Fall Kayaking – The Flambeau River

OMG did I pick the perfect day to explore this astounding place.

The Flambeau and the Turtle rivers combine and then are dammed to form the enormous Turtle-Flambeau Flowage which is a very popular destination. The dam flooded 16 natural lakes in the name of hydro-electric power to make 14,000 acres of water with 114 miles of shoreline. Including the surrounding land it is a 35,000 acre DNR property. Even in September, well after Labor Day, the launch site on the far eastern edge of the flowage had several cars in it. I waited until this time because I like to paddle peaceful places and was worried that because it’s so huge and popular I wouldn’t get a quiet moment to myself. I’ve since learned from the DNR brochure that the eastern most 1/5 or so of the flowage is a voluntary quiet zone. It wasn’t busy enough where I was and I didn’t go to the big water, but it bodes well and gives me hope that paddling here in summer might not be noisy and full of boats speeding by with screaming kids on tubes dragging behind. Hope anyway.

Heading into the Flambeau river

My time there was peaceful. The motorized boats present were all quiet and far away in the biggest part of the flowage. The folks I met at the launch were friendly and we chatted a bit. Typical of Wisconsin, really. Even this guy gave me a few minutes –

Land Ho!

I didn’t linger the lake but, instead headed for the river. I spent a lot of time gawking at the amazing foliage and the clear blue skies. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to paddle this unspoiled river.

I took a zillion photos and many more are posted to my Smugmug page so if you want them, that’s where they are. The ones in this post are the best examples of the different areas of the river and the changes in light as I paddled up and around the bends.

A doubtful surmise
Dare I breathe?

It was immediately apparent that the water level was down from its summer heights. Something I’ve noticed on other dammed rivers at this time of year. My last paddle on the Spirit basically confined me to the main channel and kept me out of my beloved backwaters. But the Flambeau is a different river – it doesn’t spill over into the woods, at least not where I was, and I noticed only one navigable backwater. No tributaries because I didn’t get as far as the confluence with Bear Creek and the Manitowish River.

And the choir says amen

The section I paddled is on the eastern end of the flowage and is very different than either branch that flows from the western edge. That part is known for its rapids and is very popular. The section I paddled is slower since it’s behind the dam, but it’s still has a decent current and I had to keep moving or be pushed downstream.

To dazzle the eye

It was about here that I met a couple guys fishing. One said I was a tough kayaker because I was paddling upstream and not down which is definitely a more typical way to experience the river. The effort was so worth it.

After a couple hours I did find a relatively large pocket on the side where I could sit and have a rest and a snack. The colors were mesmerizing and the withered plants made for good foreground elements.

The enchanted world
Your eventual masterpiece

I stayed a longer time than I thought because I couldn’t take my eyes off that shoreline. The colors didn’t seem real, but there they were.

What makes you care deeply?

I expected to find some turtles back here, but I didn’t. Not one all day. So different from the Somo during similar conditions – hot, sunny and clear skies.

The backlit trees were amazing, but hard to photograph and even harder to process so they didn’t come out all fake or weird looking.

Sunbake
No intrusion

Eventually I decided to turn back. This was the part I was looking forward to most – the drift back. The time when I wouldn’t have to paddle, only steer.

Autumn perfection
A world dramatically changed

But as you can see, the wind had other plans. It decided that it would kick up instead of die down as the sun got lower. Lucky me, I’d get to paddle against the current and then against the wind.

It was mostly fine, but I didn’t have the free time to pick out a lot of details and slices the way I like to on a return trip. I often change lenses on the way back, whether hiking or paddling. It keeps me from taking the same pictures over and over. Usually the wide angle at first and the medium telephoto second. Both are such excellent lenses that it would be a shame to leave either in the bag.

Turn your attention
Renewable energy
Making good on your promises

But occasionally I could relax and let the current take me.

Following the glow

And before I knew it, I was back down by the flowage and close to the boat launch. Too soon, but if I stayed longer I’d have to load the kayak in the dark!

Stands unmoved
Nothing bland here

Wow what an incredibly special time on the water. Peak foliage in Wisconsin doesn’t last long, but sometimes the stars align and I get to experience it at its best. Plus I found what I think is going to be a regular kayaking destination. I located another boat launch on Bear creek that I think will allow me to paddle up to the Manitowish river which is also supposed to be fantastic and substantially undeveloped. Stay tuned!!

15 thoughts on “Fall Kayaking – The Flambeau River

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  1. You really caught the autumn colors so well – and the views from the water make them even more special. I’ve only kayaked once, on Puget Sound, with Mt. Ranier in the background. It was great. Have you ever – do you ever – kayak with snow on the ground? I bet that would be really special!

    1. Thanks. The colors were so perfect. I haven’t mostly because when there’s snow, there’s ice and damn, my feet get freezing. They touch the bottom of the boat which transfers the chill of the water right into my bones it seems. Plus getting out usually means putting your feet in the water, too. Freezing. That’s just from one time paddling in November. Water temps dropped even though the air was in the 60s. Also, I don’t have a spray skirt so I get a little wet when paddling. Still, I could give it a go in spring if I get brave.

      1. Well, I think it sounds like a great adventure, but do know that cold, damp feet make for a great deal of misery. Snow and ice, cold water – never thought about having to actually step into the water, actually – can be deadly. Best stay safe!

      2. I’d have to wear my muck boots. Doable, but clunky inside the cockpit. Still, it’s an idea. I just spent a week in Louisiana & Texas photographing cypress trees. A few mornings were in the 30s and very cold. Enough for gorgeous mist so it was worth it, but damn, I should have brought chemical hand and foot warmers!

      3. Oh, what a lucky girl you are! I enjoyed your swamp posts last time you were in the South, and really look forward to seeing what your came home with.

      4. Thanks! I was really surprised the trip went ahead. It was great. Am basically done editing the stills and am trying to think of the best way to put posts together. We had some amazing conditions.

  2. Wow, these colors, these reflections, the peaceful atmosphere emanating from these photos! What a pleasing moment you must have had! This series is sumptuous, kudos!

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