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Manitowish & Flambeau Rivers - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip

Report Type: Extended Trip Report
Trip Dates: May 16-26, 2012
Nearest City: Boulder Junction, WI
Difficulty: Moderate
Submitted by: Tom Vodacek

Description:

I shoved off from County B landing at the northeast corner of High Lake in Vilas County at 09:00. The wind was from the northeast and brisk. Once I entered the lake, I had a nice easy paddle across the lake with the wind at my back. I noticed an abundance of Perch in the shallows, too bad it wasn't time for a meal. I noticed two campsites on the south shore of the lake and three pairs of Loons.

At 10:00, I crossed under High Pines Lane through a large culvert joining to Fishtrap Lake. The wind actually shoved me through the pipe.

I saw two pairs of Loons on Fishtrap Lake. The wind shifted quickly and was from the northwest. At 10:45, I entered the Manitowish River.

The river here was actually a flowage because of Fishtrap Dam and its banks were marshes, bogs and low wet grassy soils covered with alders. Arrived at Fishtrap dam at 12:30 and portaged 300 feet to below the Dam. The dam itself was earth and rock, and the river was a steep rapids on the downriver side. Below the dam, the river was narrow with high banks on the north side. Soon the banks returned to low banks. Passed under CTH M at 14:20.

Past CTH M, the banks were high and covered with pines, hardwoods and summer cottages. Boulders in the river several feet across marked the entrance to Boulder Lake. The wind was from the west and was funneled into the river mouth by high pine covered ridges. It took 15 minutes to get into the lake and a few hundred feet around the small peninsula to the south. I stuck to the south bank crossing the lake to have some respite from the wind. Entered the river again at 15:40.

The river was high tree covered banks again. At CTH K, there was an impassable shallow rapids. I portaged across the road to below the rapids and shoved off again at 14:30. The banks were mixed low alder covered and high tree covered. I stopped at the first campsite I came to. I turned out to be three quarters of a mile from the entrance to Island Lake. The bank was very steep and there was no place to pull the canoe out of the water, so I just tied it up to a shrub. I set up camp, had dinner, and turned in. I went further than I was expecting so I was very tired. The campsite had a fire ring and a table.

Next morning I had my breakfast of flapjacks and coffee and broke camp. I was stiff after the first days paddling so I got a late start at 8:30. There was another campsite on the left just before the Island Lake Landing and three more on the right as the lake widened. The last site on the right was the best location, out on a point just as the lake opens up wide. I followed the south shore again and went through large areas of tree stumps rotted to just below the surface. About halfway across the lake I left the shore and headed to where the river entrance is. The wind was brisk at my back and I got a great free ride across a lake. There is a short section of river before entering Spider Lake.

As I entered Stone Lake through a narrows, it began raining. I spotted a campsite sign on the south shore at the end of a pointed bay and stopped there until the rain stopped. Underway again at 13:45. Entered the river again at west end and passed through nice summer cabin areas. Entered Rest Lake and got to the dam at CTH W at 15:15. Portaged over the road and got underway at 14:30. I saw the first two deer crossing the river just as I was entering Vance Lake. There is a campsite on the right as you enter the river again. There was a class I rapids just before Sturgeon Lake. I passed under STH 51 at 16:50. There is a nice boat landing just downstream from the bridge. Two rapids followed, class II and class I. Benson Lake was windy and took a bit of paddling to get around. Two miles further, I stopped at a campsite on the north side at 17:50. Nice open site, with a fire ring and table.

Again, because I went further than I was expecting the previous day I got a late start, 8:40, to the sound of swans on the river. The wind was from the West, right in my face, so where the river was flowing directly West it was difficult paddling. The riverbanks here were mostly grassy and low. The wind freshened after that and the canoe was actually spun around several times on east-west stretches. After a few fights to get straight again I just started paddling backwards when I was turned around until the river turned again. When the river finally turned south, the wind was not much of a problem. There was a pair of Sandhill Cranes on the bank with several chicks. At 13:30, I arrived where the Manitowish River combined with the Bear River coming up from the south to create the beginning of the Flambeau River.

Soon the river began to slow as the river surface matched that of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage downstream. The low banks began to be mixed with high pine covered ridges. I saw some otter just before the river opened out to an enormous rush filled marsh. In the center of the marsh is a single very large glacial erratic boulder that stands ten feet or more above the water. It can be seen from the entire marsh. I passed Murray's landing at the entrance to the flowage at 15:30.

I followed the south shore again and stopped at the first campsite at 15:45. The site had a fire ring and a pit toilet, but no table. The wind died that evening and the view over the flowage to the West was wonderful. My swim to bathe was icy. After that, I did some laundry. This was the first location that had mosquitoes and there were only a few.

The next morning broke cool and clear with a wind from the southwest. My path went south of a big island and northwest through a long narrows. In the quiet lee of one point, there were thousands of dragonflies filling the air. I noticed that the wind was rising, but as I was in the lee of the shore paddling was easy. However as I rounded a point and started southwest, the wind was in my face and very strong. I could not make much headway so I cut across to some islands to the northwest and used the lee of the islands to leapfrog ahead. I rounded a point that has a large reach to the southwest and had the wind howling into my face and I made a few hundred feet headway in a half hour. A Ranger in a boat stopped to ask if I was OK and said there was a campsite to the south across the narrows and around the next point. He went to see if it was empty and came back to tell me it was. I thanked him, and got a flowage map from him in return. The site was on a nice point and was surrounded by thick fir trees that completely screened the site from the wind. I set up camp and caught three good-sized crappie for a late lunch-early dinner at 13:00, then set up camp. I set my alarm for 04:00 and went to sleep at 19:00.

Woke up and loaded canoe without breakfast to get a fast start. After passing the first island there were two long narrow ridges out into the flowage. At the second one, I crossed the open water sideways to the high wind to get into the lee of several islands, and made my way southwest towards the dam. Portage is just west of the dam. I reached the portage at 07:00.

At 08:20, I pushed off below the dam and went left around the first island. This next stretch of river was the most fun. There are many nice class I and II rapids with names like Haystack, Notch Rock and Quinns. Island Rapids was the most scenic with nice straight runs and close banks with overhanging trees that made it look like going down a tunnel. It began to sprinkle about 09:00. I began seeing lots Merganser with chicks in this area. I passed Bear Skull Rock at 11:00. If you pass it on the right side, it really does look like a bear's skull. Just downstream is a rock with no name but it is ten feet or more high but has a small cross section. It was now raining off and on. Pine Tree Rapids was fun, but on Ledge Rapids I did not go far enough left and was hung up on the ledge for a few minutes. It has to be taken almost on the left bank to miss the ledge. There was a short rain delay when I was at the top of the island at Sixth Rapids. There is a nice campsite on the left at the fork around the island there. I stopped more because of the lightning than because of the rain.

Sixth through First Rapids were fun but easy class I and II. By this time, I was soaked through. After First Rapids, the river slowed to become the flowage for the Park Falls dams. I arrived at the Park Falls Dam at 15:45. The portage for Park Falls is on the left and is a half mile long through town. There is a paved trail just for portaging. There are also canoe dollies that are supposed to slip over the ends of your canoe so you can wheel your canoe down the trail. Good idea, but the bow and stern of my canoe were too tall to fit, so I had to carry it. A half mile is a long way to carry a canoe. A half mile is a long way to carry camping gear and food, too. The portage took me about two and a half hours. Then just a mile and a half later there was another dam. It was getting late so I camped at Portage Park on the right bank. I am not sure that camping was allowed, but my tent was out of sight from the parking lot and I tied up the canoe out of sight from the portage dock. It rained more that night.

Next morning I woke and had a big breakfast. Everything was wet so I waited until 10:00 when it was mostly dry before leaving. On the right bank just below CTH B was a farm that had peacocks, I heard them crowing. Just downstream was a slough to the north with a nice park with a big pavilion. The river turned south and on the inside of the bend was a shallow area with what I would call a "Stump Garden". There were many stumps sticking out of the water and each one had a tree or shrub growing out of the top. Downstream there were more of these gardens. I arrived at the Pixley dam at 12:30. The portage is on the right. There is a large camping area with two screen front shacks each with a fire ring, pedestal grill and table. The entire portage was mowed, so I could easily drag the canoe instead of carrying it. I was back on the water at 13:10. From Pixley dam to Crowley dam the river was mostly flowage. There were many grouse drumming on the shores along this stretch. Arrived at Crowley Dam at 15:20. The portage was on the right with two shacks, one fire ring, one grill and two tables. Some mosquitoes here so I stayed in the first shack that night and dried out the tent and other wet things.

I awoke to a lazy morning. Underway at 09:00. The river started with lots of wide shallow rocky areas. Barnaby Rapids was rocky and shallow. County Line Camp had at least three separate sites. Oxbow Camp also had at least three sites. Arrived at Dix Dox at 15:25. I stopped to have a beverage at the tavern. They had a great old Leinenkugelís sign on the riverbank. I tied up, and went to the tavern door. It had a sign that said they were closed Tuesdays. Today is Tuesday. With a heavy heart, I got back into the canoe and shoved off. Stopped at Log Creek camp at 16:00. I stopped early so I had time do more laundry. No cell phone coverage here. I have been texting my brother so he can let my sister know where I stop each night.

Underway again at 08:30. Many shallow rocky riffles. It was difficult to get a good line to go down without scraping across some rocks. The wind began to get strong again. At the start of a chain of small islands, I saw my first bear crossing the river. Passed CTH W at 11:45. Because of the wind, and because I was already tired, I stopped at 15:00 at George's Island Camp. After several days of paddling, my arms were beginning to ache a bit. No cell coverage again.

Shoved off next morning at 07:45 with just a light breeze. A few class I rapids are scattered on this part. After the second of the three parts of Porcupine Rapids, I saw my second bear crossing the river. It says in one of the guides that the third part of porcupine Rapids should be scouted before going down, but I was down and past before I knew I was there. The three parts of Wannigan rapids were fun as were the two pitches of Flambeau Falls Rapids. I stopped above Dodes Island to get some nice photos. I arrived at the confluence of North and South branches of the Flambeau at 11:00. There is a nice campsite on the point between the two. Stopped at Cedar Creek Camp to scout Cedar Rapids. I found a good line to go down on the left side of the island, but as my loaded canoe did not turn very fast, I decided to walk it down until I was past a large boulder in the left stream. The rest of the rapids were rocky. If I did not have my gear with me I would have tried it. The next three parts of Cedar Rapids were fun Class II. I stopped and scouted Beaver Dam Rapids. Good thing I did because there was no way my loaded canoe could turn fast enough to miss the boulders at the end of each line down the rapids. Instead, I walked the canoe down the right bank. The rock ledge on the left bank has some nice channels cut through it by floodwaters. One more pitch of class I rapids and the river began to slow as it approached the flowage for Big Falls Dam. It began to rain as I approached Flambeau Lodge Landing. The guides say there is a campsite on the right bank but the sign must be gone because I was looking for it but did not see one. As I passed the Lodge, it began to rain hard. I was just a quarter mile from the dam when lightning started and I pulled over to the heavily wooded right bank and tied up. I found a place fifty feet from the bank that was the only place in sight that had less than a 45-degree slope so I set up my tent there. I packed my gear on the downhill side and set my sleeping bag against that. My dinner at 17:00 was Fig Newtons and water. I fell asleep to thunder and pounding rain. No cell coverage.

Morning was wet. I packed up and paddled to Big Falls Dam. Portage was on the left. I opened the tent to dry it out, along with my wet clothes from the night before. A small bit of uphill and a lot of downhill made this portage easy. Got underway from the dam at 08:00. Not too far downstream the next flowage started, as did the wind. I stuck to the north and west banks to keep out of the wind as much as possible. At CTH I, the wind was in my face again making headway difficult. When I could see Dairyland Dam, I struck out directly across the flowage towards the portage. Arrived at 12:00. The portage is on the right and is over three thousand feet long, well over a half mile. I took one trip with the food and another with the tent and sleeping bag. I was going to take the canoe over the dam, put the remaining gear in it, and drag it when one of the workers from the power plant showed up with a truck and offered to give me a lift down the portage. Whew! Underway at 13:30. Narrower river made for faster flow below the dam. Wind eased off. I arrived at the Ladysmith Dam at 14:50.

The portage is on the left and is difficult. The portage was a blacktop path uphill 300 feet and then downhill on a stony path 300 feet. Back on the river at 15:50. Here I met the first people I saw on the river. Two kayakers headed upstream to the dam. There are many man made piles of rock in the river down to STH 27. Many were lined up going down the river. I donít know what they are, or were, used for. The river is getting quite slow in these lower sections, easy paddling. Whiteford Rapids was just one line of rocks all the way across the river. Saw another deer on the right bank. I wonder why I haven't seen more. Arrived at the Thornapple dam at 18:45. Easy portage on the left bank. I only went half way across and set up camp on a grassy area. Many mosquitoes here, more than all of the rest of the trip combined.

This last day dawned clear and warm. Departed at 08:10. There was only an easy eight miles to go with no rapids to speak of. I saw one angler with waders fishing for muskies. Arrived at the end, Flater's Resort, at the confluence with the Chippewa River at 11:50.

180 miles in 11 days and 10 nights.

Outfitting:

1965 Alumacraft 18' canoe

Fees:

No

Directions:

From Madison, WI:
north on US 94, turn right onto STH 51 North,turn right onto CTH M in Vilas County, pass through Boulder Junction on CTH M, turn right onto CTH B and go 3.5 miles to High Lake Boat Landing.

From Minneapolis, MN:
go east on US 94, then east on STH 29 to Wausau, then north on STH 51, turn right onto CTH M in Vilas County, pass through Boulder Junction on CTH M, turn right onto CTH B and go 3.5 miles to High Lake Boat Landing.

Resources:

Google Earth, flashearth.com, paddleflambeau.com


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