then "mantle down" (lower yourself off the wall) as best you can. For a brief while, there had been a ladder here. There may be a plank leaned against the wall which you can carefully grab and foot-slide/lower yourself (being careful to watch for nails and being mindful not to slide barehanded and acquire slivers or cuts in the process).

When you are down off the millrace, you are on a narrow island between the creek and the millrace stream. Put-in is generally best to your right (at the head or upstream end of the island). Currents from the base of the dam may be strong, and 'waves' of flow may make paddling out a bit tricky. Be certain not to get too near the base of the dam as the backflow currents could suck you into the boil line area.

Bank Waves

Class - II Mile - 0.72

Sloping bedrock and minor ledges create a short sequence of wave/holes which can allow some minor play at low-to-moderate levels. There are usually one or two catch-on-the-fly upper waves, then a wider bottom wave with good river-left eddy for repeat play. At moderate to higher flows there may be an additional 'secondary' wave or two.

At levels from 600-1600+ cfs, these build up quite nicely to provide really nice surfs, though increasingly it takes strong paddling to regain the river-left eddy as you come off the wave. The current heads quickly into a brushy shore as the river bends to the right into the pool above the next dam. There is a river-right eddy here, but you cannot access the final Bank Wave from here. Rather, you would need to ferry back over to the river-left eddy.

Somewhere about 2000 cfs and higher, the Bank Waves almost totally wash out. At such flows there is little reason to do the whole run, as it will be nothing more than a dangerous, uncontrolled, freight-train of a ride. (If this creek is flowing that high, there are better, safer things to paddle in the area.)

Nail Factory Dam (~18.5')

Class - N/A Mile - 0.98

While this has been run (I believe nearly always at lower water levels, around 300 cfs, +/-), most boaters will opt to portage, river-right. Pause to have a look at the dam (and it's boil line!), then carry downstream to carefully make your way down a steep bank to get back on stream. For a number of years there had been a knotted rope tied to a tree, with a carabiner at the loose end. You could haul up the rope, affix it to you boat to lower it, then make your way down (using the knotted rope or on your own skills). That rope has disappeared, so you are on your own to negotiate this steep slope. It can be done carrying your boat, without ropes, if you are very sure-footed and careful. Otherwise, if you have a throw-bag with you, it could be worth deploying it here to assist safe descent to the stream.

FOR SAFETY OF ALL IN YOUR GROUP: No one should begin the climb down while someone else is still making their way down! If the upper person were to lose footing and slide down, they would wipe-out the prior paddler downslope, likely causing serious injury.

At moderate-to-high flows, finding a convenient place to re-launch can be a challenge.

For anyone considering running the dam, be aware that the right bank angles in considerably, so you want to be at least 10-15' off the right flank of the dam to avoid a hard piton landing. Rescue would be difficult here since it is not easy for anyone to get near the river at the base of the dam. Anyone caught in the boil-line (at higher flows) would be in serious trouble. A very shallow boulder-field backs up the pool, and sometimes catches wood and debris.

Putting in as far upstream as possible (at the base of the climb down) will allow strong confident paddlers a chance to make a ferry across strong currents to catch an eddy behind a cement wall (at least, at flows up to 400-500 cfs ... above that, water overtops the wall and increasingly washes through the eddy). From this river-left eddy, it can be very interesting to paddle through one of two archways to go under the Nail Factory building and look at the huge timbers which support it, as well as seeing the base of the turbine which turned shafts and gears to power the whole operation.

Up Against the Wall

Class - N/A Mile - 1
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Immediately after putting in below the Nail Factory Dam (or after 'touring' the underpinnings of the Nail Factory building), you peel out into the strong flows coming down the rock/rubble field below the dam. This flow tends to head toward the vertical rock wall of the lower dells. At good flows, the water hitting this wall forms a little dish of a wave which can be surfed, and (diving the nose of your boat into the trough) will allow fine little enders (if you have the skill and interest to do so when you are 'Up Against the Wall'). A slackwater (not quite an eddy) at river-right allows repeat play, if so inclined, before continuing downstream.

The outrun below the boulder-field creates some strong currents down through a vertical walled dells.

Minor play wave.

Class - N/A Mile - 1.07
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Just as the dells walls recede, and before the Estate Bridge is visible downstream, a couple minor waves occur (at least, at some flows). These allow some smooth easy surfs.

Estate Bridge Wave

Class - II+ Mile - 1.135

Increasing gradient leads down to a bridge-pier which constricts the creek, and a wave forms alongside. Boaters need to have good skills (particularly as flow increases) to catch a river-left eddy under the  bridge to do any repeat play here. Minor play is available as low as 100 cfs (though all else will be extremely boney). Play increases as levels rise, and sweet surfs are available on a powerful fast wave from 600-1600+ cfs, though it will never really allow much for the 'rodeo boater' crowd, as it seldom (if ever) really develops a foam-pile, thus is not retentive for linking vertical or aerial moves.

Railroad Waves

Class - II Mile - 1.21

A small ledge creates a minor wave here at many flows. Minor surfing play is possible.

Last Hurrah

Class - II Mile - 1.25
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Just beyond the railroad, look for a bit of rocky outcropping on the left shore, where a few rocks and bedrock in the creek make (at some flows) a small, sometimes surfable wave tight to river-left. This is pretty much the 'last hurrah' -- the final whitewater feature. From here down, the creek is pretty much just splishy-splash shoals and swiftwater. Do not let down your guard, however, as there will still be some technical maneuvering needed to safely negotiate narrow twists and blind turns, as well as deadfall and overhanging trees and branches.

Private Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 1.31
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A private bridge spans the river at this point. At lower flows boaters will encounter shallow shoals through this area. At some flow (above 'maximum recommended flow') this bridge may become a hazard (too low to the water). The bridge pier/support left-of-center can catch whole trees and other woody debris, though most times I've run it, this has not been a problem. It has (more than once!) 'collected' canoes and recreational kayaks, wrapped and folded in half around its leading edge. (I suspect many inadequately skilled novice boaters, having little or no idea what they were getting into, have suffered the 'walk of shame' after losing their canoe(s) or kayak(s), clothes soaking wet, having to find their way out to the road and back to their vehicle.)

As an aside, just downstream of here (but still before the island), Cedar Creek is within 1/3 mile of the Milwaukee River (at Grafton Dells, not far downstream of the launch/landing site in Grafton Lime Kiln Park). However, the creek meanders another 3.3 miles before its confluence with the Milwaukee River, downstream of CTH.C.


Class - N/A Mile - 1.52
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A large island (for such a relatively small creek) splits the flow.

The left channel is often blocked off immediately at the start. Even if accessible, it generally contains additional deadfall or overhanging branches downstream which require significant skill and maneuvering to avoid problems. There is no real gradient (no rapids), and since this route is (just a bit) longer and so prone to snags, this left channel is NOT RECOMMENDED (even if you can get to/through it).

The right channel is the preferred route as it is shorter and somewhat less prone to snags. The initial move into it is a bit tricky. A sharp right-turn (to enter this channel) leads to strong current heading straight toward shore (undercutting the right streambank) before being diverted 90-degrees left. Keep to the left, or (better yet) set an upstream-ferry-angle to keep from being pushed into the undercut bank. Downstream, numerous sharp twists and turns and overhanging trees will keep you scrambling. Again, generally you want to keep to the inside around bends to be out of the strongest current headed into the outside bank (and often into trees). You will often need to paddle hard and fast to avoid disaster!

Squirt Spot

Class - N/A Mile - 2.11
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In the 'flow shadow' of a private island (with foot-bridge from private yard), there is generally sufficient depth and some fairly interesting currents (at higher water levels) to allow some playing with stern-squirts and bow-stalls.

Take-out (CTH.T)

Class - N/A Mile - 2.22
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While one could proceed downstream, the gradient has largely petered-out at this point. And, it's tough to beat a 2.2-2.3 mile run, with only a 0.8 mile shuttle.

Green Bay Road

Class - N/A Mile - 3.18
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Paddlers wishing a longer trip may extend their outing by nearly a mile, taking out in the quaint little burg of Hamilton. This yields a trip nearly 3.2 miles in length, with a shuttle of only 1.3 miles.

There will be very little actual whitewater in this extra distance, though there may be swiftwater and shoals. The main 'benefit' will be seeing a bit more of this area. Hamilton has a good number of historic stone buildings (houses and businesses).

Confluence, Milwaukee River

Class - N/A Mile - 4.55
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A longer trip might continue all the way to the mouth of Cedar Creek, and its confluence with the Milwaukee River. Again, precious little actual whitewater would be found (both on Cedar Creek and on the Milwaukee River), though the current will generally be swift at any 'recommended' paddleable flows.

This confluence lies just 0.43 mile downstream of Lakefield Road (CTH.T), which would make for a very simple straight-line shuttle back to the put-in, but paddling that distance upstream on the Milwaukee River would be arduous. Instead, paddlers are more likely to paddle 1.32 miles downstream to exit at Pioneer Road (CTH.C).

This would make a total very near 5.9 river miles, and a shuttle of 3.0 miles.


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9 months ago

A detailed review of Cedar Creek was recently posted to: https://www.wisconsinrivertrips.com/segments/cedar-creek-cedarburg . That trip was done at 36 CFS which was too low. There are several logjams at the top of the first island.

Gage Descriptions

Gauge is a few miles upstream of this reach. While dams intervene, all are top-spill 'non-regulated' dams which effectively pass all water through.
Gauge/flow analysis (based on gauge data for years 1930 through 2010):
Drainage area at gauge: 120 sq.mi.
Minimum mean daily flow during gauge period: 0.2 cfs ( 1936.08.09)
90% of time flow during gauge period exceeds: 8 cfs
10% of time flow during gauge period exceeds: 180 cfs
Maximum mean daily flow during gauge period: 3,320 cfs ( 1952.03.20)
10/90 ratio: 22.5 ('flashy-ness') during gauge period (under 3 is fairly steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')
Average days per year during gauge period over recommended 'low' threshold (100 cfs): 79
Average days per year during gauge period over recommended 'high' threshold (600 cfs): 5
The 'minimum recommended flow' (100 cfs) is certain to be questioned by many boaters. Indeed, it will have parts of the run be a bit of a scrape, but reasonable whitewater play will be possible at a couple spots. The run has been floated at levels below this, but is not recommended. The 'maximum recommended flow' (600 cfs) is only set as an indicator of levels 'above the norm'. The river is runnable much higher, and, in fact, many experienced boaters will prefer levels above this value, indeed using it as almost their 'minimum'!

Directions Description

This run on Cedar Creek has a marvelously short shuttle since the river does a big ox-bow loop. Some boaters may opt for other put-in locations, forgoing the short ledge-drop in the city park, to avoid the flatwater paddle and first awkward portage.

In fact, one could get the best action (in ~0.53 miles) of this run going 'bank to bank' -- that is, from the BMO Harris Bank (Columbia Road at Highland Drive) to the North Shore Bank - Grafton ('NSB', at Columbia Road at 1st Street), though doing so would involve trespass (to carry in from the street or sidewalk to put in below the dam at Highland, and to carry out at the railroad trestle, across NSB property to get back to Columbia Road).

No Accident Reports







Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1214498 03/10/20 Rob updated image position
1214829 05/02/20 Rob updated description
1214830 05/02/20 Rob updated stats
1211587 04/01/19 Rob updated image position
1207277 02/24/17 Rob minor edit
1207272 02/23/17 Rob minor edit
1207423 04/05/17 Rob change put-in during 2017 dredging
1207314 03/03/17 Rob minor edit
1207424 04/05/17 Rob adjust length for 2017
1207503 04/29/17 Rob minor edits
1208345 10/04/17 Rob update re: work progress
1208693 01/07/18 Rob remove table from gauge description, putting info into simple statement/paragraph form.
1208596 12/15/17 Rob update re: work progress
1209012 02/27/18 Rob update re: work progress
1209527 05/07/18 Rob minor edit
1210449 10/25/18 Rob minor changes
1210824 01/11/19 Rob minor edit
1210976 01/26/19 Rob updated image position
1210980 01/26/19 Rob updated description
1210977 01/26/19 Rob updated description
1210978 01/26/19 Rob updated description
1210979 01/26/19 Rob updated description
1212996 06/23/19 Rob updated description
1213771 09/30/19 Rob updated description
1203527 06/30/14 Rob Minor edit.
1192441 05/10/09 Rob n/a
1207139 01/12/17 Rob minor revision of earlier info
1207138 01/12/17 Rob add info about new remediation project affecting this run
1197564 04/15/10 Rob Cleanup gauge description tables.
1194965 05/18/09 Rob
1196621 11/21/09 Rob Delete dead link(s).
1195459 06/14/09 Rob
1196899 12/13/09 Rob Add new 'featured photo'
1200899 12/15/11 Rob Add virtual winter gauge and gauge description.
1207216 02/14/17 Rob minor edit