Vilas County is a paddling paradise, a destination where you can explore places just as wild and beautiful as they were during the days of early French-Canadian voyageurs. The Wisconsin River starts in Vilas County, and some of the most rewarding river paddling in the Northwoods can be found on these waters. Here’s where to go.
Option 1: A 5-mile paddle from the headwaters
This river trip begins at the very start of the Wisconsin River, at the headwaters at Lac Vieux Desert. You can put in at Lac Vieux Desert Reservoir Park on the western edge of the lake; see the location of the spot here (parking available on Shore Rd/Starlite Ln just west of the park). This stretch of the river can be a bit of an adventure—you may have to navigate around a few downed trees and beaver dams, but you’ll get to experience the Wisconsin River from its source. You can finish the trip at a boat landing off U.S. Highway 45—you’ll see it just past the highway bridge. There’s room to load the canoe and a historical marker about the headwaters.
Option 2: A 6-mile paddle in faster waters
Downstream, you’ll find the river quickly gains speed and widens, while winding through some beautiful wild areas. Start your journey at the Rummels Road landing, which is tucked in between the Rummels Road bridge and a snowmobile bridge. You’ll paddle through some gorgeous undeveloped areas toward Conover, until you reach the take-out spot at the Highway K landing. You’ll encounter it just before the bridge.
Option 3: A 7-mile paddle through boulder gardens and past islands
This paddle starts just beyond the Otter Rapids Dam, about four miles west of Eagle River. By the time the Wisconsin River reaches this spot, it has traveled more than 40 miles and picked up several tributaries, so the river is considerably wider. You’ll travel through some minor rapids, past a few small islands and boulder gardens. Find a take-out spot just before the Highway O bridge, southeast of St. Germain. If you continue paddling from this spot, you’ll enter the Rainbow Flowage. There are outfitters near this stretch of river that can provide rentals and shuttle services.
More Wisconsin River information
For more information about these routes, and a few more details for long-haul paddlers, see these paddling maps that have an overview of the Wisconsin River’s 48-mile stretch in northern Wisconsin.