Brule River Canoe Trip, NE Wisconsin/UP border
Brule River Canoe Trip
Huff Creek Road (FS 2454) to US HWY 2/141
31 miles, 2 days
All trips have to start somewhere, and this one started several months ago as an idea in GrizzlyAdams fertile brain. He had suggested in a PM that we do a quiet paddle trip at a location somewhere near the two of us, but Nature intervened in the form of the Midwest floods this June. After going through both our busy calendars, we agreed on the weekend of Aug 14th – Aug 17th, to take advantage of the fact that Grizz would be in the UP for his PRNL trip, and would need to pass through the Brule River area, which seperates Wisconsin from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
We agreed to meet Thursday afternoon at the Brule River Campground, located just outside of Nelma, Wisconsin. GrizzlyAdams and his son, quantumcat rolled in slightly ahead of me to a nearly deserted campground abutting the Brule River. A friend of mine had planned to come with, but he bailed on the trip late in the week and left me to paddle my 17’ canoe alone. I must say, never having met Grizz or his son, it was an incredibly easy meeting and a truly enjoyable evening of conversation. I was fortunate enough to see the innovations Grizz had made firsthand, and to also see my first Warbonnet, a very nicely made hammock. With the weather cooperating (temps in the upper 70’s,) we took advantage of the nearby water, then set up our gear for what we all thought would be an easy night of hanging. I chose my JRB Bridge with an 1/8” pad, 40* Exped bag, and 11X14 CCS tarp, Grizz had his DIY bridge, JRB tarp, Neat Sheet UQ and his 50* Montbell Super, and quantumcat had the WB, JRB Tarp, neat sheet uQ and synthetic 30* bag. The full moon was blazing in a clear sky when we finally put out the fire and the bottle of port, and retired for the evening.
I was the first out of my hammock the next morning, but I can’t say I was the first awake. We had set up expecting mild weather in the 50’s, and instead were treated to a low of 44* overnight. I will be the first to admit that an 1/8” pad and a 40* bag were no match for the temps that night. On top of that, I had slept in my skivvies with no socks, and woke to icy foot blocks and chilly backside off and on throughout the night. I heard a lot of shifting from the other hammocks, and believe that Grizz will admit his optimism at his setup was overrated as well. As he joined me at the morning campfire shortly after the crackle of burning wood filled the site, and as we talked about our cold sleep, we were jarred fully awake by the nearing sounds of a pack of Timber Wolves hunting down something in the woods across from the campsite. The yipping and howling even stirred quantumcat from his hammock, and the sound of that pack so close to us on this cold, misty morning was something I’ll never forget.
After determining our goals, and locating our launch and take out points on a map, ferrying our vehicles and equipment, and a short portage in to the river, we started the river portion of our trip. We began at Huff Creek Road(FS 2454) at around noon on Friday. This was the 9 mile marker of the 1st section of the Brule. With low water, the plan was to skip most of the shallower 1st section to avoid dragging the canoe through shallows. What we didn’t realize was that the river had dropped 2 inches overnight, and while the upper portion of the Brule was still canoeable, it made many of the shallower sections difficult to maneuver through. The scenery on the first section was incredible, however. The river is very narrow and personal throughout this section, and extremely quiet. Quantumcat had stayed behind with the gear as we were shuttling vehicles, and while lounging in my hammock at the river, several deer ambled across the river right next to him. We sited numerous Bald Eagles, a lot of deer and ducks, and even one bear that first day on the river. Houses or cabins were scarce, and generally clustered near the main road crossings, which were few and far between, so the river felt very wild.
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Our goal for the first day was a minimum of 13 miles, and several rapids. This would take us to the first unofficial campsite, according to all the guide books. The Nicolet and Chequamegon National Forests allow you to camp anywhere, but it is nice to find an established site. Upon reaching the area where the campsite was supposed to be located, we couldn’t spy any obvious site, so we continued down the river a little farther until we came to a rock garden rapids with a cliff ledge to the right and a rock beach and some very awesome overhanging trees that we unanimously agreed would provide us with an excellent site for the night. Our beach was free from poison ivy, but the hillside and paths up the hill had ample growth, so we stayed on our beach and didn’t reconnoiter any further than necessary. This time, I went with my Clark NA, Exped Bag, and my no-sew UQ, while Grizz added his ½ UQ and quantumcat added a pad to their setups. With the sound of the rapids, a belly full of good food and port and our added insulation, we all slept through the 45* chill that descended on the river that night.
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Upon waking the following morning, we found an existing fire ring and probable campsite located on the hill just above us. We hadn’t noticed because we didn’t have to leave our secluded beach site, and didn’t want to wander through the poison ivy, but nature’s call is strong after a few cups of coffee and some hearty oatmeal. We also came to the realization that we had only 18 miles of river left, and a faster, more reliable river at that.
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With Bald Eagles soaring over head, startled deer bounding from the banks and pintails, mallards, mergansers and Great Blue Herons leading the way, we paddled our way downstream through several more rapids, pulled our canoes over one Fall, finally reaching the US 2/141 bridge and our takeout point. This very last part of the river had numerous cottages along the river, and numerous small rapids and runs, and was a very enjoyable albeit frenzied paddle, as we tried to beat the rumbling clouds to our destination. As we loaded up the canoes, ominous clouds rolled overhead, and as we drove back to our launch site and our other vehicle, the sky let loose sheets of rain, cleansing the dust from the truck and emphasizing our decision to make it off the river a day early. The rain stopped long enough for a quick dip in the river, a change to clean clothes and a quick PB&J taco before we said our goodbyes and headed back to our "real” lives. I say the real living was done that weekend, on the Brule, with two great new friends and a couple of beat up aluminum canoes.
Brule River Canoe Trip Google Map