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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School let out on June 6, and it was a grind of a year, so I needed immediate rejuvenation. A friend of mine mentioned that he had a friend in northern Wisconsin with a cabin. Wisconsin Manitowish Waters seemed like a great spot to destress while canoeing and fishing in beautiful clean waters.

Wisconsin Manitowish Waters

Musky Marv got this amazing shot of me landing a smallmouth bass

Related: Ice Trail backpacking trip through the Chequamegon National Forest

Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest

I picked up a canoe in Fox Lake, Illinois, and drove up to northern Wisconsin. I was hoping to stay in central Wisconsin, but all the campgrounds were booked on my route. Fortunately, a few campgrounds were available in Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest. I booked a spot in Indian Mounds and got there just as the sun was setting.

Subaru Forester

Goodbye Illinois and hello Manitowish Waters Wisconsin

I set up camp, walked around a bit, and built a campfire. The temperature was mild in the lower 60s. I roasted some hot dogs and headed off to bed.

Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest

Nice campsite at Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest

The next morning, I drove around the state forest and did some birding. I wanted to explore Lake Tomahawk and do some fishing, but after an early appearance from the sun, it disappeared. The temperature remained in the mid 50s all day with a strong chilly wind, so I did not want to get out in a big lake under those conditions.

Related: Spring migration in Chicago

Birding Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest

In the newsletter for the state forest, it mentioned a nature center at Crystal Lake, so I drove over there. I also did some birding around Indian Mounds, but there were no trails there, so I sought a place that might have some good walking trails. Crystal Lake had a nature walk and many bike trails. They were paved, so I did not even need my adidas waterproof hiking shoes.

Pine warbler

The best picture I got of a pine warbler, who was true to his name calling from the tops of huge pine trees

I was amazed at the bird calls that I was hearing at both Indian Mounds and Crystal Lake. I opened up my Merlin App and it registered pine warblers, northern parulas, red-eyed vireos, eastern wood pee wees, blackburnian warblers, American redstarts, and many others. These same birds came through Chicago just a few weeks ago, and I spent many days and nights tracking them in forest preserves around Chicago. The only problem here was they were so high up in the trees that I could hear them, but seeing them was tricky.

Wisconsin Manitowish Waters Anne Lake

Another great photo courtesy of Musky Marv

Wisconsin Manitowish Waters Anne Lake

After I got my full of listening to birds calling from the heights of tall trees, I drove up to my friend’s cabin. I met up with Musky Marv and Guzzlemoor Russ and met Tommy and his son Spencer. We immediately headed over to nearby Anne Lake. In fifteen minutes, we pulled up to a landing spot with no cars and put-in our canoes for an evening of fishing and beautiful views.

Anne Lake Landing

Anne Lake put-in

Manitowish Waters Wisconsin

Beautiful Anne Lake

We had the lake to ourselves, which was a constant refrain as we hardly saw anyone else out on the lakes and rivers save for a few other fisherman. Marv pulled in five largemouth bass and may have to change nicknames to bassmaster Marv. I was shut out on my first Wisconsin Manitowish Waters fishing adventure, but I would have my day soon.

Common loons Wisconsin

Wisconsin Manitowish Waters common loons on Anne Lake

The highlight for me was seeing two beautiful loons at close up range. In fact, they were too close. I soon realized they must be guarding a nest, so we hightailed it out of the protected bay they seemed to value. There are usually only one pair of loons per lake, so if a pair of loons are not moving away when you appear and seem agitated, then they are guarding a nest. When this happens, please give the loons, or any nesting bird, space.

Related: Boundary Waters solo canoe and fishing trip

North Bass Lake

North Bass Lake

Wisconsin Manitowish Waters Day 2 – North Bass Lake 

We started our day at a beautiful little lake that resembled a Quetico Lake in Canada. It was called North Bass Lake. It should have been called windy lake as a stiff breeze made fishing a little difficult. The best part of this lake was there were no structures on the lake at all. It was completely surrounded by stunning bright green lush Northwoods trees. There was a road that drove past it and that was the only indication that you were in northern Wisconsin and not in a provincial park in Ontario or Quebec.

Wisconsin Manitowish Waters North Bass Lake

North Bass Lake selfie

While we enjoyed the paddling and the scenery, we were skunked on this lake and no one in our party caught any fish. We struggled in our canoes with the wind, so that definitely played a part in our failure. We did speak to a few motor boaters, and they had success, so I am sure it is a good spot on some days.

Wisconsin Manitowish Waters smallmouth bass

Another photo courtesy of Musky Marv – You can put me on the board

Rice Creek and Benson Lake

We then switched it up and fished a shallow creek that opened up into a lake. The creek was Rice Creek, and the lake was called Benson. I finally broke through and caught a nice smallmouth bass. Shortly after we put in, I cast a white rubber worm looking lure towards shore. I then put the pole down and paddled down river a few strokes. When I picked up the pole, I had a fish on. It was nice to get on the board.

Wenonah canoe

Emerging underneath a bridge while paddling Wisconsin Manitowish Waters

Day 3 Manitowish River

We arranged for a canoe trip on the Manitowish River for the next day. We had Spencer help with the shift, so we had our cars waiting for us at the takeout. Unfortunately, we never made it to the cars. The forecast called for light rain and then clearing in the afternoon. The rain was not so light, and we were drenched when we pulled over for lunch. Instead of paddling wet for several miles, we called Spencer to pick us up early – thank you, Spencer.

GoPro canoeing

Dark skies = almost time to call Spencer

Despite the rain, the Manitowish was really beautiful. There were a few homes along the lake, but it mainly had a wilderness vibe to it. We saw a bald eagle perched on a tree and that was the wildlife highlight. 

Bald eagle

Surprisingly, the only bald eagle we saw on the river

Wisconsin Manitowish Waters did not disappoint

I have driven through Manitowish Waters many times on the way to places in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and cross-country skiing destinations, but I have never stopped and visited this little area of Wisconsin. I definitely will be back as I was amazed at how many little lakes there were and places to canoe and fish. We only scratched the surface on these couple of days, so I look forward to returning.

Northwoods bar

Wisconsin Northwoods bar with good friends

The best part of any trip, especially one enjoyed with friends, is the company. Thank you, Russ and Marv, for another great adventure together, and thank you Tommy and Spencer for the use of the cabin and for the shuttle.

Adventure on!