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Camping and Canoeing on Turtle-Flambeau Flowage

It was time for the annual guys’ trip to the Wisconsin wilderness, and this year I took my cue from Dan Small of Outdoor Wisconsin. He called the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage and its rustic paddle-up camping “Wisconsin’s version of the Boundary Waters.” We gave it a go for a three-day trip and found it was indeed one of the best paddling/camping experiences in the state. More on this later, but to tide you over, here’s a photo gallery from our canoe trip.

First off, departure. Three of us, so it meant a canoe and a kayak. I haven’t seen this on the highway before, but I am sure we are not the first. Sort of like the space shuttle piggyback arrangement, times two. It worked fine.

The flowage has 66 rustic campsites, first come, first served, spread throughout the 19,000 acres of water. A voluntary quiet zone is set up in some of the narrower channels so one can avoid even the rather unobtrusive fishing boats. Very still in the morning.

Our first campsite for the trip, located on a very small island. Just a fire ring and a pit toilet a short walk into the woods. Not a soul in site after late afternoon, and only a few passing fishing boats during the day.

We weren’t alone, of course. Plenty of loons about, several bald eagles, and plenty of other critters.

The shoreline — there is over 230 miles of it — is often marked by scattered driftwood. Here’s a closeup of nature finding life in the dead things.

Another shot of the island home base. Paddle up and pitch a tent. Simple as that. No permits or reservations required.

While you can pretty much paddle almost everywhere in the flowage, there is at least one portage. If you are good with maps, you may find it. It’s about 1000 feet overland and takes you into the quiet zone from the sprawling open water of the southeast corner of the flowage.

Another passage marked not navigable on the map, was in fact passable due to high water. But just barely. We found our way through to get to that portage point back to where we had started. A lot of effort but a bit of adventure as well.

The flowage is not just green and blue. The wildflowers were bright and blossoming throughout.

This is from the eastern section of the flowage where the Manitowish River enters. Lots of weeds making interesting patterns in the water.

For the final night we paddled back past our put-in point in the southern central portion of the flowage, and found another island with a bit more altitude and an actual picnic table. Fancy.

The sunset went through several stages of awesome. The clouds added a lot to the experience, as well as the calls of the loons.

We found a turtle at camp trying to lay some eggs. We left her alone after discovering her (and nearly stepping on her!) and I’m afraid we scared her off. We came back to check and she was gone, and there were no eggs in the hole she had dug.

We also saw a number of grebes, most of them leading a small troop of chicks around. The adults themselves aren’t much bigger.

This family of grebes lingered around our island. I paddled into them at one point and watched the little ones dive under and pop up twenty feet away before making a mad paddle back to their mother. Very entertaining. You can barely see them here in this photo.

And one final shot of the sunset. More details about the trip and how you can do it as well, coming soon! Check back! Subscribe to get updates!

Follow the link for more kayaking/canoeing posts here on my blog

Kevin Revolinski

Author, travel writer/photographer, world traveler. Writes about travel, hiking, camping, paddling, and craft beer.

6 thoughts on “Camping and Canoeing on Turtle-Flambeau Flowage

  • Martha Pings

    Gorgeous! My Girl Scout camp took me there, oh, 25 years ago. Some things are best left alone, aren’t they?

    • Really impressive stuff. And free?! I kept laughing in disbelief when we’d misjudge distance on the map or turn over the fold to see another huge section of mostly blue. Big enough to get lost but not so lost that someone needs to come find you. 🙂

  • Amazing photographs. I cannot believe there are 66 campsites on the flowage. That is incredible. I have canoed the Flambeau, but never the flowage. Looks great.

    • I had never really heard much about the flowage. I have passed the Flambeau throughout my life, heading north to grandparents since I was born, but I have never had the chance to paddle it. I really want to. But the flowage, that is one amazing piece of Wisconsin.

  • Wonderful photos of your trip. Impressive shots of the wildlife and amazing colors. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Pingback: Wisconsin’s Little Boundary Waters: Turtle-Flambeau Flowage

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