Across the Border: Kayaking the Namekagon

Going up to my family’s cabin outside Hayward, Wis., is a tradition for Memorial Day. We barbecue, fish, play by the lake, take long walks, and bird watch. This year, we added kayaking the Namekagon River to the list. Last Sunday, nine of us (my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) met up at Hayward Outfitters for a day on the river.

First step, the outfitters helped us decide which kind of kayak would fit each paddler best. I ended up riding in a blue Dagger. We grabbed paddles, life jackets (adults are required to have; kids are required to wear), water bottles, and picnic lunches, and then hopped into the outfitter’s cars to shuttle to Cable Landing. We had selected River Trip No. 5, based on the description on the brochure (see below).

Cable Landing to Larsen Landing
“This trip is Jim’s favorite. This stretch of river is very intimate. You make 100 decisions as to which way to go around 100 islands. You paddle through Pacwawong Lake, beautiful and full of wild rice. At the end of the lake is a white water chute that you can run or portage around. This section is class 1-2 moving water. This trip takes 2.5-3.5 hours. Take out on river left before the bridge. Count on 4-5 hours including shuttle time. This is a double shuttle trip so is more expensive. 5 hour max.”

Kayaking the Namekagon, Wisconsin  Snapping Turtle, Namekagon River, Wisconsin

spotting a snapping turtle on the namekagon river in wisconsin.
Photos and video By ellie m. bayrd

The water was pretty high due to recent rain (though the weather was great that day) and the current was strong, so we occasionally had to paddle hard to keep out of the sweepers (trees leaning over the water, which can make you capsize). One member of the party demonstrated the perils of getting too close to the sweepers in the first few minutes of the ride. It was a wet beginning to our adventure, but the rest of the ride was a lot of fun.

Along the way, we saw mergansers, bald eagles, tundra swans, and one giant snapping turtle, which we called stegasaurus because it looked so prehistoric (pictured). The river took us around islands, through rapids, and into calm eddies. The rapids after our picnic lunch was a highlight. We took turns splashing our way through the brief rapids (see my turn in the video below)–even my cousin’s four-year-old in the tandem kayak enjoyed the rapids.

After nearly four hours on the river, our arms were tired and we pulled up to Larsen Landing, where the outfitters were poised to shuttle us back. It was a great family adventure.

Hayward Outfitters has a number of trip options for paddlers of different skills and interests (by canoe or kayak). Besides trips like ours, Hayward Outfitters organizes team building adventures and treasure hunts, rents stand up paddleboards, and has a mini golf course on site, among other things. Hayward Outfitters is located right by the giant musky and the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum in Hayward.

For more about Hayward, read our Journeys post about the American Birkebeiner, “Winter’s Playground” from Feb. 2011 Minnesota Monthly or the Ultimate Up North Guide from June 2010 Minnesota Monthly.