There's probably not a creek or river that we paddle more often than the beloved Badfish. In part, because it’s so close to Madison and it offers several put-in and take-out options to tailor the length and variety of the trip experience. But mainly because it’s so pretty, reliable and fun. This might be the best paddle in southern Wisconsin.
What Makes It Great
The Badfish is a favorite of ours and an almost annual destination. It’s narrow with a riffly-swift current and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting. It's best to paddle in spring when the water is a little higher and the weeds are still down.
It’s a clean little stream and it almost always has enough water to run since it’s fed by the (clean) water from the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District. Don’t let that alarm you. This is one of the cleanest streams around. And aside from the faint, almost “chlorine-like” smell, it’s a beauty.
Despite being written about on American Whitewater, it’s less whitewater and mostly a creek with riffles. Not too long ago existed a beautiful old iron bridge where the Class I rapids once existed. The Leedle Mill Road bridge was replaced a few years ago with something more modern. The construction altered and tamed the run below the bridge but it's still an exhilarating little drop and probably the highlight of the paddle.
The Badfish alternates from canopy-covered to open farmland with a remote feel at times but civilization is never too far away (only the hum of a passing vehicle can be heard here and there). You’re bound to encounter turtles, the occasional deer, muskrat, cranes, raccoon and carp on any given day.
There are plenty of islands and tiny sandbars to stop, relax and crack open a PBR (or whatever) on. The creek bottom is rocky at times, sandy at others and the swift and riffly current makes for a fun day-paddle. At higher water levels however, we don’t recommend it for beginners. The current can get a little pushy and proper boat control is important to help negotiate tight turns. At the same time, it's a great paddle to sharpen your skills since it's a very curvy little creek.
Depending on the time of the year, the creek will have an occasional tree to portage but since it’s popular, it’s often maintained (but don't bank on it).
Old Stage road to Casey road is the best paddle on the Badfish. It's a 6.75 mile paddle which is a perfect length for a day trip. We're truly lucky to have this gem of a creek in our backyard. The question is never "if" we’ll paddle the Badish but "when" we’ll paddle it again.
Who is Going to Love It
Paddlers who love creeks will love the Badfish. It’s a clean stream with an inviting sandy and rocky bottom, with enough twists and turns and riffles to keep it interesting. Moving water experienced is recommended as moderate boat control is needed. Its proximity to Madison makes it appealing to Madison Paddlers who are looking for a quick half day paddled. While it is often traveled, it’s semi-maintained, so be prepared for the occasional fallen limb or two.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Put-In at Old Stage Road, Cooksville, Wisconsin: The put-in on Old Stage road changes with erosion. Sometimes it’s muddy but it’s never overly difficult. The landowner appears to be OK with it being used as a put-in since he or she keeps it mowed. There is a small parking area (part of the Badfish Creek Wildlife Area) located just across the street.
Take-Out at North Casey Road: The take-out at Casey Road is a traditional bridge-side launch. The bank is naturally gradated making for easy accessibility. Do be aware though that there is some (invasive) wild parsnip located in the area and it leaves the most unpleasant rash if you come in contact with the leaves.
Extended Trips: Eventually, the Badfish empties into the Yahara River, which is a much wider river (and another one of our favorites). There is a challenging take-out at Highway 59 just 2.25 Miles past Casey Road so it’s not recommended. The parking, as well as the steep incline, make it less than ideal.
Further downstream however, is Murwin County Park which is a great take-out and picnic area that extends the trip by another 4.5 miles, which then makes for a longer day trip.
Upriver from Old Stage Road is a 2.5 mile section that winds through the Badfish Creek Wildlife Area starting at the similarly-named Old Stone Road. It’s OK but nothing spectacular and the last time we paddled it, we had to contend with four portages. Much of the 2.5 miles is straight-forward paddling with few of the twists, turns, little islands and riffles that the Badfish is known for (it is quite pretty though). And if you don't like climbing fallen trees (or just simply can't) you should avoid that section.
If you’re curious about the upstream section, closer to the treatment plant, you’ll find plenty of channelized sections and other curiosities.