With BWCA permits harder to come by, combined with the urge to do some river paddling, Kate and I decided to paddle Northern Wisconsin’s Bois Brule River.

The Bois Brule appealed to us because of its scenic, wilderness setting and because it has some fun, fast-moving water.  Although we had no plans to fish, the Brule is also a famous trout river.  So much so that it is known as the “River of Presidents,” for the five US Presidents who have vacationed and fished on its shores.

The trip started with a drive through Duluth, to Superior, WI.   The next day we drove to the outfitter who would be doing our shuttle, both to our put-in point, and the take-out.   As on the Buffalo River, we were told that our trip was unrealistic in distance, and that it was a three day trip, not the two day trip that we had planned.  It took some convincing but finally they conceded and we were on our way.  We shared the shuttle bus with a very large group planning to conduct their bachelor party floating down the river.  The huge bus was packed with people, coolers, kegs, and a dog.  We were lucky enough to beat the bachelor party to the water, but they were a very nice, social group, and it did seem like an interesting way to spend a bachelor party.

Early on the Brule

The river itself was scenic and wooded.  I was surprised at the number of mature white pine lining the shore.  Also beautiful, in a very different way, were the old buildings, many built right on the water.

A typical cabin along the river

The water itself was shallow and filled with small riffles and a couple rapids.  In a few spots the river widened into small, very shallow lakes filled with fishermen.

We stopped for lunch at one of the canoe landings along the way.  Sitting on a park bench, it seemed very different from our usual lunch, sitting on a random island or set of rocks surrounded by wilderness, but it was convenient and enjoyable still.

Downstream from the landing the current picked up a bit, and before the city of Brule we bounced down the biggest rapid of the trip so far, a class II known as Little Joe’s Rapid.

The Brule landing, right below the rapids, was a mob scene.  Teenagers in sit-on=top kayaks had clogged the river, and navigating our way through was likely more challenging and dangerous than any swift water we had encountered.   Once free, we entered a long section of the river filled with winding switchbacks and slow water.  I have to admit that this stretch was not the most interesting I have ever paddled.  Although it is the most remote section of the river, the distant sound of the highway and the constant near ninety degree turns made me enjoy this section less then the others.

One of the many herons we saw along the way

As we neared the campground, the water speed up and the river straightened.  The campground was in many ways similar to the Forest Service campground at Bearskin.  While not as beautiful as many of the BWCA campsites that we are accustomed to, it was still a nice, quiet place to spend the night. 

Our campsite

The next day we began the stretch that makes this river a paddling destination.  For nine miles, the river is filled with nearly continuous class I to class II rapids, and every so often tumbles over ledges that very much push class III.  Although the river had a bit more water than typical for mid-summer, the ledges were still a bit boney, and it was hard to run them without feeling some rock against the bottom of the canoe.

The first set of bigger rapids

One of the ledges

The last ledge

We stopped for lunch at the last boat landing before Lake Superior, and chatted with a nice couple traveling the same route as us.  They had never paddled the last section of the river, and like us, were filled with anticipation for ending in the big lake.  The last section was shallow and filled with riffles and rocks.  It also contained the only portage of the river, around a dam built to keep invading Sea Lampreys out of the river.  The portage, of course, was a complete log jam, an odd fact considering we had seen relatively few people on the river.  People don’t seem to pack with portaging in mind when on a river with only one portage.

Our first glimpse of Superior

We knew we were nearing the end of our trip when the tree line began to diminish.  We went around a bend and Superior came into view.  Paddling out of the mouth of the river into Lake Superior was a unique experience.  The shallow, sandy shores of the lake were too inviting for us to turn down and we ended the trip with a quick swim and then headed back home.  

Kate on the big lake

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