Exploring a Free National Park: The Namekagon River
A free national park flows through the vast forests of northwest Wisconsin. This incredible gem is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The Namekagon River begins in Bayfield County, flowing through Sawyer, Washburn and Burnett counties prior to meeting up with the St. Croix. While many people recognize the name, Namekagon River, few realize that this is part of the national park system. The history of the Namekagon is a rich one. Used for years during the timber boom, it was an integral part of the transportation of the logs down-river to the St. Croix. Far earlier than even the 1800’s timber boom, the river was heavily used by explorers, missionaries, and fur-traders traveling the Namekagon route between the St. Croix and Chippewa rivers. In Ojibwe, Namekagon means “place of abundant sturgeon”.
Today the Namekagon is a popular destination for kayakers, canoers and tubers. Kayakers and canoers can find several spots along the river for a quiet paddle. For the more adventurous, plan a several day trip starting at the
Namekagon Dam and work your way down the entire river-way to the St. Croix. The upper portion of the Namekagon River is much more shallow, so be sure to plan your trip accordingly and check water levels ahead of time. The best time to do the Cable to Hayward portion is in the spring and early summer when river levels are typically at their highest. As you travel down river, you’ll find several campsites along the way, operated by the National Park Service. The majority of campsites are accessible only by water and are relatively isolated. Plan to pack out anything you bring in to keep the site nice for the next visitor.
For those that are new to canoeing and kayaking, we recommend utilizing one of the area outfitters to help you plan your river trip whether you’re looking for an afternoon paddle or a multi-day journey down river. Several outfitters serve the Namekagon River including Camp Namekagon in Springbrook, Jack’s Canoe Rental and Log Cabin Resort & Campground in Trego, and Pappy’s in Minong.
In addition to the canoe and kayak rentals, the outfitters also offer tube rentals for a super fun way to explore the river. The most popular stretch for tubing is
the Earl to Trego portion. This is the section of river that sees the most visitors each season. You’ll be sure to have a great time making new friends with other groups of tubers along the way. Because of the bends in the river, you won’t truly realize how many people are enjoying the river with you on a sunny summer day until you’re at the landings and sandbars.
If you’re looking to learn more about the Namekagon River, be sure to stop by the Namekagon River Visitor Center. The National Park Service operates the centerand features exhibits including a life-sized replica sturgeon, interactive and hands-on exhibits, and a diorama featuring animals found along the Namekagon River. The center is open seven days a week, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
So call your friends and loved ones and plan your trip down the Namekagon River today. If you enjoyed this article about the Namekagon, be sure to check our blog as there are several articles about our beloved little national park coming soon.
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