The Midwest's best paddling trips

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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The Midwest's best paddling trips
Question: I want to design a trip for 10-12 people in either upper Michigan or northeastern Minnesota for either sea kayaking or canoeing. The goal is beautiful vistas, no people, and fishing. I need location ideas and outfitters. Some initial ideas are Apostle Islands, Wisconsin; Pictured Rocks, Michigan; Whitefish River in Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan; and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan. Thanks for any help and ideas.

Michael Flood
Louisville, KY
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Because this part of Great Lakes country is rife with paddling possibilities, it's difficult to turn a daunting and slightly unruly list of ideal places into a single plan for a group trip. Nonetheless, I think I can help narrow down the choices.

A good bet for canoeing is the Namekagon River in the quieter northwestern corner of Wisconsin. Now part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, the Namekagon will keep everyone happy, with its tight, twisty, swift-water runs, lazy meandering routes through boggy wetlands, and narrow, hair-raising passages between steep sandy banks.

While I can't guarantee that you won't see other river runners, if you plan a midweek trip, chances are you'll find ample solitude. Most paddlers divide the river run into three sections: Namekagon Dam to Hayward Landing (33 miles, floatable only during spring runoff--which should be more than ample after this winter in the upper Midwest), Hayward Landing to Trego (29 miles), and Trego to Riverside (40 miles), below the confluence with the St. Croix River. In high water, put in at Namekagon Dam on National Forest Road 211, off County Highway M, east of Cable. If it's midsummer, use the Hayward Landing put-in on Wisconsin 27, outside the town of Hayward, 150 miles north of the Twin Cities via U.S. 63.

Bring your fishing rod and prepare to reel in some monster trout on the upper stretch, and muskies and walleyes on the lower runs. Don't forget to pick up a Wisconsin fishing license at a sporting goods store before you set out.

Since camping is restricted on posted private land within the riverway, you'll want to stick to the 66 designated sites along the river, many of which are big enough to accommodate up to 12 people comfortably. You don't need a permit, but it's a good idea to check in with the National Park Service Visitor Center in Trego (715- 635-8346) for a list of group-friendly tent sites and detailed information on current water levels and local outfitters. For $10-per-day canoe rentals and shuttle service, try either The Wild River Inn in Hayward (715-634-2631) or Namekagon Canoe Rental near Trego (715-466-2691).

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