LRP - Licenses

LRP - Regulations

LRP - Permits

Recreation - Statewide

Recreation - Trapping

Recreation - Fishing

Recreation - Hunting

Env. Protection - Management

Env. Protection - Emergency

Env. Protection - Resources

To sign up for updates or to access your subscriber preferences, please enter your contact information below.


Totogatic River Wild River

canoeing around obstacles

Canoeing around obstacles on the Totogatic River. © John Haack, UW-Extension Resource Educator

COVID-19 Update

All Wisconsin state park system properties are now operating 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. An annual park sticker or trail pass is required to visit state parks and trails. Annual park stickers only, can now be purchased online. State trail and other passes can still be purchased over the phone by calling 1-888-305-0398 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days per week. Buy before you go: annual passes are NOT available for purchase at individual properties. Visitors must have an annual admission sticker adhered to their vehicle or proof of purchase for entry.

All campgrounds, restrooms, water fountains, buildings, observation towers and playgrounds are closed at all state parks and forests. For more information, please see:

Properties may be limiting admission based on capacity. Please make sure to seek out current property information on our website before visiting:

The Totogatic is a wild gem flowing through Bayfield, Sawyer, Washburn, Douglas, and Burnett Counties. It provides rich habitat for diverse aquatic and terrestrial species, has excellent water quality, beautiful scenery, and great fishing and paddling opportunities.

The name "Totogatic" comes from the Ojibwa word "Totogan" meaning "place of floating bogs" or "boggy river".

-- Romance of Wisconsin Place Names, Heartland Press, 1988 (used with permission)

The free-flowing reaches are now designated wild, with the four flowages (Nelson Lake, Totogatic Flowage, Colton Flowage, and Minong Flowage) excluded. Here is a description of the designated reaches:

  • First Reach: From the outlet of Totagatic Lake (located in Bayfield County) to the upstream end of Nelson Lake (located in Sawyer County).
  • Second Reach: From a point 500 feet below the dam in the Totogatic Wildlife Area to the upstream end of the Colton Flowage (both located in Washburn County).
  • Third Reach: From a point 500 feet below the dam that forms the Colton Flowage to the point where the river crosses the Washburn-Douglas County line immediately above the upstream end of the Minong Flowage.
  • Fourth Reach: From the bridge on County Highway I in Washburn County to the confluence of the river with the Namekagon River in Burnett County.

From the beginning, the goal of the Wild River designation has been for all landowners and visitors to work together to keep the river wild. The land ownership includes county forest frontage (some in all 5 counties), commercial forest, private recreational parcels, and some state and federally-owned frontage. Wisconsin Administrative Code NR 302 specifies how land and water activities will be managed on Wild Rivers. This law specifies that the landowners along the river need to recognize and protect the wild characteristics. The rule limits grading on the banks to less than 10,000 square feet (the point at which a permit would be needed from the DNR), and prohibits docks, dams, bridges (other than on public roadways), dredging, filling, and removal of natural obstructions.

A special case was written into the Totogatic Wild River bill to allow docks that were placed before the designation to remain, provided they are sized to meet current pier standards (or smaller if the dock in place at the time of designation was a smaller than newer standards allow). These docks can be repaired and replaced, but not enlarged. New docks will not be allowed, in order to preserve the wild appearance of the river banks. Anyone who had a dock prior to the Wild River bill being signed in July 2009 is encouraged to contact Dan Harrington at 715-733-0019.

Achieving Wild River Designation is a great accomplishment on the part of local landowners, the counties, Washburn County Lakes and Rivers Association, and all of the citizens and agencies involved. It is one of the highest levels of stream protection possible under Wisconsin Statutes. With everyone working together, we can keep it not only "Wild by Law" but also "Wild by Example" with good stewardship, care and respect from all who live along it and visit it in years to come.

Other Designations

Although the Totogatic is a major tributary of the Namekagon, it was not included in the St. Croix National Wild and Scenic Riverway. However, it is classified as an "Outstanding Resource Water" under ch. NR 102, Wis. Adm. Code. This designation offers further protection from the effects of development and new wastewater point-source discharges. Also, the Washburn County shoreland zoning ordinance does include "resource conservancy" protection on many of the parcels along the river. This zoning category requires a 300-foot setback for building along the banks. Washburn County has also designated the Totogatic as a "County Wild River" under its Comprehensive Forest Management Plan.

What's in a Name?

The name "Totogatic" comes from the Ojibwa word "Totogan" meaning "place of floating bogs" or "boggy river" (according to Romance of Wisconsin Place Names, Heartland Press, 1988). Plat books, maps and tour books show a couple of spellings for the river and its namesake flowages. "Totagatic" and "Totogatic" are used interchangeably in these reference materials (sometimes both are used on the same page!). Pronunciation is varied between "Tuh-TO-ga-tec," "To-TA-ga-tec," "To-to-GAT-ic," "To-BA-tec," and just "TO-ga-tec" according to long-time local residents. Each of these spellings and pronunciations seems to have a strongly-defended local following, and devotees of one will consider use of the others as incorrect.


locator mapThe Totogatic River Wild River designation includes nearly 70 miles of the Totogatic River from the outlet of Totogatic Lake in Bayfield County, through Sawyer, Washburn, and Douglas Counties to its mouth at the Namekagon River in Burnett County.

Four impoundments along the Totogatic River's path were exempted from the designation since three have already been developed with buildings and all areas have a dam, which requires maintenance and repair with heavy equipment. The impoundments create Nelson Lake in Sawyer County, the Totogatic Flowage in Sawyer County, and the Colton and the Minong Flowages in Washburn County.

DNR Lands on the Totogatic Wild River

During the summer of 2010 DNR purchased lands along the Totogatic Wild River in Washburn and Douglas Counties. The purchase was completed utilizing Stewardship funds and a donation from the Doris Duke Foundation.

This large 2,113 acre property is split into seven different blocks, spread over three townships in the two counties with the majority of the acreage in northwestern Washburn County along the lower reaches of the Totogatic River. The property was former Wausau/Mosinee Paper land and is approximately 90% upland woods and 10% lowland and swamp. Several town roads intersect the blocks creating points of access to the land. A feasibility study is currently in process for this property. See "Maps" below for a map of the area.

Due to the highly erodible steep banks and the natural vegetated state of the river shoreline, access to the river from these parcels is not recommended. Better access is available to the river from other access points in the county, e.g., at County Highway I below the Minong Flowage. Please tread lightly at any point of access as the shoreline along the river is fragile erodible. Also, remember that river water levels are variable. Check out the river, let someone know your plan, and establish your route ahead of time.


Recreational Opportunities

  • Hunting - deer, turkey ruffed grouse, woodcock, & small game
  • Trapping
  • Hiking
  • Snowmobiling Trail (marked trails only)
  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Fishing - trout, small mouth bass
  • Bird Watching
  • Berry Picking
  • Canoeing/Kayaking


The Totogatic Wild River is managed to preserve and protect the river in a wild and free-flowing natural state by working with counties, landowners, and partners to prevent development adjacent to the river and by restoring sections of the river to an undeveloped condition.


We've compiled pictures of the Totogatic Wild River. All are DNR and UW-Extension photos.

thumbnail: canoeing around obstacles thumbnail: canoeing the Totogatic thumbnail: canoeing the Totogatic thumbnail: canoeing the Totogatic thumbnail: canoeing the Totogatic thumbnail: frog in the Totogatic thumbnail: squirrel in a tree thumbnail: fall scene thumbnail: fall scene thumbnail: Totogatic River thumbnail: shore line view thumbnail: Totogatic River thumbnail: wood turtles

Submit Your Pictures for our Gallery

Submit your pictures of Totogatic Wild River by contacting:

Property Manager
Department of Natural Resources
810 W Maple Street
Spooner WI 54801


For questions and comments contact:

St Croix Basin Supervisor
Department of Natural Resources
810 W Maple St
Spooner WI 54801


Washburn County Forestry [exit DNR]
850 W Beaverbrook Ave Ste #4
Spooner WI 54801

Washburn County Zoning Department [exit DNR]
10 Fourth Ave
Shell Lake WI 54871

Washburn County Lakes & Rivers Association, Inc. [exit DNR]

John Haack
UW Extension [exit DNR]
W6646 Hwy 70
Spooner WI 54801

Last revised: Thursday May 07 2020