CRYSTAL FALLS - Iron County is blessed with many good canoe and kayaking streams. The Paint and Brule Rivers are considered the best all around choices for paddling.
Each stream has sections that can be selected by advanced paddlers; or beginners can pick easier sections and avoid challenging stretches. If a day trip is your preference, each of these streams has reasonable access points that will avoid a long trip. In the second in a series, I will give an overall characterization of the Brule River system.
Paddling is a good activity on days when fishing is slow and you want to get out and have a fun outdoor activity. There are a number of streams in addition to the Brule and Paint Rivers that are enjoyable to canoe, but many are only readily navigable at high water in the spring or after a significant rain.
It is always good to check water levels before you go, since some river sections can also become difficult in high water as well as low water levels. Prospective paddlers can check water levels by checking the U S Geological Survey River Gauges on line at waterwatch.usgs.gov/new/index.php?id=ww_current.
There is not a gauge on every stream; although there are enough in the area that you can usually find a gauge that is indicative of other area streams in the county. The gauge at U.S. 2 on the Brule River is a good one to show if streams in Iron County are rising or falling. When that Brule River gauge depth is about four feet the local streams are about bank full.
At spring water levels, the entire Brule River is navigable from Brule Lake down to where it meets the Michigamme River and forms the Menominee River. The River trip from M-73 down to U.S. 2 is about 40 miles and is done by paddlers that want to make an overnight or several nights trip out of it.
The most popular sections of the Brule River for an overnight trip are from M-189 down 26 river miles to US 2. People who plan to camp can find several rustic camp sites that are marked on a Menominee Watershed Canoe Trail Map Three and Four. This map is available from the Department of Natural Resources Office in Crystal Falls.
Many paddlers choose to take a section of the river as a day trip. The most popular day trips are from M-189 down about 12 river miles to Pentoga. Two other popular sections are Pentoga down 7.5 miles to Carney Dam State Public Access Site or U.S. 2 down four miles to WE Energies Brule Island Public Access Site 28.
The river section from M-189 down to Pentoga has historical significance. The Brule River was established by the U.S. Congress as a border between Michigan and the Wisconsin Territory in 1840.
The river was used by Capt. Thomas Cram of the U.S. Army Topographical Service to lay out an interstate border survey. Captain Cram described the Brule as having dense growths of cedar along the river, making navigation difficult. Cedar is still common on the river banks.
Lumberman drove pine logs down the Brule River and the remnants of two historical log driving dams are located in this stretch at Saunders on the Wisconsin bank of the stream just downstream of the Scott Lake Access site. The second logging dam is located just upstream of the Pentoga Road crossing of the Brule.
Trout anglers have documented fishing the Brule River since the early 1870s. In recent years the Brule River has become a marginal brook and brown trout stream with the best fishing success being in the early part of the trout season. Fishing regulations are Michigan-Wisconsin Border Fishing Regulations and are found on page 13 of the Michigan Fishing Guide.
Canoeists/kayakers will find four small Class I rapids on the M-189 down to Pentoga section. Twin Rapids located about three miles above Pentoga can be rated Class II at higher water. Most experienced river paddlers should have no problem with these small rapids. A railroad grade/DNR recreation trail runs along the river on the Michigan bank from the Scott Lake Access down to Pentoga.
The stretch from Pentoga down to Carney dam is my family's favorite. We have taken this section many times with church groups and other novice paddlers.
The main historical site is at Carney Dam, which was the site of a log driving dam in the 1870s. The remnants of the dam are still visible.
The scour hole at Carney dam supports a fishery for smallmouth bass and walleye. Trout are only found in this section in the very early season. The same railroad grade/DNR Recreation Trail runs along this section on the Michigan Side of the river.
The only rapids, other than small riffles, are about two miles downstream of Pentoga. Two Foot Falls is a small rock shelf falls that most paddlers can run through. This is a good site for lunch, rustic camping and swimming on a hot day.
An excellent afternoon trip (four miles) is to put in at U.S. 2 and paddle down to the Brule Island Impoundment and take out at WE Energy site 28. La Chapelle Rapids, located about two miles downstream, is rated from Class I to II. At normal water levels experienced kayakers with general purpose kayaks can carefully run these rapids. The island at the bottom of the rapids has served as a camp site and is a good place to eat lunch.
The last stretch of the Brule is also a good day trip. It runs from the Access Site from the Wisconsin side at the Brule Island Dam down to Wisconsin access site at the end of Woods Road. Neither access is well marked, although paddlers put in below the dam.
You should park out of the way of the Power Company at the Dam and carry your craft down the hill to the tail water area below the Power House of the dam. This stretch is about 5.25 miles in length.
It traverses the lower mile of the Brule and then passes by the Michigamme Falls Dam where the Michigamme River enters. Other than riffles the only challenging rapids is Big Bull which is rated Type II to III.
The Island at the rapids has been used as a camp site and is a good place to take a break and scout the rapids. Care should be taken to see the takeout access that is located on the Wisconsin Bank just into a side channel; it can easily be missed if you are not paying attention.
Rentals can be found at Michi-Aho Resort (canoe) at (906) 875-3514, Northwoods Wilderness Outfitters (canoe and kayak) at (906) 774-9009, and Crystal Bait Marine (kayak) at (906) 874-4450.