Kayaking in Wisconsin: 10 of the Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

With two coastlines on the Great Lakes (Michigan and Superior), 43,000 miles of rivers, and 15,000 lakes, there’s a lot of water to enjoy in Wisconsin. In fact, there’s so much water in Wisconsin that it’s known to many as the kayaking mecca. 

Kayaking is one of the best ways to explore the state’s natural beauty. Whatever your experience level, there are a lot of rivers and lakes to enjoy in Wisconsin. Keep reading to learn all about the best places to Kayak in Wisconsin. 

1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI

The Apostle Islands are one of the midwest’s most popular kayaking spots with good reason—there’s so much to explore. Whether you’re planning a day trip or a multi-day adventure, there’s so much to see and do as you paddle around this hidden gem. 

Located on the world’s largest freshwater lake, 22 islands make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. If you’re a novice kayaker, you can join one of the many tours of the area’s sea caves and islands. Kayaking the islands with a knowledgeable guide will ensure you don’t miss anything. 

Meyers Beach and Little Sand Beach are the two launching points along the coast of Lake Superior. The most popular kayaking routes in the Apostle islands are Myers Beach, Madeline Island, and Outer Island Loop. 

There are plenty of primitive camping sites on the 69,372 acres that make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Get your permit and reserve your spot early. The more than 30 spots tend to fill up quickly.

2. St. Croix River, WI

Well-known for its beauty, the St. Croix River is a 170 mile Mississippi River tributary. One of the most beautiful parts of this river is the stretch from Taylor’s Falls down to Osceola Landing. This part of the river features views of the impressive cliffs that have made the Wisconsin and Minnesota Interstate Parks famous. 

One of the original eight rivers protected by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, St. Croix River boasts a diverse and scenic landscape. Basalt cliffs and rock gorges formed by glaciers await you as you travel down the meandering river. 

The river is appropriate for beginners and experienced kayakers alike. Kayaking the river is a relaxing experience with Class I and II rapids. You can easily launch your kayak from Interstate Park in Wisconsin or Osceola Landing on the Minnesota side of the river. 

3. The Lower Wisconsin River, WI

Running 92 miles from Sauk Prairie to the Mississippi River confluence, the Lower Wisconsin River is one of Wisconsin’s most popular stretches of freely flowing river. The scenic and tranquil riverway is suitable for both experienced and novice paddlers. 

Although it’s a river, there are no rapids or dams, making it a flatwater kayaking experience. As you travel along the riverway, there are lots of sights to see, including sloughs, open prairies, sandbanks, and dense forests. You can also explore the riverway’s many islands and sandbars. 

Birdwatchers are in for a treat while visiting the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, thanks to its abundant and varied birdlife. There are about 250 species. If you’re lucky, you may even get a glimpse of a bald eagle as you kayak down the riverway. 

You can access the river from various entry points. There are shuttles and free parking. Kayak rentals are available. Consider camping out overnight to fully take in the experience.

4. Madeline Island Sea Caves, WI

The biggest of the 22 Apostle Islands that we looked at earlier, the Madeline Island Sea Caves are an exotic kayaking getaway. The sea caves are popular with experienced and beginner kayakers. Expert kayakers recommend trailing the shoreline of the calming island’s waters. 

The views of rock formations and sandstone inside the caves make it one of the best places to kayak in Wisconsin. It’ll take you between four and five hours to kayak the 3-mile stretch from your launching spot. 

You can launch your kayak from Big Bay State Park or Big Bay Town Park. You’ll find the parks on opposite sides of Big Bay, a protected cover in Lake Superior. You can camp and access the beach from both parks. During your time out of the water, you can explore the trails and overlooks, and camping is also available. 

5. Mirror Lake, WI

If you’re in the Madison-Dells area, you won’t want to miss kayaking on Mirror Lake. This lake offers some of the best paddling in the area, is convenient, and overall is an outstanding kayaking experience. 

As you paddle Mirror Lake, you’ll enjoy stunning views of sandstone bluffs, red and white pines, and the bluffs and cliffs that hang over the river. Kayaking Mirror Lake is a laid-back experience, making it an ideal spot for those new to kayaking. 

There are three kayaking options known as “fingers” on Mirror lake, with the west and north fingers being the most scenic. From the official landing on the beach, you can travel past the scenic bluffs. Feel free to get out of your kayak and explore the surrounding areas a bit. 

There aren’t many places to rest along the lake, although there are some private properties and rental cabins available. 

6. Namekagon River, WI

Located in northern Wisconsin, the Namekagon River is popular with kayakers going on multi day kayaking trips. The river is part of the National Wild and Scenic River System, and paddling the river’s rapids, which rarely reach Class II, is a calming experience. 

The meandering river flows past towns and islands, allowing kayakers to take in Wisconsin’s forested and rural landscape. The river is home to plentiful wildlife, including ruffed grouse and woodland duck. If you’re lucky, you may spot the occasional bald eagle flying overhead. 

7. Flambeau River, WI

Flambeau River, WI by Jereme Rauckman (CC BY 2.0)

Famous for its fishing, Hemlock-Hardwood forests, and varied wildlife, the Flambeau River is an ideal place for a scenic paddling adventure. The river descends from an altitude of 1570 feet to 1060 feet on its way to the Chippewa River.

It’s a popular recreational waterway, and kayakers can paddle the northern or southern parts of the river. The 15-miles southern fork is the most challenging part of the river with class I-V whitewater rapids. Beginners should stick to the river’s northern fork, which offers a calm and leisurely experience. 

There’s no fee to use the six landings along the river, and you can park your car for free if you’re camping overnight. 

8. The ‘Mighty’ Pine River, WI

Although the “Mighty” in Pine River may suggest powerful rapids, in reality, the Mighty Pine River offers a tranquil paddling experience with class I rapids. The best entry spot for kayaking from the Richland Center at Rockbridge. You can also access the river from various country roads. 

As you travel down the Mighty Pine River, you’ll see diverse wildlife, maple forests, several farmlands, and stretches of rocks. After passing through the wildlife area, you’ll reach the Wisconsin River. The river is popular among flatwater enthusiasts. 

If you’re interested in a “short” two-hour kayaking trip, many locals enjoy the stretch between County N Landing and Oxford Landing. For overnight trips, camping is available in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Campgrounds.

9. Neenah Creek, WI

With a slow-moving current and a couple of tight turns, Neenah Creek is an excellent spot for novice kayakers or expert kayakers looking for a calm run. Located North of Madison, you’re guaranteed to see a lot of wildlife while out on Neenah Creek. 

Plan to spend at least an hour and a half paddling the entire creek. During your journey, you’ll notice the current slows down, and its width doubles. The creek narrows as you approach the halfway point, and you’ll encounter some twists and turns. 

Wet grass and hardwoods surround the creek. Geese, cranes, and waterfowls are among the wildlife you’ll see on the creek’s shores. The length of the creek is a total of about 3 miles. There are several camping sites in Upper Neenah Creek

10. La Crosse River, WI

Clean, clear water awaits you if you decide to kayak the La Crosse River. The five-mile paddle starts in the city of Sparta in Southwestern Wisconsin. From there, it flows until merging with the Mississippi River. Fed by a spring, the river maintains a good water level all year. 

The most scenic stretch of the river flows from Sparta to Rockland, where you’ll enjoy views of covered bridges and lush vegetation. There is also ample wildlife along the river. Be on the lookout for water snakes, painted turtles, muskrats, and maybe a few dragonflies. 

You can launch your kayak from Fisherman’s Park in Spart and go down the river as it meanders through prairies and wetlands. There are some riffles and a couple of moderate ledges along the way with class I and II rapids. Bring your own kayak or rent one from a local shop.

Summing up the Best Places to Kayak in Wisconsin

With its abundant waterways and beautiful scenery, Wisconsin is a kayaker’s paradise. Whether you’re new to kayaking or a seasoned expert, you’ll have a great time exploring Wisconsin’s diverse waterways.

We hope our list has inspired you to start planning your kayaking journey through the great state of Wisconsin!