Manitowish River - Wisconsin

Date: August 19-20, 2022; Length: 20.5 miles; Duration: 7 hours 30 min (over 2-day span)

Put In: Highway 51 Bridge

Side of the road parking and good access options on both downstream sides of the bridge.

Takeout: Murrays Rd Landing

Landing located at the end of a long back road with plenty of parking, restrooms, and space to back in or carry in for easy access.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

The water is swift with riffles to start but quickly becomes calm for the rest of the way. The current was still decent while the water remained deep and open enough, free of downed trees, to make for easy paddling.

Natural Scenery = 5/5

Some houses and buildings occur in the first handful of miles. The last bridge occurred about 13 miles before the Murray Landing takeout. The campsites in this stretch were the only breaks from the surrounding forest and marsh. The water to the river was also very clear, with sandbars, vegetation, and occasional boulders viewable.

Accessibility = 5/5

The highlight to the Manitowish River may be its accessibility. Access options may be limited especially in the second half of this section but they are quality ones at that. Seven campsites also occur with all being well marked, big, clear, and accommodated with a picnic table, fire ring, and location for a toilet. And if you have the means for an alternative shuttle of hiking or biking, you are in luck here as the first half of the 11-mile shuttle is an isolated backroad and the other half consists of a nice bike path.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~1 foot per mile.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: Aside from one brief shallow sandbar, the water level was never an issue while paddling on the Manitowish River.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Gauge for the Bear River, which flows into the Manitowish towards the end of this trip.):

  • USGS Number = 05357335
  • Discharge Rate = 61 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 4.42 ft

Overall Experience

Planning: The Manitowish River is located in north-central Wisconsin and connects a series of lakes to the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. Mike Svob has two trips of the Manitowish in his book Paddling Northern Wisconsin (PNW), with these trips making up the whole section I planned to paddle. The website Wisconsin Trail Guide (WTG) also has information and a map for the Manitowish. Both highlighted seven campsites along the river. So I wanted to paddle the entire ~20 mile section (PNW says 20 miles & WTG says 20.7 miles) and camp one night along the way.

Shuttle: The shuttle is about 11 miles, which is pretty good for about a 20 mile stretch of river. Since I was alone and have the means to do so, I hiked this shuttle with my packed packraft & gear, food and water, and camping essentials. The first half of the shuttle consists of Murray Landing road, an isolated backroad. From here came highway 51, which I hiked alongside for maybe half a mile before coming to the bike path that ran alongside the highway the remainder of the way to my put in at the highway 51 bridge.

Paddling: Paddling began with light riffles but they were the first and last of them. From there the water was calm and had a decent current. The river had a moderate width and winded a good amount, while the water remained plenty deep enough and clear of blockages. The main deterrent with paddling had nothing to do with the river itself. I realized about a mile into paddling that my inflatable packraft had a small leak in it as it was appearing noticeably more deflated than it should have been. If I had prepared for this possibility, it could have been an easy fix of stopping and patching the leak but I wasn’t and as a result had to stop paddling about every 20 minutes and blow more air into my slowly delating packraft. After a while this just became the new routine and I was able to blow air into the valve without stopping and getting out.

Observations: The water was very clear with sandbars, vegetation, and occasional boulders in view. Grass banks typically occurred with open marsh or forest beyond, while wildlife encounters consisted of a variety of fish (carp, smallmouth bass, northern pike, other small ones), a few painted turtles, some ducks and geese, an osprey, and a little mouse swimming across the river in front of me at one point. I saw a handful of other kayaks and canoes on the first day and saw people at campsites 51 and 54, along with a small group that took the other side of my campsite 55.

Reflecting: I wanted to get an overnight river trip in and this seemed to be a nice and easy one to do to accomplish that. The shuttle was convenient and the river and paddling were smooth and calm, while the access and campsite options were nice and accommodating. I will also remember this trip for the grind to constantly reinflating my packraft and that I should be better prepared for the chances of that occurring especially on longer multi-day trips like this was. But everything else to this river made up for it, so I wouldn’t mind returning at some point to paddle the entire Manitowish again with others.