Manitowish River - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Extended Trip Report
Manitowish Waters, WI
Submitted by: jimmacha
Trip Report – Manitowish River – Iron County, WI
Roster: Joe, Greg, Angie, and Jim, all adult experienced wilderness canoeists
Brad, an adult rookie
plus Ian, Anton, and Jarod, 12 – 14 year olds, with canoeing experience ranging from none to lots.
Canoes: We No Nah Sundowner 18’ Kevlar; We No Nah 17’ Spirit 2 in Tuff-Weave; Bell Northstar 16½’ Kevlar; Coleman 17’ Ram-X.
Our plans were to head to Iron County to paddle both the Manitowish and Turtle Rivers. A late start on Saturday brought us to a friend’s cabin in the north country late in the afternoon. It also brought news that there was not much water in the Turtle River due to the dry summer, and a forecast of mid-90’s for the next several days. We changed our plans, camped overnight in the friend’s yard, and drove over to the Manitowish River on Sunday morning.
There is a very nice launch site alongside Hwy 51 just west of the village of Manitowish Waters. We dropped four canoes, all our gear, and most of the crew. Jim and Joe headed west on Hwy 51 to Murray’s Landing Road to leave one of the trucks at our ending point, Murray’s Landing, on the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. This road is west of the intersection of Highways 51 and 47, and is approximately ¾ hour round trip. Greg supervised getting everything loaded into the canoes.
We launched in very hot weather, and began training our rookies on the art of driving a canoe. We immediately hit one of two low water rocky sections of the trip, which we walked the Kevlar canoes through, still picking up a few new scratches and scrapes. Alternative starting points, which would skip this low water, are at Hawk’s Nest Outfitters and a wayside, both along Hwy. 51 just a bit west of this launching spot.
The Wisconsin DNR maintains almost 40 free campsites along the entire length of the Manitowish River, beginning at High Lake in Vilas County to the east. We looked at several, which were all very good. Due to the heat, we slowed down our trip and camped pretty quickly at Site # 52, which is one of the nicest campsites we have been on in our many years of doing these trips in many locales. The scenery at this site is great, the tent pads smooth and level, the swimming good, and the campsite was very clean. We had seen a variety of fish in the river, but had no luck in catching much of anything. We had an interesting visit with a DNR ranger who was hiking through the campsites, checking for dead trees, the outdoor toilets, etc. He suggested Site # 56 as our next stop, and said he also liked # 57.
We hit the river again by mid-morning, and stopped off at the Hwy 47 bridge. A quick walk and we were supplied with more ice, which was melting fast, and some cold beverages. This is the last potential pullout until Murray’s Landing. We got going again, passed a couple of unused campsites, and stopped and set up camp at Site # 56. This, too, was a very nice site, but not quite as nice as our first one. It has good swimming and canoe access and places for tents. But it also had a pretty full outdoor privy.
A mid-morning start got us going on our final leg on another hot day. We stopped for a snack at Campsite #57, which is at the confluence of the Manitowish and Bear Rivers. This campsite is also nice, but we did not rank it as highly as the two we used. From this point on, the river is known as the Flambeau.
As we began entering the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, more forest area and higher ground began to be seen. We tried following our maps, but no lake or shoreline were evident, just acres of 4’ tall marsh grass and a skinny indistinct river channel. The route to Murray’s Landing is not obvious – a GPS would be helpful. Two reputable sources have suggested these GPS waypoints for Murray’s Landing. Although we have not verified, they should be very close. N46° 04.919 W090° 04.789 or N46° 05.000 W090° 05.000.
In one spot, we took a few wrong turns, but finally ended up on a northward bearing right into a hard wind. In about ¾ mile, Murray’s Landing came into view. "Civilization!" was heard being loudly cried out by one of the boys. There is a nice toilet facility and info booth here, and the boys swam while Joe and Jim went after the other truck. Greg paddled over to check on Campsites # 9 and 10, but found both occupied. Jarrod came out of the water with a foot full of leeches which needed attention. Since we couldn’t camp nearby, we packed up, and headed south on Hwy 51 to the Firefly Lake campgrounds, a DNR Northern Highland - American Legion State Forest family camping area. This is another very nice place which began to acclimate us back to civilization with flush toilets, hot showers, and friendly staff and neighbors.
Two different DNR guides say we did a 17- or 20-mile stretch of river, and suggest it as 12 hours (or so) of paddling. Due to the high temperatures and paddling with kids, it probably took us longer. We had no reason to push, and enjoyed a slow and relaxing time.
A final neat thing was an article in the Outdoors section of the July 30 Appleton Post Crescent highlighting our trip with a big story and photos. Also included was an interesting and very unique camping vocabulary list compiled by the boys. It pays to take an editor on adventures!
Observations – This is a meandering stream with not much current. The river campsites are very nice and seem to be well cared for by both users and the DNR. There is not much firewood down; it has been pretty well picked over. Some day-trippers were seen, but we were generally by ourselves, and we saw nobody set up on any of the river campsites. When coming in to the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, the route to Murray’s Landing is not obvious due to tall marsh grass growth and narrow indistinct river channels – a GPS would be helpful. Mosquitoes were bad at dusk, horseflies and deerflies were quite thick in some places, not a problem in other areas. No wood ticks or blackflies were seen. A great trip – we’d do it again!
Highway 39/51 north 90 miles from Wausau, WI to Manitowish Waters, WI.
Highway 51 south 30 miles from Ironwood, MI to Manitowish Waters.
Further specifics in article.
WI DNR pamphlet # PUB-FR-179 2005, "Northern Highland – American Legion State Forest Canoe Route Guide"
WI DNR map # PUB-LF-015 2005 "Turtle-Flambeau Scenic Waters Area";
Iron County Development Zone brochure, "Rivers Through Time";
Mike Svob’s book, "Paddling Northern Wisconsin
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