Date: July 27, 2021; Length: 11.4 miles; Duration: 3 hours 15 min
Parking lot with restrooms and a carry in landing making for an easy put in on the right side of the river.
Parking lot with restrooms and a labeled landing on the right side of the river viewable from the final rapid of this section.
The river was wide but plenty deep enough, with a good current, no obstructions to deal with, and some light to challenging rapids to run. All the makings for a great paddling experience.
This section of river is in the heart of the Flambeau River State Forest which alone almost sums up the scenery. There was dense forest on both sides of the water throughout, along with only a few houses here and there and no bridges.
My put in and takeout were equally great with parking lots, restrooms, and labeled carry in landings. One other access point occurred in between these with similar accommodations. And then there were four campgrounds or campsite areas for pickings.
Gradient: ~5 feet per mile. There were some flat stretches here and there but otherwise a nice current and frequent riffles to class II rapids in this section.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: It was a good water level, from the calm stretches to all the different rapids.
Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: the closest gauge (around Thornapple, WI) is aways downstream and following a dam, so not a great indicator this section. Any of the rapids could give you a better sense of the water level.):
Planning: The Flambeau River is located in northwestern Wisconsin and flows southwest a ways before merging with the Chippewa River. Mike Svob has eight river trips of the north and south forks of the Flambeau totaling close to 100 miles in his book Paddling Northern Wisconsin. I chose to use his fourth trip of the north fork, an 11.4 mile section from Camp 41 to Beaver Dam landing, for my own paddling plans. Rapids and campsites are a common occurrence on this section, as in most others of the Flambeau.
Paddling: The river was wide with a good current that slowed occasionally and had an ideal water level. I never had any issues with scraping, even with the various rapids, which were also not overpowering at this water level. So the paddling was about as good as it gets, making good time and experiencing fun riffles to strong class II rapids.
Rapids: Wannigan was the first of the class II rapids, occurring about 2.5 miles into paddling. It consisted of three different runs, with the first really just being open riffles. The second run had boulder gardens in the middle of the river to maneuver through, while the third run contained a short ledge drop and bigger waves to follow at the island there. Flambeau Falls shortly followed. It consisted of a little right bend, with boulders on the left side and overpour rocks in the middle, producing stronger rapids than Wannigan. Cedar rapids came about three miles following Flambeau Falls and the south fork of the Flambeau merging. It had three runs starting with a big island, that I went left of in a right winding route where big boulders were in the middle of the channel producing fun good sized waves to hit. The second run started with open riffles but eventually had bigger waves by a small island. The third run was mainly open riffles. The final class II rapid to this section of the Flambeau was called Beaver Dam rapids, with my takeout in sight shortly downstream. The rapids had a solid ledge drop with several good options of where to run it. If this drop weren’t enough, the succumbing waves just added to it, as I managed to hit a big wave at its peak followed my ledge drop.
Observations: The river has good clarity with its orange tinted rocks showing under it dark brown water. The river bottom was a mix of sand, rocks, and vegetation, while islands occurred here and there. Beyond the water was uninterrupted state forest, with a few houses at one point and otherwise the only signs of development being off the river campsites for paddlers to use. I counted seven different campsites in this 11.4 mile stretch of river and came across some already settled campers a few times, but no other current paddlers while out there. As for wildlife, I spotted a hawk, a couple groups of geese, an osprey, some ducks, and a buck deer.
Reflecting: This section of the Flambeau river has just about everything that I at least enjoy in a paddling experience. For starters, it is in the middle of Flambeau River State Forest, where you’re surrounded by forest if you enjoy that kind of thing and its solitude. Campsites are a plenty and nice and taken care of. And then the river itself has a mix of pleasant flat water paddling on a solid current and fun rapids to run. So this is an obvious recommendation to other paddlers.