Bois Brule River - Wisconsin

Date: August 22, 2020; Length: 12.5 miles; Duration: 4 hours

Put In: Stone's Bridge Landing

Big parking lot with a restroom. Nice gravel landing just downriver from the bridge makes for an easy put in.

Takeout: Highway 2 Landing

Marked landing with a wooden platform just before the Hwy 2 bridge makes for an easy takeout. This leads back up to a parking lot with a restroom.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

This section of the Bois Brule was a great experience after the first hour of a downpouring thunderstorm. It had solid current to it and some riffles and class I rapids as advertised, but with the higher water also a couple more intense rapids towards the end.

Natural Scenery = 5/5

After the put in, there are about ten straight miles of river with undeveloped land surrounding it, giving you the peak of possible natural scenery. Forest surrounded the river at almost all times and even access points felt part of the scenery.

Rapids = 4/5

The rapids were better and more intense than expected, likely thanks to the higher water levels. Most boulders were covered or scarce enough to avoid, but the current got strong and produced some good sized waves. A handful of canoes ran these rapids as well, which would be less significant at lower levels.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~4 feet per mile. Decent current, riffles and rapids.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: Paddling at this water level was great. Thanks to thunderstorms just before and to begin this paddle, the water was high enough to avoid scraping over boulders just below the surface. It also made some of the rapids more intense than advertised, but still doable by most (several canoers out there). The river had a pretty good current to it and was mostly clear of downed trees as well.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Brule gauge, located around the takeout of this section):

  • USGS Number = 04025500
  • Discharge Rate = 160 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 1.91 ft

Overall Experience

The Bois Brule is a river in northwestern Wisconsin that is brief but highly sought after by paddlers. I’ve come across three versions of maps of the section from highway S (other known as Stone’s Bridge) to its confluence with Lake Superior. These sources were from the Brule River State Forest, the website Wisconsin Trail Guide, and Mike Svob and his book Paddling Northern Wisconsin. Exact mileage varies, but falls in the ballpark of 35-39 miles. So I figured I’d start the farthest upriver, which is actually furthest south, as the river flows north, and ended up choosing to paddle the 12.5-mile section from Stone’s Bridge to Hwy 2 Landing.
And the day finally came to get on the Bois Brule, but the weather had other plans especially the night before with constant thunderstorms. Hoping it was of the past, I drove up and parked my car at the intended takeout of Hwy 2’s landing. It had a big parking area, restroom, and nice landing, making for a future ease of a finish to my trip. Before that could be the case I had to start my 12-mile hike with my packed packraft up to the put in. And all was well until that weather caught up with me again, with downpouring thunderstorms occurring for a solid hour while hiking, making for some near flooded dirt roads. With that eventually past and my body somewhat dried, except for my feet and shoes, I reached the Stone’s Bridge landing after just under four hours. This access point was just as well equipped with plenty of parking, restrooms, and a nice landing just past the bridge.
So after a quick inflating of my packraft and strapping down my backpack, I was officially on the Bois Brule. And it was a great first impression, noticing the dark brown to black color of the water that was also pretty clear still. I could make out boulders, logs, and vegetation in the water easily as they showed up much lighter. But before I could note much else, I was joined by another downpouring thunderstorm. This one felt much longer, with it being the start of an anticipated solid four hours on the water of constant paddling and not knowing when or if the rain would let up. Oh and in a nine mile stretch of river that is known for its complete solitude and lack of development. But after about another hour, like on my hike, the rain and thunderstorms ceased and out came the sun. After emptying out my filled with rain water packraft, I got in a groove of leisure paddling the rest of the way, noting more to the river. It varied in width and path at times, with some sections becoming pretty wide and straight shots, while others narrowed and winded or split briefly around islands. Downed trees were also a relatively common sight but were easily avoidable, especially with the rise in water levels in the past 24 hours. And with the higher water levels came more flow or current and a pick up in rapid intensity. Some mapped out class I rapids could have easily been labeled class II rapids at these water levels, which was just more fun for me in the packraft, but left some less experienced and equipped canoers that I came across with some challenging rapid runs. Speaking of people, they were aplenty from the moment the weather changed for the better, as I must have passed ten different small groups of kayakers and canoers, plus a handful of people just fishing in the water. This section of the Bois Brule is a popular one, but is also limited in its access. Only two access points occur between the put in and takeout of the section I paddled, and they both occur in the last 3-4 miles. That being said, they are well kept and equipped helping to offer a quality paddling experience while out on the more remote Bois Brule and surrounded by Brule River State Forest and private property. Homes were occasionally scattered in the second half of this stretch, but for the most part the sight off the river was pure forest of pines and deciduous trees. And with the naturally remote setting, the wildlife sightings were surprisingly limited to just a hawk and numerous ducks. But the highlight here actually came earlier when ending my hike to the put in, as I witnessed an adult black bear cross the road a hundred yards or so ahead of me, right before the landing.
So after passing the Winneboujou landing and Bois Brule campground, I reached my takeout at Hwy 2 landing after four hours of paddling. This was a well marked and smooth takeout at a wooden platform that led to the parking lot and my car. I finished my trip deflating and packing away my packraft and got to my car. Looking back, the moments of intense downpouring thunderstorms are clear in my mind but that goes hand in hand with the natural remoteness of this whole section of river. The river and surroundings were beautiful and paddling was a nice balance of calm stretches and runnable rapids, especially at lower water levels. So I’d definitely recommend this section to others and will find myself eventually back up there to paddle the rest of the Bois Brule.