Namekagon River
★ ★ ★ ★

Namekagon River

By on October 30, 2015

County Road K to Riverside
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Crystal clear water, good current, great wildlife, dozens of free campsites along the way to provide for fun multi-day trips, and all set in a very wild-feeling environment because of minimal development, the Namekagon is a paddling staple in Wisconsin.

By Rachel Friedman
A friend, fellow Miles Paddler and contributor

July 16-19, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Class I

4′ per mile (average)

Leonards: ht/ft: 1.7 | cfs: 103

Recommended Levels:
We recommend this level but do note that the gauge is 55 miles upstream. Water levels are typically pretty good throughout the paddling season below Trego. If in doubt, call the visitor center about current levels at 715-635-8346.

County Road K, Trego, Wisconsin, Washburn County
Riverside Park, Washburn, Wisconsin, off Highway 35 on the St. Croix River

Day 1: 7.16.15
Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at who knows? We’re on river time from this point forward!.
Miles Paddled: 13.5

Day 2: 7.17.15
Miles Paddled: 9.25

Day 3: 7.18.15
Miles Paddled: 5

Day 4: 7.19.15
Miles Paddled: 7.5

Total Miles: 35.25

Wildlife: Eagles, eagles and more eagles. A snake of some sort (sorry Barry!). Raccoon – so be prepared to secure your coolers/food storage bin at night! Great blue heron. Turtles (painted and snapping). River otters (the highlight). Mosquitos were tolerable and the biting flies were fairly tolerable (we had good wind most days).
Time worth driving to: 4 hours

To quote Timothy, who encouraged us to do this trip, “It’s as if the Namekagon were designed to be a playground for paddlers.” (Editor’s note: Timothy did this very same trip in August 2010, pre-Miles Paddled, and has been eager to do it again ever since.) Every summer my partner and I do a multi-day paddling trip (usually the Boundary Waters) but this year we decided to do a river trip instead. With us were my partner’s 14-year-old daughter and her same-aged friend, both who have joined us on paddling trips in years past. Timothy sold us on the Namy years ago; it’s just been a matter of figuring out when we’d actually do it. The Namy is truly beautiful and rightfully protected by the National Parks Service as part of the great St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, an oasis of near wilderness in the Northwoods.

What we liked:
The Namekagon has everything you want and expect from a Northwoods stream: clear water with good current, undeveloped surroundings, some rolling hills, a whole lot of conifers and just a sense of getting away from it all, being somewhere special and protected. It has a cool forest feel to it, but there are pleasant open areas too with bogs and fens. There are lots of riffles but no serious rapids. And towards the end of the trip we were towered above by tall sand banks that looked more like cliffs.

We went with Jack’s in Trego, Wisconsin for our canoe rental and shuttle service. They’re nice folks with a big operation for renting canoes, kayaks and innertubes. When we arrived on Thursday we were the only souls there with about ten cars in the lot. Granted, it was a Thursday, 72 degrees and cloudy with rain likely. When we returned on Sunday it was INSANE; the parking overflowed to the streets AND an upper lot! It seemed reasonably well organized – people were organized in groups and herded off with their tubes in large passenger vans. They allowed us to jump the line to simply retrieve our car key and $10 deposit (yeah, $10 deposit for 2 canoes? Okay). Our driver recommended avoiding this area like the plague on holiday weekends. Apparently there were thousands of people floating on July 4th weekend – wall to wall tubes on the Namekagon – coming from around Earl to Trego.

Given the challenges of a couple rapids and the beautiful surroundings, it really was a fun river to paddle! Our two 14-year-olds had canoed before but had little experience steering. After getting stuck a few times on rocks in riffles or small rapids (no capsizing, thankfully!), the girls both did very well and mastered avoiding the protruding rocks. The water moved fast enough with periods of flat water so at times we didn’t need to paddle much – just drift 2-3 mph and steer. With the wind against us a few of the days it was more work but not difficult.

Regarding the small rapids, a volunteer ranger (a retired nurse from Texas we met at one of the campsites) advised this: on the St. Croix, the rapids are fun and not difficult to manage. Lots of rolling water with few real dangers. The very last section includes some nice rapids near Big Pine Island. There is a smaller channel that goes right and around the top of it. The main channel has a series of Class I rapids. She advised to stick to the main channel – or if you like rapids then stay in the middle. If you don’t like rapids then stay to the right side. She was spot on; the rapids on the St. Croix were super fun with some pretty obvious boulders you want to avoid but not hard in a canoe if you have decent steering abilities. It would have been a blast in a kayak for sure!

Swimming is easy enough if you don your life vest: (there are strong currents but not terribly deep water in the upper sections) walk upstream and then float back down to your campsite. On the third day we actually paddled upstream a couple miles in one canoe and dropped the girls off (this is a deeper section) and they floated back to the campsite. Do note that footwear is a MUST when swimming – one of the girls ended up with a fishhook in the sole of her Keen’s sport sandal from the float/swim!

There are allegedly many types of fish in the Namekagon and St. Croix which makes for some wonderful fishing opportunities. The fisherman of our group caught one small mouthed bass. The first section of this trip (from County Road K to Howell Landing) was often too shallow to throw a line in. His fishing attempts were often thwarted by the din of 14-year-olds demanding less paddling and more swimming time.

The campsites are great for free sites. There are 39 designated campsites along the way; obvious tent areas, a fire ring and a pit toilet. The sites are well-marked on available maps (we printed the NPS section map and had it laminated at an office supply store). The sites are well-marked on land with signs that include the mile marker number – awesome for knowing exactly where you are.

The landings along the way are very nice and easily accessible. Howell Landing (not West Howell, which is across the river) is the last landing with water -so fill up if you’re going all the way to Riverside! Or bring a way to filter water. The Namy is very clear thanks to the lack of farm runoff and all the fresh water mussels but I wouldn’t drink it without filtering!

Overall, this was a great trip with something for everyone. Thanks to Timothy for the recommendation!

What we didn’t like:
Did I mention entry to the Riverway and all the campsites are free – yes, FREE! Thank you National Parks Service! So really, how can one complain? That said, here are my complaints… The group sites tend to be a lot nicer than the smaller sites. One feature in particular of the group sites is a picnic table. Smaller single sites did not offer this. This is important to think about, as a picnic table makes a huge difference when camping… especially when camping with two teenage girls (just saying). Many of the landings at the sites were not maintained. In lower water levels you do have to haul your boats up onto dry land, but typically most have some type of gradient where you can step out to do so. Some of the sites have steps down to the water. The steps are generally dilapidated (federal budget cuts?) and some are downright dangerous.

The Riverway and the primitive sites give the illusion of being backcountry. The river, flora and fauna help underscore this as well. We saw an average of ten other paddlers per day, so not a lot of others camping. However, that illusion was frequently interrupted due to the proximity of roads, houses and people who raise “bear hounds.” Our last night we camped at a gorgeous site (likely the nicest on the Namy, #3.6) but there was another group site a tenth of a mile away and our neighbors were loud and raucous. A nearby house (the shuttle driver explained) is owned by someone who raises hound dogs; if you enjoy being woken to the sound of howling dogs – and, really, who doesn’t? – then, baby, this is the site for you! Still though, I’d say the trip (and site) were worth these minor intrusions. The only reason for this trip receiving four instead of five stars was the surprising amount of ambient noise (roads especially).

If we did this trip again:
Next time we would love to have a bigger group – I think it would be a lot of fun with 6-10 people, and the group sites can certainly handle that number. I would include people who like to kayak and have a balance between canoes (for gear) and kayaks (for fun) and have people switch off taking turns with both. The Namy would no doubt be fun in a kayak, especially if Timothy is in one of them!

Related Information:
General: Kettle National Park Service
Good People: Namekagon River Partnership
Guide: Paddling Northern Wisconsin
Guide: Wisconsin Trail Guide
Maps: Kettle National Park Service
Outfitter: Jack’s Canoe Rental
Overview: Midwest Weekends
Video: St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers
Wikipedia: Namekagon River


Shuttle Information:

26.4 miles. For such a length, it’s prudent to do a car shuttle or pay for one from an outfitter. (Editor’s note: That said, Timothy and his crazy friend bike shuttled this trip back in 2010. Due to road construction at the time, they had to take an even longer and less direct route, making it over 30 miles. In 90-degree heat and “a million percent” humidity. It was the longest and least enjoyable bike shuttle ever. Both dove into the water to cool off upon returning to the car.)

Photo Gallery:

  • JT

    My brother and I did this exact same trip in mid September this year in kayaks (and one less day). Reads almost exactly how our trip went. Dogs and all!

  • Awesome JT – glad to hear that you could shed the same light on this paddle. Thanks much!


Miles Paddled documents canoe and kayak trips on rivers and creeks throughout Wisconsin.

Say Hello or Contribute

Ahnapee River

Apple River (IL)

    Apple River
    4.20.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East Canyon Road to South Apple River Road

Ashippun River

    Ashippun River
    9.27.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Ashippun Lake to Ski Slide Road

Badfish Creek

Baraboo River

Bark River

    Bark River III
    4.7.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Highway 83 to Delafield Road

    Bark River II
    4.15.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Merton to Highway 83

    Bark River I
    7.15.10 | ☆ ☆
    Burnt Village County Park to Fort Atkinson

Beaver Dam River

Big Bureau Creek (IL)

    Big Bureau Creek
    6.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Red Covered Bridge Park to County Road 1150

Big Rib River

    Big Rib River
    5.10.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Goodrich to County Road A

Billings Creek

    Billings Creek
    8.13.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road F to Landing 10

Black Earth Creek

Black River

Black River: East Fork

Bois Brule River

Boundary Waters (MN)

Cannon River (MN)

    Cannon River
    5.31.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Faribault to Dundas

Carroll Creek (IL)

    Carroll Creek II
    6.21.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

    Carroll Creek I
    4.26.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Point Rock Park to Jacobstown Road

Catfish Creek (IA)

    Catfish Creek
    5.7.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mines of Spain to Massey Marina Park

Cedar Creek

    Cedar Creek
    9.28.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road M to Cedarburg

Coon Fork Creek

Covel Creek (IL)

    Covel Creek
    6.18.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    East 18th Road to Highway 71

Crawfish River

Crawfish River: North Branch

Crystal River

Dell Creek

    Dell Creek
    3.15.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    South Avenue to Dellwood

Door Creek

    Door Creek
    4.1.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Femrite Drive to Fish Camp County Park

Duck Creek

    Duck Creek
    3.23.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road G to Duck Creek Road

Eau Claire River

Eau Galle River

Embarrass River

Flambeau River: North Fork

Fox River

    Fox River II
    4.30.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road O to Endeavor

    Fox River I
    5.14.14 | ☆ ☆
    Swan Lake to Portage Canal

Fox River (IL)

Galena/Fever River

Grand River

Grant River

    Grant River IV
    4.24.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road

    Grant River III
    4.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

    Grant River II
    11.21.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road U to Chaffie Hollow Road

    Grant River I
    5.23.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Short Cut Road to County Road U

Halls Creek

    Halls Creek II
    8.9.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Garage Road to Halls Creek Landing

    Halls Creek I
    6.28.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing

Honey Creek

Jump River

    Jump River
    8.30.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Luke’s Heights Lane to Big Falls County Park

Kickapoo River

Kickapoo River: West Fork

Kinnickinnic River

Kishwaukee River (IL)

Koshkonong Creek

La Crosse River

Lake Columbia

Lake Mendota

Lake Michigan

Lake Superior

Lake Waubesa

Lemonweir River

Little Platte River

Little Wolf River

Maunesha River

Mecan River

Mill Creek

Milwaukee River

Milwaukee River: East Branch

Mink River

Mirror Lake

    Mirror Lake II
    10.17.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

    Mirror Lake I
    5.24.08 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Mirror Lake State Park to Lake Delton

Montello River

    Montello River
    11.8.16-11.10.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Harrisville to 11th Road

Mormon Creek

    Mormon Creek
    8.3.14 | ☆ ☆
    Mormon Coulee Park to Goose Island County Park

Morrison Creek

Mukwonago River

Mullet River

    Mullet River
    10.20.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Plymouth to County Road M

Namekagon River

    Namekagon River
    7.16-7.19.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road K to Riverside

Neenah Creek

Nippersink Creek (IL)

Oconomowoc River

Old Pearl River (LA)

    Old Pearl River
    4.3.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Crawford Landing Road to Indian Village Road

Onion River

    Onion River II
    10.11.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road A to County Road V

    Onion River I
    9.23.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road V to Sheboygan Falls

Pecatonica River

Pecatonica River: East Branch

Peshekee River (MI)

Peshtigo River

    Peshtigo River
    9.2.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Burnt Bridge to Goodman Park

Pigeon River

    Pigeon River
    12.5.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Lake Michigan

Pine River

Piscasaw Creek (IL)

Platte River

Plover River

    Plover River
    5.19.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Jordan Park to Iverson Park

Prairie River

    Prairie River II
    5.27.17 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road C to Stange’s Park

    Prairie River I
    11.17.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Haymeadow Creek to Prairie Road

Puchyan River

    Puchyan River
    04.19.15 | ☆ ☆
    County Road J to Huckleberry Road

Red River

    Red River
    12.9.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Gresham to County Road A

Red Cedar River

Robinson Creek

    Robinson Creek
    7.8.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old County Road I to Kelly Road

Rock Creek

    Rock Creek
    3.26.16 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Lake Mills to Millford

Rock River

Root River

    Root River
    8.2.13 | ☆ ☆
    5 Mile Road to Horlick Dam

Root River: South Branch (MN)

Rubicon River

Seeley Creek

    Seeley Creek
    5.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Seeley Lake to Hatchery Road

Six Mile Creek

    Six Mile Creek
    6.7.14 | ☆
    Waunakee Village Park to South Woodland Drive

Spring Creek

    Spring Creek
    4.20.13 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Fair Street to County Road V

St. Croix River

Starkweather Creek

Sugar Creek

Sugar River

Token Creek

    Token Creek III
    5.22.11 | ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek II
    8.22.09 | ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

    Token Creek I
    5.2.09 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    Token Creek County Park to Cherokee Park

Tomorrow River

    Tomorrow River
    7.4.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Rolling Hills Road to Amherst

Trappe River

    Trappe River
    8.2.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Road WW to Wisconsin River Road

Trempealeau River

Turtle Creek

Upper Iowa River (IA)

    Upper Iowa River
    5.24.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Chimney Rock Road to Bluffton Road

Waupaca River

    Waupaca River V
    10.24.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Amherst to Durrant Road

    Waupaca River IV
    4.12.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River III
    9.22.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway DD to County Highway Q

    Waupaca River II
    7.7.12 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

    Waupaca River I
    7.9.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park

Wausau Whitewater Park

Wedges Creek

    Wedges Creek
    9.20.11 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Middle Road to Black River Lodge Resort

White River

Wisconsin River

Wolf River

Yahara River

Yellow Creek (IL)

    Yellow Creek
    4.19.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Bolton Road to Krape Park

Yellow River

Yellow River (IA)

    Yellow River II
    5.6.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Old Sixteen Road to Highway 76

    Yellow River I
    5.5.14 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Highway X16 to Old Sixteen Road

Zumbro River (MN)

    Zumbro River
    6.1.15 | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    Zumbro Falls to Millville
Support the Cause
Timothy's guidebook is out! Order on

Support Miles Paddled and visit our Spreadshirt shop!