Looking for excellent canoeing and kayaking areas off the beaten path? Iron County is where you’ll find them, wrapped in the color palette of the season. Whether you are a novice or looking for an “extreme” experience the Mercer area has what you’ve been looking for.
About River Trail
Hwy 51 Bridge into Turtle-Flambeau Flowage.
Total: 20 miles. Rating: Novice.
Named for the “manitous” or spirit people of the Ojibwa, the Manitowish is a clean sandy bottomed river with a steady current.
This route is a continuation of the popular Manitowish trip that begins at High Lake (Vilas County) at the river’s origin on Co. B east of Presque Isle.
As it enters Iron County, below the village of Manitowish Waters, it leaves the populated Manitowish Chain of Lakes and flows through quiet pine-studded uplands and wildlife-rich marshes. During normal water levels there should be no portages.
There are several state-owned rustic campsites along the route. Most do not have water. Be prepared to bring you own if you plan to camp.
A variety of trips of different lengths may be made depending on the choice of put-in. The trip may be started below the Rest Lake Dam in Manitowish Waters or downstream at the Hwy 51 bridge. There are parking areas at both put-ins.
Downstream from the Hwy 51 bridge, the river makes a wide ‘S’ curve and bends into a short, but fun Class I rapids. It should pose no problems. There is a good fishing hole along the high sand banks at the end of the bend.
The river widens briefly into Sturgeon Lake. After this point, no other development will be found along the route except for rustic campsites and waysides.
The old bridge abutments at the State Wayside on Hwy 51 mark this as a potential take-out or put-in. Water and toilet facilities are available here, but no camping is permitted. It is roughly a 1 1/2-2 hour paddle from the Hwy. 51 put-in to this point.
The character of the river changes now as it enters a large marshy area. Currents remain good and some interesting side trips can be made up the backwater sloughs to investigate the many “pine islands” that dot the river’s banks.
Canoeing and Kayaking in Mercer, WisconsinA popular take-out is the town of Manitowish. The take-out is located on the east (right) bank of the river, just before it passes under an old railroad trestle and the Hwy. 47 bridge. Paddle up a small slough to get to the take-out.
Paddling time from the Hwy. 51 bridge to Manitowish approximately 3 hours and makes a nice half-day trip. Limited supplies are available in Manitowish.
Downstream, the river continues through the great marsh, its course bending south. Past Manitowish, there are no take-outs until Murray’s Landing in the Flambeau Flowage. Paddling time from Manitowish to Murray’s Landing is approximately 5 hours.
Canoeing and Kayaking in Mercer, WisconsinThe newly-designated Manitowish River Wilderness Area lies to the east of the river’s edge and Hwy. 47. This is a great area to see waterfowl!
There are 4 rustic State-owned campsites along this section. Watch for the convergence of the Bear River from the left. A favorite camping and fishing spot is at the confluence.
Together the waters of the Bear and the Manitowish Rivers create the mighty North Fork of the Flambeau River. The river now widens. Meanders and marshy islands mark the entrance into the great 19,000 acre Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. It is approximately a 2-hour paddle from the Bear River to the Murray’s Landing take-out.
Murray’s Landing is located about 2 miles into the main body of the Flowage. This is a well-marked public boat landing located on the right (north) shore of the river where it narrows to a 100-foot width before entering the main body of the Flowage.
Murray’s Landing is connected by Murray’s Landing Road to Hwy. 51 1/2 mile west of Manitowish. Supplies are available in Manitowish or Mercer.
This trip may be extended by paddling through the Flowage to Turtle Dam, a distance of approximately 9 1/2 miles. (See river route #4 for information of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage.)
Flambeau Lake to Murray’s Landing (Turtle-Flambeau Flowage).
Total: 25 miles. Rating: Novice.
This trip is tranquil and unspoiled by development. There is always an opportunity to see wildlife. Fishing is usually good.
Only one low hazard rapids, better described as a “riffle”, will be encountered at the second bridge crossing. A good portion of this route passes through the historic Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation.
The usual put-in is below the outlet of Flambeau Lake. This makes a 25-mile paddle to the Murray’s Landing take-out. Other put-in points can be made at either of the two town road bridges or at the State Hwy. 182 bridge. Putting in at the Hwy. 182 bridge makes a fine half-day paddle to Murray’s Landing.
The full trip starts at Flambeau Lake, southwest of the town Lac du Flambeau. The put-in is below Flambeau Dam off the public road.
Canoeing and Kayaking in Mercer, WisconsinThe first 4 miles of the trip is narrow and full of oxbows as the river bends through a great marsh. It soon widens and the current becomes faster. A creek adjoining Munnomin Lake enters the Bear from the left. Munnomin is a favorite for ducks and geese. The river becomes wider and deeper with few bends past this point.
The lone rapids is located at the East River bridge, the second road bridge encountered should be no problem.
The river continues through the great marsh, assuming a almost “bottomland” character before it crosses the third bridge at Hwy. 182. There are no take-outs from this point downstream to Murray’s landing.
Look for the Manitowish River joining the Bear. From this point on the two rivers are called the Flambeau River-North Fork. A favorite campsite is at the confluence of the rivers. Good walleye fishing can be found there, too.
From the confluence to Murray’s Landing in the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage requires about 2 hours of paddling on the right shore where the river narrows to a 100-yard width before entering the main body of the Turtle-Flowage.
Murray’s Landing is connected by Murray’s Landing Road to Hwy. 51, 1/2 mile west of the town of Manitowish. Supplies are available in Mercer or Manitowish.
North Turtle Lake to Lake of the Falls County Park
Total: 27 miles Rating: Intermediate
There are many put-ins and take-out possibilities on the Turtle offering a wide variety of trips.
Upstream from Shay’s Dam is primarily lake paddling connected by narrow stretches of river. The furthest upstream put-in is on Co. Hwy W on North Turtle Lake. From here to Cedar Lake several low bridges and brushy section of river may be found.
Paddlers may prefer to put-in at the Cedar Lake boat landing on Co. W to avoid these obstacles.
A portage is required at Shay’s Dam, another popular put-in/take-out spot. There are 3 rustic campsites available with toilets and picnic tables here. Downstream from Shay’s Dam, the river’s character changes. Class I and II rapids and faster water connecting larger lakes will be found. During low water some stretches may be difficult to negotiate. When in doubt…scout!
A shore Class II rapids is approximately 1 mile below Shay’s Dam. A low hazard Class I rapids comes before a rod crossing just downstream.
The Turtle meanders through Spider and Oxbow Lakes. Below Oxbow Lake, Oxbow Rapids (Class I) and the more challenging Robinson Rapids (Class II) are found. Paddling through Echo and Rice Lakes, the two pitchers of Rice Lake Falls are found. The first pitch, Doronzo Rapids (Class II) , is just downstream from the echo Lake outlet. A medium hazard Class II rapids is found at the outlet of Rice Lake. Neither of these rapids should pose a problem to the average paddler.
Kayaking in Mercer, WisconsinCalmer waters precedes the second pitch of Rice Lake Falls. This is a short, but powerful rapids that sweeps under a bridge. A portage may be necessary.
The river narrows and resumes a calmer attitude with a few riffles as it passes under Hwy. 51 A take-out may be made here. The paddling from Shay’s Dam to the Hwy 51 bridge is about 4-5 hours depending on wind conditions and paddling speed.
The Turtle continues into Pike Lake. Low hazard Weber Rapids is at the outlet of Pike Lake. As you enter Lake of the Falls, stay to the left shore for the fastest route to it’s outlet.
Portage right at the Lake of the Falls Rapids at Co. Hwy. FF. Marking the conclusion of the trip. Camping and water are available at the Iron County Park located here.
An extra 8 1/2 hours of paddling from this point through the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage to the Turtle Dam can be added for an extended trip. (See river route #4 for the information of the Turtle-Flambeau Route.)
Manitowish Route and Turtle Route (lake paddling)
The 19,000 acre Turtle-Flambeau Flowage was created in 1929 and encompasses 9 original lakes and 150 miles of pristine shoreline. Much of the lake and campsites on the Flowage is owned my the Chippewa Flambeau Improvement Company.
Fishing is usually superb for walleye, musky and northern. Eagles, osprey, and loons are commonly seen.
The Flowage can be thought of as two bodies of water: the eastern side from which the Manitowish River enters, and the western side from which the Turtle River enters.
Primitive campsites are available on the Flowage’s many islands on a first come, first serve basis. Most do not have water.
Be sure to bring your own or carry water purification gear. Please pack-out all your garbage so that these islands remain open to public use!
Bring a good map and compass. It is easy to become confused among the many islands and inlets of the Flowage. Keep a close eye on the weather. The Flowage is a large, shallow body of water that can kick up some wild waves rapidly and leave the unwary paddler far from shelter!
Detailed maps of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage are available on request. as well as our canoeing/kayaking guide, “Rivers Through Time”, at the Mercer Chamber of Commerce.
Manitowish Route through the Flowage From Murray’s Landing to Turtle Dam-Eastern Portion of Flowage. Total: 9 1/2 miles
Murray’s Landing, a well-marked public boat landing, is a favorite put-in for paddlers wishing to explore the Flowage. Murray’s Landing is connected to Hwy 51 via Murray’s Landing Road, 1/2 mile west of the town of Manitowish.
Be aware that this route can provide navigation challenges different than river or lake paddling. Flowage water levels fluctuate. Channels and bays open during normal water levels may be grass-covered and hidden at other times. A good map and compass are a must!
Continuing from Murray’s Landing, generally follow the right or north shore, but avoid paddling into the first large bay to the fight which his a dead end. After passing this bay, keep close to the fight shore and pass through the “narrows” between an island and the mainland. An old hermit who used to entertain canoers with legends of the Flowage once lived here.
Once past the narrows, you will enter the main body of the Manitowish-Flambeau River portion of the Flowage. Look for a gumdrop-shaped island, higher than the others around it. This is Bonies Mound. The islands around Bonies are suitable camping and picnic sites.
The route continues west from Bonies following the original channel of the Manitowish River, passing through another set of “narrows” before turning south at the outlet of Blair Lake. A boat landing and campsite are located along the north shore approximately 2 miles from Blair Lake.
Once into the main body of this section of the Flowage, head southwest. There are several good campsites along the route. The second site from the north end of Hot Dog Island is favorite.
Kayaking in Mercer WiscosninPortage right at the Turtle Dam over the dam’s dike, about 500 feet west of the dam’s gates. A portage of 200 feet leads you back to the water. There is no boat landing below the dam. You are now on the shores of the North Fork of the Flambeau River. Put-in below the dam and head left to the main river channel going through Haystack Rapids, a twin set to Class I rapids. The first is low hazard, the second pitch more challenging. A public boat landing is located on the right shore just after the rapids.
Turtle River Route Through The Flowage Lake of the Falls County Park at Co. Hwy. FF to the Turtle Dam-Western Portion of Flowage Total: 8 1/2 miles
The Lake of the Falls put-in will give you an easy one-day access (8 1/2 miles) to the Turtle Dam via the Turtle River route on the west side of the Flowage.
The Turtle is a faster river coming into the Flowage then the Manitowish which enters from the eastern side of the Flowage. Fishing is usually good along this route.
Downstream 1/2 mile from Lake of the Falls the river widens into “Sturgeon Bay” and passes to the right (west) side of Big Island. This is the original route of the Turtle River before it was flooded when the Flowage was created. A rustic campsite can be found just left of mid-channel about 4 miles downstream from the put-in.
A short-cut under a low bridge around the east side of Big Island is an option.
As the route turns southeast, you will pass through Lake Bastine, one of the 9 original lakes flooded when the Flowage was created. Many fine resorts, dining and lodging establishments can be found here.
A public landing is on the right shore as you leave Lake Bastine. This landing is about 2 miles from the Turtle Dam or take-out below Turtle Dam as previously described.
Turtle Dam to Park Falls
Total: 18 miles Rating: Intermediate-Expert
The North Fork of the Flambeau River is a fast, exciting trip with many Class I and II rapids and several Class III rapids. Water levels can fluctuate on this stretch. High water increases the hazard of rapids while low water increases the opportunity of hitting rocks. The paddler should consult a more detailed water trail guide of this route to help in scouting the rapids.
The trip can be a fast 1-day or a more leisurely 2-day paddle. It is generally a 6-hour trip.
The put-in is at the public boat ramp below the Turtle Dam and first pitch of Haystack Rapids. The river will narrow quickly to 25 feet dropping rapidly at Notch Rapids (Class III). The current will tend to slam you into the rock wall on the outside bend. At the bottom of the rapids, go between the big rock on the right side and another rock in the middle of the river.
Island Rapids (Class II) follows. Stay to the left side of the island. There is an old logging boom between the right shore and the island making this route impassable. Fast, fun riffles follow. Flat Rapids are wide and should pose no problems. 3 miles downstream, at Pete’s Landing, drinking water is available.
Go right around Bear Skull Rock standing in the middle of the river about 3/4 mile downstream. Shoot the center of the small rapids that follows.
In the next 3 miles to Stangle Landing, medium-fast current and several rapids will be Kayaking and Canoeing in Mercer., Wisconsinmet. Quinn Rapids (Class II) should be run fast and through the center. The 3 pitches of Stub’s Rapids (Class I) follows. Watch for a large rock in the center of the river below Stub’s. Stangle Landing follows and is a possible take-out or camping site.
A series of Class II rapids follows. The water is fast with lots of boulders to dodge. The first 3 rapids should pose no problems, but when in doubt…scout! At Pine Tree Rapids (Class II), run under the pine on the far left side. The Ledge is long, winding rapids. Take it to the extreme left.
The river forks around 2 islands. At the first island, take the left fork and at the second island take the right fork. Beginning at the second island a rapid succession of 6, numerically named rapids, follows. Most are Class II. Sixth, Fifth, Fourth, and Third Rapids are easy to run, but Second Rapids has a thrilling drop. Take it to the left through the V First Rapids (Class II) ends the set.
A 5-mile stretch of flat water precedes the take-outs at the City of Park Falls. The first take-outs may be made at the Park Falls Country Club on the left shore. Or the paddler can continue approximately 3/4 mile to the Flambeau Paper Company Dam on Hwy. 182 in Park Falls. Portage right at the Dam.
Expert only Kayak or covered canoe
(Note: This river route has not been officially surveyed and includes high hazard Class V rapids, dams and inaccessible canyon-like areas.)
Water levels fluctuate greatly since the West Branch is used for hydro-electric power generation. The river marks the boundary between Michigan and Wisconsin.
During spring high water conditions, the West Branch can offer thrilling white water experiences for experienced kayakers. The river was the site of the 1985 Pan-Am white water competition. In summer, water levels are usually too low.
The Montreal River Canyon is located on private property. Canyon walls are steep-sided and not barricaded or marked. Permission should be asked of landowners before entering this area. Paddlers should be cautioned that there is no land access out of the canyon once it is entered.
Before planning a trip on this river, we encourage paddlers to contact Trek & Trail Outfitters, U.S. 2, Bessemer, MI 49911, Phone: 906-663-4791 for condition updates on this route. The following map is for advisory purposes only and not intended to accurately depict river conditions or hazards!
When the waterways are frozen, think of Iron County for winter-time fun! Over 200 inches of snow a year, a network of trackset nordic ski trails, four major downhill ski areas, and over 450 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Plus, communities that sparkle with apres ski fun! Contact us for more information.