Canoe & Kayak Camping Wisconsin: Namekagon River
The Namekagon River is one of the most popular rivers in northern Wisconsin for multi-day canoe and kayak camping trips. A tributary of the St. Croix River, it courses nearly one hundred miles through a rather wild-feeling environment. With good current, great wildlife and dozens of free campsites along the way, paddlers will enjoy the ever-changing complexion as the river meanders around small islands, boulder gardens and occasional rapids which are generally mild but can reach Class II depending on water levels. With some working dams along the way, portaging is required at times.
The Namekagon was among the eight original rivers preserved as part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. It’s now managed by the National Park Service as part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The designation has prevented development, and in some cases, even led to the removal of development which has resulted in retaining the natural and wild character of the river. With numerous access points and campsites, all well-mapped and maintained, the Namekagon, as well as the St. Croix, are prime paddle-camping destinations.
Paddling Style: River Paddling
Best Suited For: Canoes + Kayaks
Camping Location: Riverside
Availability: First-Come, First-Served Designated Sites
Paddle-in: Yes | Walk-in: No
Camping Fee: No | Camping Permit: No
There are more than sixty individual and group campsites scattered along the river, making it convenient for multi-day trips. The primitive and (mostly) isolated sites are largely paddle-in and only accessible from water though there are a few that are accessible by car. All sites include a clearing for tents, (usually shaded), a fire-ring and a rustic toilet. Picnic tables are available at most of the campsites. All sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and there is a three night limit at any one site. Best yet, there are no fees for accessing, camping or parking in any of the National Scenic Riverway areas. Pro tip: Campsites are harder to come by on summer weekends so best to take advantage of a weekday trip when you can.
Paddling the Namekagon River:
Landings and campsites on both the Namekagon and St. Croix River are documented by mile markers. N stands for Namekagon and S for the St. Croix. The Namekagon begins at the Namekagon Dam (N99.5) which means there are 99.5 miles until the confluence of the St. Croix River. Here’s the Namekagon broken down into their three most common individual parts. Descriptions of the sections correlate to the maps provided by the National Park Service.
Namekagon Dam to Hayward Landing
N99.5-N66.1 | Miles: 33.4 | Map
Downstream from the Namekagon Dam, (N99.5) the river begins narrow and isolated with lengths of moderately riffly rapids. In low water conditions, the generally shallow streambed can be difficult, if not impossible to comfortably paddle. Add to that, numerous deadfall, beaver dams and three low bridges, there are already challenges to consider so you’ll want to make sure it’s not running too low. After Cable Wayside (N86.0), the river calmly winds its way through numerous channels around small islands and along a shallow and rocky bed. Just before Thompson Bridge Landing, (N82.2), you’ll encounter the former Pacwawong Dam which can be run if there’s enough water and no strainers on the downstream side. Otherwise, it can be portaged on river-right.
After Larsen Landing (N77.8), you’ll encounter several small rapids before the river slows on its approach to Phipps Flowage (N74.4). Here, the river becomes much wider until it narrows a couple miles later at the old Phipps Dam (N72.8) which can also be run in higher conditions (or again, portaged on river-right). The river continues to meander at a leisurely pace for a few more miles until once again widening at Hayward Lake. The Hayward Dam (N66.1) must be portaged and is also your take-out point. Camping opportunities along this stretch are fewer than the sections downstream, but this section is paddled less frequently than the others, too.
Hayward Landing to Trego
N66.1-N34.0 | Miles: 32.1 | Map
Water levels are usually more accommodating on this section of the Namekagon – as is camping since there’s over a dozen primitive riverside sites at the ready. The river is narrow to start and there are many rocks, riffles and a few small rapids to navigate around small islands. On the approach to Stinnett Landing (N57.7) the river gets wider and slower before narrowing considerably at the landing where an old bridge existed and the river drops a couple feet making for a fun and splashy ledge. Downstream, the river quickens its pace and there are numerous riffles and Class I rapids around many curves. Watch for blocked channels and choose paths that appear less rocky when possible.
Easy boulder gardens and many riffles and rapids continue between North Springbrook Landing (N52.5) and Springbrook Landing (N49.9). Afterwards, it calms with only the occasional rapid. At Big Bend Landing, (N45.0) the river widens and slows around a giant oxbow approaching Earl Park Landing (N41.3). Afterwards, the river eventually narrows again and there are more islands and channels to navigate, as well as more rapids and riffles. There a few take-out options in Trego, including in front of the Namekagon Visitor Center Landing (N37.5), Lakeside Road Landing (N37.3), and the Trego Town Park Landing (N34.0), all within a few miles of each other.
Trego to Riverside Landing
N33.4-S131.7 | Miles: 37.2 | Map
On its last miles before meeting the St. Croix, the Namekagon offers diverse paddling conditions. From slow sandy stretches to riffles and then Class I rapids on the approach to the confluence. With over thirty primitive and diverse campsites along the way, this stretch is wildly popular with canoe and kayak campers.
One could choose to start the journey at Lakeside Road Landing (N33.4) but due to the miles of flatwater paddling through Trego Lake and then a required portage around Trego Dam, most opt to put-in at the County Road K Landing (N31.2). The river begins narrow and and riffly along wooded and sandy banks as it winds around many islands and sandbars. Water levels are usually sufficient on this section, so navigating is usually easy. After Whispering Pines Landing (N21.3), the river widens and the paddle slows for many miles, as the riverbed alternates from rocky to sandy. Downstream of the Namekagon Trail Landing (N4.8), riffles once again appear and in the last couple miles before the St. Croix, there are numerous Class I rapids. From the confluence to the Riverside Landing take-out (S131.7) on the St. Croix proper, there are many long Class I rapids on the main channel that is split by one large, and many small islands.
Maps + Guides:
Namekagon River Paddling Guide
St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Camping Guide
The St. Croix/Namekagon River System Map
Section Map 1: Namekagon Dam to Hayward Landing
Section Map 2: Hayward Landing to Trego
Section Map 3: Trego to Riverside Landing