Category: Destinations

The Best 11 Places To Kayak In Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s Hidden Gems


by Thomas Moore

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Craving an adventure? Picture yourself paddling amidst nature’s serenity, embraced by shimmering waters and lush wilderness.

Now, imagine doing this in Wisconsin, a state famous for its diverse waterways, making it a paradise for kayakers. Your curiosity spikes, doesn’t it? As you think about the best places to kayak in Wisconsin, your heart yearns for the calming rhythm of the paddle slicing through the water, the pristine landscapes, and the thrill of exploring hidden nooks that only a kayak can reach.

So why just dream about it? Let’s transform your desire into reality. This blog post will be your guiding light, illuminating the remarkable kayaking locations that Wisconsin boasts of. Traverse with us on this aquatic journey as we unravel Wisconsin’s best-kept secrets.

Let’s dive in.

Devils Lake, Wisconsin, USA
Devils Lake, Wisconsin, USA

1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin, USA
Apostle Islands, Wisconsin, USA

A treasure of Northern Wisconsin, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, offers an awe-inspiring display of nature’s artistry. From intricately carved sandstone sea caves to lush, dense forests, the scenery is a diverse spectacle that leaves you spellbound.

The facilities here are top-notch. There are 21 islands to explore, each with campsites available for use. Kayakers can access restrooms, picnic areas, and walking trails, ensuring a comfortable experience.

The best time to visit this location is from June to September, when the water temperatures are more forgiving, and the weather is mostly pleasant. For novice kayakers, guided tours are available, ensuring a safe and informative kayaking experience.

Difficulty rating: Moderate. It requires a certain level of expertise to navigate through the unpredictable lake conditions and the intricate sea caves.

2. Door County

Door County, WI, USA

Door County, one of the intriguing places to kayak in Wisconsin, offers an immersive kayaking experience with its serene bays, rugged cliffs, and captivating shipwreck sites. It’s a harmonious blend of history and natural beauty.

The region hosts numerous outfitters that provide equipment rentals, restrooms, and changing facilities. Several restaurants are also scattered around, perfect for a post-paddle meal.

The summer months are ideal for kayaking here, with the additional allure of cherries blooming around July. Guided tours are available, including those that lead you to the sunken ship remains, a unique feature of this place.

Difficulty rating: Easy to Moderate. The water conditions range from calm bays to open waters that can challenge your skills.

3. Bois Brule River

Bois Brule River, Wisconsin, USA
Bois Brule River Wisconsin, USA

The Bois Brule River, known as the “River of Presidents,” is a delight for those seeking both tranquility and adrenaline. The upper part of the river provides calm, clear waters, while the lower part promises exciting rapids.

There are campgrounds, picnic spots, and restrooms available along the river. You will also find rental services offering kayaks and other necessary gear.

Spring and fall are the best times to kayak here, with spring offering the thrill of higher water levels and fall captivating with its vibrant foliage. Guided tours, particularly for the white-water part, are recommended for less experienced kayakers.

Difficulty rating: Moderate to Challenging. The river offers a variety of conditions, from gentle streams to exhilarating rapids.

4. Wisconsin Dells’ Upper Dells

Wisconsin Dells, WI, USA
Wisconsin Dells, WI, USA

Step into the enchanting world of Wisconsin Dells’ Upper Dells, where spectacular sandstone cliffs, shadowy gorges, and intriguing hidden caves set the scene. As you paddle down the meandering river, the panoramic vistas of the verdant shoreline captivate your senses.

The Upper Dells area is equipped with rental facilities for kayaks and necessary gear. Restrooms and picnic areas are conveniently scattered around the location, enhancing the overall experience.

The prime time to kayak here is during the summer, with the warm sun highlighting the red hues of the sandstone formations. Numerous guided tours operate in the area, with the ghostly twilight tours being a popular choice.

Difficulty rating: Easy to Moderate. While the river’s flow is generally calm, the ability to maneuver through narrow passages might require some skill.

5. Montello River

The Montello River offers a serene retreat for kayakers, with its peaceful flow cutting through lush woodland. At intervals, you will encounter petite waterfalls and historical millponds, adding an element of delight to the journey.

Facilities at the river include a few campsites and picnic spots. However, remember to bring your own gear, as rental services might not be readily available.

The best time to visit the Montello River is during the fall, when the vibrant foliage paints a picturesque landscape. The area lacks guided tour services, making it an adventure best suited for self-directed explorers.

Difficulty rating: Easy. The river is primarily calm, making it an ideal choice for beginners or those seeking a relaxed kayaking trip.

6. Whitewater Park Of Wausau

Experience the thrill of urban kayaking at the Whitewater Park of Wausau. The park boasts a man-made whitewater course running through the city’s heart, with the river’s rapid flow creating exhilarating wave trains and playful eddies.

The park offers extensive amenities, including equipment rental, spectator seating, and restrooms. It also hosts competitions and events, bringing a vibrant energy to the location.

Whitewater Park is open from May to October, with the water flow at its most vigorous during the spring. Guided sessions and training programs are available, making it a great place to refine your kayaking skills.

Difficulty rating: Challenging. The park’s engineered whitewater course demands advanced navigational skills and the ability to handle swift currents.

7. Kickapoo River In The Driftless Area

Kickapoo River
Kickapoo River

Embarking on a journey down the Kickapoo River, one of the enchanting places to kayak in Wisconsin. Nestled between mesmerizing cliffs and expansive woodlands, the river’s serpentine path offers a tranquil voyage for every kayaker.

The area is well-equipped with several outfitters providing canoe and kayak rentals. Campgrounds, picnic spots, and restroom facilities are scattered along the river, making it a pleasant experience for a multi-day journey.

The allure of the Kickapoo River shines brightest from late spring to early fall, when the water levels are just right. Guided tours are also available for those wishing to learn more about the river’s rich ecology.

Difficulty rating: Moderate. The river can be unpredictable with numerous twists and turns, requiring paddling proficiency and good maneuvering skills.

8. Green Lake

On the shores of Green Lake, one is immediately captivated by the crystal clear waters that mirror the sky above. The deepest natural inland lake in Wisconsin, Green Lake offers more than just depth; it offers peace and tranquility.

You will find multiple marinas and rental services offering kayaks along the shore. Comfort facilities like restrooms, picnic areas, and camping sites are readily available.

With warm summer days and a gentle breeze, the best time to visit Green Lake is during the summer months. Guided tour services are also present, catering to those seeking a more structured and educational adventure.

Difficulty rating: Easy. The calm waters of Green Lake are beginner-friendly, offering an idyllic setting for a peaceful paddle.

9. Menominee River

Menominee River
Menominee River

The Menominee River, one of the prime places to kayak in Wisconsin, serves as a natural border between Wisconsin and Michigan, offering a blend of serene flatwater sections and exhilarating rapids. Thick forests flank the riverbanks, and the occasional wildlife sighting adds an exciting surprise.

The river has several access points, with outfitters offering equipment rental services. Some riverside campsites allow for an immersive wilderness experience.

The summer months promise a thrilling adventure as the water level rises, creating exciting rapids. While self-guided tours are common, guided tours can offer a safer way to navigate the river’s challenging sections.

Difficulty rating: Challenging. While there are flatwater sections, navigating the rapids requires considerable skill and experience.

10. Manitowish Waters Chain Of Lakes

Navigating the interconnected marvel of the Manitowish Waters Chain of Lakes, one can’t help but marvel at the exceptional blend of aquatic and terrestrial vistas. Ten stunning lakes, each more mesmerizing than the last, string together a journey through lush forests and abundant wildlife.

Equipped with a plethora of boat rental services, the chain of lakes ensures a hassle-free kayaking experience. Amenities such as restrooms, picnic areas, and campsites are conveniently situated along the shores.

The period from late spring to early fall provides an optimal kayaking experience, with lush greenery in full bloom and wildlife most active. Various outfitters offer guided tours, providing a more structured exploration filled with fascinating insights into the region’s natural history.

Difficulty rating: Easy to Moderate. While the vastness may seem intimidating, the calm and navigable waters of these lakes make it a relatively comfortable journey, even for less experienced kayakers.

11. Peshtigo River

Peshtigo River, Wisconsin
Peshtigo River, Wisconsin

The wild and scenic Peshtigo River offers an exhilarating escape for thrill-seekers. Known for its world-class rapids, the river cuts through an idyllic landscape of densely forested banks teeming with flora and fauna.

There are ample outfitters around the Peshtigo River, providing gear rental and shuttle services. Basic facilities, including restrooms and picnic spots, are also available near the popular launch sites.

The months of March to May, during the spring runoff, offer the most thrilling kayaking experience when the river’s rapids are at their most challenging. Outfitters also provide guided rafting trips, a great option for those seeking an adrenaline-fueled group adventure.

Difficulty rating: Challenging. The Peshtigo River is famous for its whitewater rapids and requires significant skill and experience to navigate safely.

Safety Considerations When Kayaking In Wisconsin

Navigating the diverse waterways of the best places to kayak in Wisconsin offers an unforgettable adventure, yet, like all exhilarating pursuits, it carries inherent risks. 

To fully enjoy these aquatic wonderlands, it’s crucial to understand the local regulations and implement key safety practices. Let’s delve into these essential considerations for your paddling journey in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Kayaking Laws And Regulations

Compliance with laws and regulations forms the bedrock of safe and responsible kayaking. Wisconsin’s boating laws are straightforward and designed for everyone’s safety. 

All paddlers must comply with the state’s life jacket law, which requires a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on the kayak. Children under 13 must wear a life jacket at all times. Additionally, kayaks operating between sunset and sunrise should have a flashlight or lantern as a means of light.

Furthermore, paddlers should understand the state’s invasive species law. To prevent the spread of harmful non-native species, it’s essential to clean your gear, including your kayak and paddles, before moving between bodies of water. 

Remember, an informed kayaker is a safe kayaker.

Essential Safety Equipment And Practices

Aside from regulations, being well-equipped and following certain practices significantly enhances your safety on the water. 

Besides the obligatory life jacket, consider carrying a whistle or other sound-producing device for signaling distress, especially when kayaking in secluded areas. A dry bag with essentials such as a first aid kit, a repair kit, extra food, and water is also a smart addition.

In terms of practices, always stay aware of weather conditions. Sudden changes in wind and rain can quickly make kayaking dangerous. Besides, understanding the features of the water body you are paddling on, such as current, tides, and temperature, is vital.

Another practice that cannot be overstated is not to kayak alone. The presence of a paddling partner can be lifesaving in case of an unexpected mishap.

Ultimately, safety stems from a combination of adherence to regulations, possession of appropriate gear, and observance of prudent practices. With these considerations in mind, you can truly relish the beauty and thrill of Wisconsin’s top kayaking spots.


Immerse yourself in the extraordinary beauty of Wisconsin’s waterways, featuring serene lakes, meandering rivers, and pulsating rapids. Offering a stunning array of the best places to kayak in Wisconsin, from the interconnected waterways of Manitowish Waters to the tumultuous rapids of the Peshtigo River, each location reveals a unique allure.

These prime kayaking destinations cater to every adventurer, whether you seek tranquility or thrilling exploits. Outfitters across these locations ensure comprehensive services, providing gear rental and guided tours for a safe and memorable exploration. 

Regardless of the season, Wisconsin’s top kayaking sites promise unique experiences, awaiting your discovery.

If you are looking for other places to kayak, I suggest you also take a look at other articles:

Best Places For Kayaking In Lake Tahoe.

Where To Kayak In Florida Without Alligators: 9 Alligator-Free Spots.

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Written by:

Hi, my name is Thomas, and I am a kayaker with over a decade of experience. I enjoy this outdoor water activity and also enjoy writing posts for this blog that help people learn more about kayaking.