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

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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

Totogatic River – Thompson Bridge/River Road to Namekaon Trail Landing (Namekagon River)(~10 miles)

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Having not been on the Totogatic recently and knowing it can be a little bit, shall we say, rustic, Ryan and I were pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of paddling this section. It was our first paddle of the season in Wisconsin! The river seemed high and swift enough, and maple flowers were budding out and blooming, welcoming spring and warm weather.

The river winds a lot, and using Canoeing the Wild Rivers of Northwestern Wisconsin, I was able to track where were on on the map almost the whole time. The book said there was a spring on a high sandy bank, but there is a home there with a person outside, so we didn’t explore the area to find out if that was true. E missed seeing County Line Road on river right, but I could figure that we had passed it because it was on a relatively straight segment of river.

After the straight part of the river, we entered the area the book calls the “Dismal Swamp.” I found it a Not-So-Dismal-Swamp, maybe due to the time of year. There was lots of waterfowl, a beaver, and a clear path. The river did run through the woods, reminding me of bayous in the south. The Dismal Swamp lasted a long while. There was a very short segment that seemed not so swampy before the confluence with the wider Namekagon River.

To get to the first takeout on the Namekagon, you have to paddle another mile. There were still swampy banks along this portion, and a few islands to go by. There were also 3 campsites that were well established and marked for paddlers.

Flora and fauna along this segment of river incuded Jack pine, red pine, white pine, silver maple, basswood, tag alder, white birch, ash, geese, merganser, deer and many other ducks.

 

Paddled April 29, 2018. Pictures by Ryan Urban.

Jacks Fork River, Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Missouri) – Alley Spring to Eminence (7 miles)

The section of the Jacks Fork River that we paddled is not for beginners, at least at the beginning of the season, after a year with a big flood. It may normally be easier, but there was a flood last May and the damage – on the river and in town, is still being assessed and fixed. We stayed at the Alley Spring Campground right on the river, where only walk-ins are allowed and there are no facilities. The campground looked like the flood had taken place this spring, with debris still around trees and picnic tables. We were surprised to find out the damage had been done nearly a year ago!

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We used Harvey’s/Alley Spring to rent a canoe, and went from Alley Spring to the town of Eminence. We were warned it might be challenging because not too many had been out yet this year and nothing had been cleared for the season. The floodplain looked devastated – very rocky (smaller than the Buffalo), shrubs stripped, trees down. Rock bars had been completely shifted in both the large flood and this year’s spring flooding. The river wasn’t as dramatically beautiful as I had expected, probably in part because of the flood stripping the banks. There were some ancient rock faces that reminded me of the Kickapoo River/ The hills we went by were beautiful.

There were two challenging parts, where you had to choose a direction around a rock bar. We went right (starboard) both times and the second time, we got wet trying to navigate through a narrow fast hole. From what we could tell, if you went left both times, you could have gotten through and likely would have also had challenges. There was an area with a beautiful farmstead on a hill, and you have to navigate with finesse so as not to hit a rock wall while you are distracted by it! We had figured out how to communicate better by this point and avoided hitting the wall. As we came into town, we saw a mix of new cabins and damaged homes along the river. May were very close to the river or a ledge leading to the river. We got out in Eminence and left the canoe at the landing for the outfitter. The trip took about 2 hours.

Flora and fauna that we saw along this portion of river are kingfisher, turkey vulture, turtles, sycamore, wood ducks, fish, black snails, ravens, and strangely, a pack of dogs.

 

Paddled March 24, 2018

Buffalo National River (Arkansas) – Tyler Bend to Gilbert Access (5.6 miles)

I earned my Junior Ranger for the Buffalo National River and its history helped me appreciate it more. We watched the park orientation video and learned that a senator wanted to dam the river to make hydropower and a recreation area (aka a lake). It was during the era after WWII that America dammed any rivers. This one never rose to the top as a priority by Washington. In the meantime, a group of people also pushed back, wanting to save the river from demise. They succeeded in the end, creating our first national river in 1972!

 

We rented a canoe from Silver Hill Float Service – they had some of the cheaper (though still steep) prices we saw. We put in at Tyler Bend. There had been some flooding this spring, so I thought that might be why were putting in on a rock bar. It turns out that it’s normal to have rock bars on this river like sand bars on the Wisconsin River. There were lots of rock bars people were parked and camped on. The scenery was stunning with painted rock walls on the banks. The water is a cerulean blue, like what you see above coral reefs in the ocean. The rocks in this river were quite large – fist sized, and at least in March, there were not plants that we could see growing in the river. Lots of people were out for a Friday in March. Wildlife abounded on the bends of the river. We saw kingfisher, lots of great blue herons, fish, 2 bats (which were out of place during the day – we reported this sighting to the ranger), ducks, a woodchuck, tons of turtles, turkey vultures and cliff swallows. The fauna I am lacking on without leaves (and southern trees) – we did see redbud (not seen in the north!), juniper, willows (many of which are in the river when its higher) and silver maple.

 

Paddled March 23, 2018

Chetek River – Chetek Dam to County I Landing (Red Cedar River) (~5 miles)

The Chetek River is a short river, helping me catch up on finishing a river per year while I live here. Immediately, it was not my favorite, and I’m hoping that the time of year (late summer/early fall) made it so .

We started at the Chetek Dam where it was clear that this wasn’t a particularly clean, healthy river. It was green and smelled green, and with my senses, I could not detect a lot of diversity within the river. I couldn’t see the bottom of the river often, and when I could, there was stringy green algae growing on the rocks.

The river entered the Red Cedar River, which smelled fresh and was much cleaner (at least at this point in the river). At this point, it was starting to get dark and we were nearing the landing.

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There was lots of wildlife along this river, includingt deer crossing the river,  kingfisher, ducks and other birds. We saw oyster mushrooms on some dead trees and lots of color in the trees along the shoreline.

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Paddled Fall 2017 (pictures from spring)

Namekagon River – Larsen Landing to Springbrook Landing Overnight trip (28 miles)

I recently finished a 5-day canoe trip on the Namekagon with teens. It was a great way to expose them to challenges of the outdoors as well as a beautiful place! I have written of the sections we covered before, so will focus on the camping aspect in this post. All of the sites that we used were group sites and had a fire ring, picnic table and pit toilet.

The first evening, we put in at Larsen Landing and paddled upstream a quarter of a mile. It was a quick current, making all struggle a bit, but the group made it to Site 70.0. The site is on the left (going upstream) and can be hard to find as the sign is pointing upstream for paddlers. The site itself was relatively small with not much space to place four canoes and a kayak. The rest of our equipment fit easily, though a good bear tree was harder to come by. It was a noisy night with lots of coyotes nearby, and was likely my favorite site.

imageThe next day, we paddled ~4 miles to Phipps Flowage and camped at Site 73.6. It was a very rainy evening. Again it was a smaller site, and we were able to stay dry between our tents and a tarp. The picnic table was n an open area, so we were not able to gather at it during the rain (and it was chained down). We pulled one of our canoes to the top of the steep ridge we were on, and were able to stack the rest away from the water at the take-out site. The site was very shady in the morning so most of our belongings didn’t dry out. Bear trees abounded and there was a beautiful meadow down the trail from the toilet.

The next stop on our trip was to portage around Hayward Dam, after ~7 miles. The takeout is on the left side of the river and there is a big sign indicating where to go. It has a steep bank to pull the boats up. The portage itself isn’t too far – maybe 100 meters. We went down the bank by the treeline below the dam. Again, it was steep, with some large rocks to step down. It is definitely a place to be careful. There is another place to put in further down where the put-in is not as steep. It involves more walking.

We paddled ~3 miles to the first campsite past town (Site 63.0). This campsite had lots of space. There was evidence of bears being there are some poison ivy – on the path to the site, near the campfire ring and across the path from the campfire ring. There was lots of space by the river to put canoes and have them tipped onto each other – not a steep bank and lots of space was nice! The biggest drawback of this campsite was that you could hear the nearby lumber mill. All. Night. Long. Beeping from backing up vehicles, a steady hum of industry when you are in the wilderness for peace. I would not suggest this site (and likely the next one either) if you are looking for a quiet wilderness experience, with sounds of nature.

imageOur last full day on the river, we paddled 10.9 miles to Site 52.1. The river is swift here and it doesn’t take too long for over 10 miles. The tricky part of the river was the island right before the site. If you want to go to Site 52.6, make sure to go left at the big island. Otherwise, you will have to paddle upstream a little ways to get to it. Our campsite was great. There was a long path up to it, and it was very spacious. There is lots of poison ivy at this site, especially to the right side of the landing. There is a short stairway to bring boats up and lots of space right by the water to store them. Again, careful of the poison ivy! There are logs to sit by the fire and lots of space for tents. The sun rose over the river and was beautiful!

The takeout our last day was 2.2 miles downstream – Springbrook Landing! The water is swift here and we piled up as we waited to get out. We had to wait for some people moving very slowly to get in while we held on to logs in an eddy. The landing has a staircase, a steep way to get out, and space at the top to put boats. There is poison ivy at this landing too, so look out for it.
Camping with a group on this section of the Namekagon had its’ challenges and upsides. Overall it was a great experience!

 

Paddled August 8-12, 2017

 

KeyWords: Larsen Landing, Bayfield County, Hayward

 

Eau Claire River – Big Falls County Park to Altoona Park

The Eau Claire River, at least this section (the first I’ve done of it), is very different than any other Northwest Wisconsin River I have paddled. It reminds me much more of the lower Wisconsin, tough less developed and more quaint.

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We put in at Big Falls County Park (you do have to pa a fee to park here.) It is a walk down from the parking lot, with a nice view of the falls. Lots of people were out enjoying the river and falls that day. Both the trees and sandbars make this river seem out of place in the north. The river has sandbars around every turn. Some are more substantial than others and could likely be camped on. (Do not take my word on this – I didn’t look into it and am not sure). We definitely stayed on one of the sandbars during the thunderstorm that came through the area during our paddle.

As you get closer to Altoona Lake, the current slows. The lake itself is very shallow and was full of green algae the day we went. There is a landing on river right before the lake. We took out at Altoona Park Beach on the left side, about halfway through the lake. (You have to pay to park there too). The map showed one more landing on the right, close to the dam.

There was much wildlife on the river. The thing that stood out to me was that there were so many river birch. They lined the river much of the way – more than I’ve seen on other rivers. There were also silver maple, jack pine, white birch and basswood. The bird of the day was the kingfisher.

 

Last paddled August 6, 2017