Headwaters of the Wisconsin River
Adventure starts at the top of a mighty river
East of Land O’ Lakes you’ll find a place where you can paddle through time. Lac Vieux Desert is the headwaters of the mighty Wisconsin River. For centuries, this is a place where great paddling adventures began. The name was given by French fur trappers who translated the name from the Ojibwe language, “Lake of the Old Clearing” or “Old Garden.” Paddling journeys still start at the headwaters. Lac Vieux Desert is one of the largest lakes in the area, at 4,260 acres. It’s so large it spills across the border, into the state of Michigan. The lake feeds the 430-mile Wisconsin River, which is the state’s largest river and a major tributary of the Mississippi River.
The Wisconsin River starts its flow south from Lac Vieux Desert as a small, scenic and winding stream with a good current but no rapids. It’s a safe and slow-moving river that’s ideal for families with children and less-experienced paddlers. These shallow, meandering waters may take a little more time to navigate than a fast-rushing river, but enjoy the journey – the river winds through scenic forests and pretty marshlands that are as wild as places get. Paddlers share this idyllic river with herons, hawks, eagles, ducks, beaver, deer and otters.
To reach the headwaters, head east on Highway 45, turn right and travel 2.2 miles to Highway E. In 2.7 miles turn left on South Shore Road. A parking lot will be less than a mile down the road, on the right. Paddlers will find an access point there. You can find a second place to get on the river at a wayside 1.3 miles south of Highway B on Highway 45. A third access point is located about 4.7 miles south, at the bridge on Rummels Road.
The river has been spared by development that has plagued rivers elsewhere. When you dip your paddle into this river, you’ll start a trip that adventurers have taken for hundreds of years. Enjoy the journey.