Midwest Traveler: Rafting Wisconsin's Wolf River

  • Article by: JIM UMHOEFER SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: August 31, 2013 - 2:00 PM
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The Wolf River in northeastern Wisconsin is famous for great whitewater rafting, especially on the 37-mile upper reach..

Photo: Glenn Sanderson,

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“When in doubt, straighten out,” goes an old river-rafting maxim. Due to operator error on my part, I did not always adhere to this wisdom while steering our two-person raft on the scenic, exciting Wolf River in northeastern Wisconsin. This resulted in a couple of thrilling spills, which added to the fun on a classic North Woods adventure.

THE BASICS

The Wolf River rises above Pine Lake in Forest County in the deep woods of northeastern Wisconsin. It flows about 240 miles south, where it joins with the Fox River in Lake Butte des Morts in Winnebago County. While most of the lower river is flatwater, the rugged 37-mile upper reach between Lily and Big Smokey Falls will raise your pulse rate.

This upper stretch of the Wolf boasts a large number of rapids and cascades, rating from class I to class IV. Whitewater canoeing, kayaking and rafting are big draws to the river. High water in spring — when some of the rapids reach class IV status — attracts experienced river runners. During normal summer flows, the majority of the rapids are in the class II to III range, with relaxing sections of calm water in between. Rafts provide a forgiving mode of river transportation for less experienced paddlers.

The Wolf’s popularity is due to a pleasing potpourri of handsome hardwood forests and pine groves mixed with marsh, dense thickets and grassy lowlands. Access is easy, and the consistent flow of the clean water makes the Wolf a favorite for fishing as well as floating. The section of the river running south from the Langlade-Menominee county line to Keshena Falls on the Menominee Indian Reservation is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River.

WHAT TO DO

Outdoors: The segment between County M and Big Smokey Falls is one of the best whitewater rafting and kayaking runs in Wisconsin. This is the stretch that flows through the Menominee Indian Reservation, where the tribe controls access via a permit system. Outfitters and individuals can obtain permits through the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin office (W2908 Tribal Office Loop Road, Keshena, Wis.; 1-877-209-5866; www.menominee-nsn.gov).

River rafting trips can be arranged for a variety of skills and trip lengths. Most river raft trips run through the second weekend in September, depending on water levels. Our group’s outfitter was Shotgun Eddy (1-920-494-3782 or 1-715-882-4461; www.shotguneddy.com). For another local outfitter, try Herb’s Wolf River Raft Rides (1-715-882-8611; www.wildwolfinn.com).

Though the Wolf River is famous for its whitewater sections, it is also one of Wisconsin’s premier trout streams. With clear, swift water and long stretches of public land above the Menominee Reservation, the Wolf is an ideal destination for fly fishing. Rafting and trout fishing on the Wolf co-exist due to a local ordinance that keeps rafts off the river before 8 a.m. and after 7 p.m.

Events: The Wolfman Triathlon, next Saturday, features a downriver race on the Wolf River, a 13-mile off-road bike race and a 3.5-mile rugged trail run (www.wolfmantriathlon.org).

Celebrate fall in Wisconsin’s North Woods at the Festifall in Lakewood, complete with music, art and food on Sept. 14 (1-715-276-3473; www.oconto county.org, click the “events” link and scroll down).

Antigo hosts the seventh annual Oktoberfest on Oct. 12 with German-themed fun (Langlade County Fairgrounds; 1633 Neva Road, Antigo, Wis.; 1-715-623-4134; www.antigochamber.com).

Attractions: For a golf outing, try the Pine Hills Golf Course in Gresham, Wis (1-715-787-3778; www.pinehillsgolf.net).

To learn more about the Menominee Indian culture and local logging history, visit the Menominee Cultural Museum and the nearby Menominee Logging Camp Museum (3426 County Hwy. VV W., Keshena, Wis.; 1-715-799-5258; www.menominee-nsn.gov).

WHERE TO EAT

Boyd’s White Lake Café is a popular local spot (812 Lake St., White Lake, Wis.; 1-715-882-4004). Hillcrest Food and Spirits is a North Woods supper club noted for its Friday night fish fry and its signature broasted chicken (16704 Nicolet Road, Townsend, Wis.; 1-715-276-1500).

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