Namekagon River, County K to Whispering Pines. (7.7 miles)

I recently took a group of 4-H families on the Namekagon from County K to Whispering Pines, a pretty popular part of the river. With the group, we used Jacks Canoe Rental, which make the shuttle and travel easy. We put in at County K, which has lots of parking. There is an area to drop off boats, and then an area to park, and there were many cars there on a beautiful day. All sorts of people were around, including people with portage packs that I assume were going to stay overnight on the river.

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Being a leader on this quick trip, I was paying less attention than I should to my surroundings to write about it. I will have to revamp this post in the future with more details! At first, we started out on a quick section of the river. We were swiftly carried away and had to find a place downstream to wait for the group. There are strainers on the river here, so watch out for them in the quick current. The river winds a lot, and there are some riffles and small rapids. We took a lunch at campsite 26.7, which was very spacious. All of the campsites we went by looked like it would be easy to get boats out of the water (much more so than higher up on the Namekagon, where you are bringing the boats up steep inclines where there is not much room to store them). Campsite 25.3 is closed for restoration. There was some poison ivy at the campsite, and an old chicken of the woods mushroom greeted us. We took out at Whispering Pines, which comes up out of nowhere. It was easier to see the campsite sign past it. The river is swift here too, so make sure you are able to get over to river right to get out.

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Along the river, there were oak, maple, tag alder. Lots of leaves were down on this beautiful fall day, more than the rest of the woods up in Washburn County. The river must affect them turning before the rest of the trees.

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There is a great deal of information on this section of the river – Paddling Northern Wisconsin by Mike Svob, Canoeing the Wild Rivers of Northwest Wisconsin and the map from the National Park Service are great resources.

 

Most recently paddled Sept 22, 2018

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Namekagon River, Big Bend Landing to Trego Revamped (7.7 miles)

This is such a popular paddle, and I do it feel like I did it justice on it’s first post in 2016. For one, I have pictures now!

I recently did this paddle with a group of middle and high schoolers and it was a very pleasant day. As noted before, you want to avoid summer weekends, so that you do not have lots of other people around you o the river, drinking. I have heard from rangers that it is getting worse. The Apple River has cracked down on their party status, and now people are coming up here more to do just that. There may be some intervention on this in the future, but for now, you can just choose to avoid the area on the best summer weekend days.

There are a few campsites along this stretch of river, most in the first half of the trip. There was a couple camping at one of the sites as we paddled by, and another group taking a break at another one.

This section of river meanders through forest and marsh, creating some islands in the lowlands. We put in at Big Bend Landing, where the river actually is going around a horsehoe turn for the first half of the trip. The river is wide and calm on the turn, and is very beautiful in the fall. We lunched at the Earl Landing, which has camping, water and pit toilets. This is where many of the outfitters put in and there is a nice new boat ramp to drop off canoes and tubes. If you take out here for a rest, remember to be courteous so that if others come to drop boats off, your belongings are not in their way. After the Earl Landing, the river continues to meander through forest and high banks, and there are some riffles (some may consider them Class I rapids). There are also strainers along the side of the river. We did have a canoe tip because of a strainer – they all leaned away from it… and the boat tipped. Know how to avoid the strainers and boulders in the river, and how to react if you do end up close to them.

After the first Highway 63 bridge, the river weaves through low wetlands creating sandbars and islands. The river can be very shallow, but it isn’t too hard to find the main channel and continue downstream. The river goes under Highway 63 again and is wider, with higher riverbanks.

The river has many plant species along it, including pine, oak, white birch, tag alder, maple, wild rose, sedges and cattail. A plant that has been prolific statewide in 2018 is the wild cucumber. It is a vine that can cover the top of trees and kind of looks like a blanket over them. We explored some ripe cucumbers. It appears that the end of the ‘cucumber’ falls off, and the seeds, when ripe, fall out. There are a few chambers of seeds, and two seeds in each chamber. Nothing would probably eat it, it is quite bitter, slimy – and in the winter you can see their skeletons handing from the vine still. The Trego Nature Trail goes along the north side of the river for most of the stretch south of Highway 63. We did see eagles on this section of river.

The take-outs are obvious – Lakeside Road Landing (river right) and one right across from it near the Namekagon River Visitor Center (river left). If you continue, there is a take-out at Trego Town Park (river right) or you can go under a very low red walking bridge. This quickly takes you under US Highway 53 onto Trego Lake.

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There is a great deal of information on this section of the river – Paddling Northern Wisconsin by Mike Svob, Canoeing the Wild Rivers of Northwest Wisconsin and https://www.nps.gov/sacn/planyourvisit/upload/2014-Namekagon-Map2BW.pdf from the National Park Service are great resources.

 

Most recently paddled Sept 11, 2018

Yellow River – Green Valley Road landing (Tozer Lake Bridge) to Swan Bridge Road (~7 miles?)

I have done this section of river a few times before. I decided again to lead two Wisconsin Natural Resources Foundation (NRF) trips (http://www.wisconservation.org/field-trips/) on the river this year, with Joan Jacobowski, who works with the National Park Service when she isn’t foraging or volunteering. As I prepped for the first trip, I was surprised that I hadn’t written about it yet. I guess a few rivers slip through, and even now, I write months after I write about this river (I did take notes both times I was out this summer!)

This river is a bit wilder than the nearby Namekagon, and very accessible without too much challenge. This is why I have chosen it for a second year in a tow to lead people from around the state on. We put the boats in at Green Valley Road, where there is an ample parking area. There is poison ivy along the edges, so be aware for that. In the river, turn right, under the bridge (it is very slow-moving, and hard to tell which way is downstream!) There are lots of wild rice beds here, and if you go later in the season (July) you may have to cut a path through the rice while it is starting to stand up. There was usually a channel to follow, but sometimes we had to create our own path to the next closest channel. In June, the rice is still in the floating leaf stage, and is just starting to stand up and become erect. This is very easy to move through. We avoided the rice, because at this stage, if it gets ripped out, well – it is ripped out of the ground and dies. Motor boats and late floods are a culprit for killing rice at this point in the season. Other things that may kill rice are high water earlier in the season (damming lakes and rivers can cause the water level to be too high) and pollution – rice is sensitive and is an indicator species. I will write more about wild rice soon, as I went a few times this fall!

The river winds through lowlands, with lots of sedges, cattail, wapito, water dock, red and white pine, red maple, tamarack, white birch, bracken fern and jewelweed. In June, the yellow flag iris and blue flag iris are blooming. The first is invasive (though I must say it is pretty and brightens the riverway) and the second is at-risk. Wildlife that I’ve seen on this section of river include bear, eagle, turtles and dragonflies. In 2017, on the trip I took with the NRF, we saw a mother bear and two cubs climb a tree – then the mother came down, and we couldn’t see her any more. We were safely in boats on the water, and didn’t disturb her any longer, but could watch the cubs in the tree – it was pretty cool! Towards the end of the paddle, before the last turn, there is an eagle’s nest back a little ways from the river, on the left. I found it when I ‘followed’ and eagle there, it gave away it’s home!

The river goes under Hector Dam Road, where there used to be a dam. There is a bit of a drop off and swift current. A bit of fun amidst a slow lazy river. This is a forested area, much more reminiscent of other ‘northern’ rivers, with higher banks and lots of trees.

The takeout is at Swan Bridge. There is not a parking area here, but you can park on the edge of the road when you shuttle. I usually take out on the downstream side of the bridge, on river right, though none of the banks here are ideal – they are all steep. At the landing I’ve found ox-eye daisy. This takeout can be challenging for people. Overall this is a great section of river to see wildlife and get away from the hustle and bustle of the northwoods!

 

 

Paddled June 6, 2018 and July 14, 2018

Apostle Islands – Meyers Beach (2-10 miles)

For Ryan’s birthday, his final surprise was two friends coming up and sea kayaking at Meyer’s Beach at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore! We had a few 12 foot boats, which they do not recommend, and were able to borrow one sea kayak from a friend. The weather cooperated too – not too windy. There were waves, so we could go in some sea cave features while others were too dangerous to do more than look at. There were lots of tour groups, and I was thankful we were on our own and not in a group of 10-20.

From Meyers Beach you can see the sea caves, and it is about 1-2 miles to them. They start small and get larger, with the most exciting cavernous area where it seems like 2 rocks have come together and have been eroded (one of the larger named features). Being a large space, we went in here despite the waves and were ok. It is a good testing spot for the conditions. I have pictures of me here in both the summer and winter! Other features that we went past can be seen on a beautiful map at the beach shelter, showing a panoramic picture of the whole sea caves.

We went a bit past The Amphitheatre. This area fell recently (in the past few years) so you can see the fresh red rock walls, and crumbled caves in the lake, complete with birches that survived the fall. We were not far from the end where there is a picnic area to rest.

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The thing to remember when paddling the sea caves (or hiking them for that matter) is that as far out as you go, you have to paddle back. It’s definitely more fun on the way out, discovering new places. On the way back, we went slowly because we were ready for food and more water. The guided groups had tandem kayaks which seemed to go much faster than I could paddle! This is a great paddle if you are looking for something unique and accessible on a good weather day!

 

Pictures courtesy of Lindsay Ringwelski

Paddled July 15, 2018

Chippewa River – County GG to Blaisdell Lake Road landing (5-ish miles)

This trip was made on the high water I enjoyed the day before. Any lower, and it may have needed me to drag my kayak through some rapids, something I wasn’t capable of doing with a bum leg. I learned from the day before how to dress, so I didn’t struggle this time! I was all covered up to protect myself from Doxycycline-sensitive skin when we got in.

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We put in at GG, where there is a place to pull your car off the road, and a boat landing area below that looked like others had used it. Once down by the water, be ready to fly into your boat – the bugs were terrible. It is also slippery/muddy – so be aware as you rush in of the risk of falling too. At the beginning, there are a bunch of rapids, then there is a break, and then another set of rapids.   If there was a takeout here, I would highly suggest it! The reality is the second half of this paddle is on Blaisdell Lake, which is pretty long and winds a lot. The day that we went, there was a strong headwind most of the time, though there weren’t quite whitecaps. The lake widens and narrows a few times. There are some houses on the lake as well as other boaters – though on w windy day there were not too many of them out. The thing that excited me about this lake was all of the wild rice that was growing on it! Not near the landing, but the rest of the lake was lush with it just raising up from the floating leaf stage! I would come back to rice the lake. The takeout was a boat landing on the southeast shore of the lake, right as it returns to river. We used the WI gazetteer to navigate this section of river. Takeaway for this section: be ready for rapids and windy flatwater!

Flora along this section of river include silver maple, spruce, wild rice, horsetail, joe pye weed and swamp milkweed. There was also some arbor vitae and white pine. The fauna included a kingfisher, multiple merganser families, and monarchs.

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Paddled July 8, 2018

Chippewa River – Swanson’s Road/Shangolden to Stockfarm Bridge/FR 164 (8+ miles)

Lyme’s Disease is the worst. Last week, I came down with a cause of it, with an apparently new symptom – my thigh has cellulitis, which in this case feels like a bruise/strain. It is hard to walk. With the water levels up from a storm alst month, it was a perfect time to explore a new section of river that might usually be accessible only in the spring!

We put in at Shanagolden, down a dead end road (Swanson’s Road according to google – it is not marked in real life). Soon for me, life was chaos. New to the Doxycycline for the Lyme’s, I brought enough clothing to protect my skin that was newly oversensitive to the sun. But not amidst rapids! Class 1 rapids at most, they would have =been much more fun if I had not been trying to keep on my Hawaiian palm (wide-brimmed) hat at the same time as covering my legs and upper body with blankets and sarongs. I was trying to keep up with the others, not hit rocks, not lose anything and not get sunburned, all at once. My suggestion, if you are on antibiotics, is to be fully covered, hat attached, as soon as you get in if there are rapids ahead! At my request, Ryan found a branch to keep my hat on. I smelled the wintergreen, and knew that it was a yellow birch, a good ancient tree of the northwoods. About a mile in, once everything was in place, the rapids ended. On this first section of river, there were yellow birch, white and blue spruce, silver maple, tag alder, and some red maple, white birch and swamp milkweed. There is one bridge to go under – Pieper Road.

Most of the rest of the river was calm flatwater. The middle section of river had many deciduous trees like tag alder and silver maple. There was also some wild rice just lifting out of the water and well as horsetail. The river slowed before Pelican Lake and the foliage was shorter – we kept hoping around the next bed we would find the lake. Prior to it, here is a small landing on the right shore with a fishing sign – this must be a spur off of FR 1285, for people to go fishing. We did finally make it to the lake, and a wind came across it. The lake was pretty small and turned back into river relatively quickly. The last part of the river went along East Fork Chippewa State Natural Area (SNA), and ended at Stockfarm Bridge. We discovered that the Stock Farm had been a red pine plantation on the left. The campground here has been closed for a few years, so don’t count on staying here. The last section of river had arbor vitae, hemlock, yellow birch, white pine and swamp milkweed. Animals that we saw along the river included a merganser mother trying to lead us away from her young, swallows late in the afternoon, ebony jewelwings, monarchs and dragonflies.

Watching the late afternoon sun reflect on the shore in the SNA made me wonder what it is like to be somewhere forever. Like a tree, like dirt, each day, each night, existing where you are. Longer than I’ve been alive, as short as a year. The sun each afternoon, reflecting up from underneath the bowing branches. Ice in the winter, thunderstorms in the summer, surviving, existing, trusting you can make food again, dependent on something outside of you for survival. The weather must cooperate for years, decades, centuries, eons. The rainy days when I want to escape the weather and dreariness, always there in the same place. What is it like? To not move your roots, but to know all that you need to where you are, forever. To rely on your neighbor and community, so much you are all in life together, because if not, you could all cease to exist. The sun, which for eons has reflected up on the trees, it has always, been, always will be, something greater than anything we could imagine.

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The truth is we are rooted: to this earth, to each other, whether or not we remember it. We are all in this together, with the same fate as the trees.

 

Paddled July 7, 2018

 

Brill River – County V to 23rd St. (Red Cedar River) (4 .8 miles on Brill, 2 on Red Cedar)

The Brill River is likely on of my favorite paddles (so long as there is high water), except that there is a bunch of cattle wire to duck under throughout the route. The river meanders through forests, a quaint little thing that provides intimacy and nature that many other rivers this far south do not.

The river must be at the right height – with rain earlier in the week, we decided to go, and it was as close to perfect as we decided it could b – high enough to clear most sand and rock bars and low enough to make it under cattle wire. The first time we saw fencing was right before the railroad bridge – there were bison in the river with fencing to keep them on their land. (At first I couldn’t tell and was worried that we had to cross under to join them.) It was actually super cool – the bison got out of the river, herded up and sauntered away. There was something so right about it – something silent, yet thundering; to experience what the land once held, the sound of them joining together to leave a threat behind. I entered a previous era briefly, and as soon as I realized what had happened, the river pushed us away from the bison and the history of the land, back to the present.

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Soon after the encounter with the bison, there were two sets of two wires. If you stay towards the edge of the river, the wires are usually higher. A bit later, two wires went across the river to the left of an island – I would suggest staying right of the island. Near 26th Ave., there was another set of cattle wire. Before 25th Ave was a pair of cattle wires, and after the bridge and around the bend is a long wire. In total, there are 7-9 wires (the exact number blurs in my memory after so many of them.) One or two of them had been cut, so more or less may appear on the river when you go.

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Sometimes, the river seemed trashier than other rivers. There were metal cans near bridges and docks – we thought they might be minnow containers? Sometimes other things were washed down river and stuck under bridges.

This river joins the Red Cedar River, which we took two bridges downstream, about 2 miles. A map for this river can be found at: http://www.co.barron.wi.us/misc%20docs/maps/redcedarriver.pdf

Flora on this river included tag alder, sensitive fern, jewelweed, enchanted nightshade (and a ton of it – more than I have ever seen on riverbanks), white birch, red maple, white pine, skunk cabbage, tamarack, marsh marigold, blue flag iris, yellow flag iris, and dock. Animals included green heron, a juvenile eagle, red-winged blackbirds, blue jay, killdeer, crayfish, mayflies. The bottom of the river was a mix of rocky muddy and sandy.

 

Paddled June 9, 2018

Pictures courtesy of Carl Cooley

Totogatic River – Minong Flowage – Smith Bridge Road/Smith Bridge to Minong Dam/County I (4 miles)

The Minong Flowage is about 4 miles long, a couple hour trip through a large lake. We put in at Smith Bridge Rd. a little ways into the first part of the flowage. It starts out narrow for a lake, and soon widens to the point that without a map, one may not go the right direction if trying to find the dam. One the left is Wannigan Slough, and ahead is Blueberry Island, which could easily be mistaken for a peninsula at the angle we came into the lake.

Once past Blueberry Island, and the next peninsula, one must stay to the center of the lake. There is temptation to go to the left, into one of many bays. The lake narrows as you pass Totogatic Park, with two peninsulas coming together. After the park, the lake veers to the left, and finally to the right, curving towards the dam. It seems that it will never come, until you finally see it around a turn! The portage around the dam is on river left (NOT on the right, as ____ book says.) There are arrows to direct you. We had to go within the buoys to access safe shoreline to get out, but we were still far from the dam and dangerous waters. You can portage here to the river or to the parking lot that is on County I.

The shoreline was covered with northwoods forest – Jack and red pine, white birch, some tag alder. Geese and eagles flew around the area, as well as an airplane that landed on the lake – unfortunately in a bay on the other wide of a peninsula so we couldn’t se it. There are some motorboats on a spring day, I would guess more as high season comes around. As you go through the lake, there are more and more houses, but they are not overbearing. There are stumps in the early part of the lake from the flooding of the area, but you should be able to easily find a clear path through.

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Paddled May 13, 2018

Snake River – CR 3 to Kanabec History Center (15 miles)

I signed up for the Snake River Canoe Race with my friend Julie this year! I’ve never done a canoe race, though I have canoed in adventure races. It’s a different animal, starting together on the river. The different types of boats were in waves – kayaks, aluminum canoes, non aluminum canoes and pro canoes. The amount of boats per wave was very manageable, though sometimes the pro canoeists zoomed by us in precarious parts of the river.

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I had heard about the race – and the Mora Classic Series (including a ski race, half marathon and bike tour) from Barbara, who I’ve stayed with for the Vasaoppet ski race the last few years. She does the canoe race and is usually the first (non pro) all-female team in! We borrowed one of her non-aluminum canoes for this race – there are rentals available fro the race directors.

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This 15 mile stretch of river was nice with the water levels perfect for the day. The river winds, and has straightaways. There was a strong wind against us for much of the race. There are houses along the river, but not an overwhelming amount. There are also Class I rapids throughout the entire segment.

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Flora and fauna that we saw included beaver, swans, spring peppers, eagles, lots of silver maple, white birch, pine, spruce, and on the shore at the starting line Virginia waterleaf and trout lily were coming out.

A map can be found at: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/watertrails/snakeriver/index.html

Race information can be found at: https://vasaloppet.us/snake-rivr-canoe-race/race-information/

 

Paddled May 5, 2018

Totogatic River – Minong Dam/County I to Thompson Bridge/River Road (~7 miles)

For this section of river, we put in at the Minong Dam, at the bottom of the Minong Flowage. The current was swift here with a gate of the dam open; going upstream to get better pictures of the dam itself revealed a powerful and testy river. The air near the dam had the fresh smell of the water – I could feel the ions in the air calming all around.

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The river on this section was circuitous and one has to watch for strainers throughout the paddle. We were against the wind much of the time. There was only one location where we had to get out to go around a tree across the river. There was a sandbar there that made going over/across easy. Canoeing the Wild Rivers of Northwestern Wisconsin claims that there are rapids in this segment, I would say that on the day that we paddled it, at most they were riffles. After Nancy Lake Road, it is a long stretch without a road that is reminiscent of the Namekagon River. The river winds and tangles its way through the terrain, around a few islands, carving steep banks. The takeout was at the Thompson Bridge on River Road. The current is swift here, but there is an easy takeout on river right, before the bridge.

Flora and fauna along this section of river include red and white pine, tag alder, eagles, muskrat, silver maple (blooming) and ducks. There were also some houses along the way.

 

Paddled May 6, 2018

Photos courtesy of Ryan Urban