The Best Places to Kayak in Wisconsin

Summer is finally here. You’ve been waiting for it, anxious for the winter ice to melt, to get on the waterways of North America.

You’ve chosen kayaking in Wisconsin for your adventurous trek.  Your gear is all packed, and you’re ready to go.

Slowpokes get left behind. You’ve got no time to waste. You only get a couple of weeks off a year. You want to spend that time on the water paddling, not looking for the best places to go.

What are the best places to kayak in Wisconsin? Picking any waterway at random may leave you frustrated and disappointed. Leaving you feeling your getaway wasn’t what you hoped.

If you’re looking to relax on scenic rivers but only find raging rapids, your kayaking trip won’t be much fun. Neither is a peaceful river when you want daredevil thrills.

With over 15,000 lakes and 13,500 miles of rivers and streams, Wisconsin water sports abound. But, which kayaking spots are best for you and your group? Keep reading. Whether it’s a calm waterway or tumbling rapids, you will learn the best options for your party.

The Best Places to Kayak in Wisconsin

A person kayaking in a yellow kayak at sunset.

Wisconsin is the place for the kayakers of the world. Its waterways wind through the most picturesque places in the land of the great lakes.

Pine River

The flatwater of Pine River will put novices at ease. Its easy class one rapids make it available to all skill levels. The dazzling scenery is dense with maple, beech, and basswood forests.

Are you looking for quiet meditative communion with nature? Abundant wildlife like black bears, flying squirrels, and porcupines dot the river banks. Drop your canoe at the southern County N Landing, and you’re off.

Namekagon River

The Namekagon River is one of the best places to kayak in Wisconsin.

The Namekagon River is a tributary of the St. Croix River with incredible natural beauty. It’s one of 8 rivers protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act 1968. Muskrats, beavers, Whip-poor-wills, otters, and white-tailed deer make it their habitat.

If you love birds, the breeding season brings a variety of species. Red-Breasted Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, and Mourning Doves are a few of the birds you see. It is a wildlife-rich encounter. 

The river’s name comes from the Ojibwe language meaning “river at the place abundant with sturgeon.” Its name suggests it is an excellent place for fishing. You will find trout, smallmouth bass, muskie, walleye, and sturgeon here.

Kickapoo River

Vacationers kayaking and canoeing on the Kickapoo River in WIsconsin.

Kickapoo means “one who goes here, then there.” The river twists and turns for 126 miles from Wilton to Wauzeka. It’s claimed to be the most crooked river in North America.

Its gentle current makes it a great paddle trip for beginners. The Kickapoo River exposes you to diverse views. Fields of green, majestic mountains, and forests surround the river.

The long river is a famous waterway for a serene trip. It has a few little riffles to excite the experienced kayakers in the group. Launch your trip from Ontario, Wisconsin. Then marvel at the sandstone cliffs rising high above as you float down the river.

Lower Wisconsin River

The Lower Wisconsin River on a sunyn day.

The Wisconsin River is 420 miles long, with most of the river dammed to control flooding. The last 90 miles flow freely as Mother Nature intended without any dams. But, it also makes it subject to changing water levels depending on the weather.

Paddlers love the river because you can camp on any sandbar or island without a permit. Its quiet current and smooth river bottom make it a calm river for kayakers of all skill levels. Its many access points allow for a variety of trip lengths, so you can kayak for a few hours or a few days.

Due to the easy camping on the river can get quite congested with other water sports lovers. The sandbars are first come, first served, so plan ahead.

Bois Brule River

This river is nicknamed the River of Presidents. Five United States Presidents have visited and fished in the river. The 44-mile river has some light riffles upstream.

As you head south to Lake Superior, you will encounter “Little Joe Rapids.” These class two rapids will appease the adventure-seeking paddler. Only experienced paddlers should attempt these wild churning rapids.

Bois Brule River is clean and clear, surrounded by thick forests and open marsh. The river has many rapids along the way, so be sure your group has experience. The rapids in the upper section are low-risk hazard fun for everyone, and the more experienced paddlers will enjoy the intense rapids downstream.

Flambeau River

Located in northern Wisconsin, the river flows from an elevation of 1570 feet to 1060 feet. The change in elevation makes for some thrilling rapids for the daring kayaker. Conifers line the river banks, and a forest of red maple, sugar, yellow birch, white ash, and red oaks trees surround the river.

Beginning paddlers and those seeking a leisurely ride on the river should stick to the north, but those who kayak for the excitement of the roaring rapids will enjoy a cruise south. The river remains almost untouched by development, leaving travelers to witness the picturesque beauty of Wisconsin.

Preparing for Your Kayaking Journey

A couple kayaking in a red, double kayak in Wisconsin

Your kayaking experience should be thrilling and fun. Plan your trip according to the following guidelines to maximize your enjoyment.

  • Know your experience level
  • Know the waters you’re traveling
  • Plan your drop off and pick up transportation
  • Pack adequate equipment, i.e., water, food, maps, first aid kit, extra clothes
  • Let others know your plan
  • Paddle within the group’s ability

Stick to these steps to have a safe and lively time.

Your Kayaking Expedition Awaits

BLue kayaks on the banks of the Namekagon River at Heartwood Resort. The Namekagon River is one of the best places to kayak in Wisconsin.

The rivers are flowing, waiting for you to paddle out for a ride. Wisconsin’s breathtaking natural beauty is all the reason your need to go exploring.

Postcards and selfies won’t do. To take it all in, you need to plan a trip. Explore everything the state has to offer. Contact us for your visit. Our accommodations at Heartwood Resort & Conference Center provide a home base, so you can explore the best places to kayak in Wisconsin uninhibited.