If you look at a map of northern Wisconsin there’s nearly as much blue as there is green— lakes and rivers abound in this paddler’s dream. Here are a few of the best water outings in the Northwoods.
Twenty-one islands off the Bayfield Peninsula along with 12 miles of mainland shoreline make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (which celebrates 50 years this year). Paddling here requires sea kayaks, and a trip out across the open water to see the sea caves on Sand Island is something you’ll never forget. But a trip to the sandstone cliffs back on shore is the most popular and accessible. Trips depart from Meyers Beach, and paddlers head a mile east to see dramatic sandstone cliffs, carved by wind, waves and winter ice, rising out of the water. You can paddle into crevices, caves and narrow tunnels. Lake Superior is always to be taken seriously—it sinks ships!—but with the proper safety information and preparation, paddlers of all levels can enjoy it. Book a guided trip with Lost Creek Adventures in Cornucopia or Trek & Trail in Bayfield. lostcreekadventures.org
The humble headwaters of the state’s longest river arise from spring-fed Lac Vieux Desert near the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Here the river runs narrow, winding through pine forest or tall sandy banks. Tea-colored waters riffle over a sandy bottom, providing easy paddling and abundant wildlife viewing. Overnighters can make use of various rustic campsites along the banks. Rohr’s Wilderness Tours can set you up with a canoe for the day. rwtcanoe.com
The River of Presidents, this Class 1 trout stream has hosted five American heads of state. Spring-fed, the clear waters start modest and finish with rapids as the river flows 44 miles north to Lake Superior through the Brule River State Forest. The section from Stones Bridge to Winneboujou is easygoing,
but advanced paddlers prefer the more challenging rapids five miles north of US Highway 2. Contact Brule River Canoe Rentals for watercraft and shuttle runs. brulerivercanoerental.com
Part of the St. Croix National Scenic Waterway, the Namekagon is a 101-mile tributary of the St. Croix. The upper reaches offer a shallow and narrow float, often riffling through tighter turns. These northerly stretches are best early in the season when water levels are more reliable, but below the dam at Trego the waters tend to stay higher longer. Much like the upper Wisconsin, the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers offer rustic campsites for longer trips. haywardoutfitters.com
One of the most pristine paddles you’ll find, this branch of the Flambeau has a few stretches of Class I and II rapids as it flows through the Flambeau State Forest, with free campsites spread throughout. Expect plenty of wildlife, nary a soul and large boulders that are easily paddled around. Nine-Mile Tavern sits at the edge of the state forest on Highway 70 outside of Park Falls and offers canoe rentals and runs shuttles. ninemiletavern.com
This 19,000-acre lake is loaded with islands and miles of shoreline. A designated quiet zone keeps motorized boats away for paddlers. Pitch a tent at one of the 66 free first-come, first- served rustic campsites scattered throughout the territory. If you didn’t see an eagle while you were here, your eyes were closed. Contact River’s Edge Outfitters in Manitowish Waters for your rental needs. riversedgemw.com
Flatwater paddling means put-in and takeout can be done without a shuttle. However, this paddle within a designated state natural area requires a few portages. Short trails connect four lakes—Oberlin, Smith, Bittersweet and Prong—which are surrounded by old pine and hemlock within the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest. Rustic campsites are available as well. Expect to see the occasional osprey, eagle or loon fishing for its lunch. You may want to join them: Bring your fishing pole for walleye, northern pike, bass and panfish. Chequamegon Adventure Company in Minocqua is the nearest outfitter. chequamegonadventurecompany.com
Flowing through the heart of the Nicolet portion of the Chequamegon- Nicolet National Forest, the Pine is for pros in its upper stretches, but as it heads east it settles down to novice levels once it passes south of Florence. Here, it’s wide and calm, but no less forested. And, watch for eagles. From a put-in at County Road N the river offers some basic Class I rapids spread out in a long oxbow. This stretch is popular with tubers because where the river doubles back on itself, some will takeout and carry back to the put-in to run the oxbow again. If you book through Wild River Adventures, they will meet you with a rental craft at the put-in parking lot. natureswaterpark.com
By Kevin Revolinski | Images courtesy of Travel Wisconsin
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