Eight Tips for Exploring the Namekagon River: Wisconsin’s Moving National Park

May 15, 2018

Submitted by: Michelle Martin, Washburn County Tourism Association

Located in beautiful Northwest Wisconsin, the Namekagon River is a hidden gem. The Namekagon is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and was one of the original eight rivers designated as wild and scenic rivers by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. This river offers incredible access being close to the communities of Cable, Hayward, Trego and Danbury. Well-marked landings, campsites, and portages make the Namekagon a great opportunity for all experience levels. We’ve put together a handful of tips for you to help you have the best experience possible on the Namekagon River: Wisconsin’s Moving National Park.

  1. Pitch a tent along the banks of the river. With over 60 river access campsites along the Namekagon, you’re bound to find the perfect spot to set up camp for the night. The majority of the campsites are accessible only by water making for a serene camping experience. You’ll be able to wake up to the sounds of the Namekagon including the occasional call of the loon.
  2. Bring your binoculars and bird identification book! There are over 150 birds known to nest along the shores of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway which includes the Namekagon. Some of the favorite feathered visitors include the Great Blue Heron, Trumpeter Swan, Great Horned Owl and of course the Bald Eagle. Aside from birding as you paddle down the river, consider spending some time hiking at the Trego Nature Trail, located just east of the Namekagon River Visitor Center. This 2.8 mile round-trip trail follows along the banks of the Namekagon and you’re bound to spot a variety of birds along the way.
  3. Plan your route based on the season and water levels. While the Namekagon is navigable during all open water months, there are stretches of river that can be challenging during times of low water. Typically spring time is the best time to paddle the upper portion of the river near Cable where water levels tend to be lower in the later season. Be sure to check the river conditions on NamekagonRiver.org prior to heading out on the river. A single rainfall can change your arrival times significantly.
  4. Rent your equipment from a river outfitter. If you don’t want to hassle with transporting equipment and arranging vehicles at your put in and take out sites, a river outfitter might be the way to go. Outfitters are also great points of reference in helping to plan your trip. They are extremely knowledgeable on river conditions and best routes for the time you have allotted.
  5. Consider setting up a guided fishing trip. Have you ever been fly fishing on a Wisconsin river? There’s no time like the present to learn the art of fly fishing. Expert guides will get you set up with equipment and the perfect spot to learn or just improve your fly fishing skills.
  6. Be Prepared. This may sound pretty basic, but when you’re miles from your vehicle, it’s best to plan ahead on your supplies to make sure you have what you need for your trip. While there are a few businesses located along the river that have supplies, it’s best to have what you need when you start out. Dry bags for your gear are essential in the off chance that your canoe or kayak tip. This will help keep your camping supplies, food, and even your cell phone or camera dry. Life jackets are always recommended; in fact they are required to be in your vessel. Children under 13 are required to wear a life jacket at all times. Don’t forget to pack the essentials like sunscreen. Being on the water for hours can bring on a significant sunburn if you aren’t prepared. Trust us, we’ve been there.
  7. Visit the Namekagon River Visitor Center. If you happen to be coming to the river between Memorial Day and Labor Day, stop by the Namekagon River Visitor Center located in Trego. Learn about the history of the river, see the types of animals you’ll find on the banks or in the river itself, and speak directly to a park ranger for trip planning. If you’re hitting the river in a shoulder season, trip planning and river information are available at the area visitor centers as well.
  8. We’ve saved our best (and most important) tip of all for last. Have fun. Make memories. Enjoy the river. When you’re out on the Namekagon you are truly getting away from all of your daily tasks, worries and things that distract us. Enjoy that time. Share your Namekagon time with someone you love and focus on making memories with them. Those are the things you’ll look back on in 20 years and cherish (or poke fun at your loved one if they’re the one who tipped the canoe). Sit back and enjoy the nature. You are in a national park after all!