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A kayaker works his way through the Mays Ledges section of the Brule River in Wisconson.

Jim Umhoefer,

Midwest Traveler: Paddling the 'river of presidents'

  • Article by: JIM UMHOEFER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 10, 2012 - 2:11 PM

Like all streams, the Brule River is always the same yet always different. A proud white pine on the riverbank could be next summer's obstacle, creating a symphony of sound as the water sifts through the branches. An exposed rock today may be submerged tomorrow. By nature, the Brule is scenic and wild, calling those who love to paddle, hunt and fish to its wooded corridor. It also offers a serene respite in its quiet moods. Though most of the colors have faded from the forest by now, there are few fall pastimes more suited to re-creating yourself than letting the Brule carry you downstream.

THE BASICS

The Brule River meanders north for 44 miles through 47,000 acres of the surrounding Brule River State Forest before spilling into Lake Superior in northwestern Wisconsin. It has two distinct personalities. The upper river flows through miles of coniferous bog, fed by numerous springs. When the river crosses the Copper Range, it begins a fall of 328 feet in its remaining 18-mile journey to Lake Superior. This is the section that excites kayakers and trout anglers. Strings of rapids tumble over rocks and ledges as the boisterous river runs between steep red cliffs in the shadow of the boreal forest.

Well-heeled fishermen discovered the joys of trout fishing on the Brule long before the loggers arrived. Families well known in the Twin Cities, such as the Carlsons and Ordways, are longtime landowners on the Brule. Cedar Island Lodge, which is privately owned, has been a refuge for five U.S. presidents: Grant, Cleveland, Coolidge, Hoover and Eisenhower. Coolidge spent the summer of 1928 at Cedar Island Lodge, adding to the Brule's lore as the "river of presidents."

WHAT TO DO

Canoe or kayak: Sunny summer days inspire legions of paddlers to push off downstream, bumping through rapids and lingering along Lake Superior at the mouth of the Brule.

The Brule's dual nature makes it fun for both novice and experienced paddlers. The most popular canoe or kayak trip begins at Stones Bridge canoe landing. The river takes its time here, winding through cedar, spruce and balsam bog forests. A handful of playful Class I rapids interrupt the mostly flat water. Even the youngest kayaker in our group, an 11-year-old nephew, handled these with ease.

More experienced paddlers like to put in at the Copper Range Campground to run the Lenroot Ledges, Mays Ledges and Hwy. 13 rapids. This stretch boasts almost continuous ledges and rapids that are rated Class II-III, depending on water flow and depth. The Brule relaxes again below the Hwy. 13 landing for a leisurely paddle down to Lake Superior. The sandy shoreline here is a great spot to search for beach treasures and to bask under the vast vault of the inland sea.

To rent watercraft or arrange shuttle service, contact Brule River Canoe Rental at 1-715-372-4983; www.brulerivercanoerental.com.

Go fishing: The Brule is an exceptional fly fishing trout stream. It is one of the few tributaries of Lake Superior to support natural reproduction, which adds to its allure. Resident populations include brook, brown and rainbow trout. The fall run of coho salmon and steelhead usually ends in late November. For details about fishing seasons and licenses, contact the Brule River State Forest (1-715-372-5678; dnr.wi.gov/topic/StateForests/bruleRiver).

Hit the trails: The Stoney Hill Nature Trail is a 1.7-mile self-guided nature trail that begins and ends at the Bois Brule Campground in the state forest. Parts of the trail are steep, but the overlook at the top is worth the effort.

The Historic Brule/St. Croix Portage Trail is the same footpath used for centuries by American Indians, explorers, traders, trappers and missionaries. This portage was a main link between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River via the Brule and St. Croix rivers. The trail begins at the sign on County Hwy. A at the north end of Lake St. Croix, and parking is available in the St. Croix picnic area.

WHERE TO SLEEP

If you enjoy fall camping with a good choice of campsites, try the Bois River Campground and the Copper Range Campground. Both are right on the Brule River and managed by the Brule River State Forest (1-715-372-5678; dnr.wi.gov/topic/StateForests/bruleRiver).

For more comfortable accommodations this time of year, try one of these options: Brule River Motel and Campground (1-715-372-4815; www. brulerivermotel.com) and Brule River Classics, which offers an RV campground and rustic log cabins in the state forest near the river (1-715-372-8153; www.bruleriverclassics.com).

WHERE TO EAT

Home cooking is a source of pride up here. A couple of local favorites: Round-Up North, which claims the "best pizza outside of Chicago" (5831 S. Maple St., Brule, Wis.; 1-715-372-4875; www.roundupnorth.com), and Sharon's Lakeview Café, (6884 Lake Av. S., Lake Nebagamon, Wis.; 1-715-374-2777; www.lakenebagamonwi.com/sharons/).

IF YOU GO

Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce offers a downloadable visitors guide and other information (1-800-942-5313; www.superiorchamber.org).

Jim Umhoefer is a travel/outdoors writer and photographer from Sauk Centre, Minn.

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