Traveling Ted is a blog that takes readers along on my adventures hiking, canoeing, skiing, and international backpacking. Many blogs focus on one aspect of backpacking, but I tackle both the outdoor adventure side and international exploration as well.

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On the way to the Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Area in Michigan, I passed an historical marker for the headwaters of the Wisconsin River on U.S. Highway 45 near the Wisconsin Michigan border. I have always wanted to answer the question, where does the Wisconsin River start.

Where does the Wisconsin River start

The answer to where does the Wisconsin River start – The Wisconsin River as photographed from the bridge on U.S. Highway 45 in Land O’ Lakes just west of its headwaters

Related: Hiking loops in the Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Area

On the path to find where does the Wisconsin River start

This was just south of the little town of Land O’ Lakes in extreme northern Wisconsin near Eagle River. It was 4:30 in the morning, and it was freaking cold, so it was not the time to check it out. I made a mental note to return on the way back.

The mental note turned into reality and was checked, and I stopped at the bridge and the historical marker and took a few pictures before I was on my way home south. I noticed on the historical marker that the actual headwaters is located at a lake just a couple miles away called Lac Vieux Desert. Translated in French means the old desert lake.

Where does the Wisconsin River start

The historical marker for the headwaters of the Wisconsin River answers the question, where does the Wisconsin River start

Scouting where does the Wisconsin River start

On the way up I camped at a National Forest campground on this lake just a couple of miles away. I decided to return and snap a quick picture of Lac Vieux Desert and the Wisconsin River headwaters. I turned off Highway 45 and headed towards the campground in the Nicolet National Forest. Before I could get to the campground, I noticed a sign indicating a path to the headwaters of the Wisconsin River.

Nicolet National Forest Trail

Trail and parking lot to the headwaters of the Wisconsin River

I parked and walked to a little park right along Lac Vieux Desert. Past the sign there is a trail that continues to the actual inlet where the mighty Wisconsin River begins. I crashed through the brush and followed the trail to the end.

Northern Wisconsin marsh

The Wisconsin River headwaters

Wisconsin River headwaters

Wisconsin River headwaters

Lac Vieux Desert

The Wisconsin River flows out of Lac Vieux Desert along the Michigan Wisconsin border

Reflecting on previous Wisconsin River adventures farther south

Just about a month and a half earlier, I had been canoeing on the Lower Wisconsin River through Boscobel. I have for many years paddled the Lower Wisconsin River Valley through towns like Spring Green, Sauk City, and even to the confluence of the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien.

Canoeing Wisconsin

The Lower Wisconsin River is quite a different animal than the river at its headwaters

What a difference this small stream was compared to my canoeing experience on the beautiful free flowing Lower Wisconsin River Valley, which lies 330 miles away as the river flows south from where I was now. I am sure it is a similar feeling to those that visit the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota where you can cross the river in a few steps.

The only other section of the river I have canoed besides the lower area has been the Wisconsin Dells section. I have also fished the river at Nekoosa near Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point in central Wisconsin. This was during the Walleye Days festival in April. Other than that, I have yet to explore the rest of the river.

Hope for future adventures in the northern portion of this great river

I would love to check out one of the northern sections sometime or even Lake Wisconsin. The Wisconsin River is definitely one of the states and the department of natural resources greatest treasures. Hint, this happened just a year later. See the link at the bottom of the page.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron at the headwaters of the Wisconsin River

I turned back and headed to my car. As I was about to pull out a great blue heron landed in the river close to the small parking lot where my car was. There are hundreds perhaps thousands of great blue herons that make the 430 miles of the Wisconsin River their home. This one here had the proud distinction of being the most northern great blue heron on the Wisconsin River, unless there was another one just around the bend, but I doubted that.

I am so glad I made this stop. So many times after an adventure, we make a beeline home. It was nice to soak in another experience and do a little hike before returning to my normal life of work and deadlines.

Wyalusing State Park

The Wisconsin River confluence with the Mississippi River near Prairie Du Chien

Drive home to Chicago

I drove south on 51 through the heart of Wisconsin. I must have crossed the Wisconsin River five maybe even seven times and each time it got a little bigger. It was like watching a child grow before your eyes.

I now have seen the river at its source and its confluence with the Mississippi River at Wyalusing. The end and the beginning are equally beautiful as is the canoeing and fishing experience many places in between.

I feel like I have one up on Marquette and Joliet. The explorers and first non Native Americans who explored the region and came across the Wisconsin Mississippi confluence in 1673. They never saw the source of the Wisconsin River.

Update on where does the Wisconsin River start

A few years after this casual stop over and subsequent reflection, I had to the good fortune to paddle the northern section of the Wisconsin River. We did not start at the headwaters, but very close. I paddled with the Mad Traveler as he was researching for his guide book. You can read this entry below.

Where does the Wisconsin River start

A year later paddling the upper Wisconsin River as I further my quest into the question where does the Wisconsin River start

Related: Paddling the headwaters of the Wisconsin River

Have you canoed, fished, or had any other outdoor experience on the Wisconsin River? Let me know in the comment section below.

Adventure on!