While put-in is possible at Little Bull Dam, Wisconsin Electric Recreation Area #22 (as formerly listed in the heading for this reach), doing so requires putting in on (and ferrying across) a diversion canal, then portaging the berm between it and the natural river channel. Additionally, using this put-in makes a rather long shuttle. While some maps show a Little Bull Rapids in this area, it is inundated by the impoundment. The 1.5 miles downstream of the dam is quietwater, broken only by a few riffles.
The recommended put-in (which eliminates much of the quietwater paddle and considerably shortens the shuttle) is located off of a dirt 'double-track' on the West side of the road (airport side) just before the paved road turns to gravel. Follow this road past a grassy area where the airport runway comes into view on the left. Just after this point, WE Energies has constructed a primitive campground at the recommended (short) put-in for this reach. In addition to the campsite, there is a vault toilet and parking area. MI DNR will be mowing the path to the river. There have been signs with a tent icon installed indicating the location and also assisting boaters in locating the put-in.
The 1/2 mile of flatwater is very pretty, and enjoyable. The heavily wooded shores and the lack of any development makes the river seem very wild and remote. Not far past a large island on river right, the river makes a bend to the right and the rapids begin.
The rapids are in close proximity to one another and, at high flows, will merge together into one long rapid with big waves. The first drop is a fairly straightforward class II boulderbed drop on a turn to the left. At 250 cfs a rock splits the main flow. You can either slide up onto the rock and slide down its left side, or you can go right of it. To the right is the smoother (more usual) run. This is followed shortly by a similar drop that ends in a fast flume turning back to the right. The river here is flanked by big granite boulders river-left and a small cliff with overhanging pines river-right. A moving-water pool of about 100 yards precedes the next drops.
The next three are in such close proximity that they are effectively all one drop at all but the lowest flows. A short boulderbed pitch leads into a hard turn to the right followed by more boulder bed. There is a large eddy on the left and then the river drops off a low broken ledge followed by a short pool with eddies on both left and right before falling over the final pitch -- class II at lower flows moving into class III territory when higher. There is a fun playhole at the base of the 2nd pitch. The eddy on river left provides easy access to it. The only downside is that if you have a weak roll you may get swept over the final 5' drop upside down. There is continuous light boulder bed for perhaps 200 yards from here into Horserace proper, which is located around the next bend.
Horserace Rapids is a boulder bed drop that is somewhat technical, with a final narrow chute right-of-center at the bottom -- class II+ at lower flows and class III when higher. There are actually two options at the bottom. The best route is through the center between two rocks. The approach to the center chute is complicated as the approach is from river left, cutting river right and then back left so that you can fit between the two center rocks. An easier route (and safer for beginners) is to stay left and go left of the center two rocks. It is possible to unintentionally rock spin here, off the left most of the center two rocks, as I have seen happen to several beginning boaters, but the possibility of a pin is greatly reduced in running this side. Perhaps another 80 yards of minor boulderbed exists before one reaches the backwaters of Paint Pond, another impoundment. Carry out between the large rocks on river right, and hike a good pathway and stairs up to the parking area.Recommended 'Companion' Runs:
Sturgeon at Sturgeon Dam (41.4 miles)
Menominee at Piers Gorge (37.4 miles)
Menominee at Quiver (47.1 miles)
Menominee at Pemene (53.1 miles)
The following YouTube video (from MnktoDave) gives a great boaters-eye-view of this reach:
An addendum to Nate's comment: Both Ben Bursack and I came to the same conclusion, that running from river left toward river right and through the center gap in the rocky teeth is the best and most attainable line. Running the left gap was near impossible for both of us. However, a word of caution as there is a current here that wants to push you towards the left gap, but the force pushing you through the center gap dictates that the center is the way to go. Due to this sideways swirl action, though, it is easy that if one did not 'gas' it they could still pin very easily. The best bet is to be aggressive in telling your boat you want to go through the center.
Even so, I did this and the sideways current still knocked my stern up on the left tooth, which I slid off of and into the pool instead of off the pourover proper.
I was looking at the pin rocks the other day and came to this conclusion. As long as you run Horserace from River Left you should not have to worry about getting pinned. I would suggest the best line, and smoothest, is to go river left of the pin rocks, but if you run between the pin rocks going from river left to river right there should be no chance of you to get pinned. I think the only pin angle is from right to left.
A fellow boater experienced a terrible pin at the bottom of Horserace between the two boulders called the Dragon's Teeth on May 8, 2005. Avoid the river right rock which is undercut and try to stay left as much as possible.
Even at the minimum flows (250cfs) there are a few good 'squirt spots' on this run (places with sufficient depth and good current to assist in going vertical). One of them is right at the take-out, river-left, as the last currents are swallowed up in the backwaters of the reservoir. A few shallow rocks may occasionally catch the ends of your boat, but (given the relative lack of good deep-water spots on lower-volume rivers) novices will quickly get as much vertical action here as you could wish for anywhere in the Upper Midwest.
Just a FWIW regarding the discussion below (about pin potential in the final drop/sequence on this run) . . . obviously the concerns about pinning here will be very flow-dependent. Unfortunately, we do not have gauge/flow records for the day that pin occurred (it was before the gauge datum). While we can talk about 'normal, scheduled flow' for various date ranges (as specified on the 'Flows' tab), we must recognizze that flows can vary significantly from those scheduled flows for a variety of reasons. It is likely that this pin potential exists for almost all 'normal, scheduled flows'. At the lower releases, it may be more easily avoided (as well as more easily escaped/extracted). At higher flows, it almost certainly becomes a non-issue, as it will be well-covered.
There is now a USGS gauge on this stream, not far upstream of the listed put-in.
The majority of the upstream flow in this river is diverted to the Michigamme River via a canal at Little Bull Dam. The capacity of the diversion canal is fairly high so major snowmelt or extended rain is needed to affect levels in this reach beyond the release levels as given below.
The licensing agreement for the hydropower project provides for flows as follows (as long as inflow from upstream allows):
April 1 - May 15: 350 cfs
May 16 - June 15: 300 cfs
June 16 - June 30: 275 cfs
July 1 - November: 250 cfs
December - March: 175 cfs
Flows of 250 will provide a reasonable minimum, while higher flows will be more desirable.
Permits are not required for this reach.
Google Maps does not recognize the dirt/sand road which branches north to head to the (relatively new) campground and the put-in. As a result, the shuttle routing below is obviously incomplete. If you swap to "satellite" view, you can zoom in and see the route to the put-in, which is directly opposite the end of the landing strip at the adjacent airport.
Pin on the Paint (MI)
Bottom of Horserace
Horserace Rapids on the Paint
Looking down at Double Drop
Middle of Double Drop
Horserace at high water
Horserace at High Water
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