The Namekagon is one of Wisconsin's premier, flatwater, canoeing and kayaking rivers, and is immensely popular for multi-day trips. From Namekagon Lake, the river starts out as a small cold-water trout stream, then meanders, narrow and intimate, through a varied landscape of northern lowland forest, bog-and-fen, and open marsh. Below Hayward, the river rushes through several low hazard whitewater rips between narrow, wooded banks. Numerous islands populate the river. Occasionally the river settles into a lake environment, wide and slow, through open wetlands where birdlife is abundant.
As the river approaches the confluence with the St Croix, nearly all signs of development disappear. Beautiful stands of quaking aspen, birch, oak and maple dominate the surrounding forest along with tall pines and spruce, which often canopy high sandy banks. The river presents a fantastic, mostly quiet-water float through the northwoods for single and multi-day excursions!
The rivers' habitat is home to an abundance of wildlife. Merganser, woodland duck, ruffed grouse, and bald eagle are occasionally spotted. You may also see, whitetail deer, black bear, otter, beaver (upper reaches), and if you're lucky a fox or a bobcat. The clean waters are thought to be home to more than forty different species of mussels. Anglers will find the cooler temperatures of the upper reaches of the Namekagon to be excellent for brook and brown trout. The river is also well known for smallmouth bass.
The Namekagon is an excellent canoe/kayak-camping river. Paddlers will find more than sixty group and individual sites along the riverway. The National Park Service maintains all the riverside campsites and all sites include a clearing for tents (often shaded!), a fire-ring, and a rustic toilet. Picnic tables and water are located at some of the campsites, primarily at the group sites. Several of the sites are accessible by car (Earl Park, Howell Landing, and West Howell Landing). The individual sites accommodate up to three tents and / or eight people, while the group sites hold up to six tents and / or sixteen people. There are no fees for accessing, camping, or parking in any of the National Scenic Riverway areas. All sites are on a first come basis. Visitors will also find several privately owned campgrounds located nearby.
The Namekagon River was one of the eight original rivers to be designated as a protected area by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, which made the Namekagon part of the St Croix National Scenic Riverway. Since the enactment, a large number of buildings, cottages, homes and footbridges have been removed from the riverway. The removals are ongoing and are part of voluntary agreements with the National Park Service. In fact, thanks to the remarkable work of the Park Service and the local communities, the river has seen a return to a 'near-original' state, and efforts continue today.
From the National Park Service: Beginning in 2013, water will no longer be available at McDowell Bridge Landing, Riverside Landing, and the Marshland District Office on Highway 70. Please plan accordingly and bring an adequate supply of water.
Glass beverage containers are prohibited on the riverway!
The National Park Service operates a Visitor Center in Trego, WI, which is open seven days a week from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Historically, the Namekagon was one of the most traveled rivers in the state. Since the time when Native Americans first settled the region, the river has provided an important segment of the river travel routes from northern Wisconsin to the St Croix River and on to the Mississippi River. Besides the Native Americans, European explorers, fur traders and missionaries traveled the river until the eventual arrival of the lumberjacks in the 1800's, when the loggers used the river to float timber down to the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers.
The upper reaches (N1) are best in May and June, thereafter following an extended rainfall from July through September. The rest of the river is usually navigable throughout the warm-weather season.