Highway W Landing to Flambeau Lodge Landing:
After long hearing rumors of how great paddling on the Flambeau River was, it’s been a trip high on my must-visit list. And those rumors were indeed true – it didn’t disappoint. This is a beautiful and remote stretch nestled in the Flambeau River State Forest, and is an ideal trip for kayakers of all skill levels. With well marked, well-kept campsites along the river, it made for an excellent two-day kayak/camping trip.
By Erich Schnell
A Miles Paddled contributor
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: July 4-5, 2018
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class II(III)
2.8′ per mile average
Water levels are almost always reliable.
Day 1: 7.4.18
Time: Put in at 3:30p. Out at 7:20p.
Day 2: 7.5.18
Time: Put in at 8:45p. Out at 3:30p.
Total Miles: 24
Bald eagles, osprey, merganser, deer, sturgeon, cedar waxwings and belted kingfisher.
I first heard about this Flambeau River State Forest and its excellent paddling opportunities in a Wisconsin Land and Conservation class while attending UW-Lacrosse. Since then, I’d always wanted to make the trip and just recently a friend of mine (who had paddled it before) talked me into making it a priority and I’m glad he did because it was absolutely wonderful. We paddled this section over two days on Fourth of July weekend, but if you have more time it’d be easy to make it a multi-night canoe/kayak camping trip.
We put-in at the Highway W Landing and took out at the Flambeau River Lodge which made for a solid 24-mile trip. The most appealing part, for me at least, was that there are several Class I rapids/riffles throughout and a few Class II and III rapids (most notably the First Cedar Rapids, and Beaver Dam Rapids), sure to satisfy paddlers (or portagers?) of all skill levels.
We had a mix of both good and bad weather between the two days. In fact, on the drive up we could see clouds starting to roll in and it began to pour after we dropped the car at the take-out. We ended up spending the first few hours at Red’s Big Bear Lodge, a bar on the Northside of the river near the Highway W landing while waiting out the storm (a quick shout out to the bartender and other ATV riders who were stranded there with us, you were a fine bunch to spend the Fourth with!)
As soon as there was a break in the storm, we headed out. The first stretch is a leisurely stretch with some small islands to navigate around. There are two campsites not far from the launch that could be useful if you combine this route with another stretch up river (launch at Dix Dox Landing). Six miles or so after putting-in there were a few stretches of fun riffles and class I-II rapids. The water was higher than average while we were there so we were moving at a good clip through these which made for a whole lot of splashy fun. Unfortunately, soon after, the rain returned and we picked up the pace to make it to a campsite.
We broke camp at Camp 41. As you approach the camp you’ll see the Camp 41 landing sign on the right (north) bank of the river. On this map which we used as our guide, it depicts the campsites just across the river from the landing, but that’s not the case. The campsites are down the river a bit farther (so don’t worry, you didn’t miss it). The campsite is located on the left (south) side of the river and is marked with a nice yellow sign. As for the camp itself – it was great. I was impressed with how well-kept it was, complete with a fire ring, picnic table and pit toilet.
Day two was gorgeous with low humidity, straight sun and a temperature of 80 degrees. This section had alternating stretches of calm (but still moving) river and then stretches of riffles and class I-II rapids. We saw a lot of wildlife here, some deer crossing the river, bald eagles, and the occasional sturgeon jumping out of the water. There were also osprey nesting along the river as well as a kingfisher who lead us downstream (always staying 50 yards ahead, moving from tree to tree). This section ends with the convergence of the South fork of the Flambeau River.
After the convergence there’s a 3-4 mile stretch of flatwater with no riffles to speak of. This continues until the Cedar Rapids camp. Just after the camp is the first pitch of Cedar Rapids – these are the largest rapids up to this point in the trip. We pulled off upstream to scout them, and I’d recommend any beginner or even novice paddler to do the same for a few reasons. For one, depending on your kayak, the rapids (at least at the level we paddled the river) could easily swamp your boat, or two, if you get alongside of a rock in an awkward manner, the current is pushy enough to, well, push you over. But most importantly, it gives you an opportunity to take in the view and snap some pictures (it’s quite photogenic).
After Cedar Rapids, the Flambeau continues on in similar fashion to earlier in the paddle; rapids and riffles alternate with stretches of flat water. Then come the best rapids of the trip, Beaver Dam Rapids, located at the latter end of this stretch. Again, we highly recommend scouting these to get a good look before you go over them, it’s worth it!
Soon after the Beaver Dam Rapids is the appropriately named Beaver Dam Landing. I would recommend taking-out here because it will save you some time and there’s only one set of rapids after this point. They’re indeed a lot of fun but the following four miles becomes flat, slow-moving, and feels more like an open-water paddle. If you do choose to brave the final stretch, in the middle of the last rapids named “Little Cedar Rapids” there is a nice rocky island which provides a nice place to stop briefly.
What we liked:
Everything – I highly recommend!
What we didn’t like:
Bring bug spray- there are clouds of them.
If we did this trip again:
I’d absolutely return to the Flambeau. As mentioned above, if we did something different, we would’ve taken out at Beaver Dam Landing to avoid paddling the last 4-5 miles or so. The last stretch is flat, slow moving water and it feels more like paddling on a lake.
Put your phone on airplane mode – you won’t have service for a while, and take your time – It’s a beautiful paddle!
Flambeau River North Fork I: Robinson Landing to Holt’s Landing
Flambeau River North Fork II: 9 Mile Creek Landing to Dix Dox Landing
General: Paddle the Flambeau
Guide: Dix Dox Landing to Camp 41 Landing
Guide: Camp 41 Landing to Beaver Dam Landing
Wikipedia: Flambeau River