Bad River Watershed Self-Guided Tour

By Local Community Members Protecting the Waters

June 13, 2022

What’s a Watershed?

A watershed is an area of land that drains into a specific body of water. The water in the Bad River watershed ultimately makes its way into Lake Superior.


The Bad River Watershed is an amazingly complex ecosystem. It is a unique place, and however long we’ve known it, we all have so much to learn about our relationship with this place.

This guide is a limited tour of the Bad River Watershed. We will follow the major highways, but do so slowly, not speeding along as is so often the case. This method avails us the opportunity to see, hear, smell, and intuit by our primary instincts, the rich nature of this place along the shores of the great Lake Superior. We have identified spots for you to pull over, look and learn.

The “mile posts” you see in this guide do not exist on the ground. They exist in your trip odometer, but only if you start at Maslowski Beach and set your trip odometer to zero!

Map of the Bad River Watershed and its subwatersheds

Map of the Bad River Watershed and its subwatersheds

The 40+ miles of road takes you through all five sub-watersheds, from the clay plains of the bottomlands to the sandy rocky outcroppings of the Penokee Mountain Range and back to outlooks near Lake Superior. Look up to the treetops, down streams and ravines, across fields. Take it in and understand the connections you see!

The hydrogeological history of the Bad River Watershed is quite complex. A very brief explanation of how this place came to be involves a history of volcanic action and glaciers. The region holds some of the oldest rock formations in the world—the Penokees were formed by volcanic eruptions and tectonic plates colliding over 1.8 billion years ago. About 1.1 billion years ago, a tectonic rift caused more volcanic activity in the region and created the basin for Lake Superior, trapping ancient salt water amidst the bedrock (some locals have hit remnants while drilling deep wells!). The coming and going of the glaciers acted in numerous ways on the landscape. They scoured out the deep trenches of Lake Superior, wore down the tall Penokees and laid a “slip” of sandy loamy soils in the uplands as they receded. Springs, seeps, waterfalls, artesian wells, and cold waters emerged along the ravines of the plains and uplands, resulting in scores of trout streams and wetlands. This region serves as the recharge zone of the Copper Falls Aquifer, the region’s source of clean drinking water….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s