WI Kenosha Des Plaines River
Upper Des Plaines River
Kenosha County, Wisconsin
A surprisingly wild feeling river running through farmlands and increasingly more developed sections west of the city of Kenosha.
- Terrain / Scenery: Slow moving river meandering through woodlands, prairies, and wetlands.
- Trail Conditions: Slow moving current with frequent log jambs, low hanging branches, fallen trees, low bridges, dams further south.
- Trail Markings: Unmarked
- Facilities: None.
- Official Web Page: No official
- Getting There: See launch points.
For a general description of the Upper Des Plaines River and for notes on water levels see Main Upper Des Plaines River Page and then return to this page for information specific to the Kenosha segments.
Unlike nearby portions of the Des Plaines River in Illinois, there are no developed canoe launches on the Kenosha area segments (shame on us). In addition, most of the land along the river in Kenosha County is privately owned.
Now for the good news. The floodplain along the river has kept development to a minimum. There are homes on the river in a few sections, but most of the river provides the same wild feeling you get in the sections that run through northern Lake County Illinois.
The biggest challenge to paddling the Des Plaines River in Kenosha County is the lack of designated launch areas. I show some potential launch points on my map but am not absolutely certain as to the legality of parking or launching from these points since you may be crossing (or parking on) small sections (usually less than 50 feet or so) of private land to get to the river.
West of I94
So far I have only paddled a mile or so west of Interstate 94 because I usually put in at Highway 165 and paddle round trips. Also, you need some very high water levels to paddle these sections and the area immediately west of I94 has some very thick vegetation (see photo on right). If you want to try this section, I strongly suggesting paddling upriver first to make sure you can get through (rather than putting in further upriver and expecting to be able to get downriver). I'll describe this section as though you were heading upriver first. After passing under the I94 bridge (heading upriver) you'll encounter some very heavy vegetation. This heavy vegetation continues for about a quarter mile upriver. If the water is high enough you can usually make it through most of this without getting out of the boat. You have to look close for a fork in the river (at about the quarter mile point) where it looks like the main channel goes straight, but actually the main channel goes left (South) (again I'm talking in terms of going upriver). Here the vegetation is extremely thick and you will almost certainly need to portage. Surprisingly the river suddenly opens up and turns into a small prairie stream heading through farmlands. I've only gone about a mile beyond this point but it still looked like you could continue in high water. The next road crossing upriver would be County Road MB. Since I don't know what exists between MB and and the point I described, I can only say that you should be prepared to possibly encounter some more sections of thick vegetation and maybe a farmer's bridge or two. If you want to risk it, there is room to park on the shoulder of MB and there is easy access to the river there. The land in this section is all private farmland. Even though this section of the river may be not much more than a drainage ditch, Wisconsin law does protect your right to paddle it. You may even be able to paddle upriver from MB, but I have to think at some point it just becomes more trouble than it's worth.
I94 to Highway 165 - 3.60 Miles
There is room to park on the frontage road on east side of I94. At high water (the best time to paddle this section) the water will spread out far enough to allow quick access to the river through the flooded area. There will almost certainly be a few tight spots and log jambs immediately downriver from I94. At high water you should be able to get around them. After this the river opens up a bit, but at high water you may encounter one or two spots where the channel meanders off to the side, but the current keeps going straight (kind of taking a shortcut through the floodplain). Under these circumstances, it's not always obvious exactly where the channel is (this is particularly true when you are paddling upriver). You may be able to get through going straight, but more likely you will eventually get caught in thick vegetation and/or shallow waters. If so, just back up and look for the channel. About half way between I94 and County Road C you will see a flooded grassland area (if the water is high enough) on your left and a road running parallel to the river. This can make for an alternate put-in point. Just before you get to County Road C, the channel opens up and you'll pass some homes on your left. You can probably use C as a put-in, but there is not much of a shoulder for parking. After the Road C bridge, you're back into weaving and ducking through the trees for a while and may encounter a log jam or two. Eventually the channel will clear and you'll see some homes on your left. A little meandering prairie canoeing and you'll come across a large straight channel coming in from your left. This is Jerome Creek (pretty much a drainage ditch) that will eventually narrow and is probably not worth exploring for most paddlers. The main channel of the Des Plaines River is to the right (west) and you will immediately encounter a rather low pedestrian bridge. This bridge connects to the hiking trails in Prairie Springs Park, so you have an option to stretch your legs a bit if you choose here. Continuing on, you will encounter a wooded area, which at high water provides some fun tree canoeing. This is another area where you may lose the channel at high water levels. For the most part, if you stay to the right, you will be following the channel, though canoeing through the woods is a lot more fun. You will likely encounter a couple of log jambs here that are usually not an issue at high water. Soon hereafter you'll see the Highway 165 bridge. The best place to take out here is on the left just before the bridge (see notes below for more information).
Highway 165 to Russel Road Canoe Launch - 3.75 Miles
There is no parking on Highway 165 near the bridge, but I have been parking on the grassy area to the side of the road on the north side of the road and the east side of the river. I don't know for certain that this is OK, but I (and others) have used this launch area for many years. In fact, it would make a great place for a developed launch site (are you listening Pleasant Prairie or Kenosha County?). You can launch down the hill from the grassy area. At high water, you can launch right out of the grass and prevent getting muddy. IMPORTANT UPDATE: apparently Pleasant Prairie was listening, but rather than making an official launch area, they put a shiny new "NO PARKING" sign right on the Grassy area where canoeists have been parking for decades, thereby making this wonderful launch site officially illegal, I have scouted out some alternative launch sites (none as good as this one) but I'm going to refrain from posting them and letting Pleasant Prairie know where they will need some more signs.
Between 165 and County Road ML the river meanders through prairie that is mostly private land. A large portion of this is a private hunting area. In most cases you will likely hear occasional shots off in the distance, but will probably not see hunters near. However, occasionally they have special events here and the place can sound like a war zone with orange blazed hunters roaming everywhere. Probably doesn't hurt to wear something that doesn't look like fur or feathers. The channel is pretty easy to follow going downriver. The only tricky part is just after a curve in the river where there is a high grassy embankment on your right. Stay to the left of the channel (not along the embankment) or you may get caught in some thick grass and cattails. After this section, the channel opens up and remains that way past ML and most of the way to Russel Road. Just before Russel Road you will encounter a short section where trees are growing up through the river and a log jam or two are likely. The takout at the Russel Road landing is on your left. This is a developed landing. More info on this landing and the routes can be found at Main Upper Des Plaines River Page
If paddling upriver between ML and 165, there are a few spots where you can lose the channel. I will describe these as though you are paddling upriver. The first occurs where the power lines cross over the river. Stay to the right to get through the grassy area. Shortly after that you will see a high grassy bank on your left. At high water, the area along this embankment and area east can turn into a large pond and the channel can seem to disappear. Do not follow NNW along the grassy bank (this looks like the channel at high water), instead go Northeast and then North looking for something that looks like a channel going through the grassy area. Again, at flood levels, this can be tricky but it is there. The next tricky area occurs a short distance (maybe a half mile) before the Highway 165 bridge. There are two channels flowing into the river, one is straight ahead and one is to the left. It's very easy under certain water conditions to not even notice the channel on the left, however the left channel is the correct one. The channel straight ahead just runs you into some ponds in the flood plain east of the river. You can see these channels on my map.
For more information on the Russel Road Launch see Main Upper Des Plaines River Page
Des Plaines River Trail Multi-use Trail
This page is authored and maintained by Dave Piasecki