After a fifteen mile five hour kayak trip down the Brule River in Wisconsin with Brule River Canoe Rental, you would think the adventure would be over for the day. I settled into my camp chair in the Brule River State Forest and checked out the map in the park newsletter.
On the first page I read about the park history. It states:
“The Bois Brule River Valley and the uppermost St. Croix River Valley were carved by melt water flowing south from glacial Lake Superior and the surrounding uplands. When the glaciers receded, a divide was formed out of which the Brule and St. Croix Rivers flow today in opposite directions. A portage was established between these two rivers, connecting Lake Superior and the Mississippi River watersheds.”
I continued to read that this portage was used as early as 1400 by Native Americans. First it was the Mascoutins and then later the Sauk, Sioux, and Chippewas. As the white men moved in, the route became used by explorers, trappers, traders, those involved with mineral exploration, and loggers.
Another section of the newsletter pertaining to hiking in the state forest notes that the North Country National Scenic Trail passes through the state forest. It follows the Brule/St. Croix Historical Portage Trail for the first two miles.
I turned the page to the map of the state forest and found the parking lot for the trail at Upper St. Croix Lake at the crossroads of county P and County A just south of the little town of Lake Nebagamon. I looked at my watch and saw it was getting close to 5 p.m. I figured it would take me a half hour to drive there and two hours to walk it.
When one has the opportunity to walk on a historic trail following in the footsteps of Native Americans and explorers who used it for over five hundred centuries, it is time to move. I jumped out of my chair into my car, and I was off to Upper St. Croix Lake.
Unfortunately, I did not read the newsletter as closely as I should have. I failed to see that the North Country Trail and the historic portage trail were the same trail. After I walked out of the parking lot, I saw the trailhead for the North Country Trail and walked right past it. Instead, I found a snowmobile trail that I followed for a half hour before turning around and realizing it was not the right trail. A sign that said “no entry, private property” alerted me I was not on a state forest or national scenic trail.
When you park in the Upper St. Croix Lake Parking lot head up the parking lot road to the County A. The North Country National Scenic Trail Trailhead is on your left about halfway up the parking lot road. Follow this until you cross the road and then you will pick up signs with mile markers to the portage.
By this time it was near dark. If I choose to walk to the portage, I would be finishing in pitch darkness as the sun was already setting. I had my headlamp in my fanny pack, so I was off. I was leaving the park tomorrow and would not have another chance to hike this historic trail.
About a half mile into the trail, I was treated to a beautiful overlook west over the beautiful Wisconsin northwoods. The sun was setting below a line of clouds, which were pink in the distance. I enjoyed the scene for a moment and then took off.
I finally made the end of the portage trail at about 7 p.m. It was almost dark, but I had a last moment of sunlight to take a photo of the headwaters of the Brule River. It was not much to see as it was just a tiny creek, but the history of this river, portage, and divide was not lost on me.
I took a photo and thought of Native Americans in canoes made from birch bark or whatever tree they used loading their vessels for the trip down to Lake Superior. They entered the water and their paddles silently cut into the clear water of the Brule. They were returning from hunting or trading trip, or possibly just heading toward another home.
I headed back to the car in pitch darkness with my headlamp on. Fortunately, the trail is wide and well marked. I definitely would recommend hiking this historic section of the trail, but my tip is to not begin it at 6 p.m. at night. Another tip is to make sure you are on the right trail before proceeding.
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