Shooting the Lower Hemlock Rapids on the Paint River is exciting for the more experienced canoer.
IRON COUNTY—In the northwoods, 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. Each of these streams also has reasonable access points to avoid long trips if a day trip is your preference. In this first of a series I will give an overall characterization of the Paint 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 these two 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 online at www.waterwatch.usgs.gov/new/index.php?id=ww_current. There is not a gauge on every stream; although there are enough in the area you can usually find a gauge that is indica-tive 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 Paint River including North and South Branches are navigable from Forest Highway 16 downstream at each rivers crossing. Although the most popular sections of the Paint River are on the main river below the Paint River Forks Campground just upstream of Gibbs City, down 17.6 river miles to the Bates-Amasa Road (County Rd. 643) bridge. This trip can be shortened by about five miles by start-ing downstream at the U.S. Forest Service’s Block House Campground at the end of Forest Road 2180. This river section is often used by paddlers that want to make it an overnight camping trip.
There are several places for camping although the best one is on the left descending bank just at the Upper Hemlock rapids. This section has several unnamed short class I and II rapids, although the Upper and Lower Hemlock Rapids are the most challenging. The Upper Hemlocks are class II (0.3 miles in length) and the Upper Hemlock (length 0.4 miles) rap-ids are class III. Class III are the most difficult any paddler should attempt in an open canoe. If you are an experienced white water canoeist the Upper Hemlocks are a good tune up for the Lower Hemlocks just downstream. For kayakers the Lower Hemlock Rapids should only be attempted by white water kayakers; it is too challenging for typical all purpose kayaks. This section of river offers good smallmouth bass fish-ing in the rapids and holes during the summer.
An excellent afternoon trip (5.3 miles) is to put in at the end of the unmarked trail road, off the Parks Farm Road east of Amasa at Paint Dam No. 2. This DNR owned access is in Township 44N Range 34W section 11. This site has driving access to the water, with State legal easement to the State land and access point on the Paint River. The natural camp sites at the upper Hemlock Rapids makes a good lunch break spot and a trail along the left descending bank allows you to either scout the rapids or portage. There is flat water below the upper hem-locks for about a quarter mile before you approach the Lower Hemlock Rapids. A scouting and or portage trail is also present on the left descending bank. The Lower Hemlock Rapids has a small shelf falls about three feet in height and larger standing waves in two spots at full stream level. No one should attempt to run the Hemlock Rapids at high water. After the Hemlock rapids, the river is generally flat water with small riffles down to the take out point at the bridge at the Bates-Amasa Road.
The stretch from the Bates-Amasa access point down to Erickson’s Landing (DNR public access site) is a good stretch for paddlers who do not want to have any challenging rapids. This is also a popular stretch used by anglers who sometimes use small car top row boats to fish this stretch. There are sever-al riffles and pools on the 7.3 mile stretch down to Erickson’s Landing. The river flows through lowland conifer and upland hardwoods past the Chicaugon Slough that historically was the sight of an Indian encampment. If you desire a longer trip you can make your take out point the public access sight above the Crystal Falls Dam. This stretch has more terrain and river type like the upper portion of the trip and eventually becomes more impounded with slower river current in about the last 1.5 miles of this stretch in the impoundment.
Other lower sections are also worth paddling including the 7.6 mile section from the DNR canoe landing at the Hwy. M-69 crossing of the Paint River in Crystal Falls down to the WE Energies access site 22 at the Little Bull Diversion Canal. This section is similar in character and difficulty to the section just above Crystal Falls described above. For white water kayakers there is an approximately 1.3 mile section from a WE Energies kayak access site above the rapids on the west bank. Put in at this access and you can paddle the class IV rapids and take out at the bottom. Many white water enthusiasts who run this rapids run this section several times to make the most out of the trip.
A good kayak trip is to paddle upstream from the WE Energies public access site on Paint Pond to the base of Horse Race Rapids. This is only a 2.4 mile trip out and back although it is very nice scenery and rock outcrops. It also fun to nose up into the base of the rapids and gorge with your kayak on a hot day. It is best to have a SUV or pickup truck to use the steep access road to the Paint Pond public access site, since the runoff water often partially washes out the road. If you only have a low ground clearance vehicle, you can still access Paint Pond via Brule Island Impoundment WE Access site 28 out of Florence although that adds an additional four miles to the round trip.