Good (normal, reasonable, boatable) flow. (Within various 'guaranteed' release flows.) Gauge (631 sq.mi. drainage) is just upstream of put-in, thus very accurately reflects flow in this reach. Flow regulated by dam with scheduled releases.
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
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:
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.