Canoe & Kayak Camping Wisconsin: Bois Brule River
A premier paddling destination located in northern Wisconsin, the Bois Brule is a diverse river offering something for paddlers of every skill level. From lakes to quietwater to exciting whitewater, all set in an idyllic northern Wisconsin backdrop, it’s a remarkable river that culminates on the sandy shores of Lake Superior. The Bois Brule is more of a structured paddle-camping option with two campgrounds spaced between four unique sections of paddling styles. One offers riverside options, but both are conveniently located just off-river and they each have excellent accesses to the river.
Paddling Style: River Paddling + Whitewater Paddling + Great Lake Paddling
Best Suited For: Canoes + Kayaks
Camping Location: Riverside + Near Riverside
Availability: Reservable Designated Campground Sites
Paddle-in: Yes | Walk-in: Yes
Camping Fee: Yes | Camping Permit: No
There are two campgrounds, the Bois Brule Campground and Copper Range Campground. There are a few paddle-in riverside sites available at Bois Brule Campground (the end of the first section or start of the second). Copper Range Campground (located at the end of the second section or start of the third) aren’t quite riverside but they’re as close as you can get. The proximity to the water and the convenient spacing between river trips make these very attractive options.
The campgrounds have pit toilets and water but not much beyond that. There’s no firewood for sale but you can gather whatever scraps you can find on State Forest land and chop it up (though, late in the season that becomes tougher to scavenge for). Do note that October is the busiest time in the campgrounds, due to the Steelhead run.
Paddling the Bois Brule River:
There are multiple trips to choose from on the Bois Brule, and each has their own distinct personality.
Stone’s Road Landing to Bois Brule Landing:
Miles: 11.5 | Trip Report
With a mixture of flatwater lakes, quietwater riffles and Class I rapids, this is the single-most diverse segment of the entire Bois Brule River, and it’s also the most popular for fishermen and paddlers alike. This trip begins with a quietwater stretch through conifer bogs and scrubby pines in a marsh environment where gorgeous cedar boathouses and estates dating back from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries are dispersed here and there, sometimes connected by rustic cedar footbridges. No fewer than five U.S. presidents have visited and fished the Bois Brule and lodged in the cedar estates in this section.
After a few miles the marsh and bogs give way to rising hills, steep banks and scattered boulders. The current picks up its slack and rushes along fun, engaging Class I rapids. The sparkling river connects two narrow but long lakes and each entrance to the lake is preceded by an exhilarating set of rapids. The river-lake-river-lake pattern is entirely natural, created by the glaciers in the last Ice Age (that also formed and filled the Great Lakes). The current will catch its breath in the third quarter of this trip, but the landscape itself is aesthetically rich. In the last few miles, the ride picks up speed once more and it’s all a series of meandering Class I-II rapids all the way to the take-out at the Bois Brule Campground where you could paddle up to a reservable campsite on the river’s edge.
Bois Brule Landing to Copper Range Landing:
Miles: 10 | Trip Report
This trip is the quietest stretch of the Bois Brule and it uniquely begins and ends between the two campgrounds, each with a light flurry of Class I rapids, and between lies mile after mile of a twisty, meandering river through a subtle valley called “the Meadows.” Of the four conventional sections of the Bois Brule, this is arguably the most subdued and humble. If your time is limited to paddling only three trips, then skip this one, unless you’re a quietwater enthusiast. It’s certainly pretty – by southern Wisconsin rivers’ standards, it’s downright luxurious. But relative the rest of the Bois Brule, it’s a little pell-mell.
That said, if the rapids in the next section are not within your comfort level and all you’re seeking is a contemplative stream offering solitude and birdsong past one gentle bend after another, then this trip is perfect. The Bois Brule Campground located at the put-in has some paddle-up riverside campsites and at the take-out, you’ll find Copper Range Campground just a short walk up some stairs from the landing, and though it’s not on the river itself, it’s delightfully close.
Copper Range Landing to Highway 13:
Miles: 9 | Trip Report
While nobody really regards the Bois Brule as a whitewater river, many do know that it does offer one particularly challenging stretch of Class II-III rapids. In other words, this is the whitewater section. In just nine miles the river drops some 200 feet, creating a gradient of nearly 24 feet per mile! It is with no hyperbole whatsoever when we exclaim that this trip is one of our all-time favorite trips, hands down. It combines incredible natural beauty, unique geology and non-stop rapids. Nine miles, non-stop. It’s simply breathtaking.
Not unlike how the first conventional trip features two lakes, this trip is framed by two notable whitewater sections: Lenroot and Mays ledges (each are made up of four ledges unto themselves). As with any reputable rapid, water level is everything; in shallow conditions there will be some scraping here and there, which has its own benefit and detractions, while at high levels only skilled or at least experienced whitewater paddlers should give these ledges a go – Mays especially, because it’s trickier and longer, with dramatic angular rock ledges creating a staircase-like series of cascading 1-2′ drops. There are several places along both banks to portage anything here, if required.
The river keeps chugging along after Mays, but with less vigor. Still, it’s all riffles and light Class I’s – too many to count. What makes this single trip also incredible is the rise of small hills and clay banks, foreshadowing what’s to come in the next section. All in all, consider this trip on the Bois Brule a destination paddle for whitewater/lightwater fans.
Highway 13 to Lake Superior:
Miles: 8.25 | Trip Report
The final segment of the pristine Bois Brule parallels the first in the sense of diversity. Rushing out of the gate with light rapids and frisky riffles (which will continue until the final couple miles), you’ll whisk past boulders and small rock ledges as the river meanders around dramatic tall clay banks. After a couple miles the river will slacken just upstream from the one and only dam – a sea lamprey barrier that serves to protect the trophy trout that have attracted anglers for three centuries now. The portage is easy and well-marked on river-left of the dam. Below the dam the river offers several sections of boulder gardens, more so than anywhere else upstream.
The Bois Brule eventually slows to a quietwater crawl at the end through a flat marsh-like environment. As it does, you’ll pass a few cabins on river-right, and after a bend here, then there, suddenly you’ll see the mouth at mighty Lake Superior. The feeling of entering the lake after all the intimate river paddling is as captivating as is the visual. Some Lake Superior tributaries end in crazy-dramatic waterfalls – streams like the Montreal and Presque Isle Rivers on the south shore of Wisconsin and the U.P. By contrast, the Bois Brule slips in with elegance and simplicity. A beautiful beach with a tall dune overlooking the largest freshwater lake in the world provides an idyllic location to reflect upon the unique and unforgettable river and environs that is the Bois Brule. It’s a very unique and inspiring way to end a river paddle.
Maps + Guides:
Miles Paddled’s Bois Brule River Paddle Guide
Brule River State Forest Visitor’s Guide
Brule River State Forest Overview Map
Brule River State Forest Northern Map
Brule River State Forest Southern Map
Brule River Canoe Rental