The Turtle-Flambeau Flowage is sometimes referred to as Wisconsin’s Boundary Waters, except on a much smaller scale, of course. The comparison comes from the natural characteristics that resemble those of the BWCA and are indeed prevalent with a similar rugged beauty, a maze of islands, countless bays and wildlife that includes eagles, loons, bear and sometimes even moose. The main (and rather large) difference is that you’ll share the water with motorboats except for the eastern part of the flowage which is a designated quiet area.
The flowage was created in 1926 to prevent flooding and of course, aid with hydro-electric plants controlled by local utlilities, paper mills, etc. The impoundment was created by damming the Flambeau River just downstream from the confluence with the Turtle River which flooded sixteen natural lakes. Hence the name, Turtle-Flambeau.
While controversial at the time, it is now considered an unparalelled recreational resource. Boating, camping and especially fishing are prized in this now undisturbed area, as if it were “designed” that way and not for other reasons. This flatwater system of lakes and channels offers paddlers a rich northwoods experience with pine and birch-wooded shorelines, numerous islands and first-come, first-served remote rustic campsites only accessible by boat. Best yet, they are entirely fee-free (save for six group camp sites).
Paddling Style: Flatwater Paddling
Best Suited For: Canoes + Kayaks
Camping Location: Lakeside + Island
Availability: First Come, First Served Designated Sites + Six Reservable Group Camp Designated Sites
Paddle-in: Yes | Walk-in: Some
Camping Fee: No (Except Six Group Sites) | Camping Permit: No
The Turtle-Flambeau has 66 first-come, first-served remote campsites which are only accessible by water (the only way to go, in our opinion). 60 of the sites are registration, fee and permit free, except for six of the eight group camps which can be reserved and require a fee.
All sites are designated (no rogue camping here) and have a fire ring and pit toilet. Seventeen sites (F1-F17) have a picnic table, as do the group camp sites. There’s a ten day limit to camp at any of the sites. Do note that since camping is first-come, first-served, it’s possible you might not get the site you were hoping for, so always have a plan B in mind. Also, be prepared to bring water and proper food storage because racoons are inevitable and bears are a possibility. When remote camping, plan to pack-in and pack-out and practice Leave No Trace ethics.
Nearby Campground: Emily Lake Recreation Area | First Come, First Served
11 Sites. All non-electric.
Facilities: Vault toilets and water.
Nearby Campground: Twin Lakes Recreation Area | First Come, First Served + Reservable | Reserve a Site
17 Sites. All reservable but first-come, first served always available. All non-electric.
Facilities: Vault toilets and water.
Paddling The Turtle-Flambeau Flowage:
Though you’ll share the flowage with powerboats, 20% of the acreage has been designated a voluntary quiet area. According to the Wisconsin DNR, “The purpose of this designation is to promote an atmosphere of quiet solitude for those seeking a “wilderness” type experience. Many anglers, canoers and campers come to the flowage seeking solitude, and we want to preserve that atmosphere.” So, being voluntary, there are no guarantees you’ll find the solitude you seek but it is asked that it’s practiced and adhered to. And really, all they can do is ask, right?
For paddlers looking for something beyond flatwater paddling, there are a couple fantastic river canoe-camping adventures with various types skill level located nearby. To the southeast is the Manitowish River and to the northwest is the Flambeau River.
River’s Edge Lodge and Outfitters