Shuttle Length: 2.1 miles. (See details in "Directions" Tab.)
Character: Cobble/rock shoals, and some compression waves in the early going, bedrock slides and glassy waves (at higher flows) in the lower portion.
Put-in is approximately 644' elevation.
Take-out is approximately 594' elevation.
Thus total elevation change is approximately 50'.General Overview
This highly 'city-fied' stretch of river has two distinct characteristics. The early-going is mud/gravel/rock riverbed, while the later portion encounters bedrock riverbed. Most of the stretch is fairly confined (steep-banks) channel, allowing it's relatively low gradient to build some impressive river-wide waves when water levels push up, as they regularly do after heavy rains.
At Hawley Road, large quarried limestone rock-rubble lines the river-right bank, making access and egress possible, but extreme caution is urged. Even fairly decent sized rocks are likely to be quite unstable, shifting suddenly under your weight, making footing very treacherous. A fall here (especially while carrying a boat) could be very painful.
Access virtually anyplace on this stream may be problematic. While many runs of various parts of this river have been done without incident or hassle, we are also aware of groups which (historically) have been stopped from putting in.
Milwaukee County code 47.13 provides:
"No person shall, without written permission of the department of parks, recreation and culture, place upon the lagoons, rivers or any of the waters under the control of the department, any float, boat or other watercraft, nor land or go upon any of the islands of the lagoons or rivers, nor land or touch with a boat upon any part of the shores not designated as a landing place. Non-motorized and non-trailered floats, boats, or other watercraft may be used on rivers controlled by the parks department without written approval of the park director."
There are those who suggest that the second sentence ("Non-motorized and non-trailered...") is meant to suggest that canoes and kayaks are NOT restricted and can be used anywhere (I.E., that the first part is intended to only apply to motorized or trailered craft). However, the first part appears quite intentionally all-encompassing ("any float, boat or other watercraft" seems to preclude canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, airmattresses, . . . you name it). This ordinance seems self-contradictory and unenforceable!
Further, to my knowledge, no public record presently exists as to whether or where any 'designated landing places' are located on this river! It is illegal to access the river from any of the (county park) golf courses. Wauwatosa USED TO ban river access from it's city parks (e.g., Hart Park), and was quite aggressive at enforcement. However, at a common council meeting, Sept.1, 2009, Ordinance O-09-17 was passed, DELETING Section 7.65.060 (which prohibited launching boats from City of Wauwatosa parks). (Boaters may do well to memorize this date and those numbers, in case some official attempts to stop you from exercising your legal access!)
Also, there are those who suggest that (within Milwaukee County and elsewhere) it is legal to launch within a few feet of any of the 'state highway' streets, such as Capitol Drive (WI-190), Mayfair Road (WI-100), or 76th Street (WI-181). The logic is that the right-of-way (for the highway and its shoulders/ditches/culverts) at such locations is technically under state (not city or county) jurisdiction, and the state's charter assures you the right to freely pass from one transportation corridor (the road) to another (the river). Some sources go further to suggest that any public street crossing or public transportation bridge will suffice for carry-in launch, again citing the right to pass from one 'public transportation corridor' to another. However, I'm not certain that you would be successful using this argument with any official who chose to take issue with your presence. In general, boaters are advised (if and when confronted by any authority) to calmly and politely state your position. You might politely ask any officer if they would verify with their superior officer(s) which (your assertion of your right to paddle, or the officer's assertion of his duty to restrict your access). However, if faced by continued challenge, capitulate, move along, and try a different spot, a different time, or move on to a different run. (Don't cause a scene, which can only turn out bad for you, and also reflect badly on ALL paddlers!)
Most easily, to avoid all the above, it is highly recommended (regardless where you put-in) to use 'Commando-style' put-in -- be as quick and 'invisible' as you can! If possible, shuttle boats inside a vechicle (so you don't 'advertise' your presence, and have to spend time untieing them). Be already dressed and ready to hit the river. Spend as little time as possible on shore before putting in. I say this mostly because even though the LAW may now be on our side, there will still be many 'good samaritans' who are likely to not be aware of that, and who will call some official to notify them of your presence. It's just easier to be quick and not have to deal with explanations and justifications!
Early in the run one encounters fine waves in a generally uniform width channel. At higher flows, these tend to wash out and become swiftwater choppy waves. Flatwater, minor swifts and shoals will bring you to Jacobus Park. A pair of bridge piers USED to split the flow into three channels. As of 2020.05.17, it was reported that the right pier was swept away in a high-water event. The left pier remains, but is immediately downstream of a gravel-bar/island, so is unlikely to catch the branches and whole trees which used to regularly block this area. It still may be a good idea to stop along the parkway road while driving shuttle to scout this area before putting on, to be aware of what sort of wave exists and how the currents, swirls, and boils are in the pool downstream.
From this point the gradient increases, and the sloping bedrock (and a few random large rocks) create more interesting waves. At certain levels, some will be regainable, though more often they tend to be 'surf-on-the-fly'.After you pass under the railroad bridge, the rest of the run has large rock rubble lining the channel. At higher boatable waterlevels, most of the rock will be covered, allowing you to float over them to take out on a paved approach to the river. Be aware of foot entrapment concerns if you are out of your boat but still in the water anywhere in this area. These rocks will make exit from the river awkward when the water level is lower, and you will have to carry up to shore level across those rocks. Watch your footing!At times of heavy rains, CSO may affect this reach below Honey Creek / 70th Street or below Jacobus Park. MMSD (Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District) updates their website (supposedly every five minutes!) with information regarding rainfall amounts (at various locations in Milwaukee area), quantities in the deep tunnel and various processing sites, as well as with information regarding any CSO which happens in the system. Check it out at: MMSD 'Weather Center'. It should be noted, however, that water quality suffers heavy fecal coliform loads even absent a CSO. Best explanations seem to be contamination from Underwood Creek (and the Milwaukee Zoo), Honey Creek (especially during/after state Fair in early August, as it runs beneath the fairgrounds), as well as pet wastes (dog feces) throughout it's watershed.
Additional important and useful information may be found in the "Flow Info" tab.
For low/moderate flows, water quality should not be a problem. However (at best flows for whitewater) boaters should be aware of the following:
These quotes (with personal emphasis and comments added) are from an article many years ago in the Shepherd Express (a local 'alternative' newsweekly) entitled "Going with the Flow -- How the suburbs are helping close the beaches":
"Tests during rainfalls ... at 15 sites along waterways in Milwaukee County regularly show Ecoli and fecal coliform amounts are thousands of times higher than the EPA standards for beach closings ..."
"... numbers this high are comparable to untreated sewage."
"One study found ... about 15% of fecal coliform found in stormwater runoff is from dogs." (I.E., people who do not pick up after their pets!)
"The highest concentrations of E.coli and fecal coliform have been found in Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa and in the Little Menomonee River" (Two of the tributaries of this section of river!)
"people can get sick from water like that, but the illness may be passed off as something else since it isn't that severe."
So . . . take all that for what you wish to make of it, and make your personal decision about your health risk-tolerance!
I actually prefer this as a primary choice for put-in for a couple reasons:
1) It adds time/distance to the shuttle (really a rather minor matter: only 0.2 miles for a bike shuttle, and 0.52 to the vehicular shuttle).
OUR RECOMMENDED PUT-IN: At the northwest edge of Hart Park, there is parking right along the RR tracks. (From State Street, turn South on 72nd Street, cross the tracks, then immediately turn right to drive past the football field, baseball field, tennis courts, and two volleyball courts.) Park anywhere from near the volleyball courts to the far end of the parking area and you will have a very short carry to river. (You may have to scope the area upstream and down here to find the most convenient 'staging area' for you to set your boat to get in and peel-out into the swift currents here! You will be right at the head of the Hart Park Rips for a rip-snorting class I-II start!)
A sweeping right-hand bend occurs as you enter Hart Park. The inside (right) of the bend is shallow gravel shoals, while the outside (left) is deeper water with a fine wave-train. Be alert (look well downstream) as you near this area, as it has been the site of trees falling or hanging up and blocking much of the current. Do not get too near the left shore, as there are often roots or overhanging branches to catch you or your boat.
Also, as shown in the photo, be aware that the river and banks through here are strewn with cement slabs. While I have not seen any rebar, the course and angular cement would be brutal to anyone upside-down or out of their boat through this stretch. (DO NOT TRY TO STAND OR WALK IN ANY CURRENT THROUGH HERE! Scraped, bruised, and battered ankles and shins at the least, and foot entrapment at the worst, are very possible here.)
As you approach and pass under another bikeway bridge, the river takes a sweeping bend to the left. If you have high water, you will encounter a fine little wave-train through this area. A few waves (mostly upstream of the bridge) may allow fine catch-on-the-fly surfs (pretty much just front-surfs, not likely to allow spins or any other moves ... maybe enough depth at high flows to ender-out).
Honey Creek enters from river-right. At high water, and depending upon the relative levels of the two streams, the merging currents can create some interesting action here. There is generally good depth (at higher flows) to allow decked playboats some 'vertical' opportunities (bow-stalls, stern-squirts). It should be noted, however, that there is (right at the confluence) one stray failed gabion (wire basket filled with rocks), as well as the sort of rubble pictured above.
Click here to view time-lapse 'video' (3 stills / 24hr period, for the prior 10 days, ending at most recent view)
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Some boaters use a 'short-run' option, putting in from the parkway at this location. This cuts off 3/4ths mile of mostly swiftwater and low-grade riffles, to get the final 1.6 miles containing the best gradient. This could also be a good option for high-flow runs, since a few bridges upstream can end up deadly (very low to the flow, or with water flowing through bridge structures). Downstream of here there still may be one or two bridges which could be of concern, and would need scouting before putting on the run at any flow which may exceed 3000-4000 cfs.
Midway down along an area where the river-left bank has been re-sculpted (circa 2015, where numerous saplings have been planted), be on the lookout for a large center-stream rock which is cleft perpendicular to the flow. At low-to-moderate flows (under 1000 cfs or so), there will be water flowing through the cleft, which is barely boat-width. It can be a cute and funky maneuver to charge (from river-right) toward the slot to try to funnel through the crease, trying to avoid a knock-down or boat-pin. (It's a fairly benign spot to release from and recover, if you are not entirely successful in your endeavor.)
As you approach this area, if you look at the river-right shoreline, you'll notice it changes from grass/weeds/shrubbery/dirt and becomes layers of bedrock. The streambed also becomes bedrock and the fun begins! As the river slides down the slightly angled rock, it accelerates and then stacks up a fine set of waves through here.
They become playable somewhere in the 400-500 cfs range, and become more and more fun as levels increase. At flows from ~1,300-2500 cfs, there are a couple big powerful waves (and a decent shoreline eddy river-right), likely with at least one breaking nicely on itself, making a wonderful ride for repeat play.
This can be done as a PnP by parking street-side (next to a fine maintained flower garden, across from the house at 5813 W.Trenton) and walking flagstone/rock steps down the steep embankment. You'll want to carry upshore a bit to appreciate the approach to this wavetrain.
Too some, DPW means Department of Public Works. For boaters of this river it means Doyne Park Waves!
An area of sloping bedrock allows the sweetest set of waves to form at high flows (above 1000cfs). Only problem is, when the waves are at their best, there are no eddies. These will be totally 'catch-on-the-fly', one-ride to a customer! At low levels (200-400 cfs) there may be a couple of minor playable features here (if that). At moderate levels (400-900 cfs), you'll start to see the potential. As levels hit the 1000+ range, you should find some SWEET smooth glassy waves! (Oh, and, if you catch it above 2000, it much of it becomes a sloshing surging slapping chop! You may still find something to ride, but it is more likely you will just enjoy the clapotis-like chaotic waves.)
If you have a group of playboaters who all want to have their hand at surfing these sweet rides, you will have to do your best to 'queue up' upstream (finding whatever slackwater along shore as you can), to let each (one-at-a-time) take their turn trying to catch whatever waves they can in this series. As the first boater(s) drop off the first wave (or two) in the series, other boaters may slip out of their shoreline micro-eddy to try for their rides. As the lead boaters get to the last of the waves, they should find slackwater/eddies (which are more reasonable at the end of the wave sequence) to wait as the rest of the group finishes their ride sequence.
For the sake of safety, it is a good idea to keep an eye on each other here, and not proceed downstream until all have had their rides. The vertical stone walls make any rescue or recovery very difficult if anyone suffers an 'out-of-boat' experience. Fortunately, just about 0.1 mile downstream, the river-left wall has been knocked down and a bit of flood-plain area has been created. However, any swimmer and/or their gear which cannot make it to that river-left shore is not likely to be recovered until well downstream (perhaps long beyond the take-out).
A pile of rocks and rubble has accumulated in the riverbed (swept downstream to here in various flood events). At relatively lower flows (under 400-500 cfs) most or all the water will be channeled to far-left, where the riverbank is a vertical rock wall. At these low flows a couple minor surfable waves may form here. There may be enough force and depth to get endered out, if you don't mind the likelihood of banging the tail of your boat "up against the wall" as you drop out of the ender/piroouette (and if you are skilled enough to assure a right-side-up landing . . . not sure that depth remains sufficient to not suffer cranial impact). At some low-to-moderate flows, some rocks more to center-river may create a pourover hole or a wave/hole. Surfs may be possible at some flows, but be aware that there is much shallow rubble downstream center and river-right. Repeat play of some of these features may be possible at some flows. However, as with so many of the features on this run, it is really the luck-of-the-draw as to how well-formed anything will be, since flows rise and fall so rapidly. If you happen to be inclined to 'do laps' (shuttle up to run the whole reach again), expect this to be totally different one run to the next!
After you pass under Hwy.41 (high overhead), the river will veer off to the left. Downstream, a railroad bridge-pier splits the flow at an area of rock-rubble rapids. There may be a small catch-on-the-fly trough/wave tight to the right at the head of the rips (surfs/spins possible at some flows).
In the main (right) channel, at some flows, at the upstream-edge of the bridge, there can be a decent bit of a wave. It is tough (if not impossible) to catch on the fly, but it is often possible to attain up the river-left channel, or tight against the vertical-steel revetment, to try for surfs on this wave.
As you pass under the 45th Street Bridge, you encounter an area of 'remediated' streambed. This next stretch of river had been wall-to-wall cement, but that has been removed, and large quarried rock lines the river bed and banks. This creates a swift but minor choppy rips from here to the take-out (and beyond). Anyone so unfortunate as to flip or swim here is likely to be punished by multiple impacts with shallow quarried rock in very swift currents. Do not try to stand in any strong flow, as foot entrapment, bruises, broken bones, and worse are a serious possibility. (If you don't know what 'foot entrapment' means, and the serious danger that it represents, please do yourself a favor and do some research on it.)
At lower levels (low-to-mid hundreds), you will eddy-out river-right in slackwater and attempt to 'moor' your boat against a rock. Very carefully get out of your boat (holding onto it, or having a buddy do so), and carefully standing onto the rocks, pick up or drag your boat until you are across the rocks and on the paved area. You will need to be VERY careful walking across these irregular-shaped quarried rock. A slip or fall will be painful!
At higher flows (somewhere near and above 1400 cfs) all rocks here will be well covered, and you can easily charge the break in the wall for your landing.
All that said ... some folks, at some flows, may wish to continue just a bit past this for possible additional features as listed below.
The river takes a jog to the left and passes under a railroad trestle with two bridge-piers anchored into the cement shoulders of the river. At high flows, there will be water not just between, but also to the outsides of the bridge piers. Years back there would be a very bizarre, dynamic wave/hole and currents leading into and under this trestle. However, concurrent with removal of the cement downstream, a 'backwater' was created which mostly eliminates the extreme turbulence surrounding this area. That said, at high flows, strong currents will push hard into the right bridge pier, and may make passage between the piers a tad tricky, but at those flows, you'll have the options to go to the outside of either bridge pier.
Immediately downstream the river passes under the Interstate (I-94), and into the area surrounding the baseball stadium (Miller Park). (Anyone interested in continuing the run down to Miller Stadium parking areas had best consult Milwaukee Brewers schedule to ensure there is not a game going on).
Almost immediately after passing the second railroad trestles, you'll pass under Interstate-94, and very quickly you'll be in the area flanked by parking lots for Miller Park (Milwaukee's baseball stadium).
1 week ago
In spring, this may run for a few days straight. More typically, this will run briefly on receiving good rains. This urban stream is extraordinarily 'flashy'. Summer rains may bring the river up to runnable, or even near flood levels, and just a few hours later it will be at or below minimums for a good run!
If western Milwaukee County is getting rain (a half-inch or more in a couple hours or less), you almost have to head out while it's still raining! Quite literally 1.5 hours after the rain gets steady, the river will hit good levels, and (unless the steady rain keeps up) 'the bubble' will last no more than an hour or two after the rain eases back! Typical hourly cfs readings (actual values from a rain event): 35, 54, 119, 257, 1620, 2080 (peak), 1670, 1160. Total time over 1000 cfs (best fun for experienced whitewater boaters) -- just over 3 hours! However, be wary of putting on while the river is still rising. At flows over 3000 cfs, a couple of bridges will be impassable!
The 'recommended minimum' is an 'ELF' level (Extreme Low Flow). While the run has been floated at levels below this, it is not recommended, and can hardly be considered a 'whitewater' run. Most whitewater boaters will set their own personal minimum levels well above this value.
The 'recommended maximum' is an indicator of levels 'above the norm' -- a level above which the run gets much pushier (thus potentially more dangerous for inexperienced boaters). 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'! (I've been on it at 3000 and it was wild!) At high flows some bridges (especially if one puts in anywhere upstream of the listed put-in) may become serious hazards. Inherent difficulty does not really increase above a class III rating, but demand on paddlers having proper whitewater skills and knowledge of self-rescue techniques becomes essential. Appropriate gear (whitewater kayaks or canoes with floatation (tied-in airbags), wearable PFD ('life jacket'), and having multiple boats and boaters on the trip), as well as appropriate whitewater experience (being able to catch 'one-boat eddies', being able to roll your boat) should be considered mandatory.Because of how quickly water can rise, and how dangerous the river can become at high flows, boaters are strongly advised NOT to put on during heavy storms and while the river is still on the rise. If it goes over 4000 cfs while you are on it, you would be in serious jeopardy as some bridges become impassible and virtually impossible to get out and around!
Flow (cfs) ----- Class ----- Suitable for / Description
50-125 --------- I ---------beginner/novice flatwater canoes and kayaks: Most of this reach is probably paddleable at these levels, though there will undoubtedly be numerous places where you will 'ground out' on shoals and shallow bedrock. It will be more of a float-trip with occasional swifts and splish-splash waves rather than anything approaching a whitewater river.
125-250 ----- I-II+ ----- novice/intermediate whitewater boaters: Minor play may be available in a handful of spots. Currents are generally not overly demanding for those with decent swiftwater skills. Those who have not had significant whitewater experience may be ok at these levels, but should be sure to have safety plans and back-up (at least two to three separate boats in the group on the river).
250-600 ----- II-III ----- novice/intermediate whitewater boaters: (Non-whitewater boaters should probably stay off at these (and all higher) levels. Beginner/novice boaters should have the company of an experienced boater.) A fair number of surfable waves will appear for beginner/intermediate play, but will generally be small and not very interesting to more experienced boaters. Front surfs are likely, but few waves will allow spins or any other play.
600-1280 ----- III ----- Well-experienced strong-skilled whitewater paddlers only: Waves on the first half of the run tend to wash-out, but those on the second half increasingly build to become wider and more 'glassy'. While a few will have eddy service, more are catch-on-the-fly. Boaters should do their best to eddy-out upstream (often just have to backpaddle or upstream ferry in slacker water near shore) to let each take their turn surfing as you work your way down the series of waves.
1280-3500 ----- III+ ----- Experts only! Due to the walled-in nature of the main stretch of the river, the lower part of the run becomes very pushy, surging, almost chaotic crashing waves. Many paddlers may find it difficult to slow their momentum to catch the big, glassy waves which do form. Those who do will have some awesome powerful rides! There will be few eddies (and few places to exit and re-enter the river to do a 'carry up') so the only way to catch most waves again will be to finish the run, shuttle up and do the whole run again! (Of course, by the time you can do so, the water level is likely to have changed!)
3500+ ----- III+ ----- Not Recommended ----- Somewhere up in these levels, the whole run is likely to be a mad freight train rush. There are a few bridges which will become impossible to get under (and impossible to get out of river to get around safely). Any time the river runs this high, there is an extreme liklihood that there will be a CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow) from multiple locations on this river.If you subtract 0.68 from the USGS stage reading, then divide by 2 (and truncate to whole numbers), the result is the 'class' fun you will find: 0=too low (no whitewater), 1=beginner, 2=low intermediate, 3=advanced intermediate, 4=advanced experts only. This translation is used for the "winter gauge" readings.
The following analysis is based upon mean daily flow. However, as mentioned, this stream is so 'flashy' that it can exceed the 'high' reading for a couple hours, and be below minimums the majority of the day, making the 'mean daily flow' (and much of the analysis) nearly meaningless!
Gauge/flow analysis (based on gauge data 1961-10-01 through 2008-05-08)
Drainage area at gauge: 123 sq.mi.
Minimum mean daily flow during gauge period: 2.8 cfs (1964.01.18)
90% of time flow exceeds: 14 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 240 cfs
Maximum mean daily flow during gauge period: 7,520 cfs (1997.06.21)
10/90 ratio ('flashy-ness'): 17.1 (under 3 is fairly steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')
Average days per year over recommended 'low' threshold: 75
Average days per year over recommended 'high' threshold: 2
Permits are not required for this reach.
Your take-out lies just across the river from the Miller Brewing parking lot.
By car, this is accessed by crossing the 45th Street bridge (south, off of State Street), then bearing left (on Monarch Place, though I've never looked to see if it even has signage indicating the name), passing along essentially a back-alley behind a long set of buildings. Where the buildings end, you'll see a gravel drive, small parking area, and a ramp down to the river.Put-in:
Our recommended put-in (now that numerous MMSD projects have reduced whitewater interest in upper sections of this river) is a short carry to the river from the parking lot at Hart Park.
Many 'alternative' put-ins are avaliable upstream, and are detailed on the description for the prior section of this river.
Menomonee @C) MenTosa: Hart Park Lane to 4202 W.Bluemound Road (2.55 miles)
Third RR Crossing
More snags downstream.
Approach with Caution!
Rubble and Tombstones!
Hart Park 'bedrock'
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