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Brule River State ForestHistory and features

Brule area history

Brule River valley (photo by Cathy Khalar)
Brule River valley (photo by Cathy Khalar).

Cutting of the area's pine forests began in the 1890s and logging dams and log drives had severe impacts on the Boise Brule River during this period. Extensive logging was followed by wildfire and burning to clear the land for agricultural purposes. In the 1930s, most attempts at agriculture were abandoned and a fledgling forestry program was put in place. The Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Brule assisted in early fire control and reforestation efforts from 1933 to 1941.

The historic Brule to St. Croix Portage Trail

Brule to St. Croix Portage Trail is part of the National Register of Historic Landmarks. The trail begins at the sign on county highway A at the north end of Lake St. Croix. Parking is available in the St. Croix picnic area.

Portage Trail boardwalk (photo by Cathy Khalar)
Portage Trail boardwalk (photo by Cathy Khalar).

A little less than two miles in length, this portage trail was used for centuries by Native Americans, explorers, traders, trappers and missionaries as an important link between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River via the Brule and St. Croix Rivers. Daniel Greysolon Sieur DuLhut first recorded the trail's existence in 1680. He was followed by many notables of early American history including Jonathon Carver and Henry Schoolcraft, who are credited with discovering the source of the Mississippi. As you hike the trail along the upper Brule River among scenic bluff tops and pine flats, you will find several stone markers commemorating early trail users.

Brule area today

Today, the state forest contains the entire 44-mile length of the Bois Brule River. This spring fed river runs cold and clear with a steady flow and plunges 420 feet from its source to Lake Superior, resulting in numerous rapids and ledges. These features help give the Brule River its reputation as an excellent coldwater fishery and canoeing stream.

Historic boat house on the upper Brule (photo by Cathy Khalar)
Historic boat house on the upper Brule (photo by Cathy Khalar).

More than 120,000 people visit the forest annually. Among the most famous visitors were five men who served as U.S. president: Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower.

100th birthday gift

The forest received a big 100th birthday gift in 2007 -- "big" as in close to 6,000 acres. Thanks to the collaboration of the Conservation Fund and Wausau Paper Mills and the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson Stewardship Fund, a total of 5,889.13 acres [PDF] were added to the Brule River State Forest, bringing the total property size to almost 47,000 acres. This was an important acquisition because the land will now be left undeveloped for public use without the possibility of becoming fragmented in the future.

Area geography

The Bois Brule River Valley and the uppermost St. Croix River Valley were carved by meltwater flowing south from glacial Lake Superior and the surrounding uplands. When the glaciers receded, a divide formed out of which the Brule and St. Croix rivers flow today in opposite directions. A portage was established between these two rivers, connecting Lake Superior and the Mississippi River watersheds. It was used by early native people and later by European explorers, traders, trappers and missionaries. In the mid-1800s, people first began to recognize the Brule area as a recreational resource.

Plant ecology

Three major ecoregions are represented on the Brule River State Forest: the Lake Superior Clay Plain, the Mille Lacs Uplands and the Bayfield Sand Plain. The presence of three eco-regions means that the plants and trees on the forest are quite diverse.

Superior Clay Plain

The Superior Clay Plain (roughly north of highway 2) is characterized by upland community types such as aspen/white birch, spruce/balsam fir, grasslands and northern hardwoods. Common understory plants include upland alder, hazelnut, big leaf aster and wild sarsaparilla.

Mille Lacs Uplands

The Mille Lacs Uplands portion of the Brule River State Forest is about 3,400 acres in size. The dominant upland community types in this area include aspen, white birch, red oak, red pine and northern hardwood. Hazelnut, blueberry, mountain maple and big leaf aster are common understory species.

Bayfield Sand Plain

The Bayfield Sand Plain portion of the Brule River State Forest totals about 16,400 acres. The upland community types within it are red pine, aspen/white birch, jack pine, scrub oak and grass. Common understory plants include hazelnut, low sweet blueberry, sweet fern, bracken fern and wintergreen.

Current forest cover

Current forest tree cover includes 14,000 acres of aspen, 1,400 acres of white birch, 10,000 acres of red, jack or white pine, 2,300 acres of swamp conifers, 1,000 acres of hardwoods and 1,100 acres of swamp hardwoods.

Last Revised: Thursday June 13 2019