Little-Known Fact: The spring-fed Brule River lies in a small watershed and thus the water level remains relatively constant.
The crack of underbrush and then the sound of voices rose above the steady rush of the river. Two men in cutoffs approached us through the forest. The bare-chested one was limping. “Lost my shoe,” he said, extending a foot wrapped in his T-shirt.
“Your shoe, hell. We lost the canoe!” said the other man. “And it’s my uncle’s.”
The water was high and the current swift. Rounding a bend, the two inexperienced paddlers had found themselves heading straight for a tree that had fallen across the river. They ducked and the canoe tipped, continuing down the river unburdened by passengers.
They had my sympathy because the first time I canoed Wisconsin’s Brule River I, too, lost my footwear and canoe.
On that fateful maiden voyage we put in at Stone’s Bridge, a few miles from the headwaters. The current that still August day was slow as the river meandered past meadows and flowering marshland. We paddled slowly and lazily as the sun warmed our shoulders. The air smelled of pines, and the cold water was so clear I could see the flash of trout.
More streams joined the river, and the Brule became wider now. We floated along in solitude, and I tried to imagine how thick the forest must have been when Chippewas watched silently from the shore.
Suddenly, from up ahead of us, came the roar of rapids. Before we could straighten the canoe we were pinned sideways against rocks, water pouring in. We couldn’t budge the canoe. Fortunately the river wasn’t deep, so we scrambled to shore and trekked back to the nearest community. There we found a caretaker who drove us to the town of Brule. The next day we came back with a block and tackle and freed the battered canoe.
This area was once mined and logged, and was a popular site for vacation homes. Now it’s encompassed by the Brule River State Forest, with more than 40,000 protected acres. The businesses are gone and so are many of the vacation homes, bought by the state so the forest could reclaim the land.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Bureau of Forestry
P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921
Brule River State Forest Ranger Station
Brule, WI 54820
Brule River State Forest lies in the northwest corner of Wisconsin, 21miles east of Superior and 325 miles north of Madison. For more area information, contact:
Tourist Information Center
305 E. 2nd St.
Superior, WI 54880
Iron River Business Association
P.O. Box 68
Iron River, WI 54847
From Chicago west to Interstate 90, north to Eau Claire, then 53 to Spooner, north on 63, then 27 to Brule. From Minneapolis-St. Paul take I-35 to Superior, then east on U.S. Route 2.
Except for an occasional bird watcher or fisherman flycasting for trout, you’ll see very few people during a weekday on the Brule. Summer weekends, however, can be crowded.
For canoeing or hiking, summer or early fall ~ when temperatures are fairly mild, reaching only 85 degrees F at the height of summer ~ is best.
The early spring and late fall are prime fishing seasons.
In winter, temperatures can dip to 80 degrees below zero, but plenty of cross country skiers and snowshoers still enjoy many of the forest trails. Snowmobilers enjoy the 23-mile Brule to St. Croix Trail which connects with the Douglas and Bayfield County trail systems.
The Tri-County Corridor, which passes through the state forest, is open to all recreational vehicles year round.
The state forest is used by more diverse species of birds and mammals than virtually any other northern Wisconsin acreage of similar size.
Deer and ruffed grouse are just two of the species found in the forest. Migrating geese are seen using the farmland, while sharp-tailed grouse are observed in the barrens and the farmland. Two endangered species, the bald eagle and the osprey, regularly nest on the Brule. A locally developed birdwatcher’s guide is available from the forest superintendent. Also along the Brule are many reptiles.
Contact park office for information.
The Brule flows through forests of cedar and spruce. A few birches gleam white against the dark pines that fill the air with their fragrance. There are also oak and aspen, along with meadows and flowering marshlands.
With the exception of backpacking and deer gun season camps, camping is restricted to two primitive campgrounds, one with 23 spaces and the other with 17. Bois Brule Campground is located near the ranger station, and Copper Range Campground is about four miles north of Brule, just off County “H.” Sites have hand pumps and pit toilets.
Be warned: The campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis and fill up fast on Friday evenings for the weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Also, some older maps and canoe guides indicate other campgrounds, but these are obsolete.
Canoes and kayaks can be rented locally. For more information, contact:
Brule River Canoe Rental
P.O. Box 145
Brule, WI 54820
715/372-4983 Brule Country Kayak & Canoe Rental P.O. Box 426 Lake Nebagamon, WI 54849 715/372-8588 Both rentals provide shuttle service.
Contact park office for information.
Free permits are required and available from the forest supervisor.
A vehicle admission sticker is required in campgrounds Memorial Day through Labor Day, and at the Bois Brule picnic area/canoe landing. For Wisconsin residents, a vehicle admission sticker is $15 annually, $4 daily. For non-residents, it’s $24 annually, $6 daily.
Campsites are $6 per night for Wisconsin residents and $8 per night for non-residents.
- Launching or landing on state lands must be at designated sites only. Two of those sites are located at the state forest campgrounds.
- Nonreturnable beverage bottles, cans, or containers or glass returnable bottles are prohibited at designated launching sites. You may use returnable (not glass) containers such as canteens or thermos jugs. Disposable drinking cups are not allowed.
- Inflatable rafts are prohibited. Outboard motors are allowed only within one mile of the mouth of the river.
- No camping is permitted along the river.
- Fires are allowed only in designated fire rings or fireplaces.
- Pets must be on a leash no longer than 8 feet and are not allowed in buildings, picnic areas, or nature and cross country ski trails.
Rapids become tougher to manage downstream. I’ve since canoed the Brule several times with no mishaps. It is a beautiful and varied river, a place for canoeists who want thick forests and solitude and glassy-clear water. The river is short enough to canoe over a long weekend but has more than 80 rapids, two of them Class IV. (For comparison, Class V rapids are for expert canoeists only; Class VI are for experts in decked boats only.)
Above Brule the rapids are Class I or II. Downstream the river widens and begins to race, falling 328 feet in 19 miles when it crosses the Copper Range. Between high bluffs it plunges down rock ledges and over a continuous series of cascades, some of them difficult to paddle. Even skilled canoeists should consider carrying around the two widest Class IV rapids near the intersection of the river and County Road FF.
Leave No Trace:
Respect the numerous parcels of private land within the state forest. Nearly all the property from Stone’s Bridge to Winneboujou Landing is private property. Private landowners have provided some picnic tables and shelters which may be used by the general public. These sites are intended only for short stops and are not to be used for camping.
All LNT guidelines apply.
A map of the Brule River State Forest showing the river from its headwaters to Lake Superior is available from the Wisconsin DNR for a nominal fee.
Other Trip Options:
- Follow the Brule into Lake Superior.
- You don’t have to travel far from the forest campgrounds to visit the Brule fish rearing station. This facility produces 700,000 trout each year to be stocked in streams and lakes around the state.
- Waterfall lovers will be sure to see Amnicon Falls State Park, 13 miles west on U.S. 2, and Pattison State Park, 24 miles west on County B.
- The Iron River area, 8 miles east on U.S. 2, has many beautiful lakes known for fishing and boating.
- For information about wilderness backpacking, write:
- Forest Supervisor’s Office
- Chequamegon National Forest
- Park Falls, WI 54552.