Yellow River, Volney to the Mississippi
4/7/2000 by Greg Vitale and Rick Dietz
On April 7th, Greg Vitale, Matt Maxwell, and Rick Dietz braved near blizzard conditions for a weekend of paddling on the Yellow River in Northeast Iowa. Others had second thoughts in the face of an expected four to eight inches of snow. Gusty winds and drifting snow made for an exciting drive, but the anticipation of large snow accumulations brought hope that water levels would be up from our exploratory trip two weeks earlier.
There is no gauge on the Yellow River so we consulted data from nearby rivers. The Upper Iowa at Decorah had a flow of 277 cfs, the Turkey River at Garber read 507 cfs. Both gauges were well below the seasonal median reflecting the long running dry period since last summer. The 2 inch snow accumulation was gone by noon Saturday and had little effect.
Our accommodations were at the old Sixteen Schoolhouse, a one-room schoolhouse built around 1930, located just up the road from Sixteen bridge. Warm shelter, running water and modern cooking facilities were welcome after the drive up and after each day’s paddling. Former Sixteen Schoolhouse students George & Belva Ashbacher rent the schoolhouse to paddlers. (George & Belva also operate the Scenic Ridge View Exotic Animal Ranch and other unique accomodations and attractions in the area).
The Yellow is a small winding stream with nearly constant turns, riffles, and drops. Between Volney and Sixteen Bridge the river flows through rolling meadow and is a particularly beautiful stretch of river . Access is downstream of the X26 bridge on river right. This 4 mile section took approximately 1 1/2 hours. Another bridge southeast of Volney provides alternate access.
Access at Sixteen bridge is also on river right just below the bridge. This is a public access with parking, but through a private horse pasture. Here the river valley begins to narrow and meadow is replaced by forest and bluffs. About halfway to Ion Bridge the river slows above a low water dam and farm crossing. Best to get off the river and check it out. The 6 miles between Sixteen and Ion took about 3 hours.
Near Ion the Yellow has the greatest rate of fall of any navigable river in Iowa, but it begins to slow as it nears the Mississippi. There is an unmarked access at the end of Old Mission Drive, approximately two miles downstream from Ion on river left. We arrived at the Hwy 76 Access (9 miles) in about 2 1/2 hours. This is an unimproved parking area opposite Smoky Hollow Road, approximately 1 mile above the 76 bridge. We continued to the Yellow River Access on the Mississippi, just south of the mouth. This added about 1/2 hour, but emerging from the mouth of the Yellow on to the Mighty Miss is worth the the time.
Our efforts were well rewarded. Wildlife sightings included herons, eagles, vultures, hawks, geese, ducks, turkeys, and brown trout. Other unexpected treats included excellent weather, and woodland hikes at Effigy Mounds and Yellow River State Forest.
Other useful links:
Yellow River Valley Canoe & Heritage Trail map
Iowa Geographic Image Map Server
(Volney to Ion)
(Ion to Mississippi)