Kayaking In Wisconsin – Paddling The Badger State

Wisconsin is probably best known for its cheese and the Green Bay Packers. But it can be a paddler’s paradise with over 15,000 lakes and over 12,000 rivers to explore. Not only that but the Badger State is filled with beautiful scenery and lots of wildlife, making it the ideal place for an adventure on the water.

With so much water to offer, we’ve chosen just a few of the best spots to go kayaking in Wisconsin.

A view at the lake Geneva in WisconsinPin

12 Best Places To Kayak (and canoe) In Wisconsin

1: Lake Geneva (best in Southern Wisconsin)

 The Lake Geneva's beach on a summer dayPin
Courtesy: Atramos on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Lake Geneva features calm, clear water, which can be ideal for a family day trip or a solo paddling adventure. The leafy shoreline provides a natural backdrop but you’ll also find lakeside homes dotted around the lake.

There are three boat launches, with one conveniently located in the City of Lake Geneva, where you’ll also find kayak rentals and various restaurants. Big Foot Beach State Park is on the eastern shores of the lake, with additional kayaking on Ceylon Lagoon.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
328 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva, WI 53147.

2: Apostle Islands

Sea kayaking along Apostle Islands National LakeshorePin
Courtesy: Tim Wilson on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Apostle Islands are located just off the coast, in Lake Superior. The islands form part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and feature some stunning sea caves which can be best explored by sea kayak. Recreational kayaks are not recommended.

There are a few places where you can launch, including inside the park at Little Sandy Bay or Meyers Beach. There are many outfitters in Bayfield where you can arrange a guided tour or kayak rental.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (moderate due to coastal conditions)

Where to launch & How to get there:
32660 Little Sand Bay Road, Bayfield, WI 54814.

3: Mirror Lake

Home-built dock on the Mirror lakePin
Courtesy: Daniel Baker on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Mirror Lake can be the ideal spot if you’re a beginner looking for quiet flatwater. This lake is extremely calm, which is why it’s called Mirror Lake. It’s surrounded by woodland and large cliffs, making it a peaceful place to practice your paddling techniques. It’s also a slow-no-wake lake, so you shouldn’t need to worry about motorized vessels while you paddle.

Mirror Lake State Park surrounds most of the lake and offers kayak rentals, camping, hiking trails, and a place to launch.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
Unnamed Road, Reedsburg, WI 53959.

4: Kickapoo River

Canoe trip along the shady Kickapoo riverPin
Courtesy: Ryan Rowley on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Kickapoo River can be one of the most scenic places to paddle in Wisconsin. This slow-moving river can be an easy kayak paddle for beginners, with enough river mileage to suit more advanced paddlers.

There are several access points for canoes and kayaks, with kayak rentals available in the village of Ontario, WI. Between Ontario and La Farge, the route passes through several protected natural areas, allowing for beautiful scenery and chances to view wildlife.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
Bridge 1 Canoe Landing, Brey Valley Road, Ontario, WI 54651.

5: Trempealeau

Courtesy: Joshua Mayer on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Trempealeau is a river that flows into the Mississippi River at Perrot State Park. The river is generally slow-moving, with lots of natural scenery and wildlife. Launching at the boat landing in the state park, you can paddle along the Voyageurs Canoe Trail, which loops back to the launch.

The trail is just over three miles and is named after the French Canadian explorers who canoed the river for trading fur during the 1600s. Kayaks are available in the state park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
S Park Road, Trempealeau, WI 54661.

6: St. Croix River

Kayaks line the river banks of the St. Croix riverPin
Courtesy: Tony Webster on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The St. Croix River is a National Scenic Riverway and can be a fun trip whether you’re a beginner or experienced. The river flows through natural areas with gorges and bluffs providing a picturesque backdrop.

A good starting point is at Interstate Park in St. Croix Falls. You can paddle along the slow-moving river for roughly seven miles till you reach the take-out at Osceola Landing (on the Minnesota side). Kayak rentals and shuttles can be found in Osceola, WI near the take-out.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
Interstate State Park, 1275 WI-35, St Croix Falls, WI 54024. The launch is on Park Road on the eastern side of Lake O’ the Dalles.

7: Lake Michigan

Kayaks at clear Michigan lakePin
Courtesy: Richie Diesterheft on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re looking for a sea kayaking adventure, Lake Michigan could be the ideal location. Launching from the beach at Whitefish Dunes State Park, you can explore the caves at Cave Point, as well as paddle alongside the beaches and coastal sand dunes.

Because of the coastal conditions of Lake Michigan, sea kayaks are recommended. If you’re a beginner, there are guided tours available. Kayak rentals and tours can be found in Whitefish Dunes State Park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (moderate due to coastal conditions)

Where to launch & How to get there:
3275 Clarks Lake Road, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235.

8: Milwaukee River

Paddling toward the city of MilwaukeePin
Courtesy: Michael Pereckas on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Milwaukee River features an Urban Water Trail that runs from West Bend to Milwaukee where the river empties into Lake Michigan. This can be an easily accessible river from the Milwaukee metro area. As you paddle toward the city, you can get fantastic views of the skyline.

There are several access points, with the upper sections offering a little more in the way of natural scenery. Launching at Garrison’s Glen Park, you can paddle through nature preserves as you head to Thiensville.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
Co Highway C, Mequon, WI 53097.

9: Lower Wisconsin State Riverway

The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway runs from Prairie du Sac to the confluence with the Mississippi. Launching near Sauk City, you can paddle up to 90 miles if you want to spend a few days on the water. You can camp on islands and sandbars, as well as at two state parks along the river.

There are various landings, which can make it easy to plan a short or long trip. Kayaks and canoes are available in and near Sauk City.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
1628-1656 Pasture Road, Sauk City, WI 53583.

10: Manitowish River

The Manitowish River flows through the Northern Highlands-American Legion State Forest and can be the ideal spot if you want to get away from it all. This quiet, flatwater river can be great for wildlife viewing, with forests and marshes all around. With several riverside campgrounds, it can also be ideal for kayak camping.

Launching at the Wayside Landing off of Highway 51, it’s around a 17-mile paddle to the take-out at Murray’s Landing at the Turtle Flambeau Flowage.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
US-51, Mercer, WI 54547

11: Brule River

Canoeing at the river Brule surrounded by a dense coniferous forestPin
Courtesy: Sharon Mollerus on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Brule River flows through the scenic wilderness of northern Wisconsin. It features a combination of slow-moving water and up to Class II rapids, so there should be something for everyone. For a relaxing float, you can launch at Stones Bridge. After Winneboujou, you’ll find the mild Class I and II rapids.

A good place to launch can be at Winneboujou Canoe Landing, giving you the choice of short or long trips. The river flows through Brule River State Forest and Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Kayaks can be rented in Brule, just off Highway 2.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
13402 East County Road B, Lake Nebagamon, WI 54849.

12: Minocqua Lake

A peaceful moment on the Lake Minocqua at the end of the dayPin
Courtesy: Amy Bayer on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Minocqua Lake sits on the edge of the Northern Highlands-American Legion State Forest so it can be an excellent spot to paddle if you want to venture into the many linked lakes in the park.

There are a few places to launch, giving you access to the lake and surrounding waterways. You’ll also find canoe campsites and portages to link with remote wilderness lakes across the forest. Kayaks can be rented in the town of Minocqua.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:
453 East Park Avenue, Minocqua, WI 54548.

Wisconsin Kayak Laws

Do You Need To Register A Kayak In Wisconsin?
No. But if you have a motor attached to your kayak then it needs to be registered.

Here are some of the main kayak laws for Wisconsin. But there may be different/additional laws depending on the location, so it’s best to check for yourself in advance. This is not intended to be legal advice.

●    A USCG-approved PFD is required for each person in a kayak.
●    Children under 14 must wear a USCG-approved PFD while in a canoe or kayak.
●    Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is illegal in Wisconsin.
●    A whistle is required for paddling on Wisconsin waters and the Great Lakes.
●    Visual Distress Signals (VDS) are required for paddling at night on the Great Lakes.
●    A white light is necessary for paddling at night on all waters.
●    Registration is not required for non-motorized kayaks.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around WI

With thousands of miles of rivers and lakes, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a place to rent a kayak if you don’t want to bring your own. Here are some of the outfitters close to our favorite locations.

●    Clear Water Outdoor (Lake Geneva - rentals)
●    Trek & Trail (Apostle Islands - rentals and tours)
●    Mirror Lake Boat Rentals (Mirror Lake - rentals)
●    Drifty's Canoe Rental (Kickapoo River - rentals)
●    Perrot State Park (Trempealeau - rentals)
●    Riverwood Canoe (St. Croix River - rentals)
●    DC Adventure Center (Lake Michigan - rentals and tours)
●    Silent Wake Kayaking (Milwaukee River - rentals and tours)
●    Bluff View Canoe Rentals (Lower Wisconsin State Riverway - rentals )
●    River’s Edge Lodge & Outfitters (Manitowish River - rentals)
●    Brule River Canoe Rental (Brule River - rentals)
●    Chequamegon Adventure Company (Minocqua Lake - rentals)

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