The Yahara River’s proximity to Madison, not far from Edgerton, isn't the only reason this section is popular for canoers and kayakers. It's a relaxing paddle on an often swift current in very clean water, making for a delightful day trip.
What Makes It Great
Whenever anyone asks for a paddling recommendation near Madison, I always point them to the Yahara River or Badfish Creek because they are both reliable and beginner-friendly.
The Yahara river starts in northern Dane County and meanders its way south, connecting all the lakes in the Madison area. It's about 60 miles long but this section is just the last few miles before its confluence with the Rock River.
The river is what we'd consider medium-sized compared to others in the area. It’s bigger than the Sugar and comparable to the Crawfish but not nearly as wide as the Rock. The water is a pretty green hue, that moves swiftly over a rock and sandy bottom (which is much more apparent at lower levels).
Water levels allow for two different types of Yahara to choose from. At higher levels, most of what we love about this river, its sandbars and riffles, are nonexistent and the extended section to the confluence of the Rock is much less pleasant.
At lower levels, and probably our preferred Yahara, the channels are a little narrower and the sandbars are revealed, making for pleasant idle time. It also makes any “too shallow of shallows” easy enough to portage.
There’s nothing too exciting in the way of rapids but you'll find some riffles here and there. I often call it the "lazy river" of kayaking (which, to those not familiar with the Lazy River - it’s a old Wisconsin Dells tubing attraction via “Family Land” era) because it’s a very easy and relaxing float.
You’re bound to spot some heron, or they’ll spot you and guide your boat down the river, as well as fish, eagles and (again, in lower water) numerous clams. You’re also likely to have some human company since it's a popular section for canoers and kayakers alike.
We’re lucky to have this river so close to Madison because the Yahara is a beauty and a staple of our paddling diet and while a shallower Yahara is my preferred Yahara, it's always enjoyable either way.
Post-Paddle Diversions: As mentioned in the Badfish Creek report, one of my favorite little bars in the area is Emigail’s Roadhouse located just off the highway near Edgerton in the village of Newville. It’s an unexpected little find near the confluence of the Rock River and Lake Koshkonong. It’s southern home-style food - think crawfish, gator and catfish, PoBoy’s, gumbo, étouffée as well as traditional bar fair (ribs, shrimp, burgers, curds, etc.) as well as a solid lineup of micros - it’s totally unexpected for the area and it’s all excellent.
Who is Going to Love It
Paddlers return to this stretch, not for excitement, but for a relaxing day on the water. The best time to catch it is at lower water levels, when the sandbars are revealed for a brief (or afternoon) respite.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Put-In at West Stebbensville Road, Stebbensville, Wisconsin: The put-in on Stebbensville Road is a short hike down a well-worn path, near where the Stebbensville Dam once stood not so long ago. There isn't a lot of parking (with only the shoulders accessible) but it isn’t usually a problem.
Take-Out at Murwin County Park, Fulton, Wisconsin: The take-out at Murwin County Park (just one of the many options to take-out on) is a great little park with facilities and plenty of places to picnic on the banks of the Yahara, pre- or post-paddle.