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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We came up to northern Wisconsin to peep some fall color. The first day on the Namekagon River was a little disappointing. The drive there was spectacular, but it seemed the color line changed at our put-in at the County K Landing. The leaves from County K to Whispering Pine were blown down or past peak. The next day we decided on paddling the Birchwood Canoe Routes.

Birchwood Canoe Routes

Birchwood Canoe Routes under a thin sheen of snow over fall colors

Related: Paddling pristine potholes

The secret of the Birchwood Canoe Routes is out

Bull Moose Patrol let the secret out on this miniature Boundary Waters in the Wisconsin northwoods. Since Scott spilled the beans about this place last year, I feel I can follow suite and spread the news about this picturesque series of lakes.

Bull Moose Patrol

Scott from Bull Moose Patrol paddling in front of brilliant fall foliage

What are the Birchwood Canoe Routes

The Birchwood Canoe Routes are a series of small glacial lakes connected by short portages. The portages usually climb a steep bank and then right back down to the water. Portages average around 100 yards each.  There are two routes in Birchwood – the Sawmill Lake Route and the Loyhead Lake Route. We paddled the Sawmill Route.

Fall colors Wisconsin

Fall colors on the way to the Birchwood Canoe Routes

Light snowfall with our pancakes and eggs

While carbing up at the Rustic cafe in Birchwood, we looked out the window to see snow flurries. Before we left, the flurries turned into a heavy wet snowfall that started to accumulate. Snowing in October gave new meaning to snowfall. On the bright side, there was little wind, so we decided to continue with the plan and headed to Birchwood. In fact, I don’t recall if there was ever a discussion about canceling. We just continued with the plan. We were joined by Kurt from Wenonah Canoes and Katja. Kurt came with a full rack of beautiful new canoes for us to try out.

Snowfall Wenonah canoes

Snow falling on the rack of Wenonah canoes during breakfast in Birchwood

I had the pleasure of trying out a Wenonah Fusion canoe. It is ultralight and has a rudder although I chose to paddle the traditional style and kept the rudder up. It was too cold to experiment.

Related: Copper Falls State Park fall color

Getting to Birchwood Canoe Routes

We parked on Sawmill Landing Road. To find this location, search Sawmill Landing Road in Birchwood, Wisconsin on Google Maps to locate. The road dead ends at a loop right on Sawmill Lake with parking available and a decent grassy put-in. We looped through several other smaller lakes to Otter Lake and then walked back to our cars.

Snow fall leaves

Snow drops melting on floating leaves

Early snow creates two beautiful natural phenomenons

As we pushed off from the shore, the only other disturbance on the water besides our paddle was the droplets of snow driving straight down. This early snowfall created two beautiful phenomenons. First of all, it created a sheen of white over the orange trees. Secondly, the snow fell straight down on top of the coating of leaves that were already down on top of the water. The snow then melted creating a hundreds of round droplets on the leaves.

Birchwood Canoe Routes

Snowflakes fall and melt on leaves in the water along the Sawmill Lake section of the Birchwood Canoe Routes

Birchwood Canoe Routes

More of the snow drops on leaves phenomenon while paddling the Birchwood Canoe Routes

It was something I have never seen before. That is the the extraordinary thing about nature. You can spend a great deal of time outside and then see something for the first time. If conditions were just a little different, this phenomenon would not have occurred. If it was windy, it would have blown the droplets of the leaves. A few degrees colder and the snowflakes would not have melted perfectly on top of the leaves, and if it was a little warmer, there would not have been any snow in the first place. I felt fortunate to see such a unique situation play out on the dead leaves.

Birchwood Canoe Routes snow

Birchwood Canoe Routes on a cold chilly October snowy day

Peak fall foliage

We may have missed the fall color the day before on the Namekagon, but today it was just about perfect. With every portage that brought us to a new lake, we were greeted with orange, red, and yellow on the surrounding forest of oak, maple, and ash. As we paddled those colors were fringed with white as the snow continued to come down.

Birchwood Wisconsin fall foliage

Brilliant fall colors on the Sawmill Lake Section of the Birchwood Canoe Routes

Birchwood Canoe Routes fall color

Fall foliage on the Birchwood Canoe Routes

Sawmill Lake Route perfect for shorter or longer paddles

There are nine lakes on the Sawmill Canoe Route. Paddlers can choose a short route of three portages and three lakes, or take a longer trip and do an outer trail that encompasses all nine lakes. It is possible to finish the longer route in one to two hours. If you want to take more time you can circumvent the shoreline of each lake or take a direct route from portage to portage.

Portaging Birchwood Canoe Routes

Birchwood Canoe Routes portage

Great training ground for the Boundary Waters

The Birchwood Canoe Routes are often called a “mini Boundary Waters,” due to the amount of lakes and portages. Since they are much smaller in scope, they provide a great training ground for the BWCA. You can practice carrying the canoe on smaller portages and hone your packing skills to make the portages more efficient without the drive to northern Minnesota. It is also nice to practice in a safer environment and not have to worry about being in the wilderness or stuck on huge lakes prone to wind.

Birchwood Canoe Routes portage

Portage during our paddle on the Birchwood Canoe Routes

There is no camping allowed on the lakes; however, the rural Sawmill Campground is close by. Paddlers can use this campground as a base for the paddling and the excursions to the local northwoods bars.

Adventure on!

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