In 1926, the Chippewa and Flambeau Improvement Company constructed a dam on the Flambeau River, to create a uniform water flow for hydroelectric power, paper mills, and flood control. The dam flooded a lowland forest, connecting sixteen natural lakes, forming the 14,000-acre Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. Managed by the Wisconsin DNR, the flowage is a vast body of water, dotted with hundreds of islands, coves, wooded peninsulas, and sandy bluffs. There are more than 60 remote campsites scattered throughout the flowage, accessible only by water. For flat water paddlers and backcountry campers, the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage offers a true wilderness experience within a days drive of Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago.
What Makes It Great
From the moment you slip your canoe or kayak into the tea-stained waters of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, you’ll know that this is true north woods wilderness. Eagles arc overhead. An osprey dives, slowing at just the right moment to pluck a perch from the water. A pair of loons call out from a grassy cove. A black bear searches the muddy shoreline. There’s enough here for a lifetime of exploring, but it’s accessible enough to get a taste in just a day’s paddle or a weekend of canoe-camping.
For paddlers, a good option is the eastern section of the flowage, where you will find a ‘voluntary quiet area’ and a more varied landscape. Narrow channels between islands and outcroppings open onto wide, flooded forests, and grassy flats. Steep sandy bluffs are nesting grounds for several species of turtle.
There are 66 well-maintained campsites dispersed throughout the flowage, all of which are accessible only by water. The site locations have been selected with a quiet, wilderness experience in mind. Each site has a fire ring, picnic table, and nearby privy.
The Turtle-Flambeau is known for it’s excellent fishing, and is popular with walleye anglers and fishermen searching for the elusive trophy muskellunge.
Who is Going to Love It
Flat water paddlers of all levels looking for a true wilderness experience will find plenty of options in the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage—from a few hours of paddling to a weeks-long voyage. The water is shared with power boats, fisherman, and sailboats, but there’s enough space here for everyone. Camping is allowed in designated campsites only. Six of the group sites are available by reservation and require a fee. The remaining 60 sites are first-come, first-serve, with no permit or fee required. On summer weekends it can take some time and paddling to find an open site, but it’s worth the effort.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are six landings located around the Flowage: Springstead, Fisherman’s, Sportsman’s, Trude Lake, Murray’s, and Sturgeon Bay. Springstead Landing, on the south side of the Flowage, is the largest and offers the most amenities. It’s popular with power boaters. Murrays Landing may be the best option for paddlers. It offers the best access to the ‘Voluntary Quiet Area’. From Manitowish Waters, head NW on highway 51 for 7 miles, then turn left onto Murray’s Landing Rd. Follow this road 13 miles until it dead-ends at the landing. There is no fee for parking. For more information, or to reserve one of the 6 reservable group sites, contact the Mercer Ranger Station (715-476-2240).