Difficulty II-III+
Length 1.75 Miles
Flow Range 100 - 400 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 55 minutes ago 4.8 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 09/28/2019 9:17 pm

River Description

Quick Facts:

Location: Wauwatosa (Milwaukee, WI).
Shuttle Length: 1.6 miles.
Character: A 'city cesspool creek' (water quality is horrendous!): Half cement ditch, half citified-'natural' channel, tripping down pourover 'ledges' in a parkway before merging into the Menomonee River.

Put-in is approximately 680' elevation.
Take-out is approximately 635' elevation.
Thus total elevation change is approximately 45'.

General Overview

This is an "Urban Bandit" run, since the legality of boating it is highly debatable. To our knowledge, there is no legal put-in due to a Milwaukee Ordinance which prohibits access from county parkland at any location other than designated launch/landing sites (unless one has written permission from the County Parks Director). County parkland flanks this entire reach, and no launch sites are designated hereupon. Some have questioned whether it qualifies as a 'navigable stream', since Wisconsin navigability laws do not apply to any 'artificial ditch'. However, since this was historically a natural creek, it should not matter that it has been turned into an 'artificial ditch' (the first half-plus of the listed run is a completely cemented ditch, the other half-minus is somewhat more 'natural/channelized' stream). Court cases have determined that "an artificial channel connected to a natural and navigable body of water is public because it cannot exist on its own." Thus, water in the cement ditch portion of the run must be recognized as 'public'.

Water quality is best characterized as urban sewer. While there are no known (permitted) MMSD sewer outfalls into the creek, the runoff from streets, parking lots, driveways, and yards is likely to contain such a high contaminant level as to be as bad as untreated sewage. Levels of E.Coli run almost a minimum of 1000 MPN/ 100 mL (which is the level at which beaches are closed) and often run 10,000 to 100,000 and more!  (This is especially true during and immediately after Wisconsin State Fair in early to mid August.) Additionally, 'runnable' flows most often occur when there are heavy rains, which are likely to cause Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) affecting the Menomonee River (where you are likely to continue your run, down to it's normal take-out). We therefore mostly recommend this as a hike/scout to consider the possibilities, if it had been left in a more pristine state.

IF (in spite of all these warnings) you choose to do it, we would recommend a 'commando style' put-in: be fully geared-up (with boats inside your vehicle, if possible), ready to grab-and-go with a minimum of time spent in plain sight. We would recommend no flips, swims, or even face splashes, as well as wearing a dry-top/drysuit (as a 'full-body condom' to avoid contact with the water),  and a shower/bath and clear-water rinse of all gear as soon as possible after the run. (And, while medical experts probably concur that it is of no real advantage, I always advise a little 'internal medicinal alcohol' be 'applied' (post-run) to kill whatever river germs you may have inadvertently ingested!)

Do NOT put in while it is still raining and the creek is on the rise. Urban runoff means flow can easily rise by 100 cfs to 1000 cfs or more each fifteen minutes!
Case in point (from a rather typical moderately-heavy rain event, fifteen minute intervals, from 2:15-3:15pm):  1.4 cfs,   13 cfs,   575 cfs,   1580 cfs,   2000 cfs

That's right, folks, this little creek (with only 10.3 square miles drainage) increased 1005 cfs in just 15 minutes, and peaked (that time around) at 2000 cfs!!! (It has peaked at over 3,000 cfs! Crazy!!!)

Run Detail

Four cement ledge 'pourovers' precede a section of (semi-) natural riverbed with mini-canyons and one more ('semi-natural') ledge drop. Most bridges span or immediately precede drops. Some drops could get very sticky at certain levels.

It is highly recommended to SCOUT AS MUCH OF THE RUN AS POSSIBLE BEFORE PUTTING ON. Almost any branches or trees in the river will be difficult (or impossible) to avoid or to get out and around! Almost the entire reach is either cement ditch or rock-wall and gabion reinforced banks, making for very few eddies, and making exit from the river nearly impossible most of the run. The lower half of the reach is tree lined and has highly eroded banks, regularly dropping whole trees across the river. While the actual difficulty of the rapids generally does not exceed class II+ to III-, THIS IS NOT A PLACE FOR BEGINNERS, CASUAL CANOEISTS, OR 'RECREATIONAL KAYAK' PADDLERS! The requisite paddling ability should be more in the class III+ to IV territory! NO SWIMS ALLOWED! If you can't do an 'upstream ferry' or catch an eddy (or if don't know what either of those mean!), and if you can't roll your boat, you should not even consider getting on this stream! If you flip (or swamp your canoe or kayak) and cannot 'self-rescue' (roll), expect to lose your paddle, and possibly your boat!

Anyone doing this (again, most likely illegal) run will probably continue downstream to enjoy the final 2 miles (and the best gradient) of the 'MenTosa' run, utilizing it's take-out. That makes a total run of ~3.5 miles, with time on the water being roughly one hour (more or less, depending upon whether your skills and interests and the water level coincide to allow repeat play at any of the features).

Rapid Descriptions


Class - N/A Mile - -0.1
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If the descriptions (above and below) are not enough to dissuade you from considering this run, you might wish to be further informed . . .

The following quotes (with personal emphasis added) are from an article (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 int the Little Menomonee 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!

Minor Pourover

Class - N/A Mile - -0.05
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Upstream of our put-in, just as the creek comes out from under 84th Street, it spills across a short rounded pourover. This is likely to have a fairly uniform boil-line and not offer much reasonable play at most flows. Some may be inclined to paddle up to check it out, but more will likely just head downriver.

First Pourover (SCOUT FIRST!)

Class - II+ Mile - 0.28
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This cement-ledge/pourover is potentially the nastiest. The cement slab at the base of the drop has tilted back toward the drop. As a result, this pourover develops a much 'keepier' hydraulic than do the others on this run.

I strongly recommend (before putting in anywhere upstream), that you scout this drop by getting down as close to water level as possible (especially at low-moderate flows!) to take a CLOSE look at how far downstream the backwash flows back toward the drop, and to see how one would have to paddle 'uphill' to get downstream, away from this drop.

It often actually gets better at higher flows! (I won't specify what 'cfs', because the creek is so 'flashy', the gauge will not update online often enough, and the flow will change with each 15-minute interval, so you just have to rely on your judgement while actually there!)

While it is possible to run this drop at some levels, more boaters, at more levels, are better served portaging (or putting in below) this first pourover. At most flows, it can merit only the class II or II+ rating. The drop is straightforward (simple approach, and you have few choices of where to be), but the consequences of an error of judgement here should not be taken lightly. If you are not successful at landing a 'boof', staying upright, and paddling out through the reversal, you are in a cement ditch from which it is unlikely you will be able to get (yourself or your boat, in the event of an extended unintentional surf or a swim) out without someone on shore with a rope.

Given that this is so near the put-in, that water quality is generally nasty, that there is a bit of a clearing (so you are in a rather visible location), and you are generally wanting to be as 'invisible' as possible, this is not a spot you want to be standing around, setting safety, and having to do a rescue. All of which is to say, look, make your decision, put-in, and GO.

Second Pourover

Class - II+ Mile - 0.36
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The second pourover (as most of the remaining pourovers) is much more reasonable at virtually all flows. Paddle assertively to launch a clean 'boof' and paddle away on the water which sheets away from the base of the drop. (Failure to paddle aggressively may result in being back-endered, and possibly flipped or sucked into the reversal/hole here.)

Third Pourover (Bluemound Road)

Class - II+ Mile - 0.59
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Most pourovers occur at (immediately under or immediately after) bridge crossings. This one is at the downstream side of the Bluemound Road bridge. Again, at some flows, this can ge a bit 'sticky', so charge it, boof it, and paddle out!

Fourth Pourover (Honey Creek Parkway)

Class - II+ Mile - 0.7

Immediately after coming out from under the Honey Creek Parkway road bridge, this drop (more often than the others) can provide some play potential (surfs), if one is inclined to do so in such a cesspool of a creek as this is. Unfortunately, in recent years, they have dumped quarried rock at the base of this ledge, so at lower flows, it does get a bit in the way, and one should be aware of it for higher flows (if you would play here and end up flipping or out of your boat).

End of Cement Ditch

Class - II+ Mile - 1.1
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At this point, the 'cement ditch' ends, and  the bottom changes from the concrete (of the upper stretch) to rocks, flagstone and bedrock. Vertical stone walls form the 'banks'. Random rock rubble populates the stretch of creek immediately out of the cement ditch. Going around a right-hand bend to the next road crossing, you will find a really sweet little rapids. The left bank is vertical grouted-rock wall, with the strongest current right alongside!

(Since this is rather a blind roundhouse curve in the creek, with strong current and almost no eddies, it would be a good idea to stop and park on the parkway road to have a look to assure there are no strainers or snags here.)

Fifth Pourover (Limestone Ledge, Portland Avenue)

Class - II+ Mile - 1.29

Immediately under Portland Avenue (the second road bridge after leaving the cement ditch) a limestone ledge/drop occurs. Water will sheet rather shallow across the approach to this drop (at most 'runnable' levels), making it difficult to maneuver. There is seldom any significant 'reversal' at the base of this ledge, but you should still be prepared to 'boof' and paddle out strongly.

Downstream of this point, the riverbed becomes more 'natural' (no more cement or flagstone/bedrock), and will consist of gravel, cobble, and random large rock and rubble. Riverbanks vary from rock walls to gabions (wire baskets filled with rock) to boulders to dirt/mud banks the rest of the way to the confluence with Menomonee River. There is increased risk of deadfall, since trees of various sizes lie closer to the river banks, which (in places) are highly eroded.

ALWAYS SCOUT AS MUCH OF THE RIVER AS POSSIBLE BEFORE PUTTING ON, TO ENSURE YOU ARE AWARE OF SNAGS AND WHETHER THEY ARE AVOIDABLE THAT DAY! (If you looked at it a year, a month, a week, or even just a day before, do NOT make the mistake of assuming the situation did not change! It seems as soon as snags such as shown above have been removed by city crews, by next time the creek has high water, another just-as-large tree has fallen in somewhere else.)

Short Rock Garden#1

Class - N/A Mile - 1.4
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There is a brief bit of rock garden rapids. Unfortunately, this is also an area which has been HIGHLY prone to deadfall and whole trees dropping into the creek. Strongly recommended to scout this area while running shuttle, before putting on anywhere upstream.

Short Rock Garden#2

Class - II+ Mile - 1.55
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A fun little rock-garden rapids provides the final 'excitement' on this reach. There may be a decent small playable trough/wave at the head of this rapids.

USGS Gauge: 10.3 square mile drainage

Class - N/A Mile - 1.62
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A few years back (likely due to repeated problems and riverbed changes at the former gauge location) the gauge was moved to be on the upstream (south) side of a bridge on West Honey Creek Parkway. There is a camera which takes time-lapse photos (a handful of times each day) which are posted to the USGS gauge page as a stop-action video.

Gravel Shoals / Rubble Field

Class - II+ Mile - 1.65

A bit before reaching the confluence, the stream widens and the gradient has dropped, so there is a major gravel shoals which has been deposited. At 'low-boatable' flows, this area will be a bit 'grungy'. Historically, best depth was usually found tight to river-left, but that shore is highly eroded, and (with regularity) trees drop from this shore (or wash in and accumulate here). While heading upstream, stop at the site of the USGS gauge to check the situation here before putting on.

The creek twists to the left as its banks turn to walls of large blocks of quarried rock and more gabion baskets. As it does, it dashes down a brief field of boulders.

Presently (summer/fall, 2017), there are downed trees on each side of the narrows here, with a narrow gap between. It is passable, but depending upon flow, may take some skilled manuvering to negotiate. There has long been a failed gabion basket lying midstream near the confluence with the Menomonee River -- no problem if you are upright, potentially ugly if you flip or are out of your boat coming through here.


Class - N/A Mile - 1.75

This is the end of Honey Creek. While one could take out here, most will continue about 2 miles, down the better part of the 'MenTosa' run (Menomonee River in Wauwatosa), utilizing it's take-out (at 43rd & Monarch Place).


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11 years ago

As mentioned in the full write-up, at times of heavy rains, while there are no known outflow points on THIS section of river, the Menomonee is VERY LIKELY to suffer from Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) at times that this sections is runnable. It is recommended that you check the MMSD website *********** http://www.mmsd.com/v2/news/overflow_advisory.cfm *********** for conditions before running this reach when there have been heavy rains, then decide for yourself if you wish to risk boating in the (diluted) sewage affecting this river. Areas affected should generally be clear (of the bulk of that specific contamination) a couple days after the CSO ends. However, that will be to late to matter, as both these reaches (Honey and MenTosa) will generally have dropped to non-boatable levels by then.

Gage Descriptions

Flow is EXTREMELY flashy, quite often changing by hundreds of cfs (even 1000 cfs or more!) each fifteen minutes! While the USGS gauge takes readings every five minutes, they post no more than hourly (often less) and generally have a delay before posting. Which is to say the gauge may indicate whether to try for it, but the best advice is visual inspection of the shoals approaching the confluence with the Menomonee (near the USGS Honey Creek gauge location). If the shoals looks reasonably boatable, then there's enough water. As far as high water goes, it's been boated with water up to (over) the river-right retaining wall downstream of the footbridge by the confluence (though obviously that would be affected by the flow in the Menomonee River).

Due to urban nature of this watershed, runoff is extraordinarily 'flashy'. It often goes from too low, to too high and back to too low within just 2-3 hours! The analysis below fails to reflect the true flashiness of this stream, as the 'mean flow' for each day will be little affected by a couple hours at peak. (For this reason, the 'days over min/max' are left 'indeterminate' below.)

Gauge/flow analysis (based upon about 10 (non-continuous) years of data):
Drainage area at gauge: 10.3 sq.mi.
Minimum mean daily flow during gauge period: 0.2 cfs
90% of time flow exceeds: 1.2 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 22 cfs
Maximum 'peak' flow during gauge period (2006-07-09): 3,110 cfs
10/90 ratio ('flashy-ness'): 18.3 (under 3 is fairly steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')
Days per year over recommended minimum: indeterminate
Days per year over recommended maximum: indeterminate

Offseason ("Ice") stage/flow conversion:
10.0' ====> 389 cfs
9.50' ====> 301 cfs
9.00' ====> 226 cfs
8.50' ====> 162 cfs
8.00' ====> 106 cfs
7.50' ====> 53 cfs

Directions Description

If/when this bandit-run is done, it is highly likely it will be combined with the final/best ~2 miles of the 'MenTosa' section (Menomonee River in Wauwatosa), thereby using its take-out. This makes a shuttle of 3.1 miles.

Coordinates for that take-out are: 43.03860 -87.96677

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Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1192729 05/05/09 Rob n/a
1195750 08/09/09 Rob
1195751 08/09/09 Rob
1195673 07/24/09 Rob Tweak name for new format.
1195752 08/09/09 Rob Tweaking description/warnings.
1195753 08/09/09 Rob
1197971 07/20/10 Rob Add E.Coli info
1197648 05/13/10 Rob Minor changes to gauge/flow info.
1196626 11/21/09 Rob Delete dead link(s).
1195956 09/08/09 Rob Supply 'lost' length value.
1198374 10/08/10 Rob Minor description change.
1199749 04/02/11 Rob minor format edit
1200044 05/09/11 Rob Add featured photo.
1203733 10/15/14 Rob Reselect feature photo.
1206650 06/15/16 Rob minor edit
1206792 08/31/16 Rob minor edit
1206806 09/05/16 Rob minor edit
1208748 01/15/18 Rob minor edit
1208374 10/15/17 Rob minor edit
1206825 09/09/16 Rob minor edit
1208700 01/08/18 Rob remove table from gauge description, putting info into simple statement/paragraph form.
1211605 04/01/19 Rob updated image position
1213762 09/28/19 Rob updated stats
1213765 09/28/19 Rob directions to the river
1213763 09/28/19 Rob updated description
1213764 09/28/19 Rob updated description
1213761 09/28/19 Rob updated name
1195494 06/22/09 Rob
1195402 06/08/09 Rob