Canoe & Kayak Camping

Canoe & Kayak Camping Wisconsin: Pine River

Pine River (Florence County)One of several Pine Rivers in Wisconsin, this Pine River in Florence County is notable as one of five Wild and Scenic Rivers in the state. For paddlers, it does not disappoint. When water levels are right, the Pine offers a bit of everything, from quietwater to rocky riffles to rapids ranging from Class I to III. Only experienced paddlers should attempt many of the falls, and all should be scouted prior to doing so. The 80-mile-long river winds through the beautiful Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest along steep banks and lowland forests, surrounded by white, red and jack pines as well as spruce, aspen, balsam and white birch, with only a few private homes along the way.

Along with the Pike and Popple Rivers in northeastern Wisconsin, the Pine River was one of the first three to be designated as “Wild and Scenic” and protected under the Wild Rivers Act of 1965. Wisconsin was the first in the nation to pass such an act which prevents development along the banks of these rivers and safeguards them from various industries, the likes of dams or logging. Not all of the Pine River is protected under the Wild Rivers Act, but much of what’s commonly paddled is.

With a convenient walk-in camp at Chipmunk Rapids located between 40 of the most popular miles of rapids and falls, as well as camping on public land along the way, this is an ideal place for the whitewater contingent to spend a few days. It’s a wonderfully-wooded setting that is as remote and unspoiled as anywhere in Wisconsin.

Paddling Style:
 River Paddling + Whitewater Paddling
Difficulty: Intermediate/Expert
Best Suited For: Whitewater Canoes + Kayaks

Camping Location: Riverside + Near Riverside
Availability: First Come, First Served Designated Sites + Undesignated Public Land Camping
Type: Primitive + Rustic
Paddle-in: Yes | Walk-in: Yes
Camping Fee: Yes + No | Camping Permit: No

There are six small first-come, first-served rustic sites at Chipmunk Rapids Campground. None of the sites have water access, but the river is very close. One unique feature about the camp is an artesian spring that flows year-round, so you’ll have access to some of the best drinking water that only the Northwoods can offer. People from all around the area come with pick-up trucks and mini-vans to fill 5-gallon jugs or individual water bottles. All day, every day. That said, the campground isn’t noisy, and it’s an ideal spot for paddlers who may want to begin or end a trip there.

Alternately, camping along the Pine in rogue-fashion is permissible in Florence County, provided it’s not private (private land should be posted, but that can’t be promised). The Pine has a lot of public-owned land. Some is managed by the US Forest Service while others is managed by the Wisconsin DNR downriver. Prior to Chipmunk Rapids is a popular camping spot on USFS land just downstream, river-right of CCC Camp Rapids (the Civilian Conservation Camp) where it was once located.

According to the Wisconsin DNR, “Camping is not restricted on Florence County and Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest land, and the user may set up on any suitable site along the river. Camping may or may not be permitted by the landowner on private industrial forest land, and local inquiries should be made as to the permissibility of camping on these lands.” When camping outside of a designated campsite, it’s as primitive as it gets. Prepare to deal with human waste, pack-in, pack-out, and practice Leave-No-Trace ethics.

Campground: Chipmunk Rapids Campground | First Come, First Served
6 Sites. All non-electric.
Facilities: Vault toilet and water.

Nearby Campground: Lake Emily Park | First Come, First Served
18 Sites. All electric.
Facilities: Pit toilets and water.

Nearby Campground: Lauterman Lake | First Come, First Served
5 Sites. All non-electric.
Facilities: Wilderness-style toilets.

Nearby Campground: Lost Lake CampgroundReserve a Site
27 Sites. All non-electric.
Facilities: Vault toilets and water.

Nearby Campground: Perch Lake | First Come, First Served
5 Sites. All non-electric.
Facilities: Wilderness-style toilets.

Nearby Campground: Stevens Lake Campground | First Come, First Served
6 Sites. All non-electric.
Facilities: Vault toilets and water.

Paddling the Pine River:
There are three popular sections covered by both Mike Svob in his invaluable Paddling Northern Wisconsin guide, and by way of the American Whitewater site. 

Highway 55 to Highway 139 has numerous sections of class I-II rapids (some of them are quite long and sustained) between quiet stretches, riffles and the occasional beaver dam to portage amongst the forested surroundings. Dam Rapids is a “tricky” Class II that needs to be scouted on account that it often contains strainers. This sections finishes with the fun Class IIs of Stevens Creek Rapids near the takeout.

Along with some fun Class II rapids, like Chipmunk Rapids, the section between Highway 139 and Goodman Grade has two challenging rapids. Snaketail Rapids (II-III) being one – a solid class II, and then class III Myers Falls. Here, the river becomes wider and with a 7′ gradient it’s just a little swifter along more Class I and II ledges that wind around beautiful boulder gardens. Meyers Falls should only be attempted by expert paddlers as it falls 13′ across three drops within a canyon.

From Goodman Grade to Highway 101, there’s one last must-scout, Bull Falls (II+). This and all other rapids can and should be portaged when in doubt. After a lengthy stretch of Class I-II boulder gardens, then Class Is, the Pine settles down a bit meandering around small islands before the take-out. Further downstream lies LaSalle Falls Gorge, a 22-foot drop. It’s unrunnable and the portage is a half-mile, so best to call it quits right here.

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