Boating, Canoeing and Kayaking
Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area
The Willow Flowage is a 6,392-acre lake located in Oneida County. It has a maximum depth of 30 feet. Visitors have access to the lake from public boat landings.
Seven DNR-managed boat landings on the Willow Flowage provide access for motorboats, canoes and kayaks. The two boat landings on the east side of the property near the dam are the most reliable during periods of low water. Parking areas near the dam are paved and offer toilet facilities to visitors. The five landings on the west and south sides of the property are more rustic and offer unpaved landings and parking areas.
For those who would like to explore the beautiful and largely undeveloped sections of the Tomahawk River, canoe and kayak access is located off of Willow Dam Road, Swamp Lake Road, Prairie Lake Road and Peaceful Lane. The access areas include small parking lots that accommodate up to five cars and footpaths to the river for landing small boats. The Tomahawk River in this area is mostly gentle and classed as low-gradient. However, there are two separate class II rapids (Echo Falls east of Highway Y and Prairie Rapids north of Prairie Rapids Road), where portaging is highly recommended.
In recent years, the state of Wisconsin's Stewardship Fund has helped expand public land ownership along the lower Tomahawk River. There are now more than 4,000 acres under DNR management along the lower Tomahawk River between the Willow Flowage and Lake Nokomis. Thanks to the Stewardship Fund, this important river corridor will be preserved for future generations to enjoy. The Tomahawk River is one of the first areas to open in the spring making it heavily trafficked by eagles and migratory birds.
Over 6,300 acres of water offer scenic boating opportunities and access to the 117 islands and backwaters of the flowage. Due to fluctuating water levels, you are advised to use slow speeds and remain in the deeper channels because submerged rocks, sandbars and snags are numerous.
On the east side of the property, near the Willow Flowage dam, there are two improved landings with paved parking lots to accommodate trailered vehicles. The other landings (Sportsmans Landing, Talbots Landing, Jerry’s Landing, McCord Landing and Back Bay Landing) are unpaved and found along rustic access roads. Each location can accommodate up to eight vehicles with trailers. The privately-owned Cedar Falls Campground Landing also has parking for 15 vehicles with trailers, but visitors are required to pay a fee for parking and landing boats. Cedar Falls Campground also has toilet facilities. The only toilet facilities on the property are at the Dam Boat Landing.
Exotic species, including the aquatic plant Eurasian water milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), are one of the biggest threats to our natural environment. You can help prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species by cleaning your boat, trailer and live-well before you arrive and after you leave the Willow Flowage. Remember that state laws prohibit releasing bait or water from your boat into any waterbody. You can review the boating and safety regulations prior to visiting the Willow.
Canoeing and kayaking
The Tomahawk River, which runs into the flowage on the north end and out through the south end, provides excellent canoeing and kayaking opportunities along its entire course.
North of the Willow Flowage, paddlers can put in at Camp Nine Road where this section of river is low-gradient with easy paddling. The upper portion of the river flows through part of Tomahawk River Pines State Natural Area, which provides some fantastic scenery. Use caution at the lower end as there are a series of 4-foot-high falls directly downstream of the bridge that accesses Cedar Falls Campground. All paddlers are advised to portage around the falls.
Paddlers can access the lower Tomahawk River area directly south of the Willow Dam. Although this section of river is also characterized as mostly low-gradient, there are a few sections with potentially dangerous rapids. The first section, named Echo Falls, is located approximately 2 miles downstream from the County Highway Y bridge. Paddlers must use caution in this section of class II rapids. Portaging around the rapids is highly recommended.
A newly constructed, unpaved canoe and kayak access is located off of Swamp Lake Road directly west of the bridge on the north side of the road. A small lot accommodates up to five cars with small boat access to the river via a footpath. Downstream from Swamp Lake Road, the river is again mostly gentle and low-gradient. The next section of rapids, named Prairie Rapids, is located roughly 7 miles downstream from Swamp Lake Road. This section includes two separate class II rapids, and portaging is highly recommended.