Located at the convergence of the Prairie and Wisconsin Rivers, Merrill is the perfect location for water enthusiasts, especially those who enjoy a silent glide down the river punctuated by the sounds of nature and their oar slicing the water.
Canoeing and kayaking are the perfect way to spend an afternoon, evening, or even an entire day on the water.
Opportunities for places to put in to one of the hundreds of Lincoln County Lakes or an area river abound, but today let’s take a look at one of our most beautiful and local natural resources—The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway™.
Paddle The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway™
A 50-mile Journey through Lincoln County in a Canoe or Kayak
The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway™ is a 108-mile navigable water trail located in Northcentral Wisconsin, situated on the Wisconsin River and its tributaries, spanning several counties. The trail snakes through Lincoln County for over 50 miles, starting its epic journey at the first trailhead at Hat Rapids Dam in Oneida County and ending its journey at the Marathon County line. Portions of the trail hold scenic wonders as it flows over rapids and rock outcroppings, through primeval pine and hardwood forest, bisecting state wildlife and natural areas, paralleling the Ice Age National Scenic Trail as it tumbles over the second highest waterfall in the state at Grandfather Falls.
The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway winds through scenic forests, urban landscapes and historic sites, inviting paddlers to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Great Pinery, learn about the native inhabitants and European settlers who once navigated these waters, and enjoy local attractions, food and happenings.
The great river is never far from our imagination as our paddle dips into its cool waters, each river bend and island sharing a new story, a reminiscent time of a bygone era when rivermen floated the white pine risking life and limb. We paddle past historic dams, CCC camps, and long forgotten sawmills and mill towns that help defined the Great Pinery.
In the 1870’s the river earned a new name as the “Hardest Working River in the World” when men with names like Alexander, Scott, and McCord put the river to work sawing lumber for the cities and homes of the Midwest. It was a different river then, gritty, hardworking, and tough! At times, it would reach out of its banks taking what it wanted from the communities that called its shores home.
By 1907 a group of men had had enough, and they aimed to tame, manage, and regulate the flow of the river, taking away its wildness and turning it once and for all into the river we have today, producing hydroelectric energy so that industry could develop and flourish.
Today, the Wisconsin River has returned to its beginnings, offering the paddler an adventure not soon forgotten! Islands dot its waterway, and the white pine once again blankets its shores.
The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway is a pleasant paddle for recreational and advanced paddlers alike. Several water trail segments offer diverse paddling experiences and you are sure to find one that will appeal to you and your group. Plentiful landings, clear signage, and good overall internet reception make for a stress-free trip.