Copper Range Landing to Highway 13:
This was not only our favorite segment of the Brule, or even of 2016, but it might possibly be our favorite paddle of all time. Copper Range Landing to Highway 13 is a non-stop ride on a bed of incessent riffles, Class I and II rapids with about a dozen ledges and drops. Set in northern Wisconsin wilderness on the pristine waters of the Bois Brule, this is a bucket-list paddle.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: September 3, 2016
Skill Level: Expert
Class Difficulty: Class II(III)
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Brule: ht/ft: 1.60 | cfs: 142
Brule: ht/ft: 1.66 | cfs: 146
We recommend this level. Wisconsin Trail Guide provides a very useful chart that categorizes water levels for each section on the Bois Brule. 125-200 is the lowest you’d be able to paddle (although, expect some scrapping at the low end). The levels we paddled at were great and gave us no notable difficulty at 142 cfs (and that stayed very consistent for the entire weekend).
Time: Put in at 12:35p. Out at 5:45p.
Total Time: 5h 10m
Miles Paddled: 9
Mergansers, frogs, trout, eagle and a heron.
A bike shuttle would be an easy straight shot up County Road H. The only problem is that there is very little shoulder room. But it’s a relatively even road so the grade wouldn’t be that exhausting.
Having completed the previous two sections of the Bois Brule, the first that combines a little bit of everything, and then the tamest, comes the most exciting run of the entire 38 paddling miles of the river. Covered on American Whitewater, this is indeed, “the whitewater section”.
It’s unlike any of the other segments of the Brule, which is what makes it so sought after. Rivaling Halls Creek (our crème de la creek of whitewater) in rapids and ledges, (but maybe not scenery) it’s frisky, sometimes wild, and rarely does it let up for the entire 9 miles.
There’s not enough superlatives to actually describe how wonderfully fun and carefree this whole paddle is. It’s just incredible from put-in to take-out. And the ledges of Lenroot and Mays are just icing on this cake.
The put-in at Copper Range Campground is the least convenient of all landings on the Bois Brule – not for accessibility (because it’s actually quite convenient if you’re camping at the site) but for hauling your boat riverside. It’s about a hundred yard hike from the campground down to the river via some steep wooden steps. It’s best to have some help getting up or down. Once there, it’s an easy and gradual launch to the water.
(I have to add a note here… It wasn’t until over a month later that I came across a post on Reddit where it occurred to me that the nice people we met at the put-in, also have a great blog called riverdarter.com which I only recently became familiar with – but prior to our trip. We had handed out some stickers and apparently, they did not make it through the rapids on the ledges. What a delightful coincidence, though).
Almost immediately after putting-in, the fun begins downstream of Park Road. The riffles begin and they won’t let up for most of the day. The entire way, it seemed as though there was no more than 50 yards of flatwater until the next set.
There are 15 sets of noted (mostly Class I) rapids within this section but trying to distinguish between where one set started and one set ended is actually difficult at these levels, save for the ledges (we’ll get to those momentarily). The Class I’s, specifically, were similar to the many yards of lively riffles we encountered. For instance, based on the Wisconsin Trail Guide Map, there is a couple rapids just after Pine Tree Landing/Dead End Road, and then nothing for at least a mile. But in fact, there is no deadzone there – it’s entirely a start/stop of riffles and seemingly nonstop splashy waves.
In general, the rapids all felt easy. But whitewater is still whitewater and I don’t want to diminish the current’s force that these rapids produce nor would I suggest that any classified set of rapids is “safe”. They were indeed easy for us but whether that was because we properly scouted them (I would like to think) and followed the routes we all “thought” were the proper lines to take, or just got lucky (I’m sure there’s part truth in that), none of us had any incidents (though some of us without skirts certainly took on water at the ledges).
What this section is known for, in terms of whitewater, are the ledges and there are two sets with multiple drops that make up each stretch of them. Lenroot is first and it was our favorite. There’s a footbridge and a cabin on the right with a “Nichol’s Sauna” sign attached out front that indicates you’ll soon reach Lenroot. Yet, while we had every intention of scouting it, we quickly became engaged with the current – completely taking everyone one of us by surprise – and we all ended up running it blindly. Successfully. It was a blast. It’s a unique set of drops and pitches with a brief break in the elbow of a left-turn.
The second series gets wilder with only one line to ride the ledges that leads from one curly wave to the next. There’s some room below that to catch your breath (or bail out water) before heading down the final few Class I ledges on the approach to (and below) County Road FF.
Following that come Mays Ledges (Or May Ledges? There seems to be a discrepancy there). While Timothy and I scouted the day prior, we thought it best to scout again so everyone in our group could see what they were in for. The first ledge is unique in that it has two drops for which to run. One is v-shaped, the other, a square-cut or tooth-shaped indent. We didn’t know what were in these crevices so we all ran it river-right – straight off the ledge – and successfully at that. Though, in hindsight, it would have been less-scrapy taking the chutes based on the videos I’ve seen after the fact, proving they are indeed runnable.
After that first ledge, there’s a good hundred yards to the rest of the ledges. There’s a series of them (the eye-test suggests they are much more intense, which is true) and while you may catch an eddy here and there to plan your next move, it’s best to scout prior and at least get a loose gameplan and find yourself a line.
Coincidentally, while we were scouting, a group of women came barreling down the ledges, decked out in similar helmets so they were obviously renting from an outfitter, which also (and sometimes unfairly) often indicates this might be a new thing for them. These ladies just shot the rapids without scouting. And the last woman, hit a rock, took on water and dumped. She didn’t know how to handle the situation so we ran down and helped her out, then got her boat to the bank to empty it. The upside was that we got to see which approach to take (and of course, which one not to).
The seven of us basically followed the same line we had scouted and I’m happy to report we conquered Mays without incident. I myself, wasn’t even convinced I’d make it without dumping, so I was impressed. Some boats without skirts took on water (fact: without a skirt, yes, you’ll probably take on some water) but everyone made it successfully to varying degrees of staying dry. And then we took a break for lunch.
After Mays, there’s more in-store with about 4.5 miles of riffles and class I’s (or as mentioned, basically one in the same). And it’s just so fun. Keep your eyes on the current lines and numerous boulders throughout and enjoy the ride. Occasionally, you’ll find a ledge at one of the marked Class I’s.
It’s on this back half of this segment where you’ll catch your first glimpses of red clay banks nestled amongst tall pines. They’re sporadic and most are modest but there are a couple tall and steep erosions that are revealed.
Wildlife had been generally quiet thus far on every part of the Brule we’ve paddle up to this point and this section was no exception. We did see those crazy-haired mergansers, some frogs, a few trout, an eagle and a heron, however, spotting wildlife is really the last thing you’ll be doing. Instead you’ll be watching for boulders and spotting the ideal currents to take you further downstream.
After 9 miles, the riffles finally let up…. (ha ha.. kind of a joke) …at the take-out. It’s almost bittersweet but at the same time, there’s a very fulfilling feeling. This river gave everything it had in this section and you couldn’t possibly ask for more fun.
The take-out is much easier and accommodating than the put-in. There are some steps but they pale in comparison to the Copper Range launch. Though I did have to help a group of ladies (who had a few too many on the trip) stumble/amble up the steps with their boats (not the same ones that careened down Mays haphazardly). Parking is limited because this is a popular access point – not just for taking-out but because it’s the put-in for the next popular section which ends in Lake Superior.
I should mention that this segment shouldn’t normally take five hours to paddle. We were a group of seven and with numbers come more delays. We also scouted, rescued, lunched, lost frisbees on the bank, rest-roomed (?), etc. Then again, you should scout and lunch and don’t rush. It’s just such a magnificent stretch. Enjoy it.
What we liked:
Everything. This is some of the most exhilarating whitewater in the northwoods and one we hope to return to often.
That night, to top off an extraordinarily great day trip, most of the group celebrated Wisconsin-style with brats. I, on the other hand, (and much to the chagrin of Timothy who decided to chide not only my cooking prowess but even the ability to operate a pie iron) cooked up some mean (maybe even legendary) pudgy pies (sorry Karen, I know you hate those words). Seth on the other hand, a pie newbie, struggled mightily with his first attempt (exhibits A and B – guess which one was Seth’s).
Anyway, it was an exceptional way to end the night – wine, pies, beer and brats. But tomorrow, we were finishing the weekend with one final trip. And we were all looking forward to the final day, (again, as bittersweet as that thought was) paddling the final leg towards Lake Superior by way of the Bois Brule River.
What we didn’t like:
Not a thing – it’s incredible.
If we did this trip again:
Picking a favorite section of the Bois Brule River was easy – this was it. The penultimate section of the Bois Brule doesn’t dissappoint. It’ll be etched in our paddling memories for quite some time.
We will, no doubt, return.
Bois Brule River Overview: Bois Brule River Paddle Guide
Bois Brule River I: Stone’s Bridge Landing to Bois Brule Landing
Bois Brule River II: Bois Brule Landing to Copper Range Landing
Bois Brule River IV: Highway 13 to Lake Superior
Bois Brule River V: Brule Glacial Spillway State Natural Area
Camp: Brule River State Forest
General: American Whitewater
General: Wisconsin DNR
Guide: Wisconsin Trail Guide
Outfitter: Brule River Canoe
Video: Morrall River Films
Wikipedia: Bois Brule River
Miles Paddled Video: