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Roster: Joe, Greg, and Jim, all adult experienced wilderness canoe campers; plus Quin, Nick, and Jeremiah, 9 – 16 year olds, each with some paddling / tripping experience.
Last summer, we spent several days doing a lazy trip down the Manitowish River to Murray’s Landing in sweltering July heat. (See our Extended Trip Report – Manitowish River – posted August 7, 2006 on paddling.net). We liked what we saw in the small area of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage at the landing where we pulled out, and after further winter research, we planned a trip.
From various points in northeastern WI, our crew met in Waupaca, WI on a Saturday morning. We loaded up an extended cab 4 x 4 pickup truck and canoe trailer, and headed to Hwy I-39 / 51 in Stevens Point. Taking these good highways north brought us to Murray’s Landing Road, between Manitowish Waters and Mercer, approximately a 160 mile, 3 hour drive. This road is west of the intersection of Highways 51 and 47, and leads to one of six boat landings serving the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. Murray’s Landing is the only access in the designated “Quiet Area”, which is voluntary slow-no-wake, comprising about the eastern 20% of the 14,000+ acres of water. The State of WI now owns over 36,000 acres of surrounding lands, including 114 miles of mainland shoreline and 195 islands. It is managed to have an excellent fishery open to the public, but preserved in a natural state as much as possible.
We pulled into a very busy landing, and were relieved to see that many people were leaving, not arriving. We grabbed a few extra maps from the info kiosk, and made use of the nice outhouse facility. We launched in hot weather, and began training our rookies on the finer points of driving a canoe. Joe and Jeremiah towed the kayak as a trailer at this point.
The Wisconsin DNR maintains around 60 free campsites all over the Flowage, many on islands. Fourteen of these campsites are within the Quiet Area. All are first come, first served, and all are advertised as only accessible by water. As we paddled west, approaching the first site (# D-10), I recognized a flag being flown, from a church scouting program I have been affiliated with for many years. It was a group from Illinois, and with them was a man who had lived in our town for a while, who I had known well. A quick reunion slowed us down a bit.
The next site, # D-9, was also occupied. We continued, and stopped at island site # D-6, which is once again one of the nicer campsites we have been on in our many years of doing these trips in many locales. The scenery at this site is great, it is high enough to catch a good breeze, the tent pads are smooth and level, the swimming good, and the campsite was very clean. The only occupant seemed to be a red squirrel, which the boys immediately named Rocky. There is another campsite (# D-11) quite nearby, perhaps only 100 yards across a narrow gap of water. It was not as nice, and was only occupied one night of the six we were there. We did see many folks stop for a look there, and then continue.
On Tuesday, Greg and Quin packed up to head back home to jobs. We paddled with them to Murray’s Landing, stashed our canoes, and headed into Mercer for some cold sodas. We wanted to search for a GeoCache (see www.geocaching.com for further info) down by the Turtle Dam, but figured it was too far and too big of water for our crew to paddle. The map indicated a quick trip down County Hwy FF would take us there. We did not anticipate that most of Hwy FF would be torn up… we 4x4’d around graders, diggers, payloaders, sand piles, huge boulders, and flaggers holding up traffic (which seemed to be only us). After a short drive which took a very long time, we did find the geocache. And also observed what must have been a very large Iron County public works project.
We did several day trips around the Quiet Area, fished, explored, and checked out every campsite that was not occupied. Almost all of them we saw were quite nice, and we were impressed with the cleanliness. They had all been obviously well used, but also well taken care of. This has not always been our experience in other places, and we were pleased. Particularly, we liked D-2, D-4, D-5, D-29, and A-1. We agreed that we could be happy at any of them. All the campsites on the Flowage have a fire ring and outdoor box latrine. Some campsites down in the bigger water also have picnic tables.
All of us had fun with the kayak, as it was more of a water toy than a main means of transportation on this trip. We saw about equal numbers of canoes and kayaks being paddled by others, both alone and in small groups.
Another geocaching adventure on Thursday morning was to take us to the area of Fisherman’s Landing. It appeared from the map that we could catch the hiking trails from Blair Lake, saving a fair amount of paddling. We beached our canoes at Campsite D-2, and headed out on a GPS bearing. After much bushwhacking (stomping through the brush) we found the geocache, and bushwhacked a different track back. We were not even clear of Blair Lake when a massive thunderstorm hit, complete with wind and lightning. We managed to get off the open water and near, but not next to, shore and sat it out. In just a short time, we had more than 2” of water in the boats to bail out. This was one of the hardest winds and rains we have encountered in a long time. We came back to quite a bit of wet stuff at our camp, but the weather cleared and we were able to get most everything dried out.
Observations and conclusions – This is a huge body of water, created in 1926 by the damming of the Flambeau River, flooding sixteen lakes and the surrounding area. It is now owned by the State of WI. The designated Quiet Area is voluntary slow-no-wake, which seems to be honored for the most part. The 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. We used our GPS’ quite a bit marking various locations, as most of the shoreline and islands look pretty much the same. Mosquitoes were bad at dusk, horseflies and deerflies were around, but not thick enough to be a real nuisance. No wood ticks or black flies were seen. The fishing is supposed to be very good. We did try some, but did not have much success, probably due to the heat, being early August, and our unfamiliarity with the area. Eagles and loons were commonly seen and heard.
General agreement of our crew is this is a great destination, close to home, terrific campsites, good fishing potential, and we will go back.
The following locations were locked in on our GPS’:
Murray’s Landing: N 46* 04.910’   W 090* 04.796’
Campsite A-1: N 46* 05.855’   W 090* 08.521’
Campsite D-2: N 46* 05.875’   W 090* 09.299’
Campsite D-5: N 46* 05.447’   W 090* 07.713’
Campsite D-6: N 46* 04.986’   W 090* 07.012’
"Paddling Northern Wisconsin", by Mike Svob
1 Canoe/Kayak Trailer