Most of this trip is fine for beginners but there are some approaches that demand caution where strainers and huge piles of debris gathers after flooding (especially closer to the confluence of the Rock River). The current can be strong in places so confident boat control is required.
This is our favorite kind of creek, one that paddles like a river. Flowing from Turtle Lake to the Rock River, this riffly creek makes for a great day paddle as it twists and turns through the city of Beloit.
What Makes It Great
The Turtle has a lot in common with Badfish Creek and the Yahara River. It's very wide at the beginning, much like the Yahara, but it gets more interesting as the current and riffles increase downstream much like the Badfish.
It can be broken down into three distinct sections. From Sweet-Allyn Park to Cranston Road, the creek is often wide and slow with a few little riffly sections. From Cranston to Millwaukee Road, the riffles increase with the curves of the creek. The last section starts immediately after passing under the Milwaukee Road bridge. From there and all the way to the take-out, you'll find a very pushy current with tons of riffles to keep things interesting. It's a very fun section.
The water on the Turtle is generally brown, clear in the shallows and moves from sandy to rocky bottom with the occasional tire tossed in for good measure (this paddle does cut through the heart of Beloit, after all).
The environment is a mix of tree-covered canopy and tree-lined banks to stretches flanked by manicured lawns and decorated homes along the way. It's a surprisingly peaceful paddle despite the fact that you're paddling through Downtown Beloit. It's not until near the take-out after the Highway 51 bridge does that really become apparent (a lot more city noise). But despite the city environs, I’ve been surprised by how much wildlife we’ve encountered. We’ve spotted deer, heron, cranes, geese, fish (mostly carp) and cows (not in the water but behind a farmer’s fence, thankfully).
The turtle is an easy paddle, navigable by canoe or kayak, with lots of riffles but it does historically clog from tree debris. The water moves faster after Milwaukee Road and there is plenty of deadfall that can and does make its way to the bridges. There are a couple specific bridges to scout where the debris gathers (the East Colley Road bridge and the train trestle right after it). So, proceed with caution. We have indeed encountered some portages, specifically, that train trestle. Every bridge on every paddle should be scouted, especially if you hear moving water and portage when you question your own ability to make it through.
With the water levels we’ve paddled this at, it’s definitely a three-hour journey if you add in some breaks throughout. It’s truly a delightful day trip in the most unlikely of places.
Post-Paddle Diversions: Amongst the hopeful revitalization of downtown Beloit is a gem of a restaurant, Bushel & Peck’s. They’re the definition of a farm-to-table restaurant as even their produce comes from their own farm. It’s practically impossible to choose a favorite (but I’m partial to anything with bacon).
Who is Going to Love It
Creekers will love the Turtle for its good current, riffles and alternating landscape. Despite paddling through a populated city, you wouldn't even know most of the time, which makes it all the more appealing.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Put-In at Sweet-Allyn Park, Shopiere, Wisconsin: The put-in at Sweet-Allyn Park is fantastic with easy water access, facilities and lots of parking.
Take-Out at Dickop Street, South Beloit, Illinois: The take-out is unique in that it's flanked by a couple train trestles (just beyond the one to the west is the confluence of the Rock River). It's a convenient access point, albeit a little sketchy since it's not in the most developed part of Beloit.