WI Kenosha Pike River
Pike River (Kenosha County) Paddling
Kenosha County, Wisconsin
Though quite scenic, the Pike River provides somewhat limited paddling opportunities as it winds its way through Kenosha County to Lake Michigan.
- Terrain / Scenery: Scenic woodlands and wetlands. Mostly shallow stream in well-defined channel.
- Fees / Permits: None
- Trail Conditions: See Water Level Notes (below). You can post trail reports on Discussion Tab.
- Trail Markings: Unmarked
- Facilities: Depends upon launch site
- Official Web Page: No official page
- Getting There: See launch points.
The Pike River runs approximately 15 Miles through Kenosha County and then into Lake Michigan. Much of the river is too shallow for paddling at normal water levels and is potentially dangerous at high water levels due to fast current in a narrow channel with frequent downed trees, low bridges, and other obstacles. The exception being the last couple of miles before entering emptying into Lake Michigan. A deeper and wider channel here with little to no current at normal levels provides for some easy quiet-water paddling.
Unfortunately, if you want to paddle more than a couple of miles you will encounter shallow sections at normal water levels. But more problematic are the frequent low or downed trees you'll encounter in all but the last couple of miles of river. I'm talking about the potential for some serious tangled messes here. The narrow channel undercuts trees growing on the higher bank (often three to six feet or higher above normal water levels) which subsequently fall across the channel. These trees often survive the fall and continue growing and collecting smaller logs, branches, and other junk floating down the river. An example of a particularly difficult entanglement is shown in the photo to the right. Trying to climb through these obstacles can be a real challenge, and portaging can be even more difficult with the steep banks. At normal water levels, these are more of a nuisance than a hazard due to the slow current, but at high water levels with much faster current, these could be dangerous.
Because of the frequent tangles and shallow sections (but mainly because of the tangles), I rarely paddle the Pike River even though it is the closest river to where I live. I do, however, frequently hike, bike, and ski along it using the Petrifying Springs County Park and the Parkside Hiking/Mountain Biking Trails/Ski Trails
For more paddling opportunities in the area, I recommend
My map represents about 15 miles of the Pike River in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. The short black lines crossing the river are small pedestrian or private bridges. I have only paddled the southern section (about the last 4 miles before emptying into Lake Michigan) but I frequently hike along the western section (about 3 miles of river passing through Petrifying Springs County Park and the Parkside Hiking/Mountain Biking Trails ). I have not paddled or hiked the area between these sections (the central section running through Kenosha Country Club Golf Course) and had to base that portion of my map on research of other maps and aerial photos and observations from roads and the bike trail. I am quite certain there are going to be some low bridges crossing the channel in this section, but I was not able to place them on my map.
Water Level Notes
You can check current water levels online at:
This gauge is located between Petrifying Springs Park and the Parkside Hiking Trails. Normal water levels are generally around 2.0 feet or slightly less at this station. At this level, most of the upper portions of the Pike River are too shallow for paddling.
The Pike River fills and drains rather quickly, so a heavy rain can bring up the river level a couple of feet in a matter of hours and then back to normal levels within 12 to 24 hours if no additional precipitation occurs.
Launching at Pennoyer Park (at Lake Michigan) and paddling upriver
This is the most likely option for recreational paddlers. There is a small parking lot located off of 7th Avenue just north of Pennoyer Park (you need to be in the northbound lane to turn in here) that provides easy access to the river. There is additional parking in Pennoyer Park just south of this lot that can also be used. The easiest place to launch is in the sandy beach area about a hundred feet from where the river empties into the lake. There is generally very little current here because of the wide channel, but the river usually narrows right at the mouth and there can be a strong dangerous current here after heavy rains. The mouth of the river is constantly changing due to the forces of the current moving through the sandy beach area and the wave action of Lake Michigan that frequently dams the mouth of the river with sand bars.
The first 1.25 miles takes you through a wetlands area west of Sheridan Road. There is generally little to no current here and water depths are usually adequate for paddling. The reality is that the water levels here are driven as much by the water levels in Lake Michigan as they are by recent precipitation. In the last decade, Lake Michigan has been running about a foot below normal levels, and subsequently this section of the river has been a little low (though still high enough for paddling).
After passing back under Sheridan Road, you paddle right through the Carthage College Campus. There are several bridges here, but one in particular that may need to be portaged at high water levels. After leaving the college campus, you pass back under Sheridan Road. There is a line of rubble (from the construction of the bridge) across the channel below the Sheridan Road Bridge that can be a little tricky to get passed going upriver. Beyond this, the river channel gradually narrows and you'll encounter a mixture of deeper muddy-bottom channel and short sections of shallower gravel-bottom channel. You'll also start to encounter some downed trees and log jams. The shallower gravel-bottom sections and the tangles of downed trees seem to get more common the further upriver you get.
There is another section of rubble below the railroad bridge (this one looks a little more natural) just south of County Road E. I generally turn around somewhere between County Road E and County Road A, having had my fill of working through downed trees (and realizing that I have to go back through each of them). The river has more frequent shallow sections above County Road A.
Other Launch Points
You should be able to put in on County Road A just east of 13th Avenue (the easternmost CR A crossing) either at the bridge or along the side of CR A . There is a small gravel parking area at the intersection of A and 13th Ave that gets heavy use by fisherman in the fall when the salmon are running. Further upriver at the next CR A crossing, there is room for parking alongside the road and access to the river on the south side of A. There are also many places within Petrifying Springs County Park where you can park and access the river. I haven't put in at any of these points or paddled any of these sections of the Pike River, so I'm only providing this information as possibilities for experienced swift-water paddlers that may want to try the Pike River at high water. I think the stretch running through Petrifying Springs County Park and the Parkside Hiking/Mountain Biking Trails is the best choice for this primarily because there are hiking trails running along the river in this area allowing you to scout out the conditions before putting in (also allowing for some easier portaging if necessary or in a worst case allowing for exit from the river and a carry out). In most cases, there will be hiking trails along both sides of the river. Check out the Petrifying Springs County Park page for a map of the river and trails.
At high water you should expect that part of the park road running through Petrifying Springs Park will be closed. The river crosses under the park road three times; the 2nd crossing is just a drain tunnel under the road (rather than a bridge) and the river will overflow the road here at high water levels. There is a dip in the road here that was actually designed to allow the river to flow over; a rather unique situation.
You can also find additional information on paddling this section of the river at the following link: Midwest Rivers Inventory Pike/Pets Page
Be aware that the Pike River is very popular with fisherman. This is especially true in the fall when the salmon are running. During this time, the banks and river itself will be crowded with fisherman.
A side note on Pike Creek
I figured I'd include this side note because there is a bit of confusion about the Pike River and Pike Creek in Kenosha. Though the Pike River is not much more than a creek in some points, the Pike River and Pike Creek are not the same thing. Pike Creek is a small creek that runs through Kenosha a little south of the Pike River. Much of the creek has been moved underground and essentially turned into a storm sewer. You still can see the creek in Washington Park and on the Washington Park Golf Course Here is a Google Map Link to Washington Park. Pike Creek empties into the main Harbor in Kenosha, but as previously mentioned, it is no more than a storm sewer at this point.
This page is authored and maintained by Dave Piasecki