Canoeing is popular on the Flambeau and different portions of the river offer varying degrees of difficulty. And donít forget your fishing pole.
The Flambeau River State Forest
A diamond in the rough in any season.
Story and photo by Ron Weber
Your canoe glides through the dark–stained water on a peaceful June evening, the silence broken only by the sound of your oar slicing into the water and the trill of a belted kingfisher somewhere along the shore. The river has taken you in, and though you fully know what year it is, there is a feeling of timelessness which hangs over such a place. You imagine as though just around the next bend you may encounter a lumberjack guiding a raft of logs downstream. This is the Flambeau and right here, right now, anything seems possible.
Wisconsin has many famous lakes and rivers. Right near the top of that list would be the Flambeau River, long recognized for its scenic beauty and wildness. It is here, tucked in and around the north and south forks of the Flambeau River in Sawyer, Rusk and Price counties that you will find the 91,000–acre Flambeau River State Forest (FRSF). This gem of public property is located just far enough away from any major city that it is often overlooked and underutilized.
Solitude is one of its main attributes. In a day and age in which we are constantly online, tuned in or wired up, getting away can be difficult. With little to no cell phone service, visitors to the Flambeau need not worry about bothersome phone calls or the kidsí constant texting. Here, they will need to find more natural ways of passing the day.
Canoeing and kayaking are two popular pastimes. The scenery is breathtaking and the river offers a range of experiences from peaceful paddling to hair–raising rapids. Landings are spaced to allow for a trip length that fits any desire. Rustic river campsites accessible only by river travelers are available on a first– come, first–served basis. Maps detailing the river with landings, campsite locations and descriptions of rapids are available from the forest headquarters or online at dnr.wi.gov.
Fishing is another popular attraction. The river offers an excellent smallmouth bass, walleye and musky fishery. Bass Lake provides a wilderness setting with no motors allowed. Connors Lake and Lake of the Pines offer outstanding fishing in a scenic and peaceful setting. These are also the sites of the two established campgrounds in the FRSF. Each campground has 30 sites with pit toilets, but no electrical hookups. Except for 15 sites at Connors Lake campground which can be reserved by using Reserve America, no reservations are allowed. Connors Lake also has a picnic area with a volleyball court, childrenís play area, beautiful sand beach and swimming area.
Besides the spectacular colors and views of fall, hunting is another draw to the area. Through active forest management, the forest is comprised of a good representation of all age classes of forests from young aspen stands to mature hemlock, white pine and yellow birch. Grouse and deer hunters will find plenty of each, especially in the areas of younger forest habitats. Bear hunting is popular and the turkey population is also very healthy. Forest roads provide vehicle access, but there are many gated trails, including designated hunter walking trails, which ensure ample opportunity to have an undisturbed backwoods experience.
Elk have found a home in the FRSF. A small herd from the Clam Lake area was released in the forest to assist in dispersing the larger Clam Lake herd. An opportunity to hear the piercing bugle of a bull elk on a misty, cool September morning is an exciting addition to the Flambeau experience.
ATV and snowmobile trails are also available. The roughly 40 miles of ATV trails are open from May 15 to Nov. 15 and connect with the Tuscobia State Trail and the Dead Horse Run Trail in the Chequamegon National Forest. Fifty–five miles of snowmobile trails link up with surrounding county trail systems and also the Tuscobia Trail.
Cross–country skiing can be an excellent way to take advantage of the winter scenery and solitude the forest has to offer. The entire forest is open to cross–country skiing, however, only the 15–mile Flambeau Hills Trail is groomed. Those wishing to snowshoe will find additional packed trails at Lake of the Pines and the Slough Gundy State Scenic Area.
The Flambeau Hills Trail is open to hiking and mountain bike riders in the summer and fall.
Visitors stopping at the new forest headquarters completed in 2014 will find friendly staff waiting to answer questions and provide information to make their trip a memorable and safe one. Showers are available at the forest headquarters for public use.
You wonít find bright lights or glitz and glamour. But if you are looking for an opportunity to get away, to be immersed in nature, and maybe even take a step back in time for a day, weekend or week, the Flambeau River State Forest may be just the jewel you have been looking for.
Ron Weber writes from Weyerhaeuser, Wis.